Page:Female Prose Writers of America.djvu/139

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
117
LYDIA M. CHILD.

standing the number of excellent books that have since appeared on the same subject. It was published in 1831.

The “Girl’s Book,” in two volumes, followed in 1832, and met with a similar success. Its object was not so much the amusement of children, as their instruction, setting forth the duties of parent and child, but in a manner to attract youthful readers.

She wrote about the same time “Lives of Madame de Staël and Madame Roland,” in one volume; “Lives of Lady Russell and Madame Guyon,” in one volume; “Biographies of Good Wives,” in one volume; and the “History of the Condition of Women in all Ages,” in two volumes. All these were prepared for the “Ladies’ Family Library,” of which she was the editor. They are of the nature of compilations, and therefore do not show much opportunity for the display of originality. But they do show, what is a remarkable trait in all of Mrs. Child’s writings, an earnest love of truth. The most original work of the series is the “History of the Condition of Women.” They are all very useful and valuable volumes.

In 1833, Mrs. Child published an “Appeal for that Class of Americans called Africans.” It is said to be the first work that appeared in this country in favour of immediate emancipation. It made a profound impression at the time.

In the same year, Mrs. Child published “The Coronal.” It was a collection of small pieces in prose and verse, most of which had appeared before in periodicals of various kinds.

One of the most finished and original of Mrs. Child’s works, though it has not been the most popular, appeared in 1835. It was a romance of Greece in the days of Pericles, entitled “Philothea.” Like the “Prophet of Ionia,” and some of her other classical tales, the “Philothea” shows a surprising familiarity with the manners, places, and ideas of the ancients. It seems, indeed, more like a translation of a veritable Grecian legend, than an original work of the nineteenth century. While all the externals of scenery, manners, and so forth, are almost faultlessly perfect, perhaps not inferior in this respect to the “Travels of Anacharsis,” the story itself has all the freedom of the wildest romance. It is, however, romance of a purely ideal or philosophical cast, such as one would suppose it hardly possible to have come from the same pen that had produced a marketable book on cookery, or that was yet to produce such heart-histories as “The Umbrella Girl,” or “The Neighbour-in-law.” Indeed, the most remarkable thing in the mental constitution of Mrs. Child, is this harmonious combination of apparently opposite qualities—a rapt and lofty idealism, transcending equally the conventional and the real, united with a plain common sense that can tell in homely phrase the best way to make a soup or lay a cradle—an extremely sensitive organization, that is carried into the third heavens at the sound of Ole Bull’s violin, and yet does not shrink from going down Lispenard street to see old Charity Bowery.