The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Hannah Adams

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Mrs. Gilman, in her autobiography, page 55 of the present volume, makes a very pleasant allusion to Hannah Adams, the venerated author of the “History of Religions,” the pioneer, almost, of American female authorship. The account of her which follows is taken, with very slight verbal alterations, from “Woman’s Record,” by Mrs. Hale, and may be considered as an additional extract from that valuable work.

“Hannah Adams was born in Medfield, Massachusetts, in 1755. Her father was a respectable farmer in that place, rather better educated than persons of his class usually were at that time; and his daughter, who was a very delicate child, profited by his fondness for books. So great was her love for reading and study, that when very young she had committed to memory nearly all of Milton, Pope, Thomson, Young, and several other poets.

“When she was about seventeen her father failed in business, and Miss Adams was obliged to exert herself for her own maintenance. This she did at first by making lace, a very profitable employment during the revolutionary war, as very little lace was then imported. But after the termination of the conflict she was obliged to resort to some other means of support; and having acquired from the students who had boarded with her father, a competent knowledge of Latin and Greek, she undertook to prepare young men for college; and succeeded so well, that her reputation was spread throughout the State.

“Her first work, entitled “The View of Religions,” which she commenced when she was about thirty, is a history of the different sects in religion. It caused her so much hard study and close reflection, that she was attacked before the close of her labours by a severe fit of illness, and threatened with derangement. Her next work was a carefully written “History of New England;” and her third was on “The Evidences of the Christian Religion.” “Though all these works showed great candour and liberality of mind and profound research, and though they were popular, yet they brought her but little besides fame; which, however, had extended to Europe, and she reckoned among her correspondents many of the learned men of all countries. Among these was the celebrated abbé Gregoire, who was then struggling for the emancipation of the Jews in France. He sent Miss Adams several volumes, which she acknowledged were of much use to her in preparing her own work, a “History of the Jews,” now considered one of the most valuable of her productions. Still, as far as pecuniary matters went, she was singularly unsuccessful, probably from her want of knowledge of business, and ignorance in worldly matters; and, to relieve her from her embarrassments, three wealthy gentlemen of Boston, with great liberality, settled an annuity upon her, of which she was kept in entire ignorance till the whole affair was completed.

“The latter part of her life passed in Boston, in the midst of a large circle of friends, by whom she was warmly cherished and esteemed for the singular excellence, purity, and simplicity of her character. She died, November 15th, 1832, at the age of seventy-six, and was buried at Mount Auburn; the first one whose body was placed in that cemetery. Through life, the gentleness of her manners and the sweetness of her temper were childlike; she trusted all her cares to the control of her heavenly Father; and she did not trust in vain.”