Part 2 out of 5
At twenty-two she began to study German, and in three months was
reading with ease Goethe's _Faust, Tasso and Iphigenia_, Koerner,
Richter, and Schiller. She greatly admired Goethe, desiring, like him,
"always to have some engrossing object of pursuit." Besides all this
study she was teaching six little children, to help bear the expenses
of the household.
The family at this time moved to Groton, a great privation for
Margaret, who enjoyed and needed the culture of Boston society. But
she says, "As, sad or merry, I must always be learning, I laid down a
course of study at the beginning of the winter." This consisted of the
history and geography of modern Europe, and of America, architecture,
and the works of Alfieri, Goethe, and Schiller. The teaching was
continued because her brothers must be sent to Harvard College, and
this required money; not the first nor the last time that sisters have
worked to give brothers an education superior to their own.
At last the constitution, never robust, broke down, and for nine days
Margaret lay hovering between this world and the next. The tender
mother called her "dear lamb," and watched her constantly, while the
stern father, who never praised his children, lest it might harm them,
said, "My dear, I have been thinking of you in the night, and I cannot
remember that you have any _faults._ You have defects, of course, as
all mortals have, but I do not know that you have a single fault."
"While Margaret recovered, the father was taken suddenly with cholera,
and died after a two days' illness. He was sadly missed, for at heart
he was devoted to his family. When the estate was settled, there was
little left for each; so for Margaret life would be more laborious
than ever. She had expected to visit Europe with Harriet Martineau,
who was just returning home from a visit to this country, but the
father's death crushed this long-cherished and ardently-prayed-for
journey. She must stay at home and work for others.
Books were read now more eagerly than ever,--_Sartor Resartus_,
Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Heine. But money must be earned. Ah! if
genius could only develop in ease and prosperity. It rarely has the
chance. The tree grows best when the dirt is oftenest stirred about
the roots; perhaps the best in us comes only from such stirring.
Margaret now obtained a situation as teacher of French and Latin in
Bronson Alcott's school. Here she was appreciated by both master and
pupils. Mr. Alcott said, "I think her the most brilliant talker of
the day. She has a quick and comprehensive wit, a firm command of her
thoughts, and a speech to win the ear of the most cultivated." She
taught advanced classes in German and Italian, besides having several
Before this time she had become a valued friend of the Emerson family.
Mr. Emerson says, "Sometimes she stayed a few days, often a week, more
seldom a month, and all tasks that could be suspended were put aside
to catch the favorable hour in walking, riding, or boating, to talk
with this joyful guest, who brought wit, anecdotes, love-stories,
tragedies, oracles with her.... The day was never long enough to
exhaust her opulent memory, and I, who knew her intimately for ten
years, never saw her without surprise at her new powers."
She was passionately fond of music and of art, saying, "I have been
very happy with four hundred and seventy designs of Raphael in my
possession for a week." She loved nature like a friend, paying homage
to rocks and woods and flowers. She said, "I hate not to be beautiful
when all around is so."
After teaching with Mr. Alcott, she became the principal teacher in a
school at Providence, R.I. Here, as ever, she showed great wisdom both
with children and adults. The little folks in the house were allowed
to look at the gifts of many friends in her room, on condition that
they would not touch them. One day a young visitor came, and insisted
on taking down a microscope, and broke it. The child who belonged
in the house was well-nigh heart-broken over the affair, and, though
protesting her innocence, was suspected both of the deed and of
falsehood. Miss Fuller took the weeping child upon her knee, saying,
"Now, my dear little girl, tell me all about it; only remember
that you must be careful, for I shall believe every word you say."
Investigation showed that the child thus confided in told the whole
After two years in Providence she returned to Boston, and in 1839
began a series of parlor lectures, or "conversations," as they were
called. This seemed a strange thing for a woman, when public speaking
by her sex was almost unknown. These talks were given weekly,
from eleven o'clock till one, to twenty-five or thirty of the most
cultivated women of the city. Now the subject of discussion was
Grecian mythology; now it was fine arts, education, or the relations
of woman to the family, the church, society, and literature. These
meetings were continued through five winters, supplemented by evening
"conversations," attended by both men and women. In these gatherings
Margaret was at her best,--brilliant, eloquent, charming.
During this time a few gifted men, Emerson, Channing, and others,
decided to start a literary and philosophical magazine called the
_Dial_. Probably no woman in the country would have been chosen as the
editor, save Margaret Fuller. She accepted the position, and for four
years managed the journal ably, writing for it some valuable essays.
Some of these were published later in her book on _Literature and
Art_. Her _Woman in the Nineteenth Century_, a learned and vigorous
essay on woman's place in the world, first appeared in part in the
_Dial_. Of this work, she said, in closing it, "After taking a long
walk, early one most exhilarating morning, I sat down to work, and did
not give it the last stroke till near nine in the evening. Then I felt
a delightful glow, as if I had put a good deal of my true life in it,
and as if, should I go away now, the measure of my footprint would be
left on the earth."
Miss Fuller had published, besides these works, two books of
translations from the German, and a sketch of travel called _Summer
on the Lakes_. Her experience was like that of most authors who are
beginning,--some fame, but no money realized. All this time she was
frail in health, overworked, struggling against odds to make a living
for herself and those she loved. But there were some compensations
in this life of toil. One person wrote her, "What I am I owe in large
measure to the stimulus you imparted. You roused my heart with high
hopes; you raised my aims from paltry and vain pursuits to those which
lasted and fed the soul; you inspired me with a great ambition, and
made me see the worth and the meaning of life."
William Hunt, the renowned artist, was looking in a book that lay on
the table of a friend. It was Mrs. Jameson's _Italian Painters._ In
describing Correggio, she said he was "one of those superior beings of
whom there are so few." Margaret had written on the margin, "And
yet all might be such." Mr. Hunt said, "These words struck out a new
strength in me. They revived resolutions long fallen away, and made me
set my face like a flint."
Margaret was now thirty-four. The sister was married, the brothers had
finished their college course, and she was about to accept an
offer from the _New York Tribune_ to become one of its constant
contributors, an honor that few women would have received. Early in
December, 1844, Margaret moved to New York and became a member of
Mr. Greeley's family. Her literary work here was that of, says Mr.
Higginson, "the best literary critic whom America has yet seen."
Sometimes her reviews, like those on the poetry of Longfellow and
Lowell, were censured, but she was impartial and able. Society opened
wide its doors to her, as it had in Boston. Mrs. Greeley became her
devoted friend, and their little son "Pickie," five years old, the
idol of Mr. Greeley, her restful playmate.
A year and a half later an opportunity came for Margaret to go to
Europe. Now, at last, she would see the art-galleries of the old
world, and places rich in history, like Rome. Still there was the
trouble of scanty means, and poor health from overwork. She said, "A
noble career is yet before me, if I can be unimpeded by cares. If
our family affairs could now be so arranged that I might be tolerably
tranquil for the next six or eight years, I should go out of life
better satisfied with the page I have turned in it than I shall if I
must still toil on."
After two weeks on the ocean, the party of friends arrived in
London, and Miss Fuller received a cordial welcome. Wordsworth, now
seventy-six, showed her the lovely scenery of Rydal Mount, pointing
out as his especial pride, his avenue of hollyhocks--crimson,
straw-color, and white. De Quincey showed her many courtesies. Dr.
Chalmers talked eloquently, while William and Mary Howitt seemed like
old friends. Carlyle invited her to his home. "To interrupt him," she
said, "is a physical impossibility. If you get a chance to remonstrate
for a moment, he raises his voice and bears you down."
In Paris, Margaret attended the Academy lectures, saw much of George
Sand, waded through melting snow at Avignon to see Laura's tomb, and
at last was in Italy, the country she had longed to see. Here Mrs.
Jameson, Powers, and Greenough, and the Brownings and Storys, were her
warm friends. Here she settled down to systematic work, trying to keep
her expenses for six months within four hundred dollars. Still, when
most cramped for means herself, she was always generous. Once, when
living on a mere pittance, she loaned fifty dollars to a needy artist.
In New York she gave an impecunious author five hundred dollars to
publish his book, and, of course, never received a dollar in return.
Yet the race for life was wearing her out. So tired was she that she
said, "I should like to go to sleep, and be born again into a state
where my young life should not be prematurely taxed."
Meantime the struggle for Italian unity was coming to its climax.
Mazzini and his followers were eager for a republic. Pius IX. had
given promises to the Liberal party, but afterwards abandoned it, and
fled to Gaeta. Then Mazzini turned for help to the President of the
French Republic, Louis Napoleon, who, in his heart, had no love for
republics, but sent an army to reinstate the Pope. Rome, when she
found herself betrayed, fought like a tiger. Men issued from the
workshops with their tools for weapons, while women from the housetops
urged them on. One night over one hundred and fifty bombs were thrown
into the heart of the city.
Margaret was the friend of Mazzini, and enthusiastic for Roman
liberty. All those dreadful months she ministered to the wounded and
dying in the hospitals, and was their "saint," as they called her.
But there was another reason why Margaret Fuller loved Italy.
Soon after her arrival in Rome, as she was attending vespers at St.
Peter's with a party of friends, she became separated from them.
Failing to find them, seeing her anxious face, a young Italian came
up to her, and politely offered to assist her. Unable to regain her
friends, Angelo Ossoli walked with her to her home, though he could
speak no English, and she almost no Italian. She learned afterward
that he was of a noble and refined family; that his brothers were in
the Papal army, and that he was highly respected.
After this he saw Margaret once or twice, when she left Rome for some
months. On her return, he renewed the acquaintance, shy and quiet
though he was, for her influence seemed great over him. His father,
the Marquis Ossoli, had just died, and Margaret, with her large heart,
sympathized with him, as she alone knew how to sympathize. He joined
the Liberals, thus separating himself from his family, and was made a
captain of the Civic Guard.
Finally he confessed to Margaret that he loved her, and that he "must
marry her or be miserable." She refused to listen to him as a lover,
said he must marry a younger woman,--she was thirty-seven, and he but
thirty,--but she would be his friend. For weeks he was dejected and
unhappy. She debated the matter with her own heart. Should she,
who had had many admirers, now marry a man her junior, and not of
surpassing intellect, like her own? If she married him, it must be
kept a secret till his father's estate was settled, for marriage with
a Protestant would spoil all prospect of an equitable division.
Love conquered, and she married the young Marquis Ossoli in December,
1847. He gave to Margaret the kind of love which lasts after marriage,
veneration of her ability and her goodness. "Such tender, unselfish
love," writes Mrs. Story, "I have rarely before seen; it made green
her days, and gave her an expression of peace and serenity which
before was a stranger to her. When she was ill, he nursed and watched
over her with the tenderness of a woman. No service was too trivial,
no sacrifice too great for him. 'How sweet it is to do little things
for you,' he would say."
To her mother, Margaret wrote, though she did not tell her secret,
"I have not been so happy since I was a child, as during the last six
But days of anxiety soon came, with all the horrors of war. Ossoli was
constantly exposed to death, in that dreadful siege of Rome. Then Rome
fell, and with it the hopes of Ossoli and his wife. There would be
neither fortune nor home for a Liberal now--only exile. Very sadly
Margaret said goodbye to the soldiers in the hospitals, brave fellows
whom she honored, who in the midst of death itself, would cry "Viva l'
But before leaving Rome, a day's journey must be made to Rieta, at the
foot of the Umbrian Apennines. And for what? The most precious thing
of Margaret's life was there,--her baby. The fair child, with blue
eyes and light hair like her own, had already been named by the people
in the house, Angelino, from his beauty. She had always been fond
of children. Emerson's Waldo, for whom _Threnody_ was written was an
especial favorite; then "Pickie," Mr. Greeley's beautiful boy, and now
a new joy had come into her heart, a child of her own. She wrote to
her mother: "In him I find satisfaction, for the first time, to
the deep wants of my heart. Nothing but a child can take the worst
bitterness out of life, and break the spell of loneliness. I shall not
be alone in other worlds, whenever Eternity may call me.... I wake in
the night,--I look at him. He is so beautiful and good, I could die
When Ossoli and Margaret reached Rieta, what was their horror to find
their child worn to a skeleton, half starved through the falsity of a
nurse. For four weeks the distressed parents coaxed him back to life,
till the sweet beauty of the rounded face came again, and then they
carried him to Florence, where, despite poverty and exile, they were
"In the morning," she says, "as soon as dressed, he signs to come into
our room; then draws our curtain with his little dimpled hand, kisses
me rather violently, and pats my face.... I feel so refreshed by his
young life, and Ossoli diffuses such a power and sweetness over every
day, that I cannot endure to think yet of our future.... It is very
sad we have no money, we could be so quietly happy a while. I rejoice
in all Ossoli did; but the results, in this our earthly state, are
disastrous, especially as my strength is now so impaired. This much I
hope--in life or death, to be no more separated from Angelino."
Margaret's friends now urged her return to America. She had nearly
finished a history of Rome in this trying time, 1848, and could better
attend to its publication in this country. Ossoli, though coming to a
land of strangers, could find something to help, support the family.
To save expense, they started from Leghorn, May 17, 1850, in the
_Elizabeth_, a sailing vessel, though Margaret dreaded the two months'
voyage, and had premonitions of disaster. She wrote: "I have a vague
expectation of some crisis,--I know not what. But it has long seemed
that, in the year 1850, I should stand on a plateau in the ascent of
life, when I should be allowed to pause for a while, and take more
clear and commanding views than ever before. Yet my life proceeds as
regularly as the fates of a Greek tragedy, and I can but accept the
pages as they turn.... I shall embark, praying fervently that it may
not be my lot to lose my boy at sea, either by unsolaced illness, or
amid the howling waves; or, if so, that Ossoli, Angelo, and I may go
together, and that the anguish may be brief."
For a few days all went well on shipboard; and then the noble Captain
Hasty died of small-pox, and was buried at sea. Angelino took this
dread disease, and for a time his life was despaired of, but he
finally recovered, and became a great pet with the sailors. Margaret
was putting the last touches to her book. Ossoli and young Sumner,
brother of Charles, gave each other lessons in Italian and English,
and thus the weeks went by.
On Thursday, July 18, after two months, the _Elizabeth_ stood off the
Jersey coast, between Cape May and Barnegat. Trunks were packed, good
nights were spoken, and all were happy, for they would be in New York
on the morrow. At nine that night a gale arose; at midnight it was
a hurricane; at four o'clock, Friday morning, the ship struck Fire
Island beach. The passengers sprung from their berths. "We must die!"
said Sumner to Mrs. Hasty. "Let us die calmly, then!" was the response
of the widow of the captain.
At first, as the billows swept over the vessel, Angelino, wet and
afraid, began to cry; but his mother held him closely in her arms and
sang him to sleep. Noble courage on a sinking ship! The Italian girl
who had come with them was in terror; but after Ossoli prayed with
her, she became calm. For hours they waited anxiously for help from
the shore. They could see the life-boat, and the people collecting the
spoils which had floated thither from the ship, but no relief came.
One sailor and another sprang into the waves and saved themselves.
Then Sumner jumped overboard, but sank.
One of the sailors suggested that if each passenger sit on a plank,
holding on by ropes, they would attempt to push him or her to land.
Mrs. Hasty was the first to venture, and after being twice washed
off, half-drowned, reached the shore. Then Margaret was urged, but she
hesitated, unless all three could be saved. Every moment the danger
increased. The crew were finally ordered "to save themselves," but
four remained with the passengers. It was useless to look longer
to the people on shore for help, though it was now past three
o'clock,--twelve hours since the vessel struck.
Margaret had finally been induced to try the plank. The steward had
taken Angelino in his arms, promising to save him or die with him,
when a strong sea swept the forecastle, and all went down together.
Ossoli caught the rigging for a moment, but Margaret sank at once.
When last seen, she was seated at the foot of the foremast, still
clad in her white nightdress, with her hair fallen loose upon her
shoulders. Angelino and the steward were washed upon the beach
twenty minutes later, both dead, though warm. Margaret's prayer was
answered,--that they "might go together, and that the anguish might be
The pretty boy of two years was dressed in a child's frock taken from
his mother's trunk, which had come to shore, laid in a seaman's
chest, and buried in the sand, while the sailors, who loved him,
stood around, weeping. His body was finally removed to Mt. Auburn, and
buried in the family lot. The bodies of Ossoli and Margaret were never
recovered. The only papers of value which came to shore were their
love letters, now deeply prized. The book ready for publication was
When those on shore were asked why they did not launch the life-boat,
they replied, "Oh! if we had known there were any such persons of
importance on board, we should have tried to do our best!"
Thus, at forty, died one of the most gifted women in America, when her
work seemed just begun. To us, who see how the world needed her, her
death is a mystery; to Him who "worketh all things after the counsel
of His own will" there is no mystery. She filled her life with
charities and her mind with knowledge, and such are ready for the
progress of Eternity.
[Illustration: MARIA MITCHELL.]
In the quiet, picturesque island of Nantucket, in a simple home, lived
William and Lydia Mitchell with their family of ten children. William
had been a school-teacher, beginning when he was eighteen years of
age, and receiving two dollars a week in winter, while in summer he
kept soul and body together by working on a small farm, and fishing.
In this impecunious condition he had fallen in love with and married
Lydia Coleman, a true-hearted Quaker girl, a descendant of Benjamin
Franklin, one singularly fitted to help him make his way in life. She
was quick, intelligent, and attractive in her usual dress of white,
and was the clerk of the Friends' meeting where he attended. She
was enthusiastic in reading, becoming librarian successively of two
circulating libraries, till she had read every book upon the
shelves, and then in the evenings repeating what she had read to her
associates, her young lover among them.
When they were married, they had nothing but warm hearts and willing
hands to work together. After a time William joined his father in
converting a ship-load of whale oil into soap, and then a little
money was made; but at the end of seven years he went back to
school-teaching because he loved the work. At first he had charge of
a fine grammar school established at Nantucket, and later, of a school
of his own.
Into this school came his third child, Maria, shy and retiring, with
all her mother's love of reading. Faithful at home, with, as she says,
"an endless washing of dishes," not to be wondered at where there were
ten little folks, she was not less faithful at school. The teacher
could not help seeing that his little daughter had a mind which would
well repay all the time he could spend upon it.
While he was a good school-teacher, he was an equally good student of
nature, born with a love of the heavens above him. When eight years
old, his father called him to the door to look at the planet Saturn,
and from that time the boy calculated his age from the position of
the planet, year by year. Always striving to improve himself, when he
became a man, he built a small observatory upon his own land, that he
might study the stars. He was thus enabled to earn one hundred dollars
a year in the work of the United States Coast Survey. Teaching at
two dollars a week, and fishing, could not always cramp a man of such
Brought up beside the sea, he was as broad as the sea in his thought
and true nobility of character. He could see no reason why his
daughters should not be just as well educated as his sons. He
therefore taught Maria the same as his boys, giving her especial drill
in navigation. Perhaps it is not strange that after such teaching,
his daughter could have no taste for making worsted work or Kensington
stitches. She often says to this day, "A woman might be learning seven
languages while she is learning fancy work," and there is little doubt
that the seven languages would make her seven times more valuable as
a wife and mother. If teaching navigation to girls would give us
a thousand Maria Mitchells in this country, by all means let it be
Maria left the public school at sixteen, and for a year attended a
private school; then, loving mathematics, and being deeply interested
in her father's studies, she became at seventeen his helper in the
work of the Coast Survey. This astronomical labor brought Professors
Agassiz, Bache, and other noted men to the quiet Mitchell home, and
thus the girl heard the stimulating conversation of superior minds.
But the family needed more money. Though Mr. Mitchell wrote articles
for _Silliman's Journal_, and delivered an able course of lectures
before a Boston society of which Daniel Webster was president,
scientific study did not put many dollars in a man's pocket. An elder
sister was earning three hundred dollars yearly by teaching, and Maria
felt that she too must help more largely to share the family burdens.
She was offered the position of librarian at the Nantucket library,
with a salary of sixty dollars the first year, and seventy-five the
second. While a dollar and twenty cents a week seemed very little,
there would be much time for study, for the small island did not
afford a continuous stream of readers. She accepted the position,
and for twenty years, till youth had been lost in middle life, Maria
Mitchell worked for one hundred dollars a year, studying on, that she
might do her noble work in the world.
Did not she who loved nature, long for the open air and the blue sky,
and for some days of leisure which so many girls thoughtlessly waste?
Yes, doubtless. However, the laws of life are as rigid as mathematics.
A person cannot idle away the hours and come to prominence. No great
singer, no great artist, no great scientist, comes to honor without
continuous labor. Society devotees are heard of only for a day or a
year, while those who develop minds and ennoble hearts have lasting
Miss Mitchell says, "I was born of only ordinary capacity, but of
extraordinary persistency," and herein is the secret of a great life.
She did not dabble in French or music or painting and give it up; she
went steadily on to success. Did she neglect home duties? Never. She
knit stockings a yard long for her aged father till his death, usually
studying while she knit. To those who learn to be industrious early in
life, idleness is never enjoyable.
There was another secret of Miss Mitchell's success. She read good
books early in life. She says: "We always had books, and were bookish
people. There was a public library in Nantucket before I was born.
It was not a free library, but we always paid the subscription of
one dollar per annum, and always read and studied from it. I remember
among its volumes Hannah More's books and Rollin's _Ancient History_.
I remember too that Charles Folger, the present Secretary of the
Treasury, and I had both read this latter work through before we were
ten years old, though neither of us spoke of it to the other until a
All this study had made Miss Mitchell a superior woman. It was not
strange, therefore, that fame should come to her. One autumn night,
October, 1847, she was gazing through the telescope, as usual, when,
lo! she was startled to perceive an unknown comet. She at once told
her father, who thus wrote to Professor William C. Bond, director of
the Observatory at Cambridge: --
MY DEAR FRIEND,--I write now merely to say that
Maria discovered a telescopic comet at half-past ten on
the evening of the first instant, at that hour nearly above
Polaris five degrees. Last evening it had advanced
westerly; this evening still further, and nearing the pole.
It does not bear illumination. Maria has obtained its
right ascension and declination, and will not suffer me to
announce it. Pray tell me whether it is one of Georgi's,
and whether it has been seen by anybody. Maria supposes
it may be an old story. If quite convenient, just
drop a line to her; it will oblige me much. I expect to
leave home in a day or two, and shall be in Boston next
week, and I would like to have her hear from you before I
can meet you. I hope it will not give thee much trouble
amidst thy close engagements. Our regards are to all of
you most truly.
The answer showed that Miss Mitchell had indeed made a new discovery.
Frederick VI., King of Denmark, had, sixteen years before, offered a
gold medal of the value of twenty ducats to whoever should discover
a telescopic comet. That no mistake might be made as to the real
discoverer, the condition was made that word be sent at once to the
Astronomer Royal of England. This the Mitchells had not done,
on account of their isolated position. Hon. Edward Everett, then
President of Harvard College, wrote to the American Minister at the
Danish Court, who in turn presented the evidence to the King. "It
would gratify me," said Mr. Mitchell, "that this generous monarch
should know that there is a love of science even in this, to him,
remote corner of the earth."
The medal was at last awarded, and the woman astronomer of Nantucket
found herself in the scientific journals and in the press as the
discoverer of "Miss Mitchell's Comet." Another had been added to the
list of Mary Somervilles and Caroline Herschels. Perhaps there was
additional zest now in the mathematical work in the Coast Survey. She
also assisted in compiling the _American Nautical Almanac_, and wrote
for the scientific periodicals. Did she break down from her unusual
brain work? Oh, no! Probably astronomical work was not nearly so hard
as her mother's,--the care of a house and ten children!
For ten years more Miss Mitchell worked in the library, and in
studying the heavens. But she had longed to see the observatories of
Europe, and the great minds outside their quiet island. Therefore,
in 1857, she visited England, and was at once welcomed to the most
learned circles. Brains always find open doors. Had she been rich or
beautiful simply, Sir John Herschel, and Lady Herschell as well, would
not have reached out both hands, and said, "You are always welcome at
this house," and given her some of his own calculations? and some of
his Aunt Caroline's writing. Had she been rich or handsome simply,
Alexander Von Humboldt would not have taken her to his home, and,
seating himself beside her on the sofa, talked, as she says, "on
all manner of subjects, and on all varieties of people. He spoke of
Kansas, India, China, observatories; of Bache, Maury, Gould, Ticknor,
Buchanan, Jefferson, Hamilton, Brunow, Peters, Encke, Airy, Leverrier,
Mrs. Somerville, and a host of others."
What, if he had said these things to some women who go abroad! It is
safe for women who travel to read widely, for ignorance is quickly
detected. Miss Mitchell said of Humboldt: "He is handsome--his hair
is thin and white, his eyes very blue. He is a little deaf, and so is
Mrs. Somerville. He asked me what instruments I had, and what I was
doing; and when I told him that I was interested in the variable
stars, he said I must go to Bonn and see Agelander."
There was no end of courtesies to the scholarly woman. Professor
Adams, of Cambridge, who, with his charming wife, years afterward
helped to make our own visit to the University a delight, showed
her the spot on which he made his computations for Neptune, which
he discovered at the same time as Leverrier. Sir George Airy, the
Astronomer Royal of England, wrote to Leverrier in Paris to announce
her coming. When they met, she said, "His English was worse than my
Later she visited Florence, where she met, several times, Mrs.
Somerville, who, she says, "talks with all the readiness and clearness
of a man," and is still "very gentle and womanly, without the least
pretence or the least coldness." She gave Miss Mitchell two of her
books, and desired a photographed star sent to Florence. "She had
never heard of its being done, and saw at once the importance of such
a step." She said with her Scotch accent, "Miss Mitchell, ye have done
yeself great credit."
In Rome she saw much of the Hawthornes, of Miss Bremer, who was
visiting there, and of the artists. From here she went to Venice,
Vienna, and Berlin, where she met Encke, the astronomer, who took her
to see the wedding presents of the Princess Royal.
Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, in an admirable sketch of Miss Mitchell, tells
how the practical woman, with her love of republican institutions,
was impressed. "The presents were in two rooms," says Miss Mitchell,
"ticketed and numbered, and a catalogue of them sold. All the
manufacturing companies availed themselves of the opportunity to
advertise their commodities, I suppose, as she had presents of all
kinds. What she will do with sixty albums I can't see, but I can
understand the use of two clothes-lines, because she can lend one to
her mother, who must have a large Monday's wash!"
After a year, Miss Mitchell returned to her simple Nantucket home,
as devoted to her parents and her scientific work as ever. Two years
afterward, in 1860, her good mother died, and a year later, desiring
to be near Boston, the family removed to Lynn. Here Miss Mitchell
purchased a small house for sixteen hundred and fifty dollars. From
her yearly salary of one hundred dollars, and what she could earn
in her government work, she had saved enough to buy a home for
her father! The rule is that the fathers wear themselves out for
daughters; the rule was reversed in this case.
Miss Mitchell now earned five hundred dollars yearly for her
government computations, while her father received a pension of three
hundred more for his efficient services. Five years thus passed
quietly and comfortably.
Meanwhile another life was carrying out its cherished plan, and Miss
Mitchell, unknowingly, was to have an important part in it. Soon
after the Revolutionary War there came to this country an English
wool-grower and his family, and settled on a little farm near the
Hudson River. The mother, a hard-working and intelligent woman,
was eager in her help toward earning a living, and would drive the
farm-wagon to market, with butter and eggs, and fowls, while her
seven-year-old boy sat beside her. To increase the income some English
ale was brewed. The lad grew up with an aversion to making beer, and
when fourteen, his father insisting that he should enter the business,
his mother helped him to run away. Tying all his worldly possessions,
a shirt and pair of stockings, in a cotton handkerchief, the mother
and her boy walked eight miles below Poughkeepsie, when, giving him
all the money she had, seventy-five cents, she kissed him, and with
tears in her eyes saw him cross the ferry and land safely on the other
side. He trudged on till a place was found in a country store, and
here, for five years, he worked honestly and industriously, coming
home to his now reconciled father with one hundred and fifty dollars
in his pocket.
Changes had taken place. The father's brewery had burned, the oldest
son had been killed in attempting to save something from the wreck,
all were poorer than ever, and there seemed nothing before the boy of
nineteen but to help support the parents, his two unmarried sisters,
and two younger brothers. Whether he had the old dislike for the ale
business or not, he saw therein a means of support, and adopted
it. The world had not then thought so much about the misery which
intoxicants cause, and had not learned that we are better off without
stimulants than with them.
Every day the young man worked in his brewery, and in the evening till
midnight tended a small oyster house, which he had opened. Two years
later, an Englishman who had seen Matthew Vassar's untiring industry
and honesty, offered to furnish all the capital which he needed. The
long, hard road of poverty had opened at last into a field of plenty.
Henceforward, while there was to be work and economy, there was to be
continued prosperity, and finally, great wealth.
Realizing his lack of early education, he began to improve himself by
reading science, art, history, poetry, and the Bible. He travelled in
Europe, and being a close observer, was a constant learner.
One day, standing by the great London hospital, built by Thomas Guy,
a relative, and endowed by him with over a million dollars, Mr. Vassar
read these words on the pedestal of the bronze statue:--
SOLE FOUNDER OF THE HOSPITAL.
IN HIS LIFETIME.
The last three words left a deep impression on his mind. He had no
children. He desired to leave his money where it would be of permanent
value to the world. He debated many plans in his own mind. It is
said that his niece, a hard-working teacher, Lydia Booth, finally
influenced him to his grand decision.
There was no real college for women in the land. He talked the matter
over with his friends, but they were full of discouragements. "Women
will never desire college training," said some. "They will be ruined
in health, if they attempt it," said others. "Science is not needed
by women; classical education is not needed; they must have something
appropriate to their sphere," was constantly reiterated. Some wise
heads thought they knew just what that education should be, and just
what were the limits of woman's sphere; but Matthew Vassar had his own
Calling together, Feb. 26, 1861, some twenty or thirty of the men in
the State most conversant with educational matters, the white-haired
man, now nearly seventy, laid his hand upon a round tin box, labelled
"Vassar College Papers," containing four hundred thousand dollars in
bonds and securities, and said: "It has long been my desire, after
suitably providing for those of my kindred who have claims upon me,
to make such a disposition of my means as should best honor God and
benefit my fellow-men. At different periods I have regarded various
plans with favor; but these have all been dismissed one after another,
until the subject of erecting and endowing a college for the education
of young women was presented for my consideration. The novelty,
grandeur, and benignity of the idea arrested my attention.
"It occurred to me that woman, having received from the Creator the
same intellectual constitution as man, has the same right as man to
intellectual culture and development.
"I considered that the mothers of a country mould its citizens,
determine its institutions, and shape its destiny.
"It has also seemed to me that if woman was properly educated, some
new avenues of useful and honorable employment, in entire harmony with
the gentleness and modesty of her sex, might be opened to her.
"It further appeared, there is not in our country, there is not in
the world, so far as known, a single fully endowed institution for
the education of women.... I have come to the conclusion that the
establishment and endowment of a COLLEGE FOR THE EDUCATION OF YOUNG
WOMEN is a work which will satisfy my highest aspirations, and will
be, under God, a rich blessing to this city and State, to our country
and the world.
"It is my hope to be the instrument in the hands of Providence, of
founding and perpetuating an institution _which shall accomplish for
young women what our colleges are accomplishing for young men_."
For four years Matthew Vassar watched the great buildings take form
and shape in the midst of two hundred acres of lake and river and
green sward, near Poughkeepsie; the main building, five hundred feet
long, two hundred broad, and five stories high; the museum of natural
history, with school of art and library; the great observatory, three
stories high, furnished with the then third largest telescope in the
In 1865 Vassar College was opened, and three hundred and fifty
students came pouring in from all parts of the land. Girls, after all,
did desire an education equal to that of young men. Matthew Vassar
was right. His joy seemed complete. He visited the college daily,
and always received the heartiest welcome. Each year his birthday
was celebrated as "Founder's Day." On one of these occasions he said:
"This is almost more happiness than I can bear. This one day more than
repays me for all I have done." An able and noble man, John Howard
Raymond, was chosen president.
Mr. Vassar lived but three years after his beloved institution was
opened. June 23, 1868, the day before commencement, he had called the
members of the Board around him to listen to his customary address.
Suddenly, when he had nearly finished, his voice ceased, the paper
dropped from his hand, and--he was dead! His last gifts amounted to
over five hundred thousand dollars, making in all $989,122.00 for
the college. The poor lad wrought as he had hoped, a blessing "to the
country and the world." His nephews, Matthew Vassar, Jr., and John Guy
Vassar, have given over one hundred and forty thousand dollars.
After the observatory was completed, there was but one wish as to who
should occupy it; of course, the person desired was Maria Mitchell.
She hesitated to accept the position. Her father was seventy and
needed her care, but he said, "Go, and I will go with you." So she
left her Lynn home for the arduous position of a teacher. For four
years Mr. Mitchell lived to enjoy the enthusiastic work of his
gifted daughter. He said, "Among the teachers and pupils I have made
acquaintances that a prince might covet."
Miss Mitchell makes the observatory her home. Here are her books, her
pictures, her great astronomical clock, and a bust of Mrs. Somerville,
the gift of Frances Power Cobbe. Here for twenty years she has helped
to make Vassar College known and honored both at home and abroad.
Hundreds have been drawn thither by her name and fame. A friend of
mine who went, intending to stay two years, remained five, for her
admiration of and enjoyment in Miss Mitchell. She says: "She is one of
the few genuine persons I have ever known. There is not one particle
of deceit about her. For girls who accomplish something, she has great
respect; for idlers, none. She has no sentimentality, but much wit and
common sense. No one can be long under her teaching without learning
dignity of manner and self-reliance."
She dresses simply, in black or gray, somewhat after the fashion of
her Quaker ancestors. Once when urging economy upon the girls, she
said, "All the clothing I have on cost but seventeen dollars, and four
suits would last each of you a year." There was a quiet smile, but
no audible expression of a purpose to adopt Miss Mitchell's style of
The pupils greatly honor and love the undemonstrative woman, who, they
well know, would make any sacrifices for their well-being. Each week
the informal gatherings at her rooms, where various useful topics
are discussed, are eagerly looked forward to. Chief of all, Miss
Mitchell's own bright and sensible talk is enjoyed. Her "dome
parties," held yearly in June, under the great dome of the
observatory, with pupils coming back from all over the country,
original poems read and songs sung, are among the joys of college
All these years the astronomer's fame has steadily increased. In 1868,
in the great meteoric shower, she and her pupils recorded the paths
of four thousand meteors, and gave valuable data of their height above
the earth. In the summer of 1869 she joined the astronomers who went
to Burlington, Iowa, to observe the total eclipse of the sun, Aug. 7.
Her observations on the transit of Venus were also valuable. She has
written much on the _Satellites of Saturn_, and has prepared a work on
the _Satellites of Jupiter_.
In 1873 she again visited Europe, spending some time with the
family of the Russian astronomer, Professor Struve, at the Imperial
Observatory at Pultowa.
She is an honor to her sex, a striking example of what a quiet country
girl can accomplish without money or fortuitous circumstances.
* * * * *
She resigned her position at Vassar in 1888. Miss Mitchell died on the
morning of June 28, 1889, at Lynn, Mass., at the age of seventy-one,
and was buried at Nantucket on Sunday afternoon, June 30.
LOUISA M. ALCOTT.
[Illustration: LOUISA M. ALCOTT.]
A dozen of us sat about the dinner-table at the Hotel Bellevue,
Boston. One was the gifted wife of a gifted clergyman; one had written
two or three novels; one was a journalist; one was on the eve of a
long journey abroad; and one, whom we were all glad to honor, was the
brilliant author of _Little Women_. She had a womanly face, bright,
gray eyes, that looked full of merriment, and would not see the hard
side of life, and an air of common sense that made all defer to her
judgment. She told witty stories of the many who wrote her for
advice or favors, and good-naturedly gave bits of her own personal
experience. Nearly twenty years before, I had seen her, just after
her _Hospital Sketches_ were published, over which I, and thousands of
others, had shed tears. Though but thirty years old then, Miss Alcott
looked frail and tired. That was the day of her struggle with life.
Now, at fifty, she looked happy and comfortable. The desire of her
heart had been realized,--to do good to tens of thousands, and earn
enough money to care for those whom she loved.
Louisa Alcott's life, like that of so many famous women, has been full
of obstacles. She was born in Germantown, Pa., Nov. 29, 1832, in the
home of an extremely lovely mother and cultivated father, Amos Bronson
Alcott. Beginning life poor, his desire for knowledge led him to
obtain an education and become a teacher. In 1830 he married Miss May,
a descendant of the well-known Sewells and Quincys, of Boston. Louise
Chandler Moulton says, in her excellent sketch of Miss Alcott, "I have
heard that the May family were strongly opposed to the union of their
beautiful daughter with the penniless teacher and philosopher;" but he
made a devoted husband, though poverty was long their guest.
For eleven years, mostly in Boston, he was the earnest and successful
teacher. Margaret Fuller was one of his assistants. Everybody
respected his purity of life and his scholarship. His kindness
of heart made him opposed to corporal punishment, and in favor of
self-government. The world had not come then to his high ideal,
but has been creeping toward it ever since, until whipping, both in
schools and homes, is fortunately becoming one of the lost arts.
He believed in making studies interesting to pupils; not the dull,
old-fashioned method of learning by rote, whereby, when a hymn was
taught, such as, "A Charge to keep I have," the children went home
to repeat to their astonished mothers, "Eight yards to keep I have,"
having learned by ear, with no knowledge of the meaning of the words.
He had friendly talks with his pupils on all great subjects; and some
of these Miss Elizabeth Peabody, the sister of Mrs. Hawthorne, so
greatly enjoyed, that she took notes, and compiled them in a book.
New England, always alive to any theological discussion, at once
pronounced the book unorthodox. Emerson had been through the same kind
of a storm, and bravely came to the defence of his friend. Another
charge was laid at Mr. Alcott's door: he was willing to admit colored
children to his school, and such a thing was not countenanced, except
by a few fanatics(?) like Whittier, and Phillips, and Garrison. The
heated newspaper discussion lessened the attendance at the school; and
finally, in 1839, it was discontinued, and the Alcott family moved to
Here were gifted men and women with whom the philosopher could feel at
home, and rest. Here lived Emerson, in the two-story drab house,
with horsechestnut-trees in front of it. Here lived Thoreau, near his
beautiful Walden Lake, a restful place, with no sound save, perchance,
the dipping of an oar or the note of a bird, which the lonely man
loved so well. Here he built his house, twelve feet square, and lived
for two years and a half, giving to the world what he desired others
to give,--his inner self. Here was his bean-field, where he "used to
hoe from five o'clock in the morning till noon," and made, as he said,
an intimate acquaintance with weeds, and a pecuniary profit of eight
dollars seventy-one and one-half cents! Here, too, was Hawthorne,
"who," as Oliver Wendell Holmes says, "brooded himself into a
Here Mr. Alcott could live with little expense and teach his four
daughters. Louisa, the eldest, was an active, enthusiastic child,
getting into little troubles from her frankness and lack of policy,
but making friends with her generous heart. Who can ever forget Jo in
_Little Women_, who was really Louisa, the girl who, when reproved
for whistling by Amy, the art-loving sister, says: "I hate affected,
niminy-piminy chits! I'm not a young lady; and if turning up my hair
makes me one, I'll wear it in two tails till I'm twenty. I hate to
think I've got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and
look as prim as a china-aster! Its bad enough to be a girl, anyway,
when I like boy's games and work and manners!"
At fifteen, "Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of
a colt; for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs,
which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical
nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and were
by turns fierce or funny or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair was her
one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net to be out of her
way. Round shoulders had Jo, and big hands and feet, a fly-away look
to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was
rapidly shooting up into a woman, and didn't like it."
The four sisters lived a merry life in the Concord haunts,
notwithstanding their scanty means. Now, at the dear mother's
suggestion, they ate bread and milk for breakfast, that they might
carry their nicely prepared meal to a poor woman, with six children,
who called them _Engel-kinder_, much to Louisa's delight. Now they
improvised a stage, and produced real plays, while the neighbors
looked in and enjoyed the fun.
Louisa was especially fond of reading Shakespeare, Goethe, Emerson,
Margaret Fuller, Miss Edgeworth, and George Sand. As early as eight
years of age she wrote a poem of eight lines, _To a Robin_, which her
mother carefully preserved, telling her that "if she kept on in this
hopeful way, she might be a second Shakespeare in time." Blessings on
those people who have a kind smile or a word of encouragement as we
struggle up the hard hills of life!
At thirteen she wrote _My Kingdom_. When, years afterward, Mrs. Eva
Munson Smith wrote to her, asking for some poems for _Woman in Sacred
Song_, Miss Alcott sent her this one, saying, "It is the only hymn I
ever wrote. It was composed at thirteen, and as I still find the
same difficulty in governing my kingdom, it still expresses my soul's
desire, and I have nothing better to offer."
"A little kingdom I possess
Where thoughts and feelings dwell,
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well;
For passion tempts and troubles me,
A wayward will misleads,
And selfishness its shadow casts
On all my words and deeds.
"How can I learn to rule myself,
To be the child I should,
Honest and brave, and never tire
Of trying to be good?
How can I keep a sunny soul
To shine along life's way?
How can I tune my little heart
To sweetly sing all day?
"Dear Father, help me with the love
That casteth out my fear;
Teach me to lean on Thee, and feel
That Thou art very near:
That no temptation is unseen,
No childish grief too small,
Since Thou, with patience infinite,
Doth soothe and comfort all.
"I do not ask for any crown,
But that which all may win;
Nor try to conquer any world
Except the one within.
Be Thou my guide until I find,
Led by a tender hand,
Thy happy kingdom in myself,
And dare to take command."
Louisa was very imaginative, telling stories to her sisters and her
mates, and at sixteen wrote a book for Miss Ellen Emerson, entitled
_Flower Fables_. It was not published till six years later, and then,
being florid in style, did not bring her any fame. She was now anxious
to earn her support. She was not the person to sit down idly and
wait for marriage, or for some rich relation to care for her; but
she determined to make a place in the world for herself. She says in
_Little Women_, "Jo's ambition was to do something very splendid; what
it was she had no idea, as yet, but left it for time to tell her," and
at sixteen the time had come to make the attempt.
She began to teach school with twenty pupils. Instead of the
theological talks which her father gave his scholars, she told them
stories, which she says made the one pleasant hour in her school-day.
Now the long years of work had begun--fifteen of them--which should
give the girl such rich yet sometimes bitter experiences, that she
could write the most fascinating books from her own history. Into her
volume called _Work_, published when she had become famous, she put
many of her own early sorrows in those of "Christie."
Much of this time was spent in Boston. Sometimes she cared for an
invalid child; sometimes she was a governess; sometimes she did
sewing, adding to her slender means by writing late at night.
Occasionally she went to the house of Rev. Theodore Parker, where she
met Emerson, Sumner, Garrison, and Julia Ward Howe. Emerson always had
a kind word for the girl whom he had known in Concord, and Mr. Parker
would take her by the hand and say, "How goes it, my child? God bless
you; keep your heart up, Louisa," and then she would go home to her
lonely room, brave and encouraged.
At nineteen, one of her early stories was published in _Gleason's
Pictorial_, and for this she received five dollars. How welcome was
this brain-money! Some months later she sent a story to the _Boston
Saturday Gazette_, entitled _The Rival Prima Donnas_, and, to her
great delight, received ten dollars; and what was almost better still,
a request from the editor for another story. Miss Alcott made the
_Rival Prima Donnas_ into a drama, and it was accepted by a theatre,
and would have been put upon the stage but for some disagreement among
the actors. However, the young teacher received for her work a pass to
the theatre for forty nights. She even meditated going upon the stage,
but the manager quite opportunely broke his leg, and the contract
was annulled. What would the boys and girls of America have lost, had
their favorite turned actress!
A second story was, of course, written for the _Saturday Evening
Gazette_. And now Louisa was catching a glimpse of fame. She says,
"One of the memorial moments of my life is that in which, as I trudged
to school on a wintry day, my eye fell upon a large yellow poster with
these delicious words, '_Bertha_, a new tale by the author of _The
Rival Prima Donnas_, will appear in the _Saturday Evening Gazette_.' I
was late; it was bitter cold; people jostled me; I was mortally afraid
I should be recognized; but there I stood, feasting my eyes on the
fascinating poster, and saying proudly to myself, in the words of the
great Vincent Crummles, 'This, this is fame!' That day my pupils had
an indulgent teacher; for, while they struggled with their
pot-hooks, I was writing immortal works; and when they droned out the
multiplication table, I was counting up the noble fortune my pen
was to earn for me in the dim, delightful future. That afternoon my
sisters made a pilgrimage to behold this famous placard, and finding
it torn by the wind, boldly stole it, and came home to wave it like
a triumphal banner in the bosom of the excited family. The tattered
paper still exists, folded away with other relics of those early days,
so hard and yet so sweet, when the first small victories were won, and
the enthusiasm of youth lent romance to life's drudgery."
Finding that there was money in sensational stories, she set herself
eagerly to work, and soon could write ten or twelve a month. She says
in _Little Women:_ "As long as _The Spread Eagle_ paid her a dollar a
column for her 'rubbish,' as she called it, Jo felt herself a woman
of means, and spun her little romances diligently. But great plans
fermented in her busy brain and ambitious mind, and the old tin
kitchen in the garret held a slowly increasing pile of blotted
manuscript, which was one day to place the name of March upon the roll
But sensational stories did not bring much fame, and the conscientious
Louisa tired of them. A novel, _Moods_, written at eighteen, shared
nearly the same fate as _Flower Fables_. Some critics praised, some
condemned, but the great world was indifferent. After this, she
offered a story to Mr. James T. Fields, at that time editor of the
_Atlantic Monthly_, but it was declined, with the kindly advice that
she stick to her teaching. But Louisa Alcott had a strong will and a
brave heart, and would not be overcome by obstacles.
The Civil War had begun, and the school-teacher's heart was deeply
moved. She was now thirty, having had such experience as makes us very
tender toward suffering. The perfume of natures does not usually come
forth without bruising. She determined to go to Washington and offer
herself as a nurse at the hospital for soldiers. After much official
red tape, she found herself in the midst of scores of maimed and
dying, just brought from the defeat at Fredericksburg. She says:
"Round the great stove was gathered the dreariest group I ever
saw,--ragged, gaunt, and pale, mud to the knees, with bloody bandages
untouched since put on days before; many bundled up in blankets, coats
being lost or useless, and all wearing that disheartened look which
proclaimed defeat more plainly than any telegram, of the Burnside
blunder. I pitied them so much, I dared not speak to them. I yearned
to serve the dreariest of them all.
"Presently there came an order, 'Tell them to take off socks, coats,
and shirts; scrub them well, put on clean shirts, and the attendants
will finish them off, and lay them in bed.'
"I chanced to light on a withered old Irishman," she says, "wounded in
the head, which caused that portion of his frame to be tastefully
laid out like a garden, the bandages being the walks, and his hair the
shrubbery. He was so overpowered by the honor of having a lady wash
him, as he expressed it, that he did nothing but roll up his eyes and
bless me, in an irresistible style which was too much for my sense of
the ludicrous, so we laughed together; and when I knelt down to take
off his shoes, he wouldn't hear of my touching 'them dirty craters.'
Some of them took the performance like sleepy children, leaning their
tired heads against me as I worked; others looked grimly scandalized,
and several of the roughest colored like bashful girls."
When food was brought, she fed one of the badly wounded men, and
offered the same help to his neighbor. "Thank you, ma'am," he said, "I
don't think I'll ever eat again, for I'm shot in the stomach. But I'd
like a drink of water, if you ain't too busy."
"I rushed away," she says; "but the water pails were gone to be
refilled, and it was some time before they reappeared. I did not
forget my patient, meanwhile, and, with the first mugful, hurried back
to him. He seemed asleep; but something in the tired white face
caused me to listen at his lips for a breath. None came. I touched his
forehead; it was cold; and then I knew that, while he waited, a better
nurse than I had given him a cooler draught, and healed him with a
touch. I laid the sheet over the quiet sleeper, whom no noise could
now disturb; and, half an hour later, the bed was empty."
With cheerful face and warm heart she went among the soldiers, now
writing letters, now washing faces, and now singing lullabies. One day
a tall, manly fellow was brought in. He seldom spoke, and uttered no
complaint. After a little, when his wounds were being dressed, Miss
Alcott observed the big tears roll down his cheeks and drop on the
She says: "My heart opened wide and took him in, as, gathering the
bent head in my arms, as freely as if he had been a child, I said,
'Let me help you bear it, John!' Never on any human countenance have I
seen so swift and beautiful a look of gratitude, surprise, and comfort
as that which answered me more eloquently than the whispered--
"'Thank you, ma'am; this is right good! this is what I wanted.'
"'Then why not ask for it before?'
"'I didn't like to be a trouble, you seemed so busy, and I could
manage to get on alone.'"
The doctors had told Miss Alcott that John must die, and she must take
the message to him; but she had not the heart to do it. One evening he
asked her to write a letter for him. "Shall it be addressed to wife or
"Neither, ma'am; I've got no wife, and will write to mother myself
when I get better. Mother's a widow; I'm the oldest child she has,
and it wouldn't do for me to marry until Lizzy has a home of her own,
and Jack's learned his trade; for we're not rich, and I must be father
to the children and husband to the dear old woman, if I can."
"No doubt you are both, John; yet how came you to go to war, if you
"I went because I couldn't help it. I didn't want the glory or the
pay; I wanted the right thing done, and people kept saying the men who
were in earnest ought to fight. I was in earnest, the Lord knows! but
I held off as long as I could, not knowing which was my duty. Mother
saw the case, gave me her ring to keep me steady, and said 'Go'; so I
"Do you ever regret that you came, when you lie here suffering so
"Never, ma'am; I haven't helped a great deal, but I've shown I was
willing to give my life, and perhaps I've got to.... This is my first
battle; do they think it's going to be my last?"
"I'm afraid they do, John."
He seemed startled at first, but desired Miss Alcott to write the
letter to Jack, because he could best tell the sad news to the mother.
With a sigh, John said, "I hope the answer will come in time for me to
Two days later Miss Alcott was sent for. John stretched out both hands
as he said, "I knew you'd come. I guess I'm moving on, ma'am." Then
clasping her hand so close that the death marks remained long upon
it, he slept the final sleep. An hour later John's letter came,
and putting it in his hand, Miss Alcott kissed the dead brow of the
Virginia blacksmith, for his aged mother's sake, and buried him in the
The noble teacher after a while became ill from overwork, and was
obliged to return home, soon writing her book, _Hospital Sketches_,
published in 1865. This year, needing rest and change, she went to
Europe as companion to an invalid lady, spending a year in Germany,
Switzerland, Paris, and London. In the latter city she met Jean
Ingelow, Frances Power Cobbe, John Stuart Mill, George Lewes, and
others, who had known of the brilliant Concord coterie. Such persons
did not ask if Miss Alcott were rich, nor did they care.
In 1868 her father took several of her more recent stories to Roberts
Brothers to see about their publication in book form. Mr. Thomas
Niles, a member of the firm, a man of refinement and good judgment,
said: "We do not care just now for volumes of collected stories. Will
not your daughter write us a new book consisting of a single story for
Miss Alcott feared she could not do it, and set herself to write
_Little Women_, to show the publishers that she could _not_ write a
story for girls. But she did not succeed in convincing them or the
world of her inability. In two months the first part was finished, and
published October, 1868. It was a natural, graphic story of her three
sisters and herself in that simple Concord home. How we, who are
grown-up children, read with interest about the "Lawrence boy,"
especially if we had boys of our own, and sympathized with the little
girl who wrote Miss Alcott, "I have cried quarts over Beth's sickness.
If you don't have her marry Laurie in the second part, I shall never
forgive you, and none of the girls in our school will ever read any
more of your books. Do! do! have her, please."
The second part appeared in April, 1869, and Miss Alcott found herself
famous. The "pile of blotted manuscript" had "placed the name of March
upon the roll of fame." Some of us could not be reconciled to
dear Jo's marriage with the German professor, and their school at
Plumfield, when Laurie loved her so tenderly. "We cried over Beth, and
felt how strangely like most young housekeepers was Meg. How the tired
teacher, and tender-hearted nurse for the soldiers must have rejoiced
at her success! "This year," she wrote her publishers, "after toiling
so many years along the uphill road, always a hard one to women
writers, it is peculiarly grateful to me to find the way growing
easier at last, with pleasant little surprises blossoming on either
side, and the rough places made smooth."
When _Little Men_ was announced, fifty thousand copies were ordered in
advance of its publication! About this time Miss Alcott visited Rome
with her artist sister May, the "Amy" of _Little Women_, and on
her return, wrote _Shawl-straps_, a bright sketch of their journey,
followed by an _Old-Fashioned Girl_; that charming book _Under the
Lilacs_, where your heart goes out to Ben and his dog Sancho; six
volumes of _Aunt Jo's Scrap-bag_; _Jack and Jill_; and others.
From these books Miss Alcott has already received about one hundred
She has ever been the most devoted of daughters. Till the mother went
out of life, in 1877, she provided for her every want. May, the gifted
youngest sister, who was married in Paris in 1878 to Ernst Nieriker,
died a year and a half later, leaving her infant daughter, Louisa
May Nieriker, to Miss Alcott's loving care. The father, who became
paralyzed in 1882, now eighty-six years old, has had her constant
ministries. How proud he has been of his Louisa! I heard him say,
years ago, "I am riding in her golden chariot."
Miss Alcott now divides her time between Boston and Concord. "The
Orchards," the Alcott home for twenty-five years, set in its frame of
grand trees, its walls and doors daintily covered with May Alcott's
sketches, has become the home of the "Summer School of Philosophy,"
and Miss Alcott and her father live in the house where Thoreau died.
Most of her stories have been written in Boston, where she finds
more inspiration than at Concord. "She never had a study," says Mrs.
Moulton; "any corner will answer to write in. She is not particular
as to pens and paper, and an old atlas on her knee is all the desk she
cares for. She has the wonderful power to carry a dozen plots in her
head at a time, thinking them over whenever she is in the mood. Often
in the dead waste and middle of the night she lies awake and plans
whole chapters. In her hardest working days she used to write fourteen
hours in the twenty-four, sitting steadily at her work, and scarcely
tasting food till her daily task was done. When she has a story to
write, she goes to Boston, hires a quiet room, and shuts herself up in
it. In a month or so the book will be done, and its author comes
out 'tired, hungry, and cross,' and ready to go back to Concord and
vegetate for a time."
Miss Alcott, like Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, is an earnest advocate of
woman's suffrage, and temperance. When Meg in _Little Women_ prevails
upon Laurie to take the pledge on her wedding-day, the delighted Jo
beams her approval. In 1883 she writes of the suffrage reform, "Every
year gives me greater faith in it, greater hope of its success, a
larger charity for those who cannot see its wisdom, and a more earnest
wish to use what influence I possess for its advancement."
Miss Alcott has done a noble work for her generation. Her books have
been translated into foreign languages, and expressions of affection
have come to her from both east and west. She says, "As I turn my face
toward sunset, I find so much to make the down-hill journey smooth and
lovely, that, like Christian, I go on my way rejoicing with a cheerful
* * * * *
Miss Alcott died March 6, 1888, at the age of fifty-five, three
days after the death of her distinguished father, Bronson Alcott,
eighty-eight years old. She had been ill for some months, from care
and overwork. On the Saturday morning before she died, she wrote to
a friend: "I am told that I must spend another year in this 'Saint's
Rest,' and then I am promised twenty years of health. I don't want
so many, and I have no idea I shall see them. But as I don't live for
myself, I will live on for others."
On the evening of the same day she became unconscious, and remained so
till her death, on Tuesday morning.
There are two women whose memory the girls in this country should
especially revere,--Mary Lyon and Catharine Beecher. When it was
unfashionable for women to know more than to read, write, and cipher
(the "three R's," as reading, writing, and arithmetic were called),
these two had the courage to ask that women have an education equal to
men, a thing which was laughed at as impracticable and impossible. To
these two pioneers we are greatly indebted for the grand educational
advantages for women to-day in America.
Amid the mountains of Western Massachusetts, at Buckland, Feb. 28,
1797, the fifth of seven children, Mary Lyon came into the world, in
obscurity. The little farm-house was but one story high, in the midst
of rocks and sturdy trees. The father, Aaron Lyon, was a godly man,
beloved by all his neighbors,--"the peacemaker," he was called,--who
died at forty-five, leaving his little family well-nigh helpless--no,
not helpless, because the mother was of the same material of which
Eliza Garfields are made.
Such women are above circumstances. She saw to it that the farm
yielded its best. She worked early and late, always cheerful, always
observing the Sabbath most devotedly, always keeping the children
clean and tidy. In her little garden the May pinks were the sweetest
and the peonies the reddest of any in the neighborhood. One person
begged to set a plant in the corner of her garden, sure that if Mrs.
Lyon tended it, it could never die. "How is it," said the hard-working
wife of a farmer, "that the widow can do more for me than any one
else?" She had her trials, but she saw no use in telling them
to others, so with a brave heart she took up her daily tasks and
Little Mary was an energetic, frank, warm-hearted child, full of
desire to help others. Her mind was eager in grasping new things, and
curious in its investigations. Once, when her mother had given her
some work to do, she climbed upon a chair to look at the hour-glass,
and said, as she studied it, "I know I have found a way to _make more
At the village school she showed a remarkable memory and the power of
committing lessons easily. She was especially good in mathematics and
grammar. In four days she learned all of Alexander's Grammar, which
scholars were accustomed to commit, and recited it accurately to the
When Mary was thirteen, the mother married a second time, and soon
after removed to Ohio. The girl remained at the old homestead, keeping
house for the only brother, and so well did she do the work, that he
gave her a dollar a week for her services. This she used in buying
books and clothes for school. Besides, she found opportunities to spin
and weave for some of the neighbors, and thus added a little more to
After five years, the brother married and sought a home in New York
State. Mary, thus thrown upon herself, began to teach school for
seventy-five cents a week and her board. This amount would not buy
many silks or embroideries, but Mary did not care much for these. "She
is all intellect," said a friend who knew her well; "she does not know
that she has a body to care for."
She had now saved enough money to enable her to spend one term at the
Sanderson Academy at Ashfield. What an important event in life that
seemed to the struggling country girl! The scholars watched her
bright, intellectual face, and when she began to recite, laid aside
their books to hear her. The teacher said, "I should like to see what
she would make if she could be sent to college." When the term ended,
her little savings were all spent, and now she must teach again. If
she only could go forward with her classmates! but the laws of poverty
are inexorable. Just as she was leaving the school, the trustees came
and offered the advantages of the academy free, for another term. Did
ever such a gleam of sunshine come into a cloudy day?
But how could she pay her board? She owned a, bed and some table
linen, and taking these to a boarding house, a bargain was made
whereby she could have a room and board in exchange for her household
Her red-letter days had indeed come. She might never have a chance
for schooling again; so, without regard to health, she slept only four
hours out of the twenty-four, ate her meals hurriedly, and gave all
her time to her lessons. Not a scholar in the school could keep up
with her. When the teacher gave her Adams' _Latin Grammar_, telling
her to commit such portions as were usual in going over the book the
first time, she learned them all in three days!
When the term closed, she had no difficulty in finding a place to
teach. All the towns around had heard of the surprising scholar, Mary
Lyon, and probably hoped she could inspire the same scholarship in her
pupils, a matter in which she was most successful.
As soon as her schools were finished, she would spend the money in
obtaining instruction in some particular study, in which she thought
herself deficient. Now she would go into the family of Rev. Edward
Hitchcock, afterward president of Amherst College, and study natural
science of him, meantime taking lessons, of his wife in drawing
and painting. Now she would study penmanship, following the copy
as closely as a child. Once when a teacher, in deference to her
reputation, wrote the copy in Latin, she handed it back and asked him
to write in English, lest when the books were examined, she might be
thought wiser than she really was. Thus conscientious was the young
She was now twenty-four, and had laid up enough money to attend the
school of Rev. Joseph Emerson, at Byfield. He was an unusual man in
his gifts of teaching and broad views of life. He had been blest with
a wife of splendid talents, and as Miss Lyon was wont to say, "Men
judge of the whole sex by their own wives," so Mr. Emerson believed
women could understand metaphysics and theology as well as men. He
discussed science and religion with his pupils, and the result was a
class of self-respecting, self-reliant, thinking women.
Miss Lyon's friends discouraged her going to Byfield, because they
thought she knew enough already. "Why," said they, "you will never be
a minister, and what is the need of going to school?" She improved her
time here. One of her classmates wrote home, "Mary sends love to all;
but time with her is too precious to spend it in writing letters. She
is gaining knowledge by handfuls."
The next year, an assistant was wanted in the Sanderson Academy. The
principal thought a man must be engaged. "Try Mary Lyon," said one of
her friends, "and see if she is not sufficient," and he employed her,
and found her a host. But she could not long be retained, for she
was wanted in a larger field, at Derry, N.H. Miss Grant, one of the
teachers at Mr. Emerson's school, had sent for her former bright
pupil. Mary was glad to be associated with Miss Grant, for she was
very fond of her; but before going, she must attend some lectures in
chemistry and natural history by Professor Eaton at Amherst. Had she
been a young man, how easily could she have secured a scholarship, and
thus worked her way through college; but for a young woman, neither
Amherst, nor Dartmouth, nor Williams, nor Harvard, nor Yale, with all
their wealth, had an open door. Very fond of chemistry, she could only
learn in the spare time which a busy professor could give.
Was the cheerful girl never despondent in these hard working years?
Yes; because naturally she was easily discouraged, and would have long
fits of weeping; but she came to the conclusion that such seasons of
depression were wrong, and that "there was too much to be done, for
her to spend her time in that manner." She used to tell her pupils
that "if they were unhappy, it was probably because they had so many
thoughts about themselves, and so few about the happiness of others."
The friend who had recommended her for the Sanderson Academy now
became surety for her for forty dollars' worth of clothing, and the
earnest young woman started for Derry. The school there numbered
ninety pupils, and Mary Lyon was happy. She wrote her mother, "I do
not number it among the least of my blessings that I am permitted to
_do something_. Surely I ought to be thankful for an active life."
But the Derry school was held only in the summers, so Miss Lyon
came back to teach at Ashfield and Buckland, her birthplace, for the
winters. The first season she had twenty-five scholars; the last, one
hundred. The families in the neighborhood took the students into their
homes to board, charging them one dollar or one dollar and twenty-five
cents per week, while the tuition was twenty-five cents a week. No
one would grow very rich on such an income. So popular was Miss Lyon's
teaching that a suitable building was erected for her school, and the
Ministerial Association passed a resolution of praise, urging her to
remain permanently in the western part of Massachusetts.
However, Miss Grant had removed to Ipswich, and had urged Miss Lyon
to join her, which she did. For six years they taught a large and most
successful school. Miss Lyon was singularly happy in her intercourse
with the young ladies. She won them to her views, while they scarcely
knew that they were being controlled. She would say to them: "Now,
young ladies, you are here at great expense. Your board and tuition
cost a great deal, and your time ought to be worth more than both;
but, in order to get an equivalent for the money and time you are
spending, you must be systematic, and that is impossible, unless you
have a regular hour for rising.... Persons who run round all day after
the half-hour they lost in the morning never accomplish much. You
may know them by a rip in the glove, a string pinned to the bonnet, a
shawl left on the balustrade, which they had no time to hang up, they
were in such a hurry to catch their lost thirty minutes. You will see
them opening their books and trying to study at the time of general
exercises in school; but it is a fruitless race; they never will
overtake their lost half-hour. Good men, from Abraham to Washington,
have been early risers." Again, she would say, "Mind, wherever it is
found, will secure respect.... Educate the women, and the men will be
educated. Let the ladies understand the great doctrine of seeking
the greatest good, of loving their neighbors as themselves; let them
indoctrinate their children in this fundamental truth, and we shall
have wise legislators."
"You won't do so again, will you, dear?" was almost always sure to win
a tender response from a pupil.
She would never allow a scholar to be laughed at. If a teacher spoke
jestingly of a scholar's capacity, Miss Lyon would say, "Yes, I know
she has a small mind, but we must do the best we can for her."
For nearly sixteen years she had been giving her life to the education
of girls. She had saved no money for herself, giving it to her
relatives or aiding poor girls in going to school. She was simple in
her tastes, the blue cloth dress she generally wore having been spun
and woven by herself. A friend tells how, standing before the mirror
to tie her bonnet, she said, "Well, I _may_ fail of Heaven, but I
shall be very much disappointed if I do--very much disappointed;" and
there was no thought of what she was doing with the ribbons.
Miss Lyon was now thirty-three years old. It would be strange indeed
if a woman with her bright mind and sunshiny face should not have
offers of marriage. One of her best opportunities came, as is often
the case, when about thirty, and Miss Lyon could have been made
supremely happy by it, but she had in her mind one great purpose, and
she felt that she must sacrifice home and love for it. This was the
building of a high-grade school or college for women. Had she decided
otherwise, there probably would have been no Mount Holyoke Seminary.
She had the tenderest sympathy for poor girls; they were the ones
usually most desirous of an education, and they struggled the hardest
for it. For them no educational societies were provided, and no
scholarships. Could she, who had no money, build "a seminary which
should be so moderate in its expenses as to be open to the daughters
of farmers and artisans, and to teachers who might be mainly dependent
for their support on their own exertions"?
In vain she tried to have the school at Ipswich established
permanently by buildings and endowments. In vain she talked with
college presidents and learned ministers. Nearly all were indifferent.
They could see no need that women should study science or the
classics. That women would be happier with knowledge, just as they
themselves were made happier by it, seemed never to have occurred to
them. That women were soon to do nine-tenths of the teaching in the
schools of the country could not be foreseen. Oberlin and Cornell,
Vassar and Wellesley, belonged to a golden age as yet undreamed of.
For two years she thought over it, and prayed over it, and when all
seemed hopeless, she would walk the floor, and say over and over
again, "Commit thy way unto the Lord. He will keep thee. Women _must_
be educated; they _must_ be." Finally a meeting was called in Boston
at the same time as one of the religious anniversaries. She wrote to
a friend, "Very few were present. The meeting was adjourned; and the
adjourned meeting utterly failed. There were not enough present to
organize, and there the business, in my view, has come to an end."
Still she carried the burden on her heart. She writes, in 1834,
"During the past year my heart has so yearned over the adult female
youth in the common walks of life, that it has sometimes seemed as
though a fire were shut up in my bones." She conceived the idea of
having the young women do the work of the house, partly to lessen
expenses, partly to teach them useful things, and also because she
says, "Might not this single feature do away much of the prejudice
against female education among common people?"
At last the purpose in her heart became so strong that she resigned
her position as a teacher, and went from house to house in Ipswich
collecting funds. She wrote to her mother, "I hope and trust that this
is of the Lord, and that He will prosper it. In this movement I have
thought much more constantly, and have felt much more deeply, about
doing that which shall be for the honor of Christ, and for the good
of souls, than I ever did in any step in my life." She determined
to raise her first thousand dollars from women. She talked in her
good-natured way with the father or the mother. She asked if they
wanted a new shawl or card-table or carpet, if they would not find a
way to procure it. Usually they gave five or ten dollars; some, only
a half-dollar. So interested did two ladies become that they gave one
hundred dollars apiece, and later, when their house was burned, and
the man who had their money in charge lost it, they worked with their
own hands and earned the two hundred, that their portion might not
fail in the great work.
In less than two months she had raised the thousand; but she
wrote Miss Grant, "I do not recollect being so fatigued, even to
prostration, as I have been for a few weeks past." She often quoted a
remark of Dr. Lyman Beecher's, "The wear and tear of what I cannot do
is a great deal more than the wear and tear of what I do." When she
became quite worn, her habit was to sleep nearly all the time, for two
or three days, till nature repaired the system.
She next went to Amherst, where good Dr. Hitchcock felt as deeply
interested for girls as for the boys in his college. One January
morning, with the thermometer below zero, three or four hours before
sunrise, he and Miss Lyon started on the stage for Worcester. Each was
wrapped in a buffalo robe, so that the long ride was not unpleasant.
A meeting was to be held, and a decision made as to the location of
the seminary, which, at last, was actually to be built. After a long
conference, South Hadley was chosen, ten miles south of Amherst.
One by one, good men became interested in the matter, and one
true-hearted minister became an agent for the raising of funds. Miss
Lyon was also untiring in her solicitations. She spoke before ladies'
meetings, and visited those in high station and low. So troubled were
her friends about this public work for a woman, that they reasoned
with her that it was in better taste to stay at home, and let
gentlemen do the work.
"What do I that is wrong?" she replied. "I ride in the stage coach
or cars without an escort. Other ladies do the same. I visit a family
where I have been previously invited, and the minister's wife, or
some leading woman, calls the ladies together to see me, and I lay our
object before them. Is that wrong? I go with Mr. Hawks [the agent],
and call on a gentleman of known liberality, at his own house, and
converse with him about our enterprise. What harm is there in that?
My heart is sick, my soul is pained, with this empty gentility, this
genteel nothingness. I am doing a great work. I cannot come down."
Pitiful, that so noble a woman should have been hampered by public
opinion. How all this has changed! Now, the world and the church
gladly welcome the voice, the hand, and the heart of woman in their
At last, enough money was raised to begin the enterprise, and the
corner-stone of Mount Holyoke Seminary was laid, Oct. 3, 1836. "It was
a day of deep interest," writes Mary Lyon. "The stones and brick and
mortar speak a language which vibrates through my very soul."
"With thankful heart and busy hands she watched the progress of the
work. Every detail was under her careful eye. She said: "Had I a
thousand lives, I could sacrifice them all in suffering and hardship,
for the sake of Mount Holyoke Seminary. Did I possess the greatest
fortune, I could readily relinquish it all, and become poor, and more
than poor, if its prosperity should demand it."
Finally, in the autumn of 1837, the seminary was ready for pupils.
The main building, four stories high, had been erected. An admirable
course of study had been provided. For the forty weeks of the school
year, the charges for board and tuition were sixty dollars,--only one
dollar and twenty-five cents per week. Miss Lyon's own salary was but
two hundred a year and she never would receive anything higher.
The accommodations were only for eighty pupils, but one hundred and
sixteen came the first year.
While Miss Lyon was heartily loved by her scholars, they yet respected
her good discipline. It was against the rules for any one to absent
herself from meals without permission to do so. One of the young
ladies, not feeling quite as fresh as usual, concluded not to go down
stairs at tea time, and to remain silent on the subject. Miss Lyon's
quick eye detected her absence. Calling the girl's room-mate to her,
she asked, "Is Miss ---- ill?"
"Oh, no," was the reply, "only a little indisposed, and she
commissioned me to carry her a cup of tea and cracker."
"Very well, I will see to it."
After supper, the young lady ascended to her room, in the fourth
story, found her companion enjoying a glorious sunset, and seating
herself beside her, they began an animated conversation. Presently
there was a knock. "Come in!" both shouted gleefully, when lo! in
walked Mary Lyon, with the tea and cracker. She had come up four
flights of stairs; but she said every one was tired at night, and she
could as well bring up the supper as anybody. She inquired with great
kindness about the young lady's health, who, greatly abashed, had
nothing to say. She was ever after present at meal time, unless sick
The students never forgot Miss Lyon's plain, earnest words. When they
entered, they were told that they were expected to do right without
formal commands; if not, they better go to some smaller school, where
they could receive the peculiar training needed by little girls. She
urged loose clothing and thick shoes. "If you will persist in killing
yourselves by reckless exposure," she would say, "we are not willing
to take the responsibility of the act. We think, by all means, you
better go home and die, in the arms of your dear mothers."
Miss Lyon had come to her fiftieth birthday. Her seminary had
prospered beyond her fondest hopes. She had raised nearly seventy
thousand dollars for her beloved school, and it was out of debt.
Nearly two thousand pupils had been at South Hadley, of whom a large
number had become missionaries and teachers. Not a single year had
passed without a revival, and rarely did a girl leave the institution
without professing Christianity.
She said to a friend shortly after this fiftieth birthday: "It was the
most solemn day of my life. I devoted it to reflection and prayer. Of
my active toils I then took leave. I was certain that before another
fifty years should have elapsed, I should wake up amid far different
scenes, and far other thoughts would fill my mind, and other
employments would engage my attention. I felt it. There seemed to be
no ladder between me and the world above. The gates were opened, and
I seemed to stand on the threshold. I felt that the evening of my days
had come, and that I needed repose."
And the repose came soon. The last of February, 1849, a young lady
in the seminary died. Miss Lyon called the girls together and spoke
tenderly to them, urging them not to fear death, but to be ready to
meet it. She said, "There is nothing in the universe that I am afraid
of, but that I shall not know and do all my duty." Beautiful words!
carved shortly after on her monument.
A few days later, Mary Lyon lay upon her death-bed. The brain had been
congested, and she was often unconscious. In one of her lucid moments,
her pastor said, "Christ precious?" Summoning all her energies, she
raised both hands, clasped them, and said, "Yes." "Have you trusted
Christ too much?" he asked. Seeing that she made an effort to speak,
he said, "God can be glorified by silence." An indescribable smile lit
up her face, and she was gone.
On the seminary grounds the beloved teacher was buried, her pupils
singing about her open grave, "Why do we mourn departing friends?"
A beautiful monument of Italian marble, square, and resting upon a
granite pedestal, marks the spot. On the west side are the words:--
THE FOUNDER OF
MOUNT HOLYOKE FEMALE SEMINARY,
AND FOR TWELVE YEARS
FOR THIRTY-FIVE YEARS,
AND OF MORE THAN
THREE THOUSAND PUPILS.
BORN, FEBRUARY 28, 1797;
DIED, MARCH 5, 1849.
What a devoted, heroic life! and its results, who can estimate?
Her work has gone steadily on. The seminary grounds now cover
twenty-five acres. The main structure has two large wings, while a
gymnasium; a library building, with thirteen thousand volumes; the
Lyman Williston Hall, with laboratories and art gallery; and the
new observatory, with fine telescope, astronomical clock, and other
appliances, afford such admirable opportunities for higher education
as noble Mary Lyon could hardly have dared to hope for. The property
is worth about three hundred thousand dollars. How different from
the days when half-dollars were given into Miss Lyon's willing hands!
Nearly six thousand students have been educated here, three-fourths of
whom have become teachers, and about two hundred foreign missionaries.
Many have married ministers, presidents of colleges, and leading men
in education and good works.
The board and tuition have become one hundred and seventy-five dollars
a year, only enough to cover the cost. The range of study has been
constantly increased and elevated to keep pace with the growing demand
that women shall be as fully educated as men. Even Miss Lyon, in those
early days, looked forward to the needs of the future, by placing in
her course of study, Sullivan's _Political Class-Book_, and Wayland's
_Political Economy_. The four years' course is solid and thorough,
while the optional course in French, German, and Greek is admirable.
Eventually, when our preparatory schools are higher, all our colleges
for women will have as difficult entrance examinations as Harvard and
The housework at Mount Holyoke Seminary requires but half an hour each
day for each of the two hundred and ninety-seven pupils. Much time
is spent wisely in the gymnasium, and in boating on the lake near by.
Habits of punctuality, thoroughness, and order are the outcome of life
in this institution. An endowment of twenty thousand dollars, called
"the Mary Lyon Fund," is now being raised by former students for
the Chair of the Principal. Schools like the Lake Erie Seminary at
Painesville, Ohio, have grown out of the school at South Hadley.
Truly, Mary Lyon was doing a great work, and she could not come down.
Between such a life and the ordinary social round there can be no
The English ivy grows thickly over Miss Lyon's grave, covering it like
a mantle, and sending out its wealth of green leaves in the spring. So
each year her own handiwork flourishes, sending out into the world
its strongest forces, the very foundation of the highest
civilization,--educated and Christian wives and mothers.
HARRIET G. HOSMER.
[Illustration: (From the "Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and
Some years ago, in an art store in Boston, a crowd of persons stood
gazing intently upon a famous piece of statuary. The red curtains were
drawn aside, and the white marble seemed almost to speak. A group of
girls stood together, and looked on in rapt admiration. One of them
said, "Just to think that a woman did it!"
"It makes me proud and glad," said another.
"Who is Harriet Hosmer?" said a third. "I wish I knew about her."
And then one of us, who had stolen all the hours she could get from
school life to read art books from the Hartford Athenaeum, and kept
crude statues, made by herself from chalk and plaster, secreted in her
room, told all she had read about the brilliant author of "Zenobia."
The statue was seven feet high, queenly in pose and face, yet delicate
and beautiful, with the thoughts which genius had wrought in it.
The left arm supported the elegant drapery, while the right hung
listlessly by her side, both wrists chained; the captive of
the Emperor Aurelian. Since that time, I have looked upon other
masterpieces in all the great galleries of Europe, but perhaps none
have ever made a stronger impression upon me than "Zenobia," in those
And who was the artist of whom we girls were so proud? Born in
Watertown, Mass., Oct. 9, 1830, Harriet Hosmer came into the welcome
home of a leading physician, and a delicate mother, who soon died
of consumption. Dr. Hosmer had also buried his only child besides
Harriet, with the same disease, and he determined that this girl
should live in sunshine and air, that he might save her if possible.
He used to say, "There is a whole life-time for the education of
the mind, but the body develops in a few years; and during that time
nothing should be allowed to interfere with its free and healthy
As soon as the child was large enough, she was given a pet dog, which
she decked with ribbons and bells. Then, as the Charles River flowed
past their house, a boat was provided, and she was allowed to row at
will. A Venetian gondola was also built for her, with silver prow and
velvet cushions. "Too much spoiling--too much spoiling," said some
of the neighbors; but Dr. Hosmer knew that he was keeping his little
daughter on the earth instead of heaven.
A gun was now purchased, and the girl became an admirable marksman.
Her room was a perfect museum. Here were birds, bats, beetles, snakes,
and toads; some dissected, some preserved in spirits, and others
stuffed, all gathered and prepared by her own hands. Now she made an
inkstand from the egg of a sea-gull and the body of a kingfisher; now
she climbed to the top of a tree and brought down a crow's nest. She
could walk miles upon miles with no fatigue. She grew up like a boy,
which is only another way of saying that she grew up healthy and
strong physically. Probably polite society was shocked at Dr. Hosmer's
methods. Would that there were many such fathers and mothers, that we
might have a vigorous race of women, and consequently, a vigorous race
When Harriet tired of books,--for she was an eager reader,--she found
delight in a clay-pit in the garden, where she molded horses and dogs
to her heart's content. Unused to restraint, she did not like
the first school at which she was placed, the principal, the
brother-in-law of Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing to her father that he
"could do nothing with her."
She was then taken to Mrs. Sedgwick, who kept a famous school at
Lenox, Berkshire County. She received "happy Hatty," as she was
called, with the remark, "I have a reputation for training wild
colts, and I will try this one." And the wise woman succeeded. She won
Harriet's confidence, not by the ten thousand times repeated "don't,"
which so many children hear in home and school, till life seems a
prison-pen. She let her run wild, guiding her all the time with so
much tact, that the girl scarcely knew she was guided at all. Blessed
tact! How many thousands of young people are ruined for lack of it!
She remained here three years. Mrs. Sedgwick says, "She was the most
difficult pupil to manage I ever had, but I think I never had one in
whom I took so deep an interest, and whom I learned to love so well."
About this time, not being quite as well as usual, Dr. Hosmer engaged
a physician of, large practice to visit his daughter. The busy man
could not be regular, which sadly interfered with Harriet's boating
and driving. Complaining one day that it spoiled her pleasure, he
said, "If I am alive, I will be here," naming the day and hour.
"Then if you are not here, I am to conclude that you are dead," was
As he did not come, Harriet drove to the newspaper offices in Boston
that afternoon, and the next morning the community was startled to
read of Dr. ----'s sudden death. Friends hastened to the house, and
messages of condolence came pouring in. It is probable that he was
more punctual after this.
On Harriet's return from Lenox, she began to take lessons in drawing,
modeling, and anatomical studies, in Boston, frequently walking from
home and back, a distance of fourteen miles. Feeling the need of a
thorough course in anatomy, she applied to the Boston Medical School
for admittance, and was refused because of her sex. The Medical
College of St. Louis proved itself broader, glad to encourage talent
wherever found, and received her.
Professor McDowell, under whom the artists Powers and Clevenger
studied anatomy, spared no pains to give her every advantage, while
the students were uniformly courteous. "I remember him," says Miss
Hosmer, "with great affection and gratitude as being a most thorough
and patient teacher, as well as at all times a good, kind friend."
In testimony of her appreciation, she cut, from a bust of Professor
McDowell by Clevenger, a life-size medallion in marble, now treasured
in the college museum.
While in St. Louis she made her home with the family of Wayman Crow,
Esq., whose daughter had been her companion at Lenox. This gentleman
proved himself a constant and encouraging friend, ordering her first
statue from Rome, and helping in a thousand ways a girl who had chosen
for herself an unusual work in life.
After completing her studies she made a trip to New Orleans, and then
North to the Falls of St. Anthony, smoking the pipe of peace with
the chief of the Dakota Indians, exploring lead mines in Dubuque, and
scaling a high mountain that was soon after named for her. Did the
wealthy girl go alone on these journeys? Yes. As a rule, no harm comes
to a young woman who conducts herself with becoming reserve with men.
Flirts usually are paid in their own coin.
On her return home, Dr. Hosmer fitted up a studio for his daughter,
and her first work was to copy from the antique. Then she cut Canova's
"Napoleon" in marble for her father, doing all the work, that he
might especially value the gift. Her next statue was an ideal bust of
Hesper, "with," said Lydia Maria Child, "the face of a lovely maiden
gently falling asleep with the sound of distant music. Her hair is
gracefully arranged, and intertwined with capsules of the poppy. A
star shines on her forehead, and under her breast lies the crescent
moon. The swell of the cheeks and the bust is like pure, young,
healthy flesh, and the muscles of the beautiful mouth so delicately
cut, it seems like a thing that breathes. She did every stroke of the
work with her own small hands, except knocking off the corners of the
block of marble. She employed a man to do that; but as he was unused
to work for sculptors, she did not venture to have him approach within
several inches of the surface she intended to cut. Slight girl as she
was, she wielded for eight or ten hours a day a leaden mallet
weighing four pounds and a half. Had it not been for the strength and
flexibility of muscle acquired by rowing and other athletic exercises,
such arduous labor would have been impossible."
After "Hesper" was completed, she said to her father, "I am ready to
go to Rome."
"You shall go, my child, this very autumn," was the response.
He would, of course, miss the genial companionship of his only child,
but her welfare was to be consulted rather than his own. When autumn
came, she rode on horseback to Wayland to say good-bye to Mrs. Child.
"Shall you never be homesick for your museum-parlor in Watertown? Can
you be contented in a foreign land?"
"I can be happy anywhere," said Miss Hosmer, "with good health and a
bit of marble."
Late in the fall Dr. Hosmer and his daughter started for Europe,
reaching Rome Nov. 12, 1852. She had greatly desired to study under
John Gibson, the leading English sculptor, but he had taken young
women into his studio who in a short time became discouraged or showed
themselves afraid of hard work, and he feared Miss Hosmer might be of
the same useless type.
When the photographs of "Hesper" were placed before him by an artist
friend of the Hosmers, he looked at them carefully, and said, "Send
the young lady to me, and whatever I know, and can teach her, she
shall learn." He gave Miss Hosmer an upstairs room in his studio, and
here for seven years she worked with delight, honored and encouraged
by her noble teacher. She wrote to her friends: "The dearest wish of
my heart is gratified in that I am acknowledged by Gibson as a pupil.
He has been resident in Rome thirty-four years, and leads the van. I
am greatly in luck. He has just finished the model of the statue of
the queen; and as his room is vacant, he permits me to use it, and I
am now in his own studio. I have also a little room for work which was
formerly occupied by Canova, and perhaps inspiration may be drawn from
The first work which she copied, to show Gibson whether she had
correctness of eye and proper knowledge, was the Venus of Milo. When
nearly finished, the iron which supported the clay snapped, and the
figure lay spoiled upon the floor. She did not shrink nor cry, but
immediately went to work cheerfully to shape it over again. This
conduct Mr. Gibson greatly admired, and made up his mind to assist her
all he could.
After this she copied the "Cupid" of Praxitiles and Tasso from the
British Museum. Her first original work was Daphne, the beautiful
girl whom Apollo loved, and who, rather than accept his addresses, was
changed into laurel by the gods. Apollo crowned his head with laurel,
and made the flower sacred to himself forever.
Next, Miss Hosmer produced "Medusa," famed for her beautiful hair,
which Minerva turned into serpents because Neptune loved her.
According to Grecian mythology, Perseus made himself immortal by
conquering Medusa, whose head he cut off, and the blood dripping from
it filled Africa with snakes. Miss Hosmer represents the beautiful
maiden, when she finds, with horror, that her hair is turning into
Needing a real snake for her work, Miss Hosmer sent a man into the
suburbs to bring her one alive. When it was obtained, she chloroformed
it till she had made a cast, keeping it in plaster for three hours and
a half. Then, instead of killing it, like a true-hearted woman, as she
is, she sent it back into the country, glad to regain its liberty.
"Daphne" and "Medusa" were both exhibited in Boston the following
year, 1853, and were much praised. Mr. Gibson said: "The power of
imitating the roundness and softness of flesh, he had never
seen surpassed." Rauch, the great Prussian, whose mausoleum at
Charlottenburg of the beautiful queen Louise can never be forgotten,
gave Miss Hosmer high praise.
Two years later she completed "Oenone," made for Mr. Crow of St.
Louis. It is the full-length figure of the beautiful nymph of Mount
Ida. The story is a familiar one. Before the birth of Paris, the son
of Priam, it was foretold that he by his imprudence should cause
the destruction of Troy. His father gave orders for him to be put to
death, but possibly through the fondness of his mother, he was spared,
and carried to Mount Ida, where he was brought up by the shepherds,
and finally married Oenone. In time he became known to his family,
who forgot the prophecy and cordially received him. For a decision in
favor of Venus he was promised the most beautiful woman in the world
for his wife. Forgetting Oenone, he fell in love with the beautiful
Helen, already the wife of Menelaus, and persuaded her to fly with him
to Troy, to his father's court. War resulted. When he found himself
dying of his wounds, he fled to Oenone for help, but died just as
he came into her presence. She bathed the body with her tears, and
stabbed herself to the heart, a very foolish act for so faithless a
man. Miss Hosmer represents her as a beautiful shepherdess, bowed with
grief from her desertion.
This work was so much liked in America, that the St. Louis Mercantile
Library made a liberal offer for some other statue. Accordingly, two
years after, "Beatrice Cenci" was sent. The noble girl lies asleep,
the night before her execution, after the terrible torture. "It was,"
says Mrs. Child, "the sleep of a body worn out with the wretchedness
of the soul. On that innocent face suffering had left its traces. The
arm that had been tossing in the grief tempest, had fallen heavily,
too weary to change itself into a more easy position. Those large
eyes, now so closely veiled by their swollen lids, had evidently wept
till the fountain of tears was dry. That lovely mouth was still the
open portal of a sigh, which the mastery of sleep had left no time to
To make this natural, the sculptor caused several models to go to
sleep in her studio, that she might study them. Gibson is said to have
remarked upon seeing this, "I can teach her nothing." This was also
exhibited in London and in several American cities.
For three years she had worked continuously, not leaving Rome even in
the hot, unhealthy summers. She had said, "I will not be an amateur; I
will work as if I had to earn my daily bread." However, as her health
seemed somewhat impaired, at her father's earnest wish, she had
decided to go to England for the season. Her trunks were packed, and
she was ready to start, when lo! a message came that Dr. Hosmer had
lost his property, that he could send her no more money, and suggested
that she return home at once.
At first she seemed overwhelmed; then she said firmly, "I cannot go
back, and give up my art." Her trunks were at once unpacked and a
cheap room rented. Her handsome horse and saddle were sold, and she
was now to work indeed "as if she earned her daily bread."
By a strange freak of human nature, by which we sometimes do our most
humorous work when we are saddest, Miss Hosmer produced now in her
sorrow her fun-loving "Puck." It represents a child about four years
old seated on a toadstool which breaks beneath him. The left hand
confines a lizard, while the right holds a beetle. The legs are
crossed, and the great toe of the right foot turns up. The whole
is full of merriment. The Crown Princess of Germany, on seeing it,
exclaimed, "Oh, Miss Hosmer, you have such a talent for toes!" Very
true, for this statue, with the several copies made from it, brought
her thirty thousand dollars! The Prince of Wales has a copy, the
Duke of Hamilton also, and it has gone even to Australia and the West
Indies. A companion piece is the "Will-o'-the-wisp."
About this time the lovely sixteen-year-old daughter of Madam
Falconnet died at Rome, and for her monument in the Catholic church
of San Andrea del Fratte, Miss Hosmer produced an exquisite figure
resting upon a sarcophagus. Layard, the explorer of Babylon and
Nineveh, wrote to Madam Falconnet: "I scarcely remember to have seen
a monument which more completely commanded my sympathy and more deeply
interested me. I really know of none, of modern days, which I would
rather have placed over the remains of one who had been dear to me."
Miss Hosmer also modeled a fountain from the story of Hylas. The
lower basin contains dolphins spouting jets, while in the upper basin,
supported by swans, the youth Hylas stands, surrounded by the nymphs
who admire his beauty, and who eventually draw him into the water,
where he is drowned.
Miss Hosmer returned to America in 1857, five years after her
departure. She was still young, twenty-seven, vivacious, hopeful, not