Letters of Life/XIII
My literary course has been a happy one. It commenced in impulse, and was continued from habit. Two principles it has ever kept in view—not to interfere with the discharge of womanly duty, and to aim at being an instrument of good.
My journals, which I have already mentioned were begun at an early age, were usually made the repositories of my poems, in the order in which they were composed. Those systematic records became a sort of necessity of my existence. They seemed an adjunct in religious progress, and to justify the adjuration with which one of them is consecrated:
"Give me Thine aid calmly to look upon the changes that are appointed me, and to love the little streams fed hourly from the fountain of Divine Mercy; and to hope that, when I fade, as I soon shall, like the grass, I may be renewed in the image of a glorious immortality."
After my establishment in a school at Hartford, through the influence of Daniel Wadsworth, Esq., he and his lady, my lovely friend, requested a sight of my journals, which had been usually kept in sequestration. He made selections from their contents which he persuaded me were adapted to the public eye; and I adventured, under his guardianship, on what was in those times, and in our part of the country, a novel enterprise for a female.
1. "Moral Pieces in Prose and Verse," was the modest title of my first volume, which comprised two hundred and sixty-seven pages. My kind patron, the first who ever gave encouragement to my literary tastes, and whose name I cannot utter without a thrill of gratitude, took upon himself the whole responsibility of contracting with publishers, gathering subscriptions, and even correcting the proof-sheets; and was delighted to present me, at last, a larger pecuniary amount than had been anticipated. Much favor was shown to this rather juvenile production; partly, perhaps, from courtesy to the sex, but principally that, though its literary pretensions might be slender, its moral and religious tone was accepted as a redeeming quality. Every agreeable concomitant seemed to add to the happiness of its disinterested prompter, Mr. Wadsworth, who delighted in drawing a solitary mind from obscurity into a freer atmosphere and brighter sunbeam.
2. "Life and Writings of Nancy Maria Hyde."
This was a loving tribute to the memory of her who from school-days had been to me as a sister. In the spring of 1816 she had taken her departure from earth; and a vacation of three weeks spent with my parents, the following June, was devoted, except such intervals as were imperatively necessary for exercise, to the arrangement and correction of some of her manuscripts for the press. These, connected by a biographical sketch, were published in Norwich, our native place, in a volume of two hundred and forty-one pages. The labor of preparation, though arduous for the short time I was able to command, was a solace to my feelings, and a source of profit to the bereaved mother.
3. "The Square Table" was the first literary production after my marriage, written by snatches while I was becoming initiated into the science of housekeeping, with the shell of the school-mistress still on my head. It was miscellaneous, and in reply to "Arthur's Round Table," a somewhat satirical work which had recently appeared. So strict was its incognita, that I had great amusement in hearing its merits discussed and its authorship inquired after in the circles where I visited. It was issued in pamphlet form, but not long continued, as I found the mystery on which its existence depended in danger of being unravelled.
4. "Traits of the Aborigines of America."
A poem in five cantos, comprising two hundred and eighty-four pages. This was composed two years before my marriage, but its publication delayed for some time, when it was issued from the University Press at Cambridge, Mass. An early acquaintance with the Mohegan tribe of Indians, who resided a few miles from Norwich, and a taste for searching out the historic legends of our forest-people, deepened my interest in their native lineaments of character, and my sympathy for their degraded condition. In the notes of the volume much information is concentrated respecting them, derived from various sources, in the revision of which I gratefully received the aid of the acute and discriminating mind of my husband. The work was singularly unpopular, there existing in the community no reciprocity with the subject.
Indeed, our injustice and hard-hearted policy with regard to the original owners of the soil has ever seemed to me one of our greatest national sins. The eloquent prelate of Minnesota, Bishop Whipple, whose residence among them and labors for their salvation entitle his opinions to respect, says:
"In their attachments to home, kindred, and country, in their natural endowments and virtues, and in their belief in One Great Spirit, they compare favorably with any heathen race on earth. Our early intercourse was marked by warm friendships, and white men lived in peace and tranquillity, when their only protection was the good faith of the Indian.
"But our first dealing with them as a government was based upon falsehood. Instead of encouraging them to live by honest labor, they made payments for their lands in beads, trinkets, and scalping-knives, giving the weight of official influence on the side of savage life. The sale of fire-water among them has been unblushing, and the office of Indian Agent sought, not because it was one of the noblest trusts that could be committed to man, but because, through corruption, a fortune might be realized in a few years.
"Because, as a nation, we fear God, let us fear to cover up these iniquities; because we hope in His mercy, let us reform a system which has proved so pernicious."
5. "Sketch of Connecticut, Forty Years Since."
A descriptive prose work of two hundred and eighty pages, tracing primitive habits and traditions, with, some intermingling of fiction. The scene is among the wild and beautiful regions of my native place; and the object of its construction was to embalm the memory and virtues of an ancient lady, my first and most loved benefactress. Its contents, though comparatively diffuse, were intended to be subsidiary to this prompting theme. It was meant to be an offering of gratitude to her whose influence, like a golden thread, had run through the whole woof of my life. Her relatives, as if by a heritable affection, continued to brighten its course and coloring; and, through their deeds of kindness, she, being dead, yet spake. Truly and devoutly would I apostrophize her, whose hallowed hand wrought among the elements of my being:
"If some faint love of goodness glow in me,
Pure spirit! I first caught that flame from thee."
6. "Poems." This volume of two hundred and twenty-eight pages, without other distinctive title, was published in Boston, in a very neat style, by Mr. Samuel G. Goodrich, an early friend, who afterwards, under the sobriquet of Peter Parley, was to earn so extensive a literary fame, first from young readers, and eventually from all the people. The book was a collection of miscellaneous poems, many of which had already appeared in various periodicals. It was received with courtesy, and with more of praise from reviewers than its merits appeared to me to deserve.
7. "Female Biography."
I had been led to attach increasing importance to biographical sketches of the good and distinguished as examples of conduct. A large number of these had accumulated in manuscript, which I had been in the habit of reading and commenting upon to the pupils of my school. This was a selection from them of the lives of twelve American women remarkable for their piety. The copyright was purchased by the Sunday School Union in Philadelphia, with the object of introducing it into the libraries connected with their establishment. It was issued in a small-sized volume of one hundred and twelve pages; and, though I never heard the objection adduced, I should think the style deficient in simplicity for juvenile readers, not having been prepared with reference to such a destination.
8. "Biography of Pious Persons."
In two volumes, comprising three hundred and thirty-eight pages, the remainder of the delineations mentioned in the preceding article, with some additional ones, were published by the Messrs. Merriams, of Springfield, Mass. Interesting reminiscences are entwined with them. At the close of each week, when the fair creatures whom it was my privilege to instruct were about to separate for the Sunday, I read, as a parting exercise, one of these brief abridgments to my attentive auditory. I seem still to see their bright eyes fixed upon me, some of which now turn lovingly to their own descendants, and some are darkened in the tomb. To my inquiry, "Will you sometimes think of this lovely character, until we meet again?" I hear the united answer, "We will." "And you will try to transplant the same virtues into your own young lives?" The response was, "We will." And so they have.
9. "Evening Readings in History."
A love of Ancient History, and the habit of teaching it, had frequently suggested the desire of rendering less diffuse portions of that of Assyria, Egypt, Tyre, Syria, and Palestine, and of so dividing and arranging these extensive themes as to bring them within the compass of brief readings, or lessons. This plan, however, was not attempted until my attention was turned to domestic instruction, when I felt the utter need of something adapted to the mind in its early stages of development. This work was written at the close of the first winter after my marriage, and proved a solace for intervals of ill health, which sometimes induced a retreat to my chamber. The ancient classic injunction, "Keep your piece nine years," was transcended, as this slumbered some thirteen in manuscript ere it was intrusted to the care of my Springfield publishers; who, wishing to make it acceptable to the young, embellished it with pictorial illustrations.
10. "Memoir of Phebe P. Hammond."
She was a young pupil in the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb in Hartford—that noble and benevolent institution, which has done so much for the relief and elevation of suffering humanity. I was induced to undertake this transcript of the early-summoned by the urgency of its principal, the Rev. Mr. Gallaudet; though reluctantly, from a great pressure of employment that then absorbed my time. He argued that the depressed circumstances of the family of the departed, and the means of education for the surviving sister, might be materially affected by the pecuniary aid thus derived. As I proceeded, I repented of my hesitation, being more than repaid for the labor by the simplicity, beauty, and piety of the character thus unfolded before me; furnishing delightful evidence that not only from the lips "of babes and sucklings," but from the tongue of the silent, God had perfected praise.
11. "How to be Happy."
Still keeping in view the nurture of children, I prepared a small work of one hundred and twenty-six pages, with the above title, pointing out a variety of ways in which they might find satisfaction by being good and obedient. Another motive animated me. The former scholars, whom I had so much loved, had many of them become mothers. The second generation was nearly as numerous as the first. For the nineteenth time they were about to assemble on the 1st of August—that day of the commencement of the school, which their constancy had continued to embalm. I knew they would appear under the same green trees where their youth had gathered, leading miniatures of themselves. I wished to place in those little hands some useful gift, which, if death should divide me from them before the twentieth anniversary, might be a memorial of affection. In ten days, and without previous preparation, I wrote this book, and gave it to a publisher—the late excellent Mr. D. F. Robinson. To my surprise, he proceeded to issue several thousand; according me the remuneration of ten per cent, on the retail price, with twenty-five copies of every new edition for my own gratuitous distribution.
12. "Report of the Hartford Female Beneficent Society."
This association was for orphan girls, or such as were deserted by parents, that they might be supported and trained in right and industrious habits until of sufficient age to be taken as assistants in families. It had been wisely and successfully managed, its funds having been fostered by the counsels of Chief-Justice Williams, whose lady devoted much time and sympathy to its internal details. Twenty years had elapsed since its establishment, and it was thought that a report of its proceedings might strengthen public confidence—perhaps increase the number of subscribers. Some of the more cautious managers apprehended that it would prove useless, and a source of debt. I offered to write it, and be held financially responsible. An edition of only five hundred was ventured, but widely circulated, and profitable beyond our most sanguine expectation.
This benevolent institution has now been half a century in prosperous operation. For the greater part of that period the onerous services of Chief Manager have been devotedly discharged by one lady, Mrs. Charles Hosmer, whose name has become identified with its welfare. Its plan has been not to mingle the sexes, or to cultivate in masses, but to receive only such a number as a single judicious matron might superintend with attention to individual health, habits, and manners. The result has been that they were often sought and prized, as inmates in distinguished families. Some of them married respectably, and became subscribers to the association by which they had been sheltered, and taught to lead lives of usefulness.
13. "The Farmer and Soldier."
A tale whose object was to impress on the young the excellence of a calm, peaceful spirit, and to show the false glory that sometimes surrounds those who, from ambition, have become shedders of blood. It was written at the instigation of Mr. William Watson, a friend who had accepted an agency in what was then known as the "American Peace Society." It was presented to him as a gift, and he printed a few thousand, in pamphlet form, for gratuitous distribution.
14. "Letters to Young Ladies."
Communion with those of my own sex in life's blossoming season has always been to me delightful. This volume was a selection of themes that I deemed of vital importance. At first it contained eight letters, but was eventually enlarged to eighteen, comprehending about three hundred pages. I felt a peculiar degree of diffidence about this publication, and offer it in my journal "as an oblation at His footstool who alone giveth guiding wisdom and sustaining strength, and who is able to grant that it may implant in the young mind some seeds of pure motive and prevailing piety."
After its unexpected publication in England and Scotland, where it was very kindly received, I was embarrassed by the solicitations of publishers wishing to secure the copyright. It has appeared, for the last sixteen or eighteen years, under the auspices of Harper & Brothers, in New York, and still meets a steady sale, having passed through between twenty and thirty editions, including those on the other side of the Atlantic.
Six tales and sketches are contained in this volume of two hundred and sixteen pages, several of which have a historical basis, with some sprinkling of invention. It was brought out by Philadelphia publishers, under the patronage of my late highly respected friend, George Griffin, of New York, whose legal knowledge guided me in those contracts which the business feature of my literary course demanded; while his intellectual tastes and kind encouragement prompted and aided its available industry. Feelingly do I pay this tribute of gratitude to his disinterested goodness. Agreeing with me in opinion that the fine exterior of a book has the same bearing on its contents that graceful manners have upon character, this one was uncommonly well executed for the times. A second and third edition were called for, and another simultaneously appeared in London.
16. "Poetry for Children."
This little book of one hundred and two pages, whose title reveals its object, was prepared with the belief that truths wrapped in rhyme may be made a powerful adjunct in early training, wakening the intellect, softening the heart, and imprinting lessons on the memory which time fails to efface. "Mother Goose's Melodies" have, however, so long held priority in the nursery, that it might be scarcely possible to make aught of a sentimental or serious character their competitor.
17. "Select Poems."
A collection of the more popular poems which had appeared during several years in various periodicals, with an admixture of new ones, was brought out in a neat volume of three hundred and thirty-eight pages, by publishers in the City of Brotherly Love. My consecrating prayer to Him who is able to make even weak things efficacious, was that it "might be sanctified to the comfort of the sorrowful, and in some measure to the good of all who shall read it." Public favor has been extended to it now for almost thirty years; and among the many kind notices that greeted it, was a valued review from the pen of the honored Maria Edgeworth.
18. "Tales and Essays for Children."
I have an idea that my zeal to come in contact with the mind in its earliest stages, outruns my ability. This little book of one hundred and twenty-eight pages helps to reveal how persistently I wrought in that field; but every succeeding year has more fully convinced me that the power of indwelling with childish thought, and so harmonizing with its simplicity as to cheer and elevate it, such as Mrs. Barbauld and a few others have exhibited, is a rare and not readily attainable excellence.
19. "Zinzendorff, and other Poems."
A visit to the Moravian establishments at Bethlehem and Nazareth, during a tour in Pennsylvania, so impressed me with their moderated desires, systematic industry, and quiet, consistent piety, as to turn my attention to the life of the founder, and prompt me to cull its poetical elements. This attempt supplied the title for a book of three hundred pages, the greater part of whose contents were miscellaneous, and which passed only through two or three editions.
20. "Margaret and Henrietta."
Two lovely sisters, the only children of their parents, beautiful in person, highly educated, and early summoned, gave a subject to this small volume of about one hundred pages. Sympathy with the mourning mother, and a desire to console her, was the motive for its composition; yet it has been widely circulated far beyond my expectation, and amid many Sunday-school libraries incites to imitation of these models of goodness and piety.
21. "Marcus Aurelius."
I had long been solicitous of selecting some era which might serve to imbue the young mind with a love for historical knowledge, yet leave it undazzled by the pomp of military achievement. This induced the choice of one of the most faultless of the Roman emperors, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. To possess myself of any fact that might add interest to the analysis, I studied some of the more ancient authors both in Latin and French, and so arranged my plan as to present collaterally parallel events, with resemblances or contrasts among the distinguished of other nations. To reduce the style of these gatherings to the simplicity of unfolding capacities, cost me almost the toil of translation. Indeed, I felt some degree of compunction that two months, with the exception of claims of correspondence and contributions to periodicals, should have been expended on a work of such trifling extent as one hundred and twenty-two pages. Yet I eventually reaped both pleasure and benefit from its use, in the home-education of my own two little ones, who were five and seven years old at the time of its first appearance.
22. "Olive Buds."
This, as the name imports, has affinity with those peaceful dispositions which are the germ of national tranquillity and prosperity. It owes its existence to the instigation of a friend, Mr. William Watson, who was interested in the promulgation of such principles, and had commenced on a small scale the business of publishing. Having been a boarder in his family during the last year that I had charge of my school, and treated with great kindness, I made this work of one hundred and thirty-six pages, with another small publication, an offering of gratitude to him, taking pleasure in knowing that a portion of whatever profit might thus accrue was to assist in the education of a promising son, destined to the ministry by his parents, but removed by the All-Wise Disposer in the bloom of youth.
23. "The Religious Souvenir."
Those beautiful annuals which had reached us from over the water, so exquisite in typography and pictorial embellishment, had begun to excite among us a spirit of emulation. At this I rejoiced, having long felt that there was much room for improvement in the costume as well as the material of our literature. The aristocratic "Forget-Me-Not" of London had been regularly sent me by its editor; and admiration of it, as well as other considerations, induced me to accept the charge of a similar publication, originally commenced in Philadelphia by my revered and eloquent friend, the late Rev. Dr. Gregory Bedell. The labor of editing was more onerous than I had anticipated, demanding correspondence not only with the literati, but with artists and engravers. Yet, at the sight of a rich volume in white Turkey morocco and gold, of two hundred and eighty-eight pages, from our eminent writers, I felt more than remunerated.
24. "Letters to Mothers."
This is a communication on matters that seemed to me of high import with those to whom Heaven has committed the moulding of the whole mass of mind in its first formation. It was written more con amore than most of my previous works. The importance of early training was continually unfolded and enforced by conducting at home the education of my own two children; and its voice often arose from my very heart of hearts. The first edition I printed myself, that I might have the privilege of distributing a larger number gratuitously. It was afterwards stereotyped, in three hundred and ninety-seven pages, by the Brothers Harper, and has been in successful circulation for a quarter of a century. One of its reviewers has pronounced it "a mass of excellence, with as little alloy as any book extant;" though, to chastise the vanity, if any should spring from such high praise, I have felt that it has never excited, in the class whom it addresses, the warm enthusiasm with which it was written. Some of its precepts may probably be deemed out of fashion by the mothers of the present generation.
25. "The Girl's Reading Book."
I was persuaded by a gentleman who was engaged in elevating the condition of Common Schools in the State of New York, the late Mr. J. Orville Taylor, to prepare a work of didactic instruction—narrative and poetry—adapted to the use of the young of my own sex during their progress in scholastic education. The design was pleasant, but having only a month that I could devote to it, labored both night and day. I half feared that it would be written in my heart's blood, so many interruptions occurred, and so determined was I, if possible, to keep my promise of having it ready at a certain time. Severe application enabled me to redeem my pledge, and seventy sheets of manuscript were ready at the appointed period, to save the publisher from disappointment. His energy brought out seven editions during the first nine months; and I remembered no more my weariness, for the cheering hope that it might impress some good lesson, or hallowed precept, on the hearts of the daughters of my people.
26. "The Boy's Reading Book."
A counterpart to its feminine companion, naturally and more leisurely followed. It was written with care, aiming to enforce such principles as seemed to me vitally important to the young sons of a republic. Again I seem to hear the melody of a treasured voice, and my sole boy-pupil, my "faded hope," stands by my side, reading from its pages in his clear, deliberate enunciation, or pausing to ask some question, or listen to some collateral remark. Wiser art thou now than we, young student in the lore of heaven!
Not satisfied with the style in which school-books were usually printed in those times, I decided to adventure an edition of each of the two last-named works, with a fair, large typography, in substantial binding. I therefore made my contracts with paper manufacturers, pressmen, etc., and brought out four thousand volumes, of three hundred pages, which might be perused without injuring the eyesight, or, as some writer has said, "not being secretly in league with the craft of spectacle-makers." The enterprise was financially a loss, yet I never regretted it. Even now, some of its remnants mingle with gifts for schools in our new western settlements. Compends for reading, being easily selected from the writings of others, grew numerous, and the ground became preoccupied. By these competitors a work consisting of original articles was not greeted, possibly was undervalued. Still, these two works, in a smaller form, and with the condensed sobriquets of "Boy's Book," and "Girl's Book," are published by Carter & Brothers, of New York, adorned with some unartistic plates, and meeting a moderate sale.
27. "The Religious Souvenir."
This Annual, as well as its predecessor, from their tone of literature and style of embellishment, found favor with the public. Contributions had been widely solicited both in Europe and the United States, though I was sometimes disappointed where I had reason to place reliance. I had the gratification of receiving articles from over the water from Mrs. Opie, Bernard Barton, R. Shelton Mackenzie, and Dr. Stamatiades, of Constantinople—as well as from our own distinguished writers, Bishop Burgess, Bishop Chase, Bishop Williams, Rev. Dr. Tyng, Rev. C. W. Everest, and Colonel John Trumbull; also from Miss Sedgwick, Miss Gould, Mrs. Stephens, Mrs. Embury, and Mrs. Stowe, whose pen has since made itself known in both hemispheres. I was ambitious that these volumes should exhibit as great a variety of talent as possible; and therefore, although I had at first added more than one hundred pages myself, deemed it courteous as an editor rather to withdraw, and bring forward my friends, or, to borrow the expression of my Lord Bacon, "ring a bell for other wits." But the toil of exchanging hundreds of letters, not only with the literati, but with artists, all the sixteen illustrations requiring to be original, absorbed too much time, and was too slavish in its character; so, discovering that the department of editorship was not congenial to my taste, I gladly declined giving it a third trial.
28. "Memoir of Mrs. Mary Ann Hooker."
Would that my pen had been adequate to the perfect transcript of one of the most lovely and intellectual of beings. This attempt, with some selections from her correspondence, an affectionate tribute to the memory of an early and valued friend, was left for publication under the superintendence of her husband, the Rev. Horace Hooker, at my departure for Europe.
29. "Religious Poetry."
This volume, of three hundred and forty-seven pages, with another one of poems of correspondent size, and an enlarged edition of "Letters to Young Ladies," were issued, according to articles of agreement, by publishers in Paternoster Row and St. Paul's Churchyard, during my residence in London. Their beautiful style of execution rendered them appropriate keepsakes, as testimonials of gratitude to the friends from whom I had received attentions and hospitalities while a sojourner in foreign climes.
30. "Pocahontas, and Other Poems."
I had great pleasure in searching out materials for the principal poem in this volume of two hundred and eighty-three pages. It was heightened from having once visited the ruins of the church at Jamestown, where the Princess Pocahontas, the first convert from the heathen tribes, received the rite of baptism in the first temple consecrated to God in the Western wilderness. This event gave a worthy subject to the spirited pencil of Chapman, among the great national paintings in the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington.
It was the touching custom of the colonists who landed here in the spring of 1607, to adorn their place of worship with wild flowers, and to mingle a prayer for the "dear Mother-country" with their Sabbath services, which were conducted by the Rev. Mr. Hunt, called, by historians of the times, "the morning-star of the Church." By him, and in the same edifice, the nuptials of Pocahontas with the cavalier, John Rolfe, were solemnized. A world of early vernal flowers enwreathed the rough pine columns, and strewed the floor, loading the air with fragrance. The white and red-browed people, mingling, rejoiced together. Powhatan, the powerful king of thirty nations, smiled propitiously on his daughters bridal; while his brother, the lofty warrior, his head towering above all around, came forward at the appointed time to give the maiden to her husband. Accompanying him to London, she made a most favorable impression, and received the regard of royalty.
Sir Thomas Dale, the wise and stately Governor of Virginia, in his despatches to England dated June 18th, 1614, thus alludes to the young forest-princess:
"The daughter of Powhatan I caused to be carefully instructed in the Christian religion, who, after she had made good progress therein, publicly renounced the idolatry of her country, openly confessed the true faith, and was at her own desire baptized. She is since married to an English gentleman of good standing—another knot to bind our peace the stronger. She liveth civilly and lovingly with him, and will, I trust, grow in goodness as the knowledge of God increaseth in her. Were it but for the gaining of this one soul, I should count my time, toil, and present stay here well spent."
This book, of two hundred and fifty-six pages, is composed principally of short effusions of a decidedly religious character. Being published by Mr. John Locken, of Philadelphia, it was sometimes designated, in the absence of a more specific title, as "Locken's Poems." Its exterior was in good taste, and from its portable size, as well as the nature of its contents, it proved an acceptable present to friends going forth on missions, of whom I had quite a number, both in heathen and civilized climes.
32. "Pleasant Memories of Pleasant Lands."
Descriptions, in prose and verse, of scenery and characters that most interested me during nearly a year in foreign lands, are here embodied. It contained about four hundred pages; and the publishers, Monroe & Co., of Boston, satisfied my rather fastidious taste in its general costume, adorning it with a frontispiece of Sir Walter Scott's mansion at Abbotsford, and a vignette of the obelisk of Luxor, in the Place la Concorde, at Paris. Its several editions were kindly received, and favorably noticed by reviewers.
33. "The Child's Book."
Still at my old habits of writing for children, in which I am inclined to think I display more pertinacity than genius. This work, containing between thirty and forty very brief articles, in one hundred and forty-four pages, commences with great simplicity, gradually ascending both in subject and style. My plan was to have it read by mothers to their little ones who were too young to read for themselves, taking a single chapter, or perhaps part of one at a time, and showing only the pictures appertaining to the portion read, until the whole series should be completed; thus avoiding to tax the infant intellect, yet keeping its appetite of curiosity in exercise for the next set of pictures. By mothers and intelligent nurses, who have observed these directions, its use has been commended.
The New York publishers, in stereotyping it, gave it a square form, as agreeable to the little ones, and liberally endowed it with more than a hundred cuts, some of them very small, but generally appropriate. It bore the title of "The Pictorial Reader," and I was exulting over it as one who findeth great spoil, when I received through the post-office the following fulminating letter:
"Sir:—You have unwarrantably taken the title of my book for yours, and are liable to prosecution."
Knowing as little of the irascible author as he of my sex, I made haste to relinquish what he characterized as a purloined possession, and adopted the nomenclature of "Child's Book," by which it still holds its course among the lambs of the flock.
34. "Scenes in my Native Land."
A transcript in prose and poetry, in somewhat more than three hundred pages, of some interesting spots which I had visited in my own birth-land. To me it has always appeared in a measure jejune; yet abroad, where it was repeatedly republished, it was more of a favorite than the "Pleasant Memories," because to the European mind it revealed new localities, while the other portrayed those which were familiar. Both were issued by the same house in Boston, and rather than disappoint them in sending this manuscript at the stipulated time, I wrought painfully to complete it during a period of convalescence, and was aided in the labor of copying by the pen of my sweet daughter.
35. "The Sea and the Sailor."
My voyages had given me an interest in that class of persons who buffet the ocean-billows, and through whose hardships the commerce of the world is sustained. I wished to testify sympathy and friendship by a little book of poetry, which might go with them in their chests, a prompter of salutary thought when they should leave the charities of home. The first edition, of one thousand, entitled "Poetry for Seamen," was purchased by my liberal friend, the late Martin Brimmer, of Boston, and entirely distributed to the sons of the sea, through the agency of their devoted chaplain, the Rev. J. C. Robertson. The work, in its present enlarged form of one hundred and fifty-two pages, is illustrated by the pencil of the late William Roderick Lawrence, the school-associate of my departed son. Should I speak of it with that frankness of criticism by which we lady writers have too seldom an opportunity of profiting, I should say that some of its poems are not simple enough for sailors, and others too simple for those in command, so that it falls short of both classes. Still, as a parting gift for the sea, it has been often welcomed, lighting the dim forecastle with a ray from the hearthstone, and a thought of the heavenly shore.
36. "The Voice of Flowers."
Fragrance and melody have native affinities, like the plumage and the song of birds. Having a variety of effusions called forth by the floral creation, I was per suaded by a publisher in Hartford, the late Mr. Henry S. Parsons, to gather them into a volume of one hundred and twenty-three pages, to which he gave the miniature form, as being at that time peculiarly popular. It contains forty-five articles, most of them brief, and all aiming to extract an enduring essence from beauties that fade.
37. "Myrtis, with other Etchings and Sketchings."
This book comprises, in two hundred and twenty-two pages, thirteen tales in prose. The scene of the one which furnishes the title is laid in ancient Athens, during the period that Rome was under the sway of the Antonines. That of another is in Poland, during her struggle against Russian domination. The others are located in our own land, while in its colonial existence, or more recent position among the nations of the earth. All not being equally elaborate, a kind of deprecating modesty moved me to denominate them as "Etchings and Sketchings," though several are, perhaps, superior in interest to what are deemed the more finished delineations.
38. "The Weeping Willow."
Another tastefully executed miniature work, of one hundred and twenty-eight pages, uniform, and a counterpart with the "Voice of Flowers." It is a collection of poems founded on the frailty of human life, and the sorrows that spring from the sundering of its affections. Some were called forth by specific cases of bereavement, at the request of the bereaved. Yet while its last lines still lingered in the press, I had myself need of the solace which it aimed to bestow on others. They lingered to receive my sad heart's tribute to the memory of that true, dear, unselfish friend, Mrs. Faith Trumbull Wadsworth, whose love, from my early years, through all changes, changed not. Suddenly, with scarce a warning that awoke apprehension, she ascended to those angelic natures with whom, for almost fourscore years, she had communion and growing congeniality.
The cause of Temperance, and the reformation of those who have swerved from its principles, had long and often enlisted my sympathies. This volume contains, in two hundred and seventy-five pages, whatever I had written on these subjects, either in prose or poetry. It was arranged at the suggestion of the "Scottish Temperance League," in Edinburgh, but published in New York by Carter & Brothers, the first of a series of eight different works which they have since issued for me, with that punctuality and friendliness which are such desirable concomitants in the intercourse of publisher and author. This work is particularly addressed to females, to propitiate their influence in the structure of domestic life, against a foe that lays waste their dearest hopes, and to quicken them in impressing upon the tender minds committed to their charge the subjugation of the appetites, and the wisdom and beauty of self-control.
40. "Illustrated Poems."
From a liberal publishing house in Philadelphia, Messrs. Carey & Hart, I received proposals to make selections from such of my poems as had been deemed most popular, mingling with them new ones if I chose, and permit them to be issued in an illustrated octavo edition, uniform with those beautiful ones of Bryant, Longfellow, and Willis, and forming the fourth of the series. I was not insensible to so high a compliment, and acceded to their wishes. The book contained more than four hundred pages, with fourteen fine engravings from original designs, by Darley, and was the first of mine that in all respects of paper, typography, and binding, was quite accordant with my taste. Its sale at five dollars per copy, and seven dollars in turkey morocco, was also satisfactory to those who had so freely expended upon its execution. After the dissolution of that firm it appeared in a plainer form, and with fewer embellishments, several of the plates having been destroyed in a conflagration. It was dedicated to the late Samuel Rogers, then the oldest poet in Europe, to whom I was indebted for many marks of friendship when in his native clime, and who warmly appreciated the attention. He, to whom the grateful offering would have been more naturally paid, my first literary patron, Mr. Wadsworth, who permitted me to consecrate with his name my "Weeping Willow," had, a few months before the appearance of the above-named volume, laid his head in an honored grave, just before reaching his seventy-seventh birthday. Other tender reminiscences also cluster around it—of an eye, that, like the rich, deep violet, hung over its manuscript pages—of a hand and pen that zealously aided in copying them—of a soul-speaking face in the bloom of nineteen, soon to be covered on its turf-pillow from the mourning mother's view.
41. "Whisper to a Bride."
This book has gathered some of those sentiments which both in poetry and prose had been suggested by the most important era in the life of woman. From the absorption of time and thought incidental to such an event, I thought it fitting that the words uttered should be few. Robed in white silk, this slight gift has sought the hand of many a fair young creature, as she left the paternal hearthstone to make for herself a new home, amid duties whose full import eternity alone can unfold.
42. "The Coronal."
A beautiful volume of prose and poetry, thus entitled, was sent me from London, where it had been selected and published without reference to me. As you have probably never seen it, my dear friend, none having been sent to this country save a few gift copies to myself, I will transcribe for you the courteous words with which they introduce it to the British public:
"A wreath of song, and old romantic lay,
And pleasant tale, wherewith to cheer the hearth
Around the winter's cheerful blaze, when day
Dies in the west, and evening with its mirth
And social interchange of love has birth."
"The authoress of this work has long been designated as the American Hemans; and if feminine sweetness and delicacy of thought, and the tenderest sympathy with all the most sacred affections of the heart, merit such a title, it could have been nowhere more appropriately applied. As a prose writer, however, Mrs. Sigourney lays claim to even a higher standing than the gifted authoress of the 'Records of Woman,' as the following pages will bear ample testimony.
"In presenting these beauties of American literature nearly all hitherto unknown to the English reader, the editor feels assured that the refined taste and beauty of thought which they display, combined with the high moral principles they are designed to inculcate, will unite to render this Coronal one of the most acceptable and permanent additions to this class of English literature.
"London, November 1st, 1848."
Though this date defines the time of its first publication in England, yet, as I received no announcement, or copies of it, until the editions of 1850, I have placed it under that year in this present catalogue.
43. "Letters to my Pupils."
It has been heretofore mentioned that it was my custom, while engaged in the work of instruction, to address and read to those under my care, once in three weeks, a letter on some subject of mutual interest, or desired improvement. The present volume, of three hundred and forty-one pages, has this basis, and closes with brief biographical tributes to such of our loved associates as had been early summoned to "begin the travel of eternity."
44. "Olive Leaves."
A book for the young, containing, in three hundred and eight pages, Narrative, Biography, and History, in prose and poetry, imbued, as the name imports, with that spirit of peace which it seems should form an integral part of Christian education. Both this and the preceding work were published by the brothers Carter, of New York.
45. "Examples of Life and Death."
This volume, of three hundred and forty-eight pages, issued by Mr. Charles Scribner, of New York, comprises twenty-four biographical sketches, selected with care from different climes, sexes, and conditions in life, extending over a period of thirteen centuries, and varying in scenery and position from the wilderness to the throne, yet all tending to confirm the unity and efficacy of that sustaining principle which imparts vigor amid the vicissitudes of time, and tranquillity under the dread and mystery with which it recedes into eternity.
46. "The Faded Hope."
A sketch of my beloved and only son. "God touched him, and he slept."
47. "Memoir of Mrs. Harriette Newell Cook."
The subject of this volume, a lady of talents and piety, and the wife of a clergyman, was remarkable for living, as it were, with a pen in her hand, noting down the passage of daily occurrences from which good might be gathered. This habit, with a diligently conducted correspondence, supplied ample materials for these two hundred and fifty-two pages, connected by a thread of biography, which I was induced by the urgency of her husband to supply, though my time was burdened with a multitude of occupations.
48. "Western Home, and other Poems."
Admiration of our "great, green, growing West," called into existence the poem which gave name to this otherwise miscellaneous volume of three hundred and fifty-nine pages, originally published by Parry & MacMillan, of Philadelphia, and, after the dissolution of their house, by others in New York.
49. "Sayings of the Little Ones, and Poems for their Mothers."
I have long been an admirer of the words of young children, as in their simplicity combining wit with originality. Perceiving how apt they are to be forgotten, even by the fond maternal heart, I had been persevering in collecting them, and this book of two hundred and fifty-two pages is the result. Following out my fancy for the West, I intrusted the copyright to Buffalo publishers; and that it has not been overlooked by the public, I perceive by occasional extracts from its choicest morceaux in passing periodicals, though without acknowledgment or reference to the source from whence they were derived.
50. "Past Meridian."
A conviction that the period of advanced life is seldom correctly appreciated either by those who reach or those who regard it, moved me to adduce arguments to enforce its value, and examples of its happy combination with usefulness and honor. The plan was brought to a crisis, by chancing to look over, as an exercise in Latin, "Cicero de Senectute" written when he was between sixty and seventy, and thinking that, if a heathen could discover so much beauty in age, Christian philosophy should be able more perfectly to illustrate how the latest drop of existence might exhale in a song of praise to the Giver. This work was written carefully and with pleasure, and is stereotyped in three hundred and forty-four pages by Brown & Gross, Hartford, with that large, clear typography which accommodates spectacled eyes.
"The North American Review," our highest umpire in the realm of intellect, deigns thus to characterize it: "This is one of the comparatively few books in our day which will be read with glistening eyes and glowing heart, when all who now read shall have gone to their graves. It is written by Mrs. Sigourney, in the character of one who has herself past the meridian of life, and addresses itself to sensations and experiences which all whose faces are turned westward can feel and understand with her. It is, much more than 'De Senectute,' Christianized. It is devotion, philosophy, and poetry so intertwined, that each is enriched and adorned by the association. It describes, indeed, the straitnesses and sadnesses of growing years, but sets off against them their more than preponderant immunities and felicities. It treats of the duties of the aged, and their rights and dues at the hands of the younger. It gives biographical sketches and anecdotes of good and happy old men and women. Above all, it blends with the serene sunset of a well-spent life the young morning beams of a never-setting day. It will carry solace to many a fireside, and rekindle hope and gladness in many a soul that scarcely dares to look into its earthly future."
51. "Examples from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries."
Still keeping in view that the lives of the great and good, like grand pictures, give present pleasure and lasting remembrance, and that what we thus contemplate may become not only a cheering sympathy but a controlling pattern, I constructed another biographical work. It was printed in three hundred and forty-nine pages by the same publisher who brought out its predecessor, which extends over a space of thirteen hundred years; and though this was limited to a single century, I was embarrassed by the amplitude of materials, and the difficulty of selection, like a gleaner, who regrets to leave ungarnered so many rich sheaves of ripened gold.
52. "Lucy Howard's Journal."
The narrative of a young life, given in the form of a diary. Its object was to sketch the inner habitudes of the last half century, as they were connected with the nurture of my own sex, and which, if not altogether obsolete, are rapidly becoming matters of tradition. The work appeared under the auspices of the brothers Harper, in three hundred and forty-three pages; and though some of its elementary details, from their simplicity and minuteness, might seem to need excuse, yet they involve principles or affections which have given to New England homes stability and comfort, with that affluence of strength and virtue which has enabled them to distribute freely to the young West seeds and germs that cause her wilderness to blossom as the rose.
53. "The Daily Counsellor."
This book of four hundred and two pages, published by Brown & Gross, of Hartford, was so well received that a second large edition was called for within a fortnight after its first appearance. It consists of a poem for every day in the year, founded on a text of Scripture. It is not adapted to consecutive perusal, but to systematic and devotional use. In my own communion with it every morning, it is pleasant to gather around me in spirit those who, by its solitary perusal, or in the family circle, are thinking the same thoughts, or perhaps committing to memory the same passage of Divine truth, which its lyrical echoes repeat. "A single verse," said Luther, "is sufficient for the meditation of a day; and whoever finds, at the close of that day, that he has possessed himself fully of its sense and spirit, may consider the day well spent."
1860 and 1862.
54. "Gleanings." Two hundred and sixty-four pages.
55. "The Man of Uz, and other Poems." Two hundred and seventy-six pages.
I class these two poetical works together, for I am exceedingly tired of the list. I think you are also, and will rejoice that I have come to a stand.
56. "Selections from Various Sources."
Patience, sweet friend! for you will see I have set out anew like the guest who, after taking leave, comes back again. This book of two hundred and forty pages I was induced to print at my own expense, principally that I might have it for gifts to friends at Christmas and New Year. Three hundred copies were thus expended on those occasions, and during a few consecutive months. It consists of extracts on all sorts of subjects, made during a series of years, in obedience to the ancient injunction of reading with a pen or pencil in the hand. A mass of manuscripts thus collected, without the most distant idea of publication; but suddenly it came into my mind, that what had given pleasure or edification to myself, might perform a similar office for others. Whereupon I made a decimation of these hoarded sentiments, among which some of my own had anonymously intruded. The work has been well received, though not offered for sale, and, having been printed at a distance, is somewhat defaced by typographical errors.
There was a long period, after I became a writer for the public, when periodical literature flourished abundantly. The monthly magazines in particular became almost a legion. Every position, occupation, and age of human life seemed to have its own exponent. This, after a series of years, regulated itself, and such as were essentially ephemeral disappeared. Some, whose embellishments were original and tasteful, continued to stimulate the fine arts, and a few established Reviews to hold high guardianship over the interests of literature.
On this sea of miscellany I was allured to embark, and, having set sail, there was no return. I think now with amazement, and almost incredulity, of the number of articles I was induced by the urgency of editors to furnish. Before I ceased to keep a regular catalogue, they had amounted to more than two thousand. Some of these were afterwards comprehended in selections, though enough for several volumes must still be floating about, like sea-weed among the noteless billows. They were divided among nearly three hundred different publications, from the aristocratic "Keepsake" of the Countess of Blessington, and the classic "Athenæum" and "Forget-Me-Not" of London, to the "Coachmakers' Magazine," the "Herald of the Upper Mississippi," the "Buckeye Blossom" of the West, and the "Rose-Bud" of the factory girls at Lowell. Promptitude was the life-blood of these contributions. Hungering presses must be fed, and not wait. How to obtain time to appease editorial appetites, and not neglect my housekeeping tactics, was a study. I found the employment of knitting congenial to the contemplation and treatment of the slight themes that were desired, and, while completing fifteen or sometimes twenty pairs of stockings yearly for our large family, or for the poor, stopped the needles to arrest the wings of a flying thought or a flowing stanza. Still, I always corrected, and rewrote more than once, these extemporaneous effusions, not considering it decorous to throw crude matter at the head of the public.
This habit of writing currente calamo is fatal to literary ambition. It prevents that labor of thought by which intellectual eminence is acquired. Miss Edgeworth, however, thinks fit thus to commend it: "Few persons of genius have possessed what Mrs. Sigourney appears to have—the power of writing extempore on passing subjects, and at the moment they chance to be called for. She must have great command over her own mind, or what a celebrated physician used to call 'voluntary attention,' in which most people are so lamentably deficient, that they can never write any thing well when called upon for it, or when the subject is suggested and the effort bespoken. Those powers are twice as valuable that can well accomplish their purpose on demand. Certainly, as it respects poetic gifts, those who give promptly give twice. How few, even of professed and eminent poets, have been able to produce any effusion worthy of their reputation, or even worth reading on what the French call 'des sujets de commande,' or what we English describe as on the 'spur of the moment!' Gray could not—Addison could not. Mrs. Sigourney's friends will doubtless be ready to bear testimony that she can."
With the establishment of a poetic name came a host of novel requisitions. Fame gathered from abroad cut out work at home. The number and nature of consequent applications were alike remarkable. Churches requested hymns, to be sung at consecrations, ordinations, and installations; charitable societies, for anniversaries; academies and schools, for exhibitions. Odes were desired for the festivities of New Year and the Fourth of July, for silver and golden weddings, for the voyager wherewith to express his leave-taking, and the lover to propitiate his mistress. Epistles from strangers often solicited elegies and epitaphs; and though the voice of bereavement was to me a sacred thing, yet I felt the inefficacy of balm thus offered to a heart that bled. Sometimes I consoled myself that the multitude of these solicitations bespoke an increasing taste for poetry among the people. But to gratify all was an impossibility. They would not only have covered the surface of one life, but of as many as ancient fable attributed to the feline race. I undertook at one time to keep a statement of the solicitations that showered upon me. A good-sized manuscript book was thus soon filled. It was commenced during what dear Mrs. Hemans used to call the "album persecution." It was then the fashion for school-girls, other youthful personages, and indeed people of every age, to possess themselves of a neatly-bound blank book, which was sent indiscriminately to any one whom they chose, with the request, or exaction, of a page or more in their own handwriting.
Of those who were so unfortunate as to be known as rhymers, it was expressly stipulated that it must be original. Sometimes there would be a mass of these cormorant tax-gatherers in the house at the same time. To refuse compliance was accounted an offence, or an insult. I commuted the matter with my imperative engagements as well as I could, by setting aside a peculiar portion of time for these enforced subsidies. Happily this custom is now obsolete, having been merged in the slighter impost of autographs.
I feel an inclination to give you a few extracts from the manuscript catalogue before alluded to, which was not long continued. Perhaps they may amuse you, my sweetly patient friend.
Some of them, you will observe, are not strictly poetical requisitions, but sprang from a position among poets.
Requested to write dedication poems for three nicely-bound albums, brought by strangers.
To ascertain and send an account of the comparative reputation, and terms of tuition and state of health of the female seminaries in this city, for a gentleman in a distant State who was thinking of sending a daughter to some boarding-school.
To write an ode for the wedding of people in Maine, of whom I had never heard; the only fact mentioned by the expectant bridegroom, author of the letter, being that his chosen one was the youngest of ten brothers and sisters.
To read critically, in one day, a manuscript of two hundred and sixty closely-written pages, and write a commendatory notice of it for some popular periodical.
To obtain an accomplished female teacher for the children of a member of Congress, at the far South.
A poem requested on the dog-star, Sirius.
Desired to assist a servant-man not very well able to read, in getting his Sunday-school lessons, and to "write out all the answers for him, clear through the book, to save his time."
A person feels inclined to offer a premium for some original piece of music, and would consider it "a favor if I would write six stanzas, each of eight lines, for it;" adding, that "the subject is to be Temperance," and he "does not know of any one that it possesses so much influence with as myself."
A lady, whose husband expects to be absent on a journey for a month or two, wishes I would write a poem to testify her joy at his return.
An almost illegible letter, requesting an elegy on a young man who was one of the nine children of a judge of probate, and "quite the Benjamin of the family," the member of a musical society, and who, had he lived, "would likely have been married in about one year." It is added, that his funeral was attended by a large number of people; and "if I let them have a production on his death," I am desired to dedicate and have it published for the benefit of a society whose name I cannot decipher.
To prepare the memoir of a colored preacher, of whose character and existence I was ignorant. The document stated that the plan was to raise two thousand dollars by the publication of his biography and sermons, to present to his wife and nine children; who, it would seem, were all free, in health, and able to support themselves.
A hymn to be sung at the anniversary of a charitable society, for which I had recently furnished one; the argument adduced being that "a new one every year was interesting and advisable."
Epitaphs for a man and two children, with warning that only two hundred and fifty letters must be allowed in the whole, as the monument was not large enough to contain more.
A minister in Virginia encloses an urn, drawn with a pen, and colored by his son, a boy of fourteen, to be dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Judson. An acrostic is requested on the name of this son, whom he considers a genius, yet desires not to have it made "so personal" that it may not with propriety be published in one of their newspapers.
An ode, to be set to music, which must be finished early to-morrow morning, that copies may be struck off in season for the choir.
To write a publishing house in one of our large cities a laudatory notice of a volume I have never seen, by whose profits the author hopes to be able to travel in Europe.
A list of the female poets who have written in all languages, a statement of their births and deaths, with information of the best editions of their works, and where they may be obtained, for a gentleman resident in a distant State, who thinks of undertaking a compilation of feminine literature.
A piece to copy in the album of a lady of whom I had never heard, requested by a gentleman "to be sent as soon as Saturday afternoon, because then he is more at leisure to attend to it."
To punctuate a manuscript volume of three hundred pages, the author having always had a dislike to the business of punctuation, finding that it brings on a "pain in the back of the neck."
A poem, intended as a school premium for a young lady "not yet remarkable for neatness, but who might be encouraged to persevere if its beauties were set forth before her in attractive verse."
A letter from utter strangers, at a distance, stating that a person who had been in their employ had come to settle in this city, and they wished some pious individual to have charge over him, and warn him against evil company. That they should not thus have selected me, had they known of any other religious person in Hartford. They express apprehensions that he is going to set up the "rum-selling business," and propose, in a postscript, that when I obtain an interview, I should "wait and see whether he will own Christ unsolicited."
An album from a clerk in a store, given him by another clerk in another store, to be written in for a young lady, of whose name he was not quite certain, and the "most he knew about her was, that she was a very rich girl."
A new periodical desires a "touching tale, a bit of poetry, and an address to its readers," to be sent in the course of the week, and the printing will be stayed for the contributions.
The owner of a canary-bird, which had accidentally been starved to death, wishes some elegiac verses.
A stranger, whose son died at the age of nine months, "weighing just thirteen pounds, would be glad of some poetry to be framed, glazed, and hung over the chimney-piece, to keep the other children from forgetting him."
Solicitation from the far West, that I would "write out lengthy" a sketch of the loves of two personages, of whom no suggestive circumstances were related, one of whom was a journeyman tailor, and the name of the other, "Sister Babcock," as far as the chirography could be translated.
A poem proposed on the feather of a blue-bird picked up by the road-side.
A father requests elegiac lines on a young child, supplying, as the only suggestion for the tuneful Muse, the fact that he was unfortunately "drowned in a barrel of swine's food."
To draft a constitution for a society in a distant State, whose object is to diminish the reluctance of young people to the writing of compositions.
A poem requested, to accompany a piece of worsted embroidery, intended as a present to a friend at the North.
To be umpire of a baby-show in the city of New York.
A funereal hymn for a minister when he should die, he being now well, and preaching as usual.
To correct poetry, transmitted in a large envelope, send it to some paying periodical with such recommendations as may secure its insertion, and forward the gains to one who prefers to remain anonymous, giving only three fictitious letters for an address, with the number of a box at a distant post-office.
A monody for the loss of a second wife, fortified by the argument that I had composed one at the death of the first.
A poem, with which to take leave of a district-school "in a thriving village," where the teacher had officiated for the greater part of a winter.
Epistle from a stranger, saying his wife was likely to die, and had a young babe, and wishing some poetry to be written in such a way that it would answer for mother and child, should both be taken by death.
To turn a love-story into verse, "as lengthy as I could," though to read the obscure chirography in which the descriptions were wrapped, was a herculean task which I failed to accomplish.
A woman, whose husband had posted her in the newspapers, with the accustomed threat of paying no debts in future of her contracting, came in person, with an earnest supplication for an article which should set forth his shortcomings, I being wholly ignorant of the facts, and unacquainted with the parties. She said she supposed I did all sorts of writing, and she had got so nervous she could not execute this quite as well as myself; and so great was her perseverance, that it was difficult to make any of the common forms of refusal available.
Applications of a somewhat similar nature still occasionally occur, though I have ceased to take the trouble of recording them.
A short time since, a letter from a stranger announced the death of a young man in the war, who, from her expressions of sorrow, I supposed to be a brother, and desiring a tribute to his memory. Believing that I might thus comfort a bereaved mourner, I complied, though at some inconvenience, studying the verses after I had retired to bed. Thanks were returned, with the information that she was not his bereaved sister, but an aunt—that she was much obliged for my doing the work with so much promptness, and his mother was quite pleased with my having written so prettily about her son.
A man was employed in shingling a neighboring house, belonging to a colored family. From the top of the roof descrying a servant of mine, he called to her that he should be glad to have me write some verses for him. A relation of his had died, and he wanted to have the death printed in the newspaper, but thought "some poetry to put with it would be nice, and that likely I could write it as easy as anybody."
But I spare you any further inflictions of these peculiar requirements. You may, perhaps, think that some of them testified a want of respect. I believe they were not thus intended, though their deficiency in the sense of propriety is frequently obvious. This selection is not a decimation of the requests in my record, though it comprises some of the most unique. The ruling fault was with myself, in occasional compliance, which encouraged exactions.
If there is any kitchen in Parnassus, my Muse has surely officiated there as a woman of all work, and an aproned waiter. Lacking firmness to say no, I consented so frequently, that the right of refusal began to be counted invidious. Those who requested but a few verses considered them, what they appeared to be, a trifle. Yet "trifles make up the sum of human things," and this trifle involved thought, labor, and time. This habit of yielding to persuasion occasionally led to the curtailment of sleep, and of meals, as the poems which were to be sung in public audiences must be ready at a specified period, and frequently a very brief notice was accorded me. Sometimes I have been urged to send copies of long printed poems to strangers, that they might possess them in my own handwriting. Though there is always a degree of pleasure connected with obliging others, yet the extent of my own facility or folly in this respect might be rebuked by the common sense displayed in other occupations.
Do we go to a milliner, and say, "You have earned a good name in your line. Make me a bonnet and a dress. I should prize them as proofs of your skill?" Do we tell the carpet manufacturer, "You assort your colors better than others. Weave me a carpet for my study?" Do we address the professed cook with "You have a high reputation. I am to have a party. Come and make my jellies and confections?" Would those functionaries, think ye, devote time, toil, and material to such proposals, without compensation? I trow not. But a truce to this diffuse matter of custom-work.
My epistolary intercourse is extensive, and exceeds a yearly exchange of two thousand letters. It includes many from strangers, who are often disposed to be tenacious of replies, and to construe omission as rude neglect. I have no aid from amanuensis or copyist since the marriage of my loved daughter, or any listening friend to whom I may take the liberty of reading an unpublished production. Yet, if ever inclined to account so large a correspondence burdensome, I solace myself with the priceless value of the epistles of long-tried friendship, with the warm vitality often breathing from young hearts, and the hope of disseminating through this quiet vehicle, some cheering thought or hallowed principle.
My literary course has been a happy one. Its encouragements have exceeded both my expectations and deserts. Originating in impulse, and those habits of writing that were deepened by the solitary lot of an only child, it gradually assumed a financial feature which gave it both perseverance and permanence.
This, which at first supplied only my indulgences, my journeyings, or my charities, became eventually a form of subsistence; and now, through the income of its accumulated savings, gives ease to the expenditure of my widowhood, and the means of mingling with the benevolent enterprises of the day. Pecuniary gain has flowed in upon me rather from abroad than at home. With the exception of the initiatory volume, sheltered under the patronage of my venerated friend, Mr. Wadsworth, scarcely any profit has accrued to my literary labors in this vicinity, or indeed in the whole of my own New England. On the contrary, some severe losses have occurred. To the States of New York and Pennsylvania I am mainly indebted for the remuneration of intellectual toil, and gratefully acknowledge them as benefactors.
Fame, as a ruling motive, has not stimulated me to literary effort. It has ever seemed to have too flimsy a wing for sustained and satisfactory flight. Candid criticism, and the voice of friendship, have been coveted correctives and tonics. Still the only adequate payment are the hope and belief that, by enforcing some salutary precept, or prompting some hallowed practice, good may have been done to our race.
I ought to speak with more emphasis of the encouragement kindly addressed to me since first, as a timid waif, I ventured into regions then seldom traversed by the female foot. It has breathed upon me from highways and hedges, from boughs where nesting birds reared their young, from the crested billows, and the islands of the sea. Thanks be to Him who hath thus touched the hearts of my fellow-creatures with kindness toward me!
Letters of appreciation have reached me from crowned heads—from the King of Prussia, the Empress of Russia, and the late Queen of France; marks of favor from nobles of high degree; and what was to me still more animating, from monarchs in the realm of mind. I have felt humbled by such distinctions, as transcending my merits. Some degree of chastening counterpoise has arisen from the marked indifference of my native city, which I have loved almost with the fervor of the ancient Jews for Zion. Neither by word nor smile can I recollect that she has fostered the mental labors of the child who went out from her fair borders, leaving her heart behind. Sweet hospitalities she extends to me, but in the point where I yearn for her sympathy, or would fain lay my honors at her feet, she keeps silence. I wrote, by request, a lyric to be sung at the anniversary of her favorite academy, which the chief musician scornfully declined to perform, and it was read among the prose exercises. I prepared poems with my whole heart, for her beautiful bi-centennial birthday, and they were refused admission into the fair volume that described the festivity.
I mention these trifling circumstances, not by way of complaint, for they are unworthy of it, but simply as facts to prove that I have no other claim to the title of prophet, save the absence of honor in my own country, and with some slight thrill of the sadness of a child, whose filial love has failed of reciprocity.
Yes, my literary course has indeed been a most happy one. At an age surpassing threescore and ten, I still pursue it with unimpaired delight and unspectacled eyes. Through its agency, and the Divine blessing, I feel no loneliness, though my household contains only servants, with the exception of occasional guests. Praise be unto Him who hath led me all my life long unto this day; and if any good fruit shall ever spring from the seed He hath enabled me to sow, to His name be all the glory.