The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Sara J. Clarke

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Miss Clarke was born in Pompey, an inland town in the county of Onondaga, New York. Here, and in the neighbouring town of Fabius, she spent the greater portion of her childhood. During her early girlhood she resided with her parents, at Rochester, N. Y., but at the age of nineteen removed with them to New Brighton, Penn., which has since been her nominal home, though perhaps the larger part of her time is spent with her friends, in New England, at Washington, and Philadelphia.

Miss Clarke wrote verse at an early age, and published under her own name; but, on coming out as a prose-writer, being doubtful of the experiment, she shielded herself behind a nom de plume. Her success has thus far greatly exceeded the expectations of her most sanguine friends. Yet, in a life of constant change and excitement, of extensive and pleasant social relations, she has not been able to concentrate her powers on any important work, but has given them at best but imperfect exercise in a series of magazine articles, brief sketches, light critiques, and lighter letters.

A selection from her prose writings, making a volume of over four hundred pages, entitled “Greenwood Leaves,” was published in the fall of 1849. This work has reached a third edition. In the autumn of the following year was brought out a collection of her poems, a volume of 190 pages; also, a volume of original juvenile stories, entitled “History of My Pets,” both of which publications have reached a second edition. Another work by Miss Clarke, much similar in character to “Greenwood Leaves,” is now in press.

Her father, Doctor Thaddeus Clarke, formerly a physician of some eminence, was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, of a good old Puritan stock. He is yet living. Her mother, a native of Brooklyn, Connecticut, is of Huguenot descent. Sara, the youngest daughter, is one of eleven children, nine of whom are now living.

The following carefully written estimate of the intellectual character of Miss Clarke, is from the pen of that accomplished critic, the Rev. Henry Giles:

“That Grace Greenwood is a writer, ready, rapid, bold, brilliant, and most discursive, whatever she throws from her pen at once reveals. But to be ready and rapid is often to be nothing more than possessed of fatal facility; and to seem bold, brilliant, and discursive is frequently to have only the hardihood of ignorance, and to be glittering and superficial. The readiness and rapidity, however, of this writer are in themselves surprising, from the truth and force with which thought keeps pace with expression; and we wonder to find so much true beauty, so much genuine coinage of golden fancies in the prodigality with which she flings about her shining store. Yet not on these do we dwell, and not by these does she win the cordial feeling with which we regard her genius. We find in it a noble seriousness. Bounding, elastic, and sportive as her imagination is, it is not all a sparkling stream, and is not all in sunlight; it winds at times through the solemn shadows of life; and it has springs in the sources of reflective thought, to make for itself, and fill deeper and broader channels than any of those in which it has yet found outlets. As it is, the impulses of earnest purpose and the gush of generous desire, often break to pieces the delicate wreath which had been already half woven out of ingenious fancies, and cast the scattered flowers upon the boiling torrent of indignant sympathies. The workings of mere fancy, however admirable or admired, could never exhaust, could never express, could never content a nature such as hers for she feels too much in herself, and she feels too much for others, to find only play and summer-time in the life of genius. In the gayest tale of hers,—we read below it meanings from the heart; in the most laughing letter, we can often discern a pensive wisdom hidden in the smile; in the passing criticism on a work of art, we have often not only the fine enthusiasm, which flames up with the love of beauty; but when the work is devotional, we have, with phrase more happy and with spirit more profound, the subdued eloquence of inborn reverence. The seriousness of Grace Greenwood is not the less intense because it is not moody or murky; because it does not tire you with tears, nor disturb you with groans, nor disgust you with men, nor dishearten you with nature. Grace is too healthy for mumps; she is too sincere to be maudlin; she is too cheerful for lamentations; and her love is too large for creation and too kind, to tolerate the gloom of a dissatisfied spirit. But no soul is more quick to kindle at a wrong done to the lowest; and no soul more brave to rebuke unworthiness in the highest. Yet is her heart gentle, compassionate; aroused only by the very strength of its goodness; by its hatred against injustice, and by its sympathy with suffering. Even when a lofty anger moves her, there is ever sighing through its tones a sound of pity. For there is nothing that we can be rightly angry at in this world, but we must pity also. Every soul that feels much, feels this.

“We think, therefore, that in her pages, radiant as they seem, we can read, without any doubtful interpretation, meanings of sadness. If it were not so, we should be disappointed; for they manifest that genius of a loving humanity, which cannot help but oftentimes be sad. Grace Greenwood, say what persons will, is not what we should call a sprightly writer. Her productions are not mere sprightly flashes, but many-toned utterances of feelings, that lay deep down in the breast, and to which occasions gave nothing but expression.

“Genius, accompanied with strong sensibility, were it not for certain compensations, would be a penalty and not a boon. Such compensation Grace Greenwood has in considerable affluence. One of these is the relief that mental hilarity gives to mental intensity. Strong as her perception is of what is serious in life, it has its counterpoise by her equally strong feeling of what is joyous. The grave and troubled condition of man’s estate we can observe that she reverently appreciates; but we can as well observe that she also detects man’s absurdities and vanities, and heartily she laughs at them. Yet is there no contempt in the laughter, but an affectionate humanity. She has humour most rich and racy—that which springs from keenness of intellect, fullness of imagination, kindliness of temper, and playfulness of spirit.

“This remark has its proof and its example in the parodies contained in some of her writings. The imitation is unmistakeable; the fun resistless; and yet, we are so made to feel the beauty of the writers in the burlesque, that while we laugh we admire. And this enjoyment of beauty is another compensation for the painful sensibility of genius, and the only other we shall mention. The language, and the activity of such enjoyment in Grace Greenwood, no one can doubt, who reads her pages with any spirit like her own. Neither can we doubt the sincerity of it and its healthiness. It is no matter of artificial or factitious cultivation; it has grown with her in her native valleys and woodlands; she has listened to its music in the foamings of her native waves and torrents; she has gazed upon its majestic forms in the glory of her native mountains; and she has communed with the boundless spirit of it in that mighty azure dome of matchless purity that rests over her native land.”