The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Lydia M. Child
LYDIA M. CHILD.
The maiden name of this accomplished writer was Lydia Maria Francis. She is a native of Massachusetts, and a sister of the Rev. Conyers Francis, D. D., of Harvard University.
Mrs. Child commenced authorship as early as 1824. Her first production was “Hobomok.” It was a novel based upon New England colonial traditions, and was suggested to her mind by an article in the North American Review, in which that class of subjects was urgently recommended as furnishing excellent materials for American works of fiction. Probably, the example of Cooper, who was then in the height of his popularity, and still more, that of Miss Sedgwick, whose “Redwood” was then fresh from the press, had also some influence upon the new author. Her work was well received, and was followed in 1825 by “The Rebels,” a tale of the Revolution, very similar in character to the former. Both of these works are now out of print. A new edition of them would be very acceptable.
Her next publication, I believe, was “The Frugal Housewife,” containing directions for household economy, and numerous receipts. For this she had some difficulty in finding a publisher, in consequence of the great variety of cookery books already in the market. But it proved a very profitable speculation, more than six thousand copies having been sold in a single year.
Mrs. Child’s versatility of talent, and the entire success with which she could pass from the regions of fancy and sentiment to those of fact and duty, still further appeared in her next work, which was on the subject of education. It was addressed to mothers, and was called “The Mother’s Book.” It contains plain, practical directions for that most important part of education which falls more immediately under the mother’s jurisdiction. It has gone through very numerous editions, both in this country and in England, and continues to hold its ground, notwithstanding 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.
Mrs. Child conducted for several years a “Juvenile Miscellany” for which she composed many tales for the amusement and instruction of children. These have since been corrected and re-written, and others added to them, making three small volumes, called “Flowers for Children.” One of these volumes is for children from four to six years of age; one, for those from eight to nine; and one, for those from eleven to twelve.
In 1841, Mr. and Mrs. Child went to New York, where they conducted for some time the “Anti-Slavery Standard.” Mrs. Child wrote much for this paper, not only upon the topic suggested by the title, but on miscellaneous subjects.
In the same year, 1841, she commenced a series of Letters to the Boston Courier, which contain some of the finest things she has ever written. They were very extensively copied, and were afterwards collected into a volume, under the title of “Letters from New York.” This was followed by a second series in 1845.
These Letters are exceedingly various. They contain tales, speculations, descriptions of passing events, biographies, and essays, and bring alternately tears and laughter, according to the varying moods of the writer.
In 1846, she published a volume called “Fact and Fiction,” consisting of tales that had previously appeared in the Magazines and Annuals. These are of a miscellaneous character, somewhat like the “Letters,” only longer.