The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Caroline Lee Hentz

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Caroline Lee Hentz.jpg

Engraved in London from a drawing by W. Croome


Miss Caroline Lee Whiting (the maiden name of Mrs. Hentz) was born in the romantic village of Lancaster, Massachusetts. She is the sister of the brave General Whiting, distinguished alike for his literary attainments, and for his services in the army of the United States. She was married in 1823, at Northampton, to Mr. N. M. Hentz, a French gentleman of rich and varied talents, who then conducted a seminary of education in conjunction with Mr. Bancroft, the historian. In the early days of their married life, Mr. Hentz was appointed Professor in the College at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He accepted the honourable post, and remained there several years. Thence they removed to Covington, Kentucky, where she wrote the tragedy of “De Lara, or the Moorish Bride.” This play was offered as a competitor for a prize of five hundred dollars, and was successful. It was performed at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, and I believe elsewhere, with much applause, and for several successive nights. The copyright having reverted to Mrs. Hentz, it was subsequently published in book form.

The family, after living awhile at Covington, removed to Cincinnati, and thence to Florence, Alabama. At this latter place they had for nine years a flourishing Female Academy, which in 1843 they transferred to Tuscaloosa, and again in 1845 to Tuskegee, and once more in 1848 to Columbus, Georgia, where they now reside. The exhausting labours of their school, much of which fell upon Mrs. Hentz, caused her for several years almost to suspend the exercise of her pen. It is understood that she has recently made arrangements which will give her leisure for the more free exercise of her extraordinary gifts as a writer.

Besides the tragedy already named, Mrs. Hentz has written two others, “Lamorah, or the Western Wilds,” published in a Columbus newspaper, and “Constance of Wirtemburg,” which has not yet seen the light. She has published many fugitive pieces of poetry, which have been widely copied.

Her prose writings have been chiefly in the form of novelettes for the weekly papers and the monthly magazines. After a wide circulation in this form, they have been generally reprinted as books, and enjoyed the eclat of numerous editions. They are “Aunt Patty’s Scrap Bag,” 1846; “The Mob Cap,” 1848; “Linda, or the Young Pilot of the Belle Creole,” 1850; and “Rena, or the Snowbird,” 1851.

Every one practically conversant with the art of composition, knows that those works which, to the uninitiated, seem to have been written currente calamo—dashed off at full speed—are ordinarily the fruit of slow and patient labour. Mrs. Hentz appears to be an exception to this rule. The spontaneousness and freedom so apparent in her style are a true exponent of her habit of composition. Her happy facility in this respect reminds us of that most remarkable poetical improvisatrice, Mrs. Osgood. Mrs. Hentz, if we may credit authentic information, writes in the midst of her domestic circle, and subject to constant interruptions, yet with the greatest rapidity, and with a degree of accuracy that seldom requires, as it never receives revision.

One long an inmate of the household, writes to me on this subject, as follows: “What has often struck me with wonder in regard to Mrs. Hentz, is the remarkable ease with which she writes. When a leisure moment presents itself, she takes up her pen, as others do their knitting, and it dances swiftly over the paper, as if in vain trying to keep up with the current of her thoughts. ‘Aunt Patty’s Scrap Bag’ was written while I was living in the family, and as at evening I sat at her table, I read it sheet by sheet, ere the ink was dry from her pen, and on every page I saw, in the record of the affectionate family of the Worths, and particularly in the tender relations between Mrs. Worth and her daughters, a faithful transcript of the author’s own heart.

“Pardon me if I introduce a few lines which she dashed off hastily for me, while I stood waiting for the coach, the day I left her at Tuskegee. Though simple, they are in many respects a comment upon her heart, and the chief object of her pen. I give them from memory.

“May this ring, when it circles thy finger, remind
Thy heart of the friends thou art leaving behind—
I have breathed on its gold a magical spell—
That, in long after years, of this moment shall tell.

“Should snares and temptations around thee entwine,
May the gem on thy finger with warning rays shine—
And whisper of one whose spirit would mourn
If thou from the pathway of virtue should turn.

“Like the eaglet, that fixes its gaze on the sun,
Press upward and on till the bright goal is won—
Let the wings of thy soul never pause in their flight,
Till they bear thee to regions of glory and light.”

“Mrs. Hentz’s ring gave me many a useful and effective warning in my following school and college days. It has indeed been to me a ‘talisman preserving.’”

I am indebted to an accomplished lady of Mobile[1]for the following additional particulars in relation to Mrs. Hentz.

“Some writer has said ‘Authors should be read—not known.’ Mrs. Hentz forms a bright exception to this remark. She is one of those rare magnetic women who attracted my entire admiration at our first interview. The spell she wove around me was like the invisible beauty of music. I yielded willingly and delightfully to its magic influence.

“Never have I met a more fascinating person. Mind is enthroned on her noble brow, and beams in the flashing glances of her radiant eyes. She is tall, graceful and dignified, with that high-bred manner which ever betokens gentle blood.

“She has infinite tact and talent in conversation, and never speaks without awakening interest. As I listened to her eloquent language, I felt she was indeed worthy of the wreath of immortality, which fame has given in other days, and other lands, to a De Genlis, or to a De Sevigné.

“She possesses great enthusiasm of character—the enthusiasm described by Madame De Stael as, ‘God within us,’—the love of the good, the holy, the beautiful. She has neither pretension nor pedantry, and, although admirably accomplished, and a perfect classic and belles lettres scholar, she has all the sweet simplicity of an elegant woman.

“Like the charming Swedish authoress, Fredrika Bremer, her works all tend to elevate the tone of moral feeling. There is a refinement, delicacy, and poetic imagery in all her historiettes touchingly delightful. A calm and holy religion is mirrored in every page. The sorrow-stricken mourner finds therein the sweet and healing balm of consolation, and the bitter tears cease to flow when she points to that better land where the loved and the lost are waiting for us.

“Many of her works are gay and spirituel, full of delicate wit, ‘bright as the flight of a shining arrow.’ Often have the smiles long exiled from the lips, returned at the bidding of her merry muse. Home, especially, she describes with a truthfulness which is enchanting. She seems to have dipped the pen in her own soul, and written of its emotions. She exalts all that is good, noble, or generous in the human heart, and gives to even the clouds of existence a sunny softness, like the dreamy light of a Claude Lorraine picture.”

  1. Madam Octavia Walton Le Vert. “This accomplished lady has for many years dispensed the refined and elegant hospitalities of Mobile, and is the centre of a circle unsurpassed for its wit, worth, and intelligence. She is the daughter of the no less celebrated Colonel George Walton, formerly Governor of Florida, who now is, we believe, the only surviving son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.”—(Editor of the Spirit of the Times.)

    Though Madam Le Vert has not appeared before the world as an authoress, no lady in the Southern States has been more admired for her fascinating powers of conversation, and for those brilliant accomplishments which adorn the social circle. She converses with ease and elegance in several of the modern languages, and excels in all the graces of her sex; all foreigners of distinction, who visit Mobile, bear letters of introduction to her elegant and hospitable home. Lady Emmeline Stuart Wortley, who has lately been travelling through this country, addressed her some beautiful lines, in which she calls her the “Sweet Rose of Florida,” and the “chosen sister of her heart.”