Part 1 out of 13
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Keren Vergon, Robert Fite and PG
[Transcriber's Note: Footnotes have been numbered and relocated to the
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THE LIFE AND LETTERS
AUTHOR OF _STEPPING HEAVENWARD_
BY GEORGE L. PRENTISS
This memoir was undertaken at the request of many of Mrs. Prentiss' old
and most trusted friends, who felt that the story of her life should be
given to the public. Much of it is in the nature of an autobiography.
Her letters, which with extracts from her journals form the larger
portion of its contents, begin when she was in her twentieth year, and
continue almost to her last hour. They are full of details respecting
herself, her home, her friends, and the books she wrote. A simple
narrative, interspersed with personal reminiscences, and varied by a
sketch of her father, and passing notices of others, who exerted a
moulding influence upon her character, completes the story. A picture is
thus presented of the life she lived and its changing scenes, both on
the natural and the spiritual side. While the work may fail to interest
some readers, the hope is cherished that, like STEPPING HEAVENWARD,
it will be welcomed into Christian homes and prove a blessing to many
hearts; thus realising the desire expressed in one of her last letters:
_Much of my experience of life has cost me a great price and I wish to
use it for strengthening and comforting other souls._
G. L. P.
KAUINFELS, September 11, 1882.
THE CHILD AND THE GIRL.
Birth-place and Ancestry. The Payson Family. Seth Payson. Edward Payson.
His Mother. A Sketch of his Life and Character. The Fervor of his Piety.
Despondent Moods, and their Causes. His bright, natural Traits. How he
prayed and preached. Conversational Gift. Love to Christ. Triumphant
Birth and Childhood of Elizabeth Payson. Early Traits. Devotion to her
Father. His Influence upon her. Letters to her Sister. Removal to New
York. Reminiscences of the Payson Family.
Recollections of Elizabeth's Girlhood by an early Friend and Schoolmate.
Her own Picture of herself before her Father's Death. Favorite Resorts.
Why God permits so much Suffering. Literary Tastes. Letters. "What are
Little Babies For?" Opens a School. Religious Interest.
The dominant Type of Religious Life and Thought in New England in the
First Half of this Century. Literary Influences. Letter of Cyrus Hamlin.
A strange Coincidence.
THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST.
A memorable Experience. Letters to her Cousin. Goes to Richmond as a
Teacher. Mr. Persico's School. Letters.
Her Character as a Teacher. Letters. Incidents of School Life. Religious
Struggles, Aims, and Hope. Oppressive Heat and Weariness.
Extracts from her Richmond Journal.
PASSING FROM GIRLHOOD INTO WOMANHOOD.
At Home Again. Marriage of her Sister. Ill-health. Letters. Spiritual
Aspiration and Conflict. Perfectionism. "Very, Very Happy." Work for
Christ what makes Life attractive. Passages from her Journal. A Point of
Returns to Richmond. Trials There. Letters. Illness. School Experiences.
"To the Year 1843." Glimpses of her daily Life. Why her Scholars
love her So. Homesick. A Black Wedding. What a Wife should be. "A
Presentiment." Notes from her Diary.
Her Views of Love and Courtship. Visit of her Sister and Child. Letters.
Sickness and Death of Friends. Ill-health. Undergoes a surgical
Operation. Her Fortitude. Study of German. Fenelon.
THE YOUNG WIFE AND MOTHER.
Marriage and Settlement in New Bedford. Reminiscences. Letters. Birth of
her First Child. Death of her Mother-in-Law. Letters.
Birth of a Son. Death of her Mother. Her Grief. Letters. Eddy's Illness
and her own Cares. A Family Gathering at Newburyport. Extracts from
Further Extracts from Eddy's Journal. Ill-Health. Visit to Newark. Death
of her Brother-in-Law, S. S. Prentiss. His Character. Removal to Newark.
IN THE SCHOOL OF SUFFERING.
Removal to New York, and first Summer there. Letters. Loss of Sleep and
Anxiety about Eddy. Extracts from Eddy's Journal, Describing his last
Illness and Death. Lines entitled, "To My Dying Eddy.".
Birth of her Third Child. Reminiscences of a Sabbath Evening Talk. Story
of the Baby's Sudden Illness and Death. Summer of 1852. Lines entitled,
Summer at White Lake. Sudden Death of her Cousin, Miss Shipman.
Quarantined. _Little Susy's Six Birthdays_. How she wrote it. _The
Flower of the Family_. Her Motive in Writing it. Letter of Sympathy to a
bereaved Mother. A Summer at the Seaside. _Henry and Bessie._
A memorable Year. Lines on the Anniversary of Eddy's Death. Extracts
from her Journal. _Little Susy's Six Teachers_. The Teachers' Meeting.
A New York Waif. Summer in the Country. Letters. _Little Susy's Little
Servants_. Extracts from her Journal. "Alone with God."
Ready for new Trials. Dangerous Illness. Extracts from her Journal.
Visit to Greenwood. Sabbath Meditations. Birth of another Son. Her
Husband resigns his Pastoral Charge. Voyage to Europe.
IN RETREAT AMONG THE ALPS.
Life Abroad. Letters about the Voyage, and the Journey from Havre to
Switzerland. Chateau d'Oex. Letters from there. The Chalet Rosat. The
Free Church of the Canton de Vaud. Pastor Panchaud.
Montreux. The Swiss Autumn. Castle of Chillon. Death and Sorrow of
Friends at Home. Twilight Talks. Spring Flowers.
The Campagne Genevrier. Vevay. Beauty of the Region. Birth of a Son.
Visit from Professor Smith. Excursion to Chamouni. Whooping-cough and
Scarlet-fever among the Children. Doctor Curchod. Letters.
Paris. Sight-seeing. A sick Friend. London and its Environs. The Queen
and Prince Albert. The Isle of Wight. Homeward.
THE STRUGGLE WITH ILL-HEALTH.
At Home again in New York. The Church of the Covenant. Increasing
Ill-health. The Summer of 1861. Death of Louisa Payson Hopkins. Extracts
from her Journal. Summer of 1862. Letters. Despondency.
Another care-worn Summer. Letters from Williamstown and Rockaway. Hymn
on Laying the Corner-stone of the Church of the Covenant.
Happiness in her Children. The Summer of 1864. Letters from Hunter.
Affliction among Friends.
Death of President Lincoln. Dedication of the Church of the Covenant.
Growing Insomnia. Resolves to try the Water-cure. Its beneficial
Effects. Summer at Newburgh. Reminiscences of an Excursion to Palz
Point. Death of her Husband's Mother. Funeral of her Nephew, Edward
THE PASTOR'S WIFE AND DAUGHTER OF CONSOLATION.
Happiness as a Pastor's Wife. Visits to Newport and Williamstown.
Letters. The Great Portland Fire. First Summer at Dorset. The new
Parsonage occupied. Second Summer at Dorset. _Little Lou's Sayings and
Doings_. Project of a Cottage. Letters. _The Little Preacher_. Illness
and Death of Mrs. Edward Payson and of Little Francis.
Last Visit from Mrs. Stearns. Visits to old Friends at Newport and
Rochester. Letters. Goes to Dorset. _Fred and Maria and Me_. Letters.
Return to Town. Death of an old Friend. Letters and Notes of Love and
Sympathy. An Old Ladies' Party. Scenes of Trouble and Dying Beds. Fifty
Years Old. Letters.
Death of Mrs. Stearns. Her Character. Dangerous Illness of Prof. Smith.
Death at the Parsonage. Letters. A Visit to Vassar College. Letters.
Getting ready for the General Assembly. "Gates Ajar".
How she earned her Sleep. Writing for young Converts about speaking the
Truth. Meeting of the General Assembly in the Church of the Covenant.
Reunion, D.D.'s, and Strawberry Short-cake. "Enacting the Tiger."
Getting Ready for Dorset. Letters.
The new Home in Dorset. What it became to her. Letters from there.
Return to Town. Domestic Changes. Letters. "My Heart sides with God in
everything." Visiting among the Poor. "Conflict isn't Sin." Publication
of _Stepping Heavenward_. Her Misgivings about it. How it was received.
Reminiscences by Miss E. A. Warner. Letters. The Rev. Wheelock Craig.
Recollections by Mrs. Henry B. Smith
ON THE MOUNT.
A happy Year. Madame Guyon. What sweetens the Cup of earthly Trials and
the Cup of earthly Joy. Death of Mrs. Julia B. Cady. Her Usefulness.
Sickness and Death of other Friends. "My Cup runneth over." Letters.
"More Love to Thee, O Christ".
Her Silver Wedding. "_I have lived, I have loved_." No Joy can put her
out of Sympathy with the Trials of Friends. A Glance backward. Last
Interview with a dying Friend. More Love and more Likeness to Christ.
Funeral of a little Baby. Letters to Christian Friends.
Lines on going to Dorset. A Cloud over her. Faber's Life. Loving Friends
for one's own sake and loving them for Christ's sake. The Bible and the
Christian Life. Dorset Society and Occupations. Counsels to a young
Friend in Trouble. "Don't stop praying for your Life!" Cure for the
Heart-sickness caused by the Sight of human Imperfections. Fenelon's
Teaching about Humiliation and being patient with Ourselves.
_The Story Lizzie Told_. Country and City. The Law of Christian
Progress. Letters to a Friend bereft of three Children. Sudden Death of
another Friend. "Go on; step faster." Fenelon and his Influence upon her
religious Life. Lines on her Indebtedness to him.
IN HER HOME.
Home-life in New York.
Home-life in Dorset.
Further Glimpses of her Dorset Life.
THE TRIAL OF FAITH.
Two Years of Suffering. Its Nature and Causes. Spiritual Conflicts.
Ill-health. Faith a Gift to be won by Prayer. Death-bed of Dr. Skinner.
Visit to Philadelphia. "Daily Food." How to read the Bible so as to love
it more. Letters of Sympathy and Counsel. "Prayer for Holiness brings
Suffering." Perils of human Friendship.
Her Husband called to Chicago. Lines on going to Dorset. Letters to
young Friends on the Christian Life. Narrow Escape from Death. Feeling
on returning to Town. Her "Praying Circle." The Chicago Fire. The true
Art of Living. God our only safe Teacher. An easily-besetting Sin.
Counsels to young Friends. Letters.
"Holiness and Usefulness go hand-in-hand." No two Souls dealt with
exactly alike. Visits to a stricken Home. Another Side of her Life.
Visit to a Hospital. Christian Friendship. Letters to a bereaved Mother.
Submission not inconsistent with Suffering. Thoughts at the Funeral of
a little "Wee Davie." Assurance of Faith. Funeral of Prof. Hopkins. His
Christian Parents to expect Piety in their Children. Perfection. "People
make too much Parade of their Troubles." "Higher Life" Doctrines. Letter
to Mrs. Washburn. Last Visit to Williamstown.
Effect of spiritual Conflict upon her religious Life. Overflowing
Affections. Her Husband called to Union Theological Seminary. Baptism of
Suffering. The Character of her Friendships. No perfect Life. Prayer.
"Only God can satisfy a Woman." Why human Friendship is a Snare.
Goes to Dorset. Christian Example. At Work among her Flowers. Dangerous
Illness. Her Feeling about Dying. Death an "Invitation" from Christ.
"The Under-current bears _Home_." "More Love, more Love!" A Trait of
Character. Special Mercies. What makes a sweet Home. Letters.
Change of Home and Life in New York. A Book about Robbie. Her Sympathy
with young People. "I have in me two different Natures." What Dr. De
Witt said at the Grave of his Wife. The Way to meet little Trials.
Faults in Prayer-meetings. How special Theories of the Christian Life
are formed. Sudden Illness of Prof. Smith. Publication of _Golden
Hours_. How it was received.
Incidents of the Year 1874. Starts a Bible-reading in Dorset. Begins
to take Lessons in Painting. A Letter from her Teacher. Publication of
_Urbane and His Friends_. Design of the Work. Her Views of the Christian
Life. The Mystics. The Indwelling Christ. An Allegory.
WORK AND PLAY.
A Bible-reading in New York. Her Painting. "Grace for Grace." Death of
a young Friend. The Summer at Dorset. Bible-readings there. Encompassed
with Kindred. Typhoid Fever in the House. Watching and Waiting. The
Return to Town. A Day of Family Rejoicing. Life a "Battle-field."
The Moody and Sankey Meetings. Her Interest in them. Mr. Moody.
Publication of _Griselda_. Goes to the Centennial. At Dorset again. Her
Bible-readings. A Moody-meeting Convert. Visit to Montreal. Publication
of _The Home at Greylock_. Her Theory of a happy Home. Marrying for
Love. Her Sympathy with young Mothers. Letters.
The Year 1877. Death of her Cousin, the Rev. Charles H. Payson. Last
Illness and Death of Prof. Smith. "Let us take our Lot in Life just as
it comes." Adorning one's Home. How much Time shall be given to it?
God's Delight in His beautiful Creations. Death of Dr. Buck. Visiting
the sick and bereaved. An Ill-turn. Goes to Dorset. The Strangeness of
Life. Kauinfels. The Bible-reading. Letters.
Return to Town. Recollections of this Period. "Ordinary" Christians and
Spiritual Conflict. A tired Sunday Evening. "We may make an Idol of our
Joy." Publication of _Pemaquid_. Kezia Millet.
FOREVER WITH THE LORD.
Enters upon her last Year on Earth. A Letter about The Home at Greylock.
Her Motive in writing Books. Visit to the Aquarium. About "Worry." Her
Painting. Saturday Afternoons with her. What she was to her Friends.
Resemblance to Madame de Broglie. Recollections of a Visit to East
River. A Picture of her by an old Friend. Goes to Dorset. Second Advent
Doctrine. Last Letters.
Little Incidents and Details of her last Days on Earth. Last Visit to
the Woods. Sudden Illness. Last Bible-reading. Last Drive to Hager
Brook. Reminiscence of a last Interview. Closing Scenes. Death. The
THE CHILD AND THE GIRL.
I. Birth-place and Ancestry. Seth Payson. Edward Payson. His Mother. A
Sketch of his Life and Character. The Fervor of his Piety. Despondent
Moods and their Cause. Bright, natural Traits. How he prayed and
preached. Conversational Gift. Love to Christ. Triumphant Death.
Mrs. Prentiss was fortunate in the place of her birth. She first saw the
light at Portland, Maine. Maine was then a district of Massachusetts,
and Portland was its chief town and seaport, distinguished for beauty of
situation, enterprise, intelligence, social refinement and all the best
qualities of New England character. Not a few of the early settlers had
come from Cape Cod and other parts of the old Bay State, and the blood
of the Pilgrim Fathers ran in their veins. Among its leading citizens at
that time were such men as Stephen Longfellow, Simon Greenleaf, Prentiss
Mellen, Samuel Fessenden, Ichabod Nichols, Edward Payson, and Asa
Cummings; men eminent for private and public virtue, and some of whom
were destined to become still more widely known, by their own growing
influence, or by the genius of their children.
But while favored in the place of her birth, Mrs. Prentiss was more
highly favored still in her parentage. For more than half a century the
name of her father has been a household word among the churches not of
New England only, but throughout the land and even beyond the sea. It is
among the most beloved and honored in the annals of American piety. 
He belonged to a very old Puritan stock, and to a family noted during
two centuries for the number of ministers of the Gospel who have sprung
from it. The first in the line of his ancestry in this country was
Edward, who came over in the brig Hopewell, William Burdeck, Master, in
1635-6, and settled in the town of Roxbury. He was a native of Nasing,
Essex Co., England. Among his fellow-passengers in the Hopewell was Mary
Eliot, then a young girl, sister of John Eliot, the illustrious "Apostle
to the Indians." Some years later she became his wife. Their youngest
son, Samuel, was father of the Rev. Phillips Payson, who was born at
Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1705, and settled at Walpole, in the same
State, in 1730. He had four sons in the ministry, all, like himself,
graduates of Harvard College. The youngest of these, the Rev. Seth
Payson, D.D., Mrs. Prentiss' grandfather, was born September 30, 1758,
was ordained and settled at Rindge, New Hampshire, December 4, 1782, and
died there, after a pastorate of thirty-seven years, February 26, 1820.
His wife was Grata Payson, of Pomfret, Conn. He was a man widely known
in his day and of much weight in the community, not only in his own
profession but in civil life, also, having several times filled the
office of State senator. When in 1819 a plan was formed to remove
Williams College to a more central location, and several towns competed
for the honor, Dr. Payson was associated with Chancellor Kent of New
York, and Governor John Cotton Smith of Connecticut, as a committee to
decide upon the rival claims. He is described as possessing a sharp,
vigorous intellect, a lively imagination, a very retentive memory, and
was universally esteemed as an able and faithful minister of Christ. 
Edward, the eldest son of Seth and Grata Payson, was born at Rindge,
July 25, 1783. His mother was noted for her piety, her womanly
discretion, and her personal and mental graces. Edward was her
first-born, and from his infancy to the last year of his life she
lavished upon him her love and her prayers. The relation between them
was very beautiful. His letters to her are models of filial devotion,
and her letters to him are full of tenderness, good sense, and pious
wisdom. He inherited some of her most striking traits, and through him
they passed on to his youngest daughter, who often said that she owed
her passion for the use of the pen and her fondness for rhyming to her
grandmother Grata. 
Edward Payson was in all respects a highly-gifted man. His genius was as
marked as his piety. There is a charm about his name and the story of
his life, that is not likely soon to pass away. He belonged to a class
of men who seem to be chosen of Heaven to illustrate the sublime
possibilities of Christian attainment--men of seraphic fervor of
devotion, and whose one overmastering passion is to win souls for Christ
and to become wholly like Him themselves. Into this goodly fellowship
he was early initiated. There is something startling in the depth and
intensity of his religious emotions, as recorded in his journal and
letters. Nor is it to be denied that they are often marred by a very
morbid element. Like David Brainerd, the missionary saint of New
England, to whom in certain features of his character he bore no little
resemblance, Edward Payson was of a melancholy temperament and subject,
therefore, to sudden and sharp alternations of feeling. While he had
great capacity for enjoyment, his capacity for suffering was equally
great. Nor were these native traits suppressed, or always overruled, by
his religious faith; on the contrary, they affected and modified his
whole Christian life. In its earlier stages, he was apt to lay too much
stress by far upon fugitive "frames," and to mistake mere weariness,
torpor, and even diseased action of body or mind, for coldness toward
his Saviour. And almost to the end of his days he was, occasionally,
visited by seasons of spiritual gloom and depression, which, no doubt,
were chiefly, if not solely, the result of physical causes. It was
an error that grew readily out of the brooding introspection and
self-anatomy which marked the religious habit of the times. The close
connection between physical causes and morbid or abnormal conditions of
the spiritual life, was not as well understood then as it is now.
Many things were ascribed to Satanic influence which should have been
ascribed rather to unstrung nerves and loss of sleep, or to a violation
of the laws of health.  The disturbing influence of nervous and other
bodily or mental disorders upon religious experience deserves a fuller
discussion than it has yet received. It is a subject which both modern
science and modern thought, if guided by Christian wisdom, might help
greatly to elucidate.
The morbid and melancholy element, however, was only a painful incident
of his character. It tinged his life with a vein of deep sadness and led
to undue severity of self-discipline; but it did not seriously impair
the strength and beauty of his Christian manhood. It rather served to
bring them into fuller relief, and even to render more striking those
bright natural traits--the sportive humor, the ready mother wit, the
facetious pleasantry, the keen sense of the ridiculous, and the wondrous
story-telling gift--which made him a most delightful companion to young
and old, to the wise and the unlettered alike. It served, moreover, to
impart peculiar tenderness to his pastoral intercourse, especially with
members of his flock tried and tempted like as he was. He had learned
how to counsel and comfort them by the things which he also had
suffered. He may have been too exacting and harsh in dealing with
himself; but in dealing with other souls nothing could exceed the
gentleness, wisdom, and soothing influence of his ministrations.
As a preacher he was the impersonation of simple, earnest, and
impassioned utterance. Although not an orator in the ordinary sense of
the term, he touched the hearts of his hearers with a power beyond the
reach of any oratory. Some of his printed sermons are models in their
kind; that _e.g._ on "Sins estimated by the Light of Heaven," and that
addressed to Seamen. His theology was a mild type of the old New England
Calvinism, modified, on the one hand, by the influence of his favorite
authors--such as Thomas a Kempis, and Fenelon, the Puritan divines of
the seventeenth century, John Newton and Richard Cecil--and on the
other, by his own profound experience and seraphic love. Of his
theology, his preaching and his piety alike, Christ was the living
centre. His expressions of personal love to the Saviour are surpassed
by nothing in the writings of the old mystics. Here is a passage from a
letter to his mother, written while he was still a young pastor:
I have sometimes heard of spells and charms to excite love, and have
wished for them, when a boy, that I might cause others to love me. But
how much do I now wish for some charm which should lead men to love the
Saviour!... Could I paint a true likeness of Him, methinks I should
rejoice to hold it up to the view and admiration of all creation, and be
hid behind it forever. It would be heaven enough to hear Him praised and
adored. But I can not paint Him; I can not describe Him; I can not make
others love Him; nay, I can not love Him a thousandth part so much as
I ought myself. O, for an angel's tongue! O, for the tongues of ten
thousand angels, to sound His praises.
He had a remarkable familiarity with the word of God and his mind seemed
surcharged with its power. "You could not, in conversation, mention
a passage of Scripture to him but you found his soul in harmony with
it--the most apt illustrations would flow from his lips, the fire of
devotion would beam from his eye, and you saw at once that not only
could he deliver a sermon from it, but that the ordinary time allotted
to a sermon would be exhausted before he could pour out the fullness of
meaning which a sentence from the word of God presented to his mind."
He was wonderfully gifted in prayer. Here all his intellectual,
imaginative, and spiritual powers were fused into one and poured
themselves forth in an unbroken stream of penitential and adoring
affection. When he said, "Let us pray," a divine influence seemed to
rest upon all present. His prayers were not mere pious mental exercises,
they were devout inspirations.
No one can form an adequate conception of what Dr. Payson was from any
of the productions of his pen. Admirable as his written sermons are, his
extempore prayers and the gushings of his heart in familiar talk were
altogether higher and more touching than anything he wrote. It was my
custom to close my eyes when he began to pray, and it was always a
letting down, a sort of rude fall, to open them again, when he had
concluded, and find myself still on the earth. His prayers always took
my spirit into the immediate presence of Christ, amid the glories of
the spiritual world; and to look round again on this familiar and
comparatively misty earth was almost painful. At every prayer I heard
him offer, during the seven years in which he was my spiritual guide,
I never ceased to feel new astonishment, at the wonderful variety and
depth and richness and even novelty of feeling and expression which were
poured forth. This was a feeling with which every hearer sympathised,
and it is a fact well-known, that Christians trained under his influence
were generally remarkable for their devotional habits. 
Dr. Payson possessed rare conversational powers and loved to wield
them in the service of his Master. When in a genial mood--and the mild
excitement of social intercourse generally put him in such a mood--his
familiar talk was equally delightful and instructive. He was, in truth,
an improvisatore. Quick perception, an almost intuitive insight into
character, an inexhaustible fund of fresh, original thought and
incident, the happiest illustrations, and a memory that never faltered
in recalling what he had once read or seen, easy self-control, and
ardent sympathies, all conspired to give him this preeminence. Without
effort or any appearance of incongruity he could in turn be grave
and gay, playful and serious. This came of the utter sincerity and
genuineness of his character. There was nothing artificial about him;
nature and grace had full play and, so to say, constantly ran into
each other. A keen observer, who knew him well, both in private and in
public, testifies: "His facetiousness indeed was ever a near neighbor
to his piety, if it was not a part of it; and his most cheerful
conversations, so far from putting his mind out of tune for acts of
religious worship, seemed but a happy preparation for the exercise of
devotional feelings."  This coexistence of serious with playful
elements is often found in natures of unusual depth and richness, just
as tragic and comic powers sometimes co-exist in a great poet.
The same qualities that rendered him such a master of conversation, lent
a potent charm to his familiar religious talks in the prayer-meeting,
at the fireside, or in the social circle. Always eager to speak for
his Master, he knew how to do it with a wise skill and a tenderness of
feeling that disarmed prejudice and sometimes won the most determined
foe. Even in administering reproof or rebuke there was the happiest
union of tact and gentleness. "What makes you blush so?" said a reckless
fellow in the stage, to a plain country girl, who was receiving the
mail-bag at a post office from the hand of the driver. "What makes you
blush so, my dear?" "Perhaps," said Dr. Payson, who sat near him and was
unobserved till now, "Perhaps it is because some one spoke rudely to her
when the stage was along here the last time."
Edward Payson was graduated at Harvard College in the class of 1803.
In the autumn of that year he took charge of an academy then recently
established in Portland. Resigning this position in 1806, he returned
home and devoted himself to the study of divinity under his father's
care. He was licensed to preach in May, 1807, and a few months later
received a unanimous call to Portland, where he was ordained in December
of the same year. On the 8th of May, 1811, he was married to Ann Louisa
Shipman, of New Haven, Conn. An extract from a manly letter to Miss
Shipman, written a few weeks after their engagement, will show the
spirit which inspired him both as a lover and a husband:
When I wrote my first letter after my late visit, I felt almost angry
with you and quite so with myself. And why angry with you? Because I
began to fear you would prove a dangerous rival to my Lord and Master,
and draw away my heart from His service. My Louisa, should this be the
case, I should certainly hate you. I am Christ's; I must be Christ's; He
has purchased me dearly, and I should hate the mother who bore me, if
she proved even the _innocent_ occasion of drawing me from Him. I feared
that you would do this. For a little time the conflict of my feelings
was dreadful beyond description. For a few moments I wished I had never
seen you. Had you been a right hand, or a right eye, had you been the
life-blood in my veins (and you are dear to me as either) I must have
given you up, had I continued to feel as I did. But blessed be God,
He has shown me my weakness only to strengthen me. I now feel very
differently. I still love you dearly as ever, but my love leads me _to_
Christ and not _from_ Him.
Dr. Payson received repeated invitations to important churches in
Boston and New York, but declining them all, continued in the Portland
pastorate until his death, which occurred October 22, 1827, in the
forty-fifth year of his age. The closing months of his life were
rendered memorable by an extraordinary triumph of Christian faith and
patience, as well as of the power of mind over matter. His bodily
suffering and agonies were indescribable, but, like one of the old
martyrs in the midst of the flames, he seemed to forget them all in the
greatness of his spiritual joy. In a letter written shortly after his
death, Mrs. Payson gives a touching account of the tender and thoughtful
concern for her happiness which marked his last illness. Knowing, for
example, that she would be compelled to part with her house, he was
anxious to have a smaller one purchased and occupied at once, so that
his presence in it for a little while might make it seem more home-like
to her and to her children after he was gone. "To tell you (she adds)
what he was the last six memorable weeks would be altogether beyond my
skill. All who beheld him called his countenance angelic." She then
repeats some of his farewell words to her. Begging that, she would "not
dwell upon his poor, shattered frame, but follow his blessed spirit to
the realms of glory," he burst forth into an exultant song of delight,
as if already he saw the King in His beauty! The well-known letter to
his sister Eliza, dated a few weeks before his departure, breathes the
same spirit. Here is an extract from it:
Were I to adopt the figurative language of Bunyan, I might date this
letter from the land of Beulah, of which I have been for some weeks a
happy inhabitant. The celestial city is full in my view. Its glories
beam upon me, its breezes fan me, its odors are wafted to me, its sounds
strike upon my ear, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing
separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears but as an
insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God
shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually
drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as He
approached, and now He fills the whole hemisphere, pouring forth a flood
of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the
sun, exulting yet almost trembling while I gaze on this excessive
brightness, and wondering, with unutterable wonder, why God should deign
thus to shine upon a sinful worm. A single heart and a single tongue
seem altogether inadequate to my wants; I want a whole heart for every
separate emotion, and a whole tongue to express that emotion. But why do
I speak thus of myself and my feelings? why not speak only of our God
and Redeemer? It is because I know not what to say--when I would speak
of them my words are all swallowed up.
And thus, gazing already upon the Beatific Vision, he passed on into
glory. What is written concerning his Lord and Master might with almost
literal truth have been inscribed over his grave: _The zeal of Thy house
hath eaten me up._
* * * * *
Birth and Childhood of Elizabeth Payson. Early Traits. Devotion to her
Father. His Influence upon her. Letters to her Sister. Removal to New
York. Reminiscences of the Payson Family.
Elizabeth Payson was born "about three o'clock"--so her father records
it--on Tuesday afternoon, October 26, 1818. She was the fifth of eight
children, two of whom died in infancy. All good influences seem to have
encircled her natal hour. In a letter to his mother, dated October 27,
Dr Payson enumerates six special mercies, by which the happy event had
been crowned. One of them was the gratification of the mother's "wish
for a daughter rather than a son." Another was God's goodness to him
in sparing both the mother and the child in spite of his fear that he
should lose them. This fear, strangely enough, was occasioned by the
unusual religious peace and comfort which he had been enjoying. He had
a presentiment that in this way God was forearming him for some
extraordinary trial; and the loss of his wife seemed to him most likely
to be that trial. "God has been so gracious to me in spiritual things,
that I thought He was preparing me for Louisa's death. Indeed it may be
so still, and if so His will be done. Let Him take all--and if He leaves
us Himself we still have all and abound." The next day he writes:
Still God is kind to us. Louisa and the babe continue as well as we
could desire. Truly, my cup runs over with blessings. I can still
scarcely help thinking that God is preparing me for some severe trial;
but if He will grant me His presence as He does now, no trial can seem
severe. Oh, could I now drop the body, I would stand and cry to all
eternity without being weary: God is holy, God is just, God is good;
God is wise and faithful and true. Either of His perfections alone is
sufficient to furnish matter for an eternal, unwearied song. Could I
sing upon paper I should break forth into singing, for day and night I
can do nothing but sing "Let the saints be joyful," etc., etc. But I
must close. I can not send so much love and thankfulness to my parents
as they deserve. My present happiness, all my happiness I ascribe under
God to them and their prayers.
Surely, a home inspired and ruled by such a spirit was a sweet home to
be born into!
The notices of Elizabeth's childhood depict her as a dark-eyed, delicate
little creature, of sylph-like form, reserved and shy in the presence of
strangers, of a sweet disposition, and very intense in her sympathies.
"Until I was three years old mother says I was a little angel," she once
wrote to a friend. Her constitution was feeble, and she inherited from
her father his high-strung nervous temperament. "I never knew what it
was to feel well," she wrote in 1840. Severe pain in the side, fainting
turns, the sick headache, and other ailments troubled her, more or less,
from infancy. She had an eye wide open to the world about her, and quick
to catch its varying aspects of light and beauty, whether on land
or sea. The ships and wharves not far from her father's house, the
observatory and fort on the hill overlooking Casco Bay, the White
Mountains far away in the distance, Deering's oaks, the rope-walk, and
the ancient burying-ground--these and other familiar objects of "the
dear old town," commemorated by Longfellow in his poem entitled "My Lost
Youth," were indelibly fixed in her memory and followed her wherever she
went, to the end of her days. In her movements she was light-footed,
venturesome to rashness, and at times wild with fun and frolic. Her
whole being was so impressionable that things pleasant and things
painful stamped themselves upon it as with the point of a diamond.
Whatever she did, whatever she felt, she felt and did as for her life.
Allusion has been made to the intensity of her sympathies. The sight or
tale of suffering would set her in a tremor of excitement; and in her
eagerness to give relief she seemed ready for any sacrifice, however
great. This trait arrested the observant eye of her father, and he
expressed to Mrs. Payson his fear lest it might some day prove a real
misfortune to the child. "She will be in danger of marrying a blind man,
or a helpless cripple, out of pure sympathy," he once said.
But by far the strongest of all the impressions of her childhood related
to her father. His presence was to her the happiest spot on earth, and
any special expression of his affection would throw her into an ecstasy
of delight. When he was away she pined for his return. "The children
all send a great deal of love, and Elizabeth says, Do tell Papa to
come home," wrote her mother to him, when she was six years old. Her
recollections of her father were singularly vivid. She could describe
minutely his domestic habits, how he looked and talked as he sat by the
fireside or at the table, his delight in and skillful use of carpenters'
tools, his ingenious devices for amusing her and diverting his own
weariness as he lay sick in bed, _e.g._, tearing up sheets of white
paper into tiny bits, and then letting her pour them out of the
window to "make believe it snowed," or counting all the bristles in a
clothes-brush, and then as she came in from school, holding it up and
bidding her guess their number--his coolness and efficiency in the wild
excitements of a conflagration, the calm deliberation with which he
walked past the horror-stricken lookers on and cut the rope by which
a suicide was suspended; these and other incidents she would recall a
third of a century after his death, as if she had just heard of or just
witnessed them. To her child's imagination his memory seemed to be
invested with the triple halo of father, hero, and saint. A little
picture of him was always near her. She never mentioned his name without
tender affection and reverence. Nor is this at all strange. She was
almost nine years old when he died; and his influence, during these
years, penetrated to her inmost being. She once said that of her
father's virtues one only--punctuality--had descended to her. But here
she was surely wrong. Not only did she owe to him some of the most
striking peculiarities of her physical and mental constitution, but her
piety itself, if not inherited, was largely inspired and shaped by his.
In the whole tone and expression of her earlier religious life, at
least, one sees him clearly reflected. His devotional habits, in
particular, left upon her an indelible impression. Once, when four
or five years old, rushing by mistake into his room, she found him
prostrate upon his face--completely lost in prayer. A short time before
her death, speaking of this scene to a friend, she remarked that the
remembrance of it had influenced her ever since. What somebody said
of Sara Coleridge might indeed have been said with no less truth of
Elizabeth Payson: "Her father had looked down into her eyes and left in
them the light of his own."
The only records of her childhood from her own pen consist of the
following letters, written to her sister, while the latter was passing a
year in Boston. She was then nine years old.
PORTLAND, _May 18, 1828._
My dear sister:--I thank you for writing to such a little girl as I am,
when you have so little time. I was going to study a little catechism
which Miss Martin has got, but she said I could not learn it. I want
to learn it. I do not like to stay so long at school. We have to write
composition by dictation, as Miss Martin calls it. She reads to us out
of a book a sentence at a time. We write it and then we write it again
on our slates, because we do not always get the whole; then we write
it on a piece of paper. Miss Martin says I may say my Sunday-school
[lesson] there. Mr. Mitchell has had a great many new books. I have been
sick. Doctor Cummings has been here and says E. is better and he thinks
he will not have a fever.... G. goes to school to Miss Libby, and H.
goes to Master Jackson. H. sends his love. Good-bye.
Your affectionate sister, E. PAYSON,
_September 29, 1828._
My dear sister:--I think you were very kind to write to me, when you
have so little time. I began to go to Mrs. Petrie's school a week ago
yesterday. I stay at home Mondays in the morning to assist in taking
care of Charles or such little things as I can do. G. goes with me. When
mother put Charles and him to bed, as soon as she had done praying with
them, G. said, Mother, will this world be all burnt up when we are dead?
She said, Yes, my dear, it will. What, and all the dishes too? will they
melt like lead? and will the ground be burnt up too? O what a nasty fire
it will make. I saw the Northern lights last night. I sleep in a very
large pleasant room in the bed with mother.... I have a very pleasant
room for my baby-house over the porch which has two windows and a
fireplace in it, and a little cupboard too. E. Wood and I are as
intimate as ever. I suppose you know that Mr. Wood is building him a
brick house. Mrs. Merril's little baby is dead. It was buried yesterday
afternoon. Mr. Mussey lives across the street from us. He has a great
many elm trees in his front yard. His house is three stories high and
the trees reach to the top. We have heard two or three times from E.
since he went away. Yesterday all the Sabbath-schools walked in a
procession and then went to our meeting-house and Mr. William Cutter
I am your affectionate sister, E. Payson.
Her feeble constitution exposed her to severe attacks of disease, and in
May, 1830, she was brought to the verge of the grave by a violent fever.
Her mother was deeply moved by this event, and while recording in her
journal God's goodness in sparing Elizabeth, wonders whether it is
to the end that she may one day devote herself to her Saviour and do
something for the "honor of religion." In the latter part of 1830 Mrs.
Payson removed to New York, where her eldest daughter opened a school
for girls. It was during this residence in New York that Elizabeth, at
the age of twelve years, made a public confession of Christ and came to
the Lord's table for the first time. She was received into the Bleecker
street--now the Fourth avenue--Presbyterian church, then under the
pastoral care of the Rev. Erskine Mason, D.D., May 1, 1831. Toward the
close of the same year the family returned to Portland.
In a letter addressed to her husband, one of Mrs. Prentiss' oldest
friends now living, Miss Julia D. Willis, has furnished the following
reminiscences of her early years. While they confirm what has been said
about her childhood, they are especially valuable for the glimpses they
give of her father and mother and sister. The Willis and Payson families
were very intimate and warmly attached to each other. Mr. Nathaniel
Willis, the father of N. P. Willis the poet, was well known in
connection with "The Boston Recorder," of which he was for many years
the conductor and proprietor. Both Mr. and Mrs. Willis cherished the
most affectionate veneration for the memory of Dr. Payson. So long as
she lived their house was a home to Mrs. Payson and her daughters,
whenever they visited Boston.
As a preacher Dr. Payson could not fail to make a strong impression even
on a child. Years ago in New York I once told Mrs. Prentiss, who was too
young, at her father's death, to remember him well in the pulpit, that
the only public speaker who ever reminded me of him, was Edwin Booth in
Hamlet. I surprised, and, I am afraid, a little shocked her, but it
was quite true. The slender figure, the dark, brilliant eyes, the
deep earnestness of tone, the rapid utterance combined with perfect
distinctness of enunciation, in spite of surroundings the best
calculated to repel such an association, recalled him vividly to my
My father's connection with the religious press after his removal from
Portland to Boston, brought many clergymen to our house, who often,
in the kindness of their hearts, requited hospitality by religious
conversation with the children, not church members, and presumably,
therefore, impenitent. I did not always appreciate this kindness as it
deserved, and often exercised considerable ingenuity to avoid being
alone with them. In Dr. Payson's case, I soon learned, on the contrary,
to seek such occasions. I was sure that before long he would look up
from his book, or his manuscript, and have something pleasant or
playful to say to me. His general conversation, however, was oftener on
religious than on any other subjects, but it was so evidently from the
fullness of his heart, and his vivid imagination afforded him such a
wealth of illustration, that it was delightful even to an "impenitent"
child. Years afterward when I read in his Memoir of his desponding
temperament, of his seasons of gloom, of the sense of sin under which
he was bowed down, it seemed impossible to me that it could be _my_ Dr.
I visited Portland and was an inmate of his family, at the commencement
of the illness that finally proved fatal. He was not confined to his
bed, or to his room, but he was forbidden, indeed unable, to preach,
unable to write or study; he could only read and think. Still he did not
shut himself up in his study with his sad thoughts. I remember him as
usually seated with his book by the side of the fire, surrounded by his
family, as if he would enjoy their society as long as possible, and the
children's play was never hushed on his account. Nor did he forget the
young visitor. When the elder daughter, to whom my visit was made, was
at school, he would care for my entertainment by telling a story, or
propounding a riddle, or providing an entertaining book to beguile the
time till Louisa's return.
Among the group in that cheerful room, I remember Lizzy well, a
beautiful child, slender, dark-eyed, light-footed, very quiet, evidently
observant, but saying little, affectionate, yet not demonstrative.
One evening during my visit, Mrs. Payson not being quite well, the
elders had retired early, leaving Louisa and myself by the side of the
fire, she preparing her school lesson and I occupied in reading. The
lesson finished, Louisa proposed retiring, but I was too much interested
in my book to leave it and promised to follow soon. She left me rather
reluctantly, and I read on, too much absorbed in my book to notice the
time, till near midnight, when I was startled by hearing Dr. Payson's
step upon the stairs. I expected the reproof which I certainly deserved,
but though evidently surprised at seeing me, he merely said, "You here?
you must be cold. Why did you let the fire go out?" Bringing in some
wood he soon rekindled it, and began to talk to me of the book I was
reading, which was one of Walter Scott's poems. He then spoke of a poem
which he had been reading that day, Southey's "Curse of Kehama." He
related to me with perfect clearness the long and rather involved story,
with that wonderful memory of his, never once forgetting or confusing
the strange Oriental names, and repeating word for word the curse:
I charm thy life, from the weapons of strife,
From stone and from wood, from fire and from flood,
From the serpent's tooth, and the beasts of blood,
From sickness I charm thee, and time shall not harm thee, etc., etc.
I listened, intent, fascinated, forgot to ask why he was there instead
of in his bed, forgot that it was midnight instead of mid-day. It was
not till on bidding me good night he added, "I hope you will have a
better night than I shall," that it occurred to me that he must be
suffering. The next day I learned from his wife that when unable to
sleep on account of his racking cough, he often left his bed at night,
the cough being more endurable when in a sitting posture. I never saw
Dr. Payson after that visit, nor for several years any of the family,
except Louisa, who spent a year with us while attending school in
Boston to fit herself as a teacher to aid in the support of her younger
brothers and sister. When I was next with them, Louisa was already at
the head of a school in which her young sister was the brightest pupil,
and to the profits of which she laid no personal claim, all going
untouched into the family purse. Several young girls, Louisa's pupils,
had been received as boarders in the family, and occasionally a
clergyman was added to the number. It was during this visit that I first
learned to appreciate Mrs. Payson. Now that she stood alone at the head
of the household, either her fine qualities were in bolder relief, or I
being older, was better able to estimate them. The singular vivacity of
her intellect made her a delightful companion. Then her youth had been
passed in the literary circles of New Haven and Andover, and she had
much to tell of distinguished people known to me only by reputation. I
admired her firm yet gentle rule, so skilfully adapted to the varying
natures under her charge; her conscientious study of that homely virtue
economy, so distasteful to one of her naturally lavish temper, always
ready to give to those in need to an extent which called forth constant
remonstrances from more prudent friends; her alacrity also in all
household labors, which the more excited my wonder, knowing the little
opportunity she could have had to practise them amid the wealth of her
father's house before the Embargo, which later wrecked his fortune with
those of so many other New England merchants. She was, indeed, of a most
noble nature, hating all meanness and injustice, and full of helpful
kindness and sympathy. No woman ever had warmer or more devoted friends.
Both at this time and in subsequent visits, as she advanced from
childhood to girlhood, I remember Lizzy well; although my attention
was chiefly absorbed by the elder sister of my own age, my principal
companion when present, and correspondent when absent. The two sisters
were strongly contrasted. Louisa, as a child, was afflicted with a
sensitive, almost morbid shyness and reserve, and an incapacity for
enjoying the society of other children whose tastes were uncongenial
with her own. The shyness passed with her childhood, but the
sensitiveness and exclusiveness never quite left her. Her love of books
was a passion, and she would resent an unfair criticism of a favorite
author as warmly as if it were an attack on a personal friend. To Lizzy,
on the contrary, a friend was a book which she loved to read. Human
nature was her favorite study. There seemed to be no one in whom she
could not find something to interest her, none with whom there was not
some point of sympathy. Combined with this wide and genial sympathy was
another quality which helped to endear her to her companions, viz., an
entire absence of all attempt to show her best side, or put the best
face on anything that concerned her. An ingenuous frankness about
herself and her affairs--even about her little weaknesses--was one
of her most striking traits. No one, indeed, could know her without
learning to love her dearly. Yet if I should say that in my visits to
Portland, Lizzy always appeared to me pre-eminently the life and charm
of the household, it would not be exactly true, though she would
have been so of almost any other household. The Payson family was a
delightful one to visit, all were so bright, and in the contest of wits
that took place often between Lizzy and her merry brothers, it was
sometimes hard to tell which bore off the palm.
I do not know that I ever thought of her at that time as an author. If
anybody had predicted to me that one of that group would be the writer
of books, which would not only have a wide circulation at home, but be
translated into foreign languages, I should certainly have selected
Louisa, and I think most persons who knew them would have done the same.
The elder sister's passion for books, her great powers of acquisition,
the range of her attainments--embracing not only modern languages and
their literature, but Latin, Greek and Hebrew--her ability to maintain
discussions on German metaphysics and theology with learned Professors,
all seemed to point her out as the one likely to achieve distinction in
the literary world.
I do not remember whether it was Lizzy's early contributions to "The
Youth's Companion," showing already the germ of the creative power in
her, or her letters to her sister, which first suggested to me that the
pleasure her friends found in her conversation might yet be enjoyed by
those who would never see her. Louisa had given up her school for the
more congenial employment of contributing to magazines and reviews and
of writing children's books. And as the greater literary resources of
Boston drew her thither, she was often for months a welcome guest at our
house, where she first met Professor Hopkins of Williamstown, and whom
she afterward married. The letters which Lizzy wrote to her at those
times were never allowed to be the monopoly of one person; we all
claimed a right to read them. The ease with which in these she seemed
to talk with her pen, the mingled pathos and humor with which she would
relate all the little joys and sorrows of daily life, leaving her
readers between a smile and a tear, showed the same characteristics
which afterward made her published writings so much more generally
attractive than the graver ones of her elder sister. But Louisa's
failing health soon after her marriage, and the long years of suffering
which followed, prevented her ever doing justice to the expectations her
friends had formed for her.
The occasion of my next visit to Portland was a letter from Mrs. Payson
to my mother, who was her constant correspondent, in which she spoke
sadly of an indisposition she feared was the precursor of serious
illness, but which chiefly troubled her on account of Lizzy's distress
that her school prevented her being constantly with her mother. An
offer on my part to come and take her place, in her hours of necessary
absence, was at once accepted. Mrs. Payson's illness proved less serious
than had been feared, and once more I passed several pleasant weeks in
that house; but the pleasantest hours of the day were those in which
Lizzy, returning from school, sat down at her mother's bedside and
amused her with her talk about her pupils, their various characters and
the progress they had made in their studies, or related little incidents
of the school-room--with her usual frankness not omitting those
which revealed some fault, or what she considered such, on her part,
especially her impulsiveness that led her often to say things she
afterward regretted. As an example, one of her pupils was reading French
to her and coming to the expression Mon Dieu! so common in French
narratives, had pronounced it so badly that Lizzy exclaimed, "Mon Doo?
He would not know himself what you meant!" The laugh which it was
impossible to repress, did not diminish her compunction at what she
feared her pupils would regard as irreverence on her part. I believe I
always cherished sufficient affection for my teachers, and yet I was not
a little astonished on accompanying Lizzy to school one day, to see as
we turned the corner of a street a rush of girls with unbonneted heads,
to greet their young teacher for whom they had been watching, and escort
her to her throne in the school-room, and evidently in their hearts. For
a year or two after this visit I have no recollection of her, or indeed
of any of the Payson family. Death, meanwhile, had been busy in my own
home, and my memory is a blank for anything beyond that sad circle.
Since that date you have known her better than I. I wish that these
recollections of a time when I knew her better than you, were not so
meagre. If we were not thousands of miles apart, and I could talk with
you, instead of writing to you, perhaps they would not appear quite so
unsatisfying. Yet, trivial as they are, I send them, in the persuasion
that any trifle that concerned her or hers is of interest to you.
GENEVA, Switzerland, _Feb. 1, 1879._
* * * * *
Recollections of Elizabeth's Girlhood by an early Friend and Schoolmate.
Her own Picture of Herself before her Father's Death. Favorite Resorts.
Why God permits so much Suffering. Literary Tastes. Letters. "What are
Little Babies For?" Opens a School. Religious Interest.
It is to be regretted that the letters referred to by Miss Willis, and
indeed nearly all of Elizabeth's family letters, written before she left
her mother's roof, have disappeared. But the following recollections by
Mrs. M. C. H. Clark, of Portland, will in part supply their place and
serve to fill up the outline, already given, of the first twenty years
of her life.
In the volume of sketches entitled, "Only a Dandelion," you will find,
in the story of Anna and Emily, some very pleasing incidents relating
to the early life of dear Elizabeth. Anna was Lizzy Wood, her earliest
playmate and friend. Miss Wood was a sweet girl, the only sister of Dr.
William Wood, of Portland. She died at an early age. Emily was Mrs.
Prentiss herself. I remember her once telling me about the visit at
"Aunt W.'s," and believe that nearly all the details of the story are
founded in fact. It is her own picture of herself as a little girl,
drawn to the life. Several traits of the character of Emily, as given in
the sketch, are on this account worthy of special note. One is her very
intense desire not only to be loved, but to be loved _alone_, or much
more than any one else; and to be assured of it "over and over again."
When Anna returned from her journey, she brought the same presents to
Susan Morton as to Emily. On discovering this fact Emily was greatly
"I thought you would be so glad to get all these things!" said Anna.
"And so I am," said Emily, "I only want you to love me better than any
other little girl, because I love you better."
"Well, and so I do," returned Anna; "I love you ten times as well as I
love Susan Morton."
This satisfied Emily, and "for many days her restless little heart was
as quiet and happy as a lamb's."
Another trait is brought out in the incident that occurred on her
returning home from Anna's. She had written, or rather scratched, the
word "Anna," over one whole side of her room, while odd lines of what
purported to be poetry filled the other.
But this was not all. Her sister produced the beautiful Bible which had
been given Emily by her Aunt Lucy, on her seventh birthday, and showed
her father how all its blank leaves were covered with Annas. Her
father took the book with reverence, and Emily understood and felt the
seriousness with which he examined her idle scrawls. It was a look that
would have risen up before her and made her stay her hand, should she
ever again in her life-long have been tempted thus to misuse the word
of God; just as the angel stood before Balaam in the narrow path he was
struggling to push through. But Emily never again was thus tempted; and
ever after her Bible was sacredly kept free from "blot, or wrinkle, or
any such thing."
Her father now took her with him to his study, and gave her a great many
pieces of paper, some large and some small, on which he told her with a
smile, she could write Anna's name to her heart's content. Emily felt
very grateful; this little kindness on her father's part did her more
good than a month's lecture could have done, and made her resolve never
to do anything that could possibly grieve him again. She went away to
her own little baby-house and wrote on one of the bits of paper, some
verses, in which she said she had the best father in the world. When
they were done, she read them over once or twice, and admired them
exceedingly; after which, with a very mysterious air, she went and threw
them into the kitchen fire.
This incident, so prettily related, illustrates the intensity of her
friendships, shows that she had begun to write verses when a mere child,
and gives a very pleasant glimpse of her father and of her devotion to
My intimate acquaintance with her commenced in 1832, when we were
members of Miss Tyler's Sabbath-school class. Miss Tyler was a daughter
of Rev. Dr. Bennett Tyler, her father's successor. She was greatly
pleased when I told her I was going to attend her sister's school, which
was opened in the spring of 1833, on the corner of Middle and Lime
streets. My seat was next to hers and we were placed in the same
classes. Our homes were near each other on Franklin street, and we
always walked back and forth together. She was at this time a prolific
writer of notes. Sometimes she would meet me on Monday morning with not
less than four, written since we had parted on Saturday afternoon. She
used to complain now and then, that I wrote her only one to four or five
of hers to me. In the pleasant summer afternoons we loved to take long
walks together. One was down by the shore behind the eastern promenade.
Here we would find a sheltered nook, and with our backs to the world
and our faces toward the islands and the ocean, would sit in "rapt
enjoyment" of the scene, speaking scarcely a word, until one or the
other exclaimed with a long-drawn sigh: "Well, it is time for us to go
Another of our places of resort was the old cemetery on Congress street,
which in those days was very retired. Our favorite spot here was the
summit of a tomb, which stood on the highest point in the grounds. It
was the old style of tomb--a broad marble slab, supported by six small
stone pillars on a stone foundation, and surrounded by two steps raised
above the soil. It was a very quiet retreat. We could hear the distant
hum of the city and at the same time enjoy a view of the water and
shipping, as the land sloped down toward the harbor. I remember well
that one dark spring day, as we sat there cuddled up under the broad
slab, Lizzy gave me an account of a book she had just been reading. It
was the Memoir of Miss Susanna Anthony, by old Dr. Hopkins, of Newport.
She told me what a good and holy woman Miss Anthony was, how much she
suffered and how beautifully she bore her sufferings. My sympathy was
strongly excited and I exclaimed, "I do not see how it is _right_ for
God, who can control all things, to permit such suffering!" Lizzy
replied very sweetly, "Well, Carrie, we can't understand it, but I have
been thinking that this _might_ be God's way of preparing His children
for very high degrees of service on earth, or happiness in heaven." I
was deeply impressed with this remark; somehow it seemed to _stand by
me_, and I think it was a corner-stone of her faith.
This summer--that of 1833--her mother fitted up for her exclusive use
a small room called the "Blue Room," where she had all her books and
treasures--among them a writing desk which had been her father's. Here
all her leisure hours were spent. It was my privilege to be admitted
to this sanctuary, and many pleasant hours we passed together there. I
think Elizabeth was always religious. She knew a great deal then about
the Bible and often talked with me of divine things. She seemed to feel
a deep interest in my spiritual welfare. She loved to share with me her
favorite books. To her I was indebted for my acquaintance with George
Herbert, and with Wordsworth. She induced me to read "Owen on the 133d
Psalm," and Flavel's "Fountain of Life." In 1834 we both began to attend
the Free street Seminary, of which the Rev. Solomon Adams was then
Principal. Her sister had become assistant teacher with him. Our desks
adjoined each other and we were together a great deal. She was an
admirable scholar, very studious, prompt and ready at recitation. Her
influence and example, added to her friendship and sympathy, were
invaluable to me at this period. One day, about this time, she told
me of her engagement with Mr. Willis, to become a contributor to "The
Youth's Companion." This paper was one of the first, if not the first,
of its class published in this country, and had a wide circulation among
the children throughout New England. Most of the pieces in "Only a
Dandelion," first appeared, I think, in the "Youth's Companion," among
the rest several in verse. They are written in a sprightly style, are
full of bright fancies as well as sound feeling and excellent sense, and
foretoken plainly the author of the 'Susy' books.
In 1835 Lizzy went to Ipswich and spent the summer in the school there.
It was then under the care of Miss Grant, and was the most noted
institution of its kind in New England. A year or two later, Mr. N. P.
Willis returned from Europe, and with his English bride made a short
visit at Mrs. Payson's. Miss Payson talked with him of Elizabeth's taste
for writing poetry and showed him some of her pieces. He praised and
encouraged her warmly, and this was, I think, one of the influences that
strengthened her in the purpose to become an author. Upon my telling her
one day how much I liked a certain Sunday-school book I had just read,
she smilingly asked, "What would you think if some day I should write a
book as good as that?"
I saw a good deal of her home life at this time. It was full of filial
and sisterly love and devotion. Amidst the household cares by which her
mother was often weighed down and worried, she was an ever-near friend
and sympathizer. To her brothers, too, she endeared herself exceedingly
by her helpful, cheery ways and the strong vein of fun and mirthfulness
which ran through her daily life.
In the spring of 1837 Mrs. Payson sold her house on Franklin street and
rented one in the upper part of the city. Lizzy used to call it "the
pumpkin house," because it was old and ugly; but its situation and the
opportunity to indulge her rural tastes made amends for all its defects.
In a letter to her friend Miss E. T. of Brooklyn, N. Y., dated May 21,
1837, she thus refers to it:
Since your last letter arrived we have left our pleasant home for an
old yellow one above John Neal's. Now don't imagine it to be a delicate
straw-color, neither the smiling hue of the early dandelion. No, it once
shone forth in all the glories of a deep pumpkin; but time's "effacing
fingers" have sadly marred its beauty. Mr. Neal's Aunt Ruth, a quiet old
Quakeress, occupies a part of it and we Paysons bestow ourselves in the
remainder. This comes to you from its great garret. Here I sit every
night till after dark as merry as a grig. "The mind is its own place."
With all the inconveniences of the house I would not exchange it
at present for any other in the city. The situation is perfectly
delightful. Casco Bay and part of Deering's Oaks lie in full view. 
The Oaks are within a few minutes' walk. Back-Cove is seen beyond, and
rising far above the _blue_ White Mountains. The Arsenal stares us in
the face, if we look out the end windows and the Westbrook meeting-house
is nearer than Mr. Vail's by a quarter of a mile. I never believed there
was anything half so fine in this region. I think nothing of walking
anywhere now. One day, after various domestic duties, I worked in my
tiny garden four hours, and in the afternoon a party of girls came up
for me to go with them to Bramhall's hill. We walked from three till
half past six, came back and ate a hasty, with some of us a _furious_
supper, and then all paraded down to second parish to singing-school.
I expect to live out in the air most of the summer. I mean to have as
pleasant a one as possible, because we shall never live so near the
Oaks and other pretty places another summer. If you were not so timid I
should wish you were here to run about with me, but who ever heard of
E. T. _running_? Now, Ellen, I never was _meant_ to be dignified and
sometimes--yea, often--I run, skip, hop, and _once_ I did climb over a
fence! Very unladylike, I know, but I am not a lady.
In the fall of 1837 Mrs. Payson moved again. The incident deserves
mention, as it brought Lizzy into daily intercourse with the Rev. Mr.
French and his wife. Mr. French was rector of the Episcopal church in
Portland, and afterward Professor and Chaplain at West Point. He was
a man of fine literary culture and Mrs. French was a very attractive
woman. In a letter dated "Night before Thanksgiving," and addressed to
the early friend already mentioned, Lizzy refers to this removal and
also gives a glimpse of her active home life:
I have been busy all day and am so tired I can scarcely hold a pen.
Amidst the beating of eggs, the pounding of spices, the furious rolling
of pastry of all degrees of shortness, the filling of pies with
pumpkins, mince-meat, apples, and the like, the stoning of raisins and
washing of currants, the beating and baking of cake, and all the other
_ings_, (in all of which I have had my share) thoughts of your ladyship
have somehow squeezed themselves in. We have really bidden adieu to
"Pumpkin Place," as Mrs. Willis calls it, and established ourselves in
a house formerly occupied by old Parson Smith--and very snug and
comfortable we are, I assure you.
In the midst of our "moving," after I had packed and stowed and lifted,
and been elbowed by all the sharp corners in the house, and had my hands
all torn and scratched, I spied the new "Knickerbocker" 'mid a heap of
rubbish and was tempted to peep into it. Lo and behold, the first thing
that met my eye was the Lament of the Last Peach.  I didn't care to
read more and forthwith returned to fitting of carpets and arranging
tables and chairs and bureaus--but all the while meditating how I should
be revenged upon you. As to ----'s request I am sorry to answer nay; for
I feel it would be the greatest presumption in me to think of writing
for a magazine like that. I do not wish to publish anything, anywhere,
though it would be quite as wise as to entrust my scraps to _your_ care.
My mother often urges me to send little things which she happens to
fancy, to this and that periodical. Without her interference nothing
of mine would ever have found its way into print. But mammas look
with rose-colored spectacles on the actions and performances of their
offspring. Have you laughed over the Pickwick Papers? We have almost
laughed ourselves to death over them. I have not seen Lizzy D. for a
long time, but hear she is getting along rapidly. If I could go to
school two years more, I should be glad, but of course that is out of
the question.... It is easier for you to write often than it is for me.
You have not three tearing, growing brothers to mend and make for. I am
become quite expert in the arts of patching and darning. I am going to
get some pies and cake and raisins and other goodies to send to our
girl's sick brother. If I had not so dear and happy a home, I should
envy you yours. You say you do not remember whether I love music or not.
I love it extravagantly _sometimes_--but have not the knowledge to enjoy
scientific performances. The simple melody of a single voice is my
delight. Mrs. French, the Episcopal minister's wife, who is a great
friend of ours and lives next door (so near that she and sister talk
together out of their windows), has a baby two days old with black curly
hair and black eyes, and I shall have a nice time with it this winter.
Do you love babies?
The question with which this letter closes, suggests one of Lizzy's most
striking and loveliest traits. She had a perfect passion for babies, and
reveled in tending, kissing, and playing with them. Here are some pretty
lines in one of her girlish contributions to "The Youth's Companion,"
which express her feeling about them:
What are little babies for?
Say! say! say!
Are they good-for-nothing things?
Nay! nay! nay!
Can they speak a single word?
Say! say! say!
Can they help their mothers sew?
Nay! nay! nay!
Can they walk upon their feet?
Say! say! say!
Can they even hold themselves?
Nay! nay! nay!
What are little babies for?
Say! say! say!
Are they made for us to love?
_Yea_! YEA!! YEA!!!
In the fall of 1838 Mrs. Payson purchased a house in Cumberland street,
which continued to be her residence until the family was broken up. You
remember the charming little room Lizzy had fitted up over the hall in
this house, how nicely she kept it, and how happy she was in it. One of
the windows looked out on a little flower garden and at the close of the
long summer days the sunset could be enjoyed from the west window. She
had had some fine books given her, which, added to the previous store,
made a somewhat rare collection for a young girl in those days.
About this time, having been relieved of her part of domestic service by
the coming into the family of a young relative--whose devotion to her
was unbounded--she opened in the house a school for little girls. It
consisted at first of perhaps eight or ten, but their number increased
until the house could scarcely hold them. She was a born teacher and her
young pupils fairly idolized her.  In this year, too, she took
a class in the Sabbath-school composed of nearly the same group who
surrounded her on the week-days, and they remained under her care as
long as she lived in Portland.
The Rev. Mr. Vail having retired from the pastorate of the second parish
in the autumn of 1837, Cyrus Hamlin, just from the Theological Seminary
at Bangor, became the stated supply for some months. His preaching
attracted the young people and during the winter and spring there was
much interest in all the Congregational churches. Following the example
of the other pastors, Mr. Hamlin invited persons seriously disposed to
meet him for religious conversation. Elizabeth besought me, with all
possible earnestness and affection, to "go to Mr. Hamlin's meeting." One
day she came to see me a short time before the hour, saying that I was
ever on her mind and in her prayers, that she had talked with Mr. Hamlin
about me, nor would she leave me until I had promised to attend the
meeting. I did so; and from that time we were united in the strong bonds
of Christian love and sympathy. What a spiritual helper she was to me in
those days! What precious notes I was all the time receiving from
her! The memory of her tender, faithful friendship is still fresh and
delightful, after the lapse of more than forty years. 
In the summer of 1838 the Rev. Jonathan B. Condit, D.D., was called from
his chair in Amherst College and installed pastor of our church. He was
a man of very graceful and winning manners and wonderfully magnetic. He
at once became almost an object of worship with the enthusiastic young
people. The services of the Sabbath and the weekly meetings were
delightful. The young ladies had a praying circle which met every
Saturday afternoon, full of life and sunshine. Indeed, the exclusive
interest of the season was religious; our reading and conversation were
religious; well-nigh the sole subject of thought was learning something
new of our Saviour and His blessed service. All Lizzy's friends and
several of her own family were rejoicing in hope. And she herself was
radiant with joy. For a little while it seemed almost as if the shadows
in the Christian path had fled away, and the crosses vanished out of
sight. The winter and spring of 1840 witnessed another period of general
religious interest in Portland. Large numbers were gathered into the
churches. Lizzy was greatly impressed by the work, her own Christian
life was deepened and widened, she was blessed in guiding several
members of her beloved Sunday-school class to the Saviour, and was thus
prepared, also, for the sharp trial awaiting her in the autumn of the
same year, when she left her home and mother for a long absence in
From her earliest years she was in the habit of keeping a journal, and
she must have filled several volumes. I wonder that she did not preserve
them as mementos of her childhood and youth. Perhaps because her
afterlife was so happy that she never needed to refer to such
reminiscences of days gone by.
I have thus given you, in a very informal manner, some recollections of
her earlier years. I have been astonished to find how vividly I recalled
scenes, events and conversations so long past. I was startled and
shocked when the news came of her sudden death. But I can not feel that
she was called to her rest too soon. She seemed to me singularly happy
in all the relations of life; and then as an author, hers was an
exceptional case of full appreciation and success. I have ever regarded
her as "favored among women"--blessed in doing her Master's will and
testifying for Him, blessed in her home, in her friends, and in her
work, and blessed in her death.
PORTLAND, _December 31, 1878._
* * * * *
The Dominant Type of Religious Life and Thought in New England in the
First Half of this Century. Literary Influences. Letter of Cyrus Hamlin.
A Strange Coincidence.
A brief notice of the general type of religious life and thought, which
prevailed at this time in New England, will throw light upon both the
preceding and following pages. Elizabeth's early Christian character,
although largely shaped by that of her father, was also, like his,
vitally affected by the religious spirit and methods then dominant.
Several distinct elements entered into the piety of New England at that
period, (1.) There was, first of all, the old Puritan element which the
Pilgrim Fathers and their immediate successors brought with them from
the mother-country, and which had been nourished by the writings of the
great Puritan divines of the seventeenth century--such as Baxter, Howe,
Bunyan, Owen, Matthew Henry, and Flavel--by the "Imitation of Christ,"
and Bishop Taylor's "Holy Living and Dying," and by such writers as
Doddridge, Watts, and Jonathan Edwards of the last century. This lay at
the foundation of the whole structure, giving it strength, solidity,
earnestness, and power. (2.) But it was modified by the so-called
Evangelical element, which marked large sections of the Church of
England and most of the Dissenting bodies in Great Britain during
the last half of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth
century. The writings of John Newton, Richard Cecil, Hannah More, Thomas
Scott, Cowper, Wilberforce, Leigh Richmond, John Foster, Andrew Fuller,
and Robert Hall--not to mention others--were widely circulated in New
England and had great influence in its pulpits and its Christian homes.
Their admirable spirit infused itself into thousands of lives, and
helped in many ways to improve the general tone both of theological
and devotional sentiment. (3.) But another element still was the new
Evangelistic spirit, which inaugurated and still informs those great
movements of Christian benevolence, both at home and abroad, that are
the glory of the age. Dr. Payson's ministry began just before the
formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions,
and before his death mission-work had come to be regarded as quite
essential to the piety and prosperity of the Church. The Lives of David
Brainerd, Henry Martyn, Harriet Newell, and others like them, were
household books. (4.) Nor should the "revival" element be omitted in
enumerating the forces that then shaped the piety and religious thought
of New England. The growth of the Church and the advancement of the
cause of Christ were regarded as inseparable from this influence. A
revival was the constant object of prayer and effort on the part of
earnest pastors and of the more devout among the people. Far more stress
was laid upon special seasons and measures of spiritual interest and
activity than now--less upon Christian nurture as a means of grace, and
upon the steady, normal development of church life. Many of the most
eminent, devoted, and useful servants of Christ, whose names, during the
last half century, have adorned the annals of American faith and zeal,
owed their conversion, or, if not their conversion, some of their
noblest and strongest Christian impulses, to "revivals of religion."
(5.) To all these should perhaps, be added another element--namely, that
of the new spirit of reform and the new ethical tone, which, during the
third and fourth decades of this century especially, wrought with such
power in New England. Of this influence and of the philanthropic idea
that inspired it, Dr. Channing may be regarded as the most eminent
representative. It brought to the front the humanity and moral teaching
of Christ, as at once the pattern and rule of all true progress, whether
individual or social; and it was widely felt, even where it was not
distinctly recognised or understood. Whatever errors or imperfections
may have belonged to it, this influence did much to soften the dogmatism
of opinion, to arouse a more generous, catholic type of sentiment, to
show that the piety of the New Testament is a principle of universal
love to man, as well as of love to God, and to emphasise the sovereign
claims of personal virtue and social justice. These truths, to be sure,
were not new; but in the great moral-reform movements and conflicts--to
a certain extent even in theological discussions--that marked the times,
they were asserted and applied with extraordinary clearness and energy
of conviction; and, as the event has proved, they were harbingers of a
new era of Christian thought, culture and conduct, both in private and
Such were some of the religious influences which surrounded Mrs.
Prentiss during the first twenty years of her life, and which helped to
form her character. She was also strongly affected, especially while
passing from girlhood into early womanhood, by the literary influences
of the day. Poetry and fiction were her delight. She was very fond of
Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Longfellow; while the successive volumes of
Dickens were read by her with the utmost avidity. Mrs. Payson's house
was a good deal visited by scholars and men of culture. Her eldest
daughter had already become somewhat widely known by her writings. In
the extent, variety and character of her attainments she was, in truth,
a marvel. Indeed, she quite overshadowed the younger sister by her
learning and her highly intellectual conversation. And yet Elizabeth
also attracted no little attention from some who had been first drawn
to the house by their friendship for Louisa.  Among her warmest
admirers was Mr. John Neal, then well known as a man of letters; he
predicted for her a bright career as an author. Still, it was her
personal character that most interested the visitors at her mother's
house. This may be illustrated by an extract from a letter of Mr. Hamlin
to a friend of the family in New York, written in April, 1838, while he
was their temporary pastor. Mr. Hamlin has since become known throughout
the Christian world by his remarkable career as a missionary in Turkey,
and as organiser of Robert College. A few months after the letter was
written he set sail for Constantinople, accompanied by his wife, whose
early death was the cause of so much grief among all who knew her. 
I should like to write a long letter about dear Elizabeth. I have seen
her more since Louisa left and I love her more. She has a peculiar
charm for me. I think she has a quick and excellent judgment, refined
sensibilities, and an _instinctive_ perception of what is fit and
proper.... It seems to me there is a great deal of purity--of the
_spirituelle_--about her feelings. But I can not tell you exactly what
it is that makes me think so highly of her. It is a nameless something
resulting from her whole self, from her sweet face and mouth, her eye
full of love and soul, her form and motion. I do not think she likes me
much, I have paid so much attention to Louisa and so little to herself.
Yet she is not one of those who _claim_ attention, but rather shrinks
from it. She may have faults of which I have no knowledge. But I am
charmed with everything I have seen of her.
How strange are the chance coincidences of human life! In another letter
to the same friend in New York, in which Mr. Hamlin refers in a similar
manner to Elizabeth, occur these words:
In a few weeks I hope to be in Dorset, among the Green Mountains, where
my thoughts and feelings have their centre above all places on this
earth. I wish you could be present at my wedding there on the third of
How little did he dream, when penning these words, or did his friend
dream while reading them, that, after the lapse of more than forty
years, the "dear Elizabeth" would find her grave near by the old
parsonage in which that wedding was to be celebrated, while the dust of
the lovely daughter of Dorset would be sleeping on the distant shores of
 For many years after the publication of his Memoir, it was so often
given to children at their baptism that at one time those who bore it,
in and out of New England, were to be numbered by hundreds, if not
thousands. "I once saw the deaths of _three_ little Edward Paysons in
one paper," wrote Mrs. Prentiss in 1832.
 He was the author of a curious work entitled, "Proofs of the real
Existence, and dangerous Tendency, of Illuminism." Charlestown, 1802. By
"Illuminism" he means an organised attempt, or conspiracy, to undermine
the foundations of Christian society and establish upon its ruins the
system of atheism.
 "I spent part of last evening reading over some old letters of my
grandmother's and never realised before what a remarkable woman she was
both as to piety and talent."--_From a letter of Mrs. Prentiss, written
 In a letter to his mother,--written when Elizabeth was three years
old, he says: "E. has a terrible abscess, which we feared would prove
too much for her slender constitution. We were almost worn out with
watching; and, just as she began to mend, I was seized with a violent
ague in my face, which gave me incessant anguish for six days and nights
together, and deprived me almost entirely of sleep. Three nights I did
not close my eyes. When well nigh distracted with pain and loss of
sleep, Satan was let loose upon me, to buffet me, and I verily thought
would have driven me to desperation and madness."
 The late President Wayland.
 Prof. Calvin E. Stowe, D.D.
 The late Rev. Absalom Peters, D.D.
I can see the breezy dome of groves,
The shadows of Deering's Woods;
And the friendships old and the early loves
Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves
In quiet neighborhoods.
And the verse of that sweet old song,
It flutters and murmurs still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."
--LONGFELLOW'S _My Lost Youth._
 "The Lament of the Last Peach" had been written by her a year
before when in Brooklyn, and her friend's brother had sent it to "The
Knickerbocker," the popular Magazine of that day. Here it is:
LAMENT OF THE LAST PEACH.
In solemn silence here I live,
A lone, deserted peach;
So high that none but birds and winds
My quiet bough can reach.
And mournfully, and hopelessly,
I think upon the past;
Upon my dear departed friends,
And I, the last--the last.
My friends! oh, daily one by one
I've seen them drop away;
Unheeding all the tears and prayers
That vainly bade them stay.
And here I hang alone, alone--
While life is fleeing fast;
And sadly sigh that I am left
The last, the last, the last.
Farewell, then, thou my little world
My home upon the tree,
A sweet retreat, a quiet home
Thou mayst no longer be;
The willow trees stand weeping nigh,
The sky is overcast,
The autumn winds moan sadly by,
And say, the last--the last!
 "Dear Lizzy is in her little school. Her pupils love her dearly.
She will have about thirty in the summer."--_Letter of Mrs. Payson,
March 28, 1839_.
 Three years later Elizabeth thus referred to this period in the
life of her friend:--"During the time in which she was seeking the
Saviour with all her heart, I was much with her and had an opportunity
to see every variety of feeling as she daily set the whole before
me. The affection thus acquired is, I believe, never lost. If I live
forever, I shall not lose the impressions which I then received--the
deep anxiety I felt lest she should finally come short of salvation, and
then the happiness of having her lost in contemplation of the character
of Him whom she had so often declared it impossible to love."
 Old friends of her father also became much interested in her. Among
them was Simon Greenleaf, the eminent writer on the law of evidence, and
Judge Story's successor at Harvard. On removing to Cambridge, in 1833,
he gave her with his autograph a little volume entitled, "Hours for
Heaven; a small but choice selection of prayers, from eminent Divines of
the Church of England," which long continued to be one of her books of
 See the touching memorial of her, "Light on the Dark River,"
prepared by her early friend, Mrs. Lawrence.
THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST.
A Memorable Experience. Letters to her Cousin. Goes to Richmond as a
Teacher. Mr. Persico's School. Letters.
Miss Payson was now in her twenty-first year, a period which she always
looked back to as a turning-point in her spiritual history. The domestic
influences that encompassed her childhood, her early associations, and
the books of devotion which she read, all conspired to imbue her with an
earnest sense of divine things, and while yet a young girl, as we
have seen, she publicly devoted herself to the service of her God and
Saviour. For several years her piety, if marked by no special features,
was still regarded by her young friends, and by all who knew her, as of
a decided character. But during the general religious interest in the
winter of 1837-8, even while absorbed in solicitude for others, she
began herself to question its reality. "For some months I had no hope
that I was a Christian, and _pride_ made me go on just as if I felt
myself perfectly safe. Nothing could at that time have made me willing
to have any eye a witness to my daily struggles." And yet she "often
longed for the sympathy and assistance of Christian friends," and to her
unwillingness to confide in them she afterwards attributed much of the
suffering that followed. "I do not know exactly how I passed out of that
season, but my school commenced in April, and I became so interested in
it that I had less time to think of and to watch myself. The next winter
most of my scholars were deeply impressed by divine things, and, of
course, I could not look on without having my own heart touched. It was
my privilege to spend many delightful weeks in watching the progress
of minds earnestly seeking the way of life and early consecrating
themselves to their Saviour."  But after a while a severe reaction
set in and in the course of the summer she became careless in her
religious habits, shrank from the Lord's table as a "place of absolute
torture," and while spending a fortnight in Boston in the fall, entirely
omitted all exercises of private devotion.
She had now reached a crisis which was to decide her course for life.
During the winter of 1839-40, she passed through very deep and harrowing
exercises of soul. Her spiritual nature was shaken to its foundation,
and she could say with the Psalmist, _Out of the depths have I cried
unto Thee, O Lord._ For several months she was in a state similar
to that which the old divines depict so vividly as being "under
conviction." Her sense of sin, and of her own unworthiness in the
sight of God, grew more and more intense and oppressive. At times she
abandoned all hope, accused herself of having played the hypocrite, and
fancied she was given over to hardness of heart. At length she sought
counsel of her pastor and confided to him her trouble, but he "did not
know exactly what to do with me." In the midst of her distress, and as
its effect, no doubt, she was taken ill and confined to her room, where
in solitude she passed several weeks seeking rest and finding none.
"Sometimes I tried to pray, but this only increased my distress and
made me cry out for annihilation to free me from the agony which seemed
insupportable." With a single interval of comparative indifference, this
state of mind continued for nearly four months. She thus describes it:
It was in vain that I sought the Lord in any of the lofty pathways
through which my heart wished to go. At last I found it impossible to
carry on the struggle any longer alone. I would gladly have put myself
at the feet of a little child, if by so doing I could have found peace.
I felt so guilty and the character of God appeared so perfect in its
purity and holiness, that I knew not which way to turn. The sin which
distressed me most of all was the rejection of the Saviour. This haunted
me constantly and made me fly first to one thing and then another, in
the hope of finding somewhere the peace which I would not accept from
Him. It was at this time that I kept reading over the first twelve
chapters of Doddridge's "Rise and Progress,"--the rest of the book I
abhorred. So great was my agony that I can only wonder at the goodness
of Him who held my life in His hands, and would not permit me in the
height of my despair to throw myself away.
It was in this height of despair that thoughts of the infinite grace
and love of Christ, which she says she had hitherto repelled, began to
irradiate her soul. A sermon on His ability to save "unto the uttermost"
deeply affected her.  "While listening to it my weary spirit _rested_
itself, and I thought, 'surely it can not be wrong to think of the
Saviour, although He is not mine.' With this conclusion I gave myself up
to admire, to love and to praise Him, to wonder why I had never done
so before, and to hope that all the great congregation around me were
joining with me in acknowledging Him to be chief among ten thousand and
the One altogether lovely." On going home she could at first scarcely
believe in her own identity, the feeling of peace and love to God and
to all the world was so unlike the turbulent emotions that had long
agitated her soul. "From this time my mind went slowly onward, examining
the way step by step, trembling and afraid, yet filled with a calm
contentment which made all the dealings of God with me appear just
right. I know myself to be perfectly helpless. I can not promise to do
or to be anything; but I do want to put everything else aside, and to
devote myself entirely to the service of Christ."
Her account of this memorable experience is dated August 28, 1840.
"While writing it," she adds, "I have often laid aside my pen, to sit
and think over in silent wonder the way in which the Lord has led me."
How in later years she regarded certain features of this experience, is
not fully known. The record passed at once out of her hands, and until
after her death was never seen by anyone, excepting the friend for whose
eye it was written. Many of its details had, probably, faded entirely
from her memory. It can not be doubted, however, that she would have
judged her previous state much less severely, would hardly have charged
it with hypocrisy, or denied that the Saviour had been graciously
leading her, and that she had some real love to Him, before as well as
after this crisis. So much may be inferred from the record itself and
from the narrative in the preceding chapter. Her tender interest in the
spiritual welfare of her friends and pupils, the high tone of religious
sentiment that marks her early writings, the books she delighted in, her
filial devotion, the absolute sincerity of her character, all forbid
any other conclusion.  The indications, too, are very plain that her
morbidly-sensitive, melancholy temperament had much to do with this
experience. Her account of it shows, also, that her mind was unhappily
affected by certain false notions of the Christian life and ordinances
then, and still, more or less prevalent--notions based upon a too narrow
and legal conception of the Gospel. Hence, her shrinking from the Lord's
table as a place of "torture," instead of regarding it in its true
character, as instituted on purpose to feed hungry souls, like her own,
with bread from heaven. But for all that, the experience was a blessed
reality and, as these pages will attest, wrought a lasting change in her
religious life. No doubt the Spirit of God was leading her through all
its dark and terrible mazes. It virtually ended a conflict which the
intensely proud elements of her nature rendered inevitable, if she was
to become a true heroine of faith--the conflict between her Master's
will and her own. Her Master conquered, and henceforth to her dying hour
His will was the sovereign law of her existence, and its sweetest joy
The following extracts from letters to her cousin, George E. Shipman,
of New York, now widely known as the founder of a Foundling Home at
Chicago, will throw additional light upon her state of mind at this
period. Mr. Shipman was the friend to whom the account of her experience
already mentioned was addressed. He had just spent several weeks in
Portland, and to his Christian sympathy, kindness, and counsels while
there and during the two following years, she felt herself very deeply
PORTLAND, _August 22, 1840._
I am always wondering if any body in the world is the better off for my
being in it. And so if I was of any comfort to you, I am very glad of
it. I do want, I confess, the privilege of offering you sometimes the
wine and oil of consolation, and if I do it in such a way as to cause
pain with my unskilful hand, why, you must forgive me.... Mr. ----
talked to me as if he imagined me a blue-stocking. Just because my
sister wears spectacles, folks take it for granted that I also am
_Aug. 25th._--You ask if I find it easy to engage in religious
meditation, referring in particular to that on our final rest. This is
another of my trials. I can not meditate upon anything, except indeed it
be something quite the opposite of what I wish to occupy my mind. You
know that some Christians are able in their solitary walks and rides
to hold, all the time, communion with God. I can very seldom do this.
Yesterday I was obliged to take a long walk alone, and it was made very
delightful in this way; so that I quite forgot that I was alone.... I am
beginning to feel, that I have enough to do without looking out for a
great, wide place in which to work, and to appreciate the simple lines:
"The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves; a road
To bring us daily nearer God."
Those words "daily nearer God" have an inexpressible charm for me. I
long for such nearness to Him that all other objects shall fade into
comparative insignificance,--so that to have a thought, a wish, a
pleasure apart from Him shall be impossible.
_Sept. 12th._--At Sabbath-school this morning, while talking with my
scholars about the Lord Jesus, my heart, which is often so cold and so
stupid, seemed completely melted within me, with such a view of His
wonderful, wonderful love for sinners, that I almost believed I had
never felt it till then. Such a blessing is worth toiling and wrestling
for a whole life. If a glimpse of our Saviour here upon earth can be so
refreshing, so delightful, what will it be in heaven!
_Sept. 17th._--I have been reading to-day some passages from Nevins'
"Practical Thoughts."  Perhaps you have seen them; if so, do you
remember two articles headed, "I must pray more," and "I must pray
differently"? They interested me much because in some measure they
express my own feelings. I have less and less confidence in _frames_, as
they are called. I am glad that you think it better to have a few books
and to read them over and over, for my own inclination leads me to that.
One gets attached to them as to Christian friends. Do not hesitate to
direct me over and over again, to go with difficulties and temptations
and sin to the Saviour. I love to be led there and _left_ there.
Sometimes when the exceeding "sinfulness of sin" becomes painfully
apparent, there is nothing else for the soul to do but to lie in the
dust before God, without a word of excuse, and that feeling of abasement
in His sight is worth more than all the pleasures in the world.... You
will believe me if I own myself tired, when I tell you that I made
fourteen calls this afternoon. But even the unpleasant business of
call-making has had one comfort. Some of the friends of whom I took
leave, spoke so tenderly of Him whose name is so precious to His
children that my heart warmed towards them instantly, and I thought it
worth while to have parting hours, sad though they may be, if with them
came so naturally thoughts of the Saviour. Besides, I have been thinking
since I came home, that if I did not love Him, it could not be so
refreshing to hear unexpectedly of Him.... I did not know that mother
had anything to do with your father's conversion, and when I mentioned
it to her she seemed much surprised and said she did not know it
herself. Pray tell me more of it, will you? I have felt that if, in the
course of my life, I should be the means of leading one soul to the
Saviour, it would be worth staying in this world for no matter how many