The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Mary Elizabeth Lee/Extract from a Letter

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You ask how I have been occupied, and why I have written so little for the pages of the “Rose.” Well, I must tell you. I have forsworn poetry, and excepting a “Farewell” to it, which I wanted to make very pathetic, have not written a verse for a long while. As I tell you, this “Farewell to Poesy” was a thing I designed should be the last and best, and accordingly one dark wintry after noon, I wrapped myself closely in cloak and boa, and slipping away from the children, who are always in readiness for a walk, I proceeded to a very lonely and romantic spot at some distance from Homestead, hoping that in this deep solitude I might strike the ‘harp of solemn sound,’ so that it should give out music worthy of so high a theme. But in vain the wind moaned in most doleful cadence, in vain the waterfall sang its tireless song, in vain the owl in an adjacent wood croaked ever and anon; I could not attune my spirit aright. My rhymes jingled readily enough, but I could not win “the spark of heaven to tremble down the wire,” and after being seated for a full hour over a wet log, which produced, as you may suppose, a most uncommon rheumatism, I was startled by *****, who came to inquire of my poetical success. With great animation I read my several verses, each ending with these emphatic lines,

I vow that I no more will be
A captive to sweet poesy;

which lines, to my surprise, produced at each repetition a most unrestrained burst of laughter, and were at last set to a most ridiculous tune, which was sung during our long walk homeward, with the most provoking perseverance, till I too was compelled to laugh at my own hard-earned composition. Now you see I have let you into one of the trials of the scribbling class, and perhaps it may take away any disposition which you may sometimes feel towards courting the gentle Muse. I wanted so much to produce that Farewell, before I “furled my sail, to try no more the unsteady breath of favour;” and now I am resolved not to give up the ship, but to hold on, so long as the storm of public opinion does not beat too hard. Don’t you think I had better continue, confining myself to such innocent, simple subjects, as “Lines to the Owner of an Album,” “Stanzas to E. C.,” “Sonnet to the Evening Star,” and so on? Such lines can do no mischief, you know, to the cause of poetry.

But I promised to tell what I was doing, and you will be alarmed to hear, that I am drinking, with great gout, at the fount of philosophy. To be sure, as yet my progress has been but slow, and the draught not very deep, for I have taken in but parts of Doctor Adams’s Moral Philosophy, and fear to think when I shall be possessed of the whole. Have you read the work? Cousin S. thinks very well of it. If you want a treat in natural philosophy, I can recommend to your perusal “Euler's Letters,” which form two volumes of that excellent publication, “The Family Library.” The subjects are handled with a clearness and conciseness which pleased me greatly; and perhaps like me, and I suspect women in general, you do not like those huge tomes, that always seem to smell of poppies, whenever I venture so far as to open them. I like roast pig when stuffed with raisins and currants, for so I remember eating it some years ago at a friend’s house; and though a homely simile, I would compare philosophy with this heavy, substantial dish, and can truly say I never enjoy it unless well stocked with some apropos anecdote; some short flight of fancy; some occasionally wild conjecture.

With the word conjecture, Dick’s Works are brought to my mind, and I want you to read them also. I am now busy with his “Philosophy of Religion,” a work which, on account of its being a little startling, interests me exceedingly. What do you think of him when I tell you that he says, “it is a pleasing fancy to suppose that a city lit with gas lights, would present the same appearance to the inhabitants of the moon, which that satellite’s luminous spots display to us.” Don’t you think this is but a pleasing fancy, with no reality? Cousin S. has a first-rate microscope; also an excellent telescope, through which we have been for several evenings holding pleasant intercourse with Venus and Jupiter. The queen of beauty smiled on us with a most beaming smile, but Jupiter, vexed at being spied at, would only show three moons, and although we put on one power after another, would not show the fourth, much as we desired it. However, we will take another peep to-night, and hope to find him better disposed. Don’t you love to look at the stars? I do. What an idea of happiness a star conveys! With such a boundless space to move in; such an unmeasured distance before it, and such a long existence to live through! A star, with proper study, will furnish abundant food to the mind, and the heart also. Do you make the evening star your heart-study as you promised, and does it bring me any nearer to you every evening? I hope so, or you have proved a forgetful friend.