A Lady of the Old School
Now that the good old fashion of domestic life in New England seems to have become, irretrievably, a thing of the past, those to whom its memories are most sacred are beginning sorrowfully to lament the fact that the written records of it are so few. Such records were never profuse, for the men and women of our brisk early day were not much given to introspect! on; and some of us of the (supposed) vainer gender can well remember how incisively they used to reprove that outward and visible sign of excessive self-preoccupation,— the heinous misdemeanor of “looking in the glass.” There were a few diaries which were not exclusively religious, and there were the long and minute family letters of the blessed days of costly postage. But even these, in the after-time of rapid expansion and frequent removal, were continually made a holocaust ; heedlessly, in some cases, no doubt, yet quite as often through inborn delicacy and honorable reserve, — a sense of something all too intimate and holy about these artless revelations of the plain old family life. The selfsame feeling in another form — a natural if not entirely a healthful one — often closes the lips of those who remember, in the presence of the incredulous or super-refined juniors, who can only wonder and smile ; and it has had its effect, beyond question, in rendering stiff, colorless, and unsatisfactory many of the formal biographies of our widely known public characters. But now and then it has happened, after the passing of one of these older men or women, whose natures were surely, as a rule, designed upon a grander scale than ours, that filial piety itself has seemed to demand some written record in the name of the younger generation. If the career were private and the influence purely domestic and social, the obligation to fix the fleeting image of it seemed only the more pressing. For a character is not necessarily falsified when its outlines are drawn in light upon the background of a new sorrow, but, it may be, only then shown in its exact proportions. Homely accessories, the monotony of daily usage, the inveterate apathy of our own listless being, may have combined to dull our perceptions until the shock of lifelong division came. But in the great silence which followed that shock how many have repeated, with self - accusing emphasis, the sentiment, if not the words, of the most magnificent of mourners! —
I see thee what thou art, and know
Thy likeness to the wise below,
Thy kindred with the great of old.”
Let that spiritual genealogy be once traced out, is the heart’s cry, for the sake, at least, of those who are in the line of the succession, and might otherwise never fully appreciate the nobility of their inheritance. If the life were private, let the memorial be private also ; only let it not perish wholly. If the pen be taken while this first loyal impulse lasts, and taken by a competent hand, there is a chance that the result will be something which, to my mind, is more legitimately and intensely interesting than any other form of literature whatsoever. Real, primitive human character, ingenuously and warmly portrayed, — what can equal it in significance and power? I have happened to read a good many of these private or semi-private memorials, and to reproach myself sometimes for others which have never been written, but only conned, with mournful smiles and hidden tears, in the sad isolation of a long survival. Sketches of this kind are always affecting for those who have the key to their full meaning, but one among the number that have come in my way has always remained distinct in my memory, both for the perfect taste of its arrangement, and because the character which it reveals is essentially a typical one, and illustrates in a singularly complete manner a very marked and memorable phase of American civilization.
Mrs. Susan Lesley’s Recollections of my Mother might stand, in some ways, for the recollections of scores of mothers who never even saw the Old World, and whose lives passed principally in the first half of the present century. But many circumstances combined to give a special social prominence to the lady in question. Born of honorable folk, and early married to a man of distinction, she became the life not only of a large family circle, but of a famous provincial centre of intelligence and refinement; and she had the opportunity to impress her vivid personality on many of the brightest minds of the generation which succeeded her own. I never had the happiness of seeing her, and for that very reason, perhaps, I have been the more impressed by a something historic — I had almost said epic — in her character and career. I ought, at all events, to feel it an undeserved privilege — and I do — that I should have been permitted to invite the attention of a somewhat wider audience than that for which it was originally told to the noble story of her life.
Anne Jean Robbins, best known and long to be remembered as Mrs. Judge Lyman, was born in Milton, Massachusetts, in July, 1779. As I note the midsummer month, I am reminded of a rather poetic superstition which used to be cherished by some folk when I was young, to the effect that every human being bears traces in his temperament and character of the season of the year at which he may have made his first appearance here below. I have often fancied that I felt the drought and languor of August in my own, and surely there was much of the penetrating heat, rich color, and careless bounty of July in the nature of her whose footsteps we are to retrace. Many strong and picturesque elements, both homely and stately, were blended in her ancestral influences: the spirit of the devoted Anne Hutchinson and that of the dear old New England divine, her grandfather, whose " plain and pathetick ” preaching is so aptly lauded by his biographer, along with the warlike blood of the Scotch Murrays. She loved always to dwell on these prenatal associations of hers, — dutifully, not unduly, — and there is a something exquisitely just and true to one of the quaintest yet most positive orders of family pride the world has seen in these words, on the subject, of Mrs. Lyman’s biographer: —
“ She herself took pleasure in thinking of the homes in the Old World from which her mother’s family had sprung; but the interest was purely romantic and historic, and only helped to inspire her imagination. It was as far as possible removed from that family pride that delights to claim connection with titled or wealthy ancestry. In our late war, when all New England suffered from that lack of sympathy with our cause shown by Old England, it was impossible for the English to understand our sensitiveness. They had no realization of the tenderness of our hearts towards the homes we came from, nor how all descendants of the Puritans look back, as Anne Jean did to that of her ancestors, as if they have still a belonging there, very different from any feeling we can have about any other country. I never heard her speak of a crest or a coat of arms, but the motto of the Hutchinson family, Non sibi sed toti, might have stood for the watchword of her own unselfish life. ... I have heard her say, in later years, that the virtues of one’s ancestors were as much a subject for personal humiliation as for family pride.”
The ceremonious lowly-mindedness of this last epigram is the more amusing to a New Englander when we reflect that the lady’s entire family circle included, or came to include, such names as Forbes, Ware, Howe, Lyman, Barnard, Cabot, and Revere.
The home of Anne Jean’s childhood was by no means a wealthy one. Few homes in the New World were wealthy in the fifteen or twenty years immediately following the close of our revolutionary struggle. But none the less — and here, to those born to the manner, there is another characteristic New England trait — were its hospitalities virtually unlimited. They were no such hospitalities as consist in sending word to the chef that there will be eight guests at dinner, and ordering fifty dollars’ worth of flowers from the neighboring florist. The fair hands of the mistress and daughters of the house compounded the dainties on which the guests were regaled, and set the simple rooms in order for their coming. “ I remember,” says Mrs. Lesley, “my mother’s frequent and warm allusions to her early life: the lovely walks up and down the piazza at Brush Hill with her beloved father; the shadows of the old elms upon the lawn, in the splendid moonlight evenings; the view of the distant lighthouses in Boston harbor, which they would pause in their loving walks to watch. These evening strolls on the wide piazza were brief but happy rests after days of activity and healthful toil and hours of separation, and they were enjoyed as only hours of rest from toil can be. My aunt Mary, Anne Jean’s younger sister, tells me that there was no day in summer when it was not considered the established duty for Sally, Anne, and herself to prepare two large trays, containing plates of bread and butter, cut very thin and doubled, silver baskets of cake which they had made in the morning, and dishes of strawberries which they had gathered and hulled themselves. These trays, covered with white napkins, were placed in a dark, cold closet, ready for their addition of the teapot and pitchers of rich cream, to be brought out at evening, when the friends from Boston would be sure to come out, always a number of uninvited but most welcome guests.” I would rather, for my part, sip that tea and taste that cake in imagination, only, than con the most curious menu or accept the most artistic dinner-card ever devised. And then Mrs. Lesley goes on to quote the reminiscences of a cousin of the family, who afterwards became the sainted Mary Ware : —
“ Oh, if I could give you a picture of the Brush Hill girls, — how they worked, how they read, what a variety of things they accomplished! There was your aunt Howe, — Sally, as they called her then; why, the girls of the present day would think themselves ruined if a tenth part of what she did was expected of them! All summer she rose at four o’clock, that she might weed the strawberry beds, or make her cake, or gather her fruit in the cool of the morning. Yet I have seen her many a time, when things crowded, obliged to gather her fruit under a burning sun, but never an impatient word fell from her lips.”
The next elder sister of Anne Jean, whose name is thus introduced, had great distinction of mind and a singularly lovely character. The two were destined to be near neighbors for a large part of their lives, and always confidential friends ; and there is something very touching about the harmony in contrast of their natures and their fates. The strands of their being run parallel to the end, like distinct shades of the same pure color, dark crimson beside jocund rose. The elder was the more sensitive and thoughtful and intellectually accomplished, and hers were the harder lot, the narrower means, the sharper struggle, and the more crushing bereavements. The younger, the subject of the memoir, was ever a handsome, buoyant, brilliant creature; her cup sparkled with healthful prosperity; her vigorous walk was almost always in sunny places until the twilight hour came on.
But now, in the maiden years, after the brief school terms were over, it was Sally who stimulated Anne to the keeping up of her studies, and braced her even to the extent of devouring such solid mental fare as may be found in Dugald Stewart’s Philosophy, Allison on Taste, and Smith’s Theory of the Moral Sentiment. What a vision is that which Mrs. Lesley evokes of the girls of the family reading aloud to one another, by turns, in the long June days, and stitching away all the while at the delicate embroidery of the one white cambric or muslin gown apiece, which was to serve them at parties during the next winter’s visits in Boston or New York!
It is somewhere in the limpid pages devoted to the early period of her mother’s life that the biographer speaks, with that occasional felicity of expression for which she seems to me quite unsurpassed, of “ the gay girl’s mind, without discipline and without pretense.” We have to pause and reflect for a moment before we perceive why it is that this unstudied phrase exercises so potent a charm. “ Without mental discipline? Oh, fie ! ” some prig may be ready to exclaim, but we will not heed him. The image called up is that of a bright young intellect, growing freely like a flower, unhampered by the systems, untainted by the revelations, unvexed by the miscellaneous facts and ’ologies with which it would inevitably be treated in our own day; a something analogous to the pure and simple forms of early Greek architecture, all innocent as yet of the over-rich and complex ornamentation, which is the sure mark of a degenerate period in art.
Those busy years between fifteen and twenty-two seemed long in the passing, no doubt, to the active-minded and impressible girl. To us it appears that her fate was quickly decided, and that she entered quite early enough upon the full responsibilities of a wife and a housemother. Anne Jean Robbins was married in October, 1811, to Judge Lyman, of Northampton, who was then fortyfour years old, and had children, by a previous marriage, very near the age of his youthful second wife. The frank and sympathetic sisterliness of her relation to these elder children, and their loyal devotion to her, are by no means the least interesting feature of this wholesome history. But just at the outset, before the bride’s family had become fully acquainted with Judge Lyman, it is no wonder, perhaps, that the elder sisters, and particularly the graver Sally, with her “ sad lucidity of soul,” should have had their doubts about the wisdom of this matrimonial arrangement.
“ As you must have perceived,” Sally writes to another sister, Eliza, then away from home, “Anne is very much delighted with it [the engagement] herself. I should like it better if she did not express it so openly; and it is mysterious to me how a handsome young woman, who has been caressed by the world as she has, should be so flattered by the love and admiration of a man old enough to be her father. Sometimes I feel grieved that she should undertake such cares and such responsibility. Sometimes I feel angry that she should allow this prepossession apparently to occupy every feeling of her heart, and so entirely to engross and swallow up every other as never to have named as a privation that she has to remove a hundred miles from all she has formerly known and loved.” But the fine sense of justice which never deserted Sally compels her to add, in the somewhat grandiloquent language of the time, “ This much I have to comfort me : in my disinterested estimate of the character of the man, I do not think that I could desire a better one for the dearest friend I have on earth. Respectable talents, chastened sensibility, and pure benevolence beam from his countenance and enliven his conversation.”
This is all very delightful, especially the bitter-sweet touch of prudery in the beginning, and the way in which the uncalculating ardor of the more impassioned and demonstrative nature is thrown into relief by the contrast. Faith and hope were abundantly justified and foreboding put to shame by the whole results of the thirty-seven years’ union, then begun. I must quote from Mrs. Lesley’s own bright and tender reminiscences of her childhood’s home : —
“Northampton was, at that period, one of the most beautiful of New England villages. My father’s house stood in the very centre, — a large, old - fashioned, square house, with a wing on each side, back from the main building. Each wing had a covered porch, looking out into the main street. A small yard on one side separated the house from a brick store, whose upper floor was occupied by a printing-office. The other side-yard was much larger and more rural. There was almost a grove of beautiful acacias there, and in the little front inclosure was a tulip-tree and many flowering shrubs; a row of fine horsechestnut trees and a large elm shaded and protected the house somewhat from the glare and dust of the main street. ... As soon as the autumn leaves had fallen, the west end of Mount Tom appeared to us through the interval between Mr. Hunt’s house and the little church, a grand and noble peak, that well repaid us for the loss of foliage and summer beauty; and from our front door, winter and summer, we could always see Mount Holyoke, in varying lights and shadows, — sometimes cloud-capped and dark, sometimes resplendent with the sun-tipped mists that were rolling away from it. My mother delighted in natural beauty, and no one ever enjoyed more than she did the sights and sounds that surrounded her. ... It has been said by such numbers of people that my father and mother, at the time of their marriage, were the handsomest couple that ever came into Northampton that I think it must have been true. Beauty is certainly a passport to all hearts, and when, as in their case, the life is ‘in accordance with the make and frame of one’s creation ’ there is an influence about it that cannot well be computed. They now became the centre of a social circle, not easy to describe in these days; for sixty years have changed the physical aspect of the times, and removed so many old landmarks, and created so much hurry and bustle, that events formerly marked and distinguished now chase each other with rapidity, and we can scarcely go back and put ourselves in the rural village where railroads and telegraphs had never been heard of, where one church gathered all the inhabitants, and where the life of each family seemed of vital importance to every other. There were no very rich people in Northampton, but many persons of elegant culture, refined and aristocratic manners, and possessing a moderate competence lived there in much ease; envying no one, believing themselves highly favored as they were, and practicing a generous hospitality at all times. It was a county town, and so seemed a large place to the people on the outskirts, but it really numbered only four thousand inhabitants. If there were no rich people, there was certainly an almost utter absence of poverty, and none of those sad sights to meet the eye, reminding one of a destiny entirely different from one’s own. Little or no business was done there, but Shop Row contained about ten stores, all of them excellent, — dry - goods and hardware stores, and an apothecary’s, — which made a little cheerful bustle in the centre of the town, especially on certain days of the week, when the country people would come in, in their old-fashioned wagons, to do their shopping. There were two United States Senators, residing there for life, three judges, many eminent lawyers and scholars, — retired people, who had no connection with the business world, who lived within their modest incomes, and never dreamed of having more. . . . Although there were people who called my mother aristocratic, it was only because they did not know her. A certain grandeur of manner, nobility of figure and outline, a flow of elegant English in conversation, may have given that impression to a casual visitor, but no friend or neighbor in Northampton, during all her life there, but saw and knew that she was essentially a woman of the people ; full of sympathy for all classes and degrees, claiming no superiority in any department, and having no higher aim than to light and warm the neighborhood where God had placed her. I have often thought how lost her talents would have been on any other scene of action than just the one where she was placed; how the utter absence of care for externals would have been noted as a fault rather than a virtue in a different state of society ; how those little beneficences which flowed from her as naturally as the air she breathed would never have been desired or appreciated among the denizens of cities or of fashionable life. I count her to have been happy also in the period at which she lived, as well as the home in which her lot was cast. All times are good, but for her peculiar nature and disposition no time could have been better.”
Apropos of the " flow of elegant English,” which was to some extent the fashion of the day among educated folk, but for which there seems to have been a special gift in the Robbins family, a delightful anecdote is told, later on in the book, of Mrs. Lyman’s eldest sister : —
“ It is related of my aunt Eliza that once, being on a visit to the poet Bryant, she remained alone in his study, when a cabinet-maker brought home a chair that had been altered. When Mr. Bryant returned, he said, ' Miss Robbins, what did the man say about my chair ? ’ ‘That the equilibrium is now admirably adjusted,’ said aunt Eliza, scarcely lifting her eyes from the book she was reading. ' What a fine fellow ! ’ said Mr. Bryant, laughing. 'I never heard him talk like that. Now, Miss Robbins, what did he say?’ ‘Well, he said it joggled just right,’ said my aunt.”
Here, on the other hand, is a beautiful story illustrating the sort of divine democracy of feeling which underlay, in that golden age, all differences of personal taste and culture : —
“ An aged woman asked to read this Life (as first printed) did so, and, closing it, said to her companion, 'I have reason to remember Mrs. Lyman,’ and then told her this story. She had lived on the outskirts of the village, and earned her living by taking in washing. A year after my mother’s marriage, her first child, Joseph, was to be christened in the old church, along with seven other infants. Among them was the little child of this good woman. As she had been overworked all through the week, and Sunday was approaching, she was mourning to herself that she had had no time to prepare a cap for her little baby to wear at his baptism; and in those days a cap was an essential. Soon she heard her gate click, and my father’s little daughter Mary came up to her with a little box in her hand, and said, ' My brother is going to be christened to-morrow at church, and mother heard that your little baby is to be christened too, and she thought perhaps you might not have time to make him a cap ; so she sends you three, for you to choose the one you like best.’ ”
And observe with how faithful, skillful, and delicate a touch the daughter lays in the light shadows which help, every one, to give roundness and reality to her mother’s forceful and intensely human character: —
“With all the fine health of my father and mother, we had a great deal of sickness in our house. Our elder brothers and sisters had inherited delicate constitutions from their mother, and three of my mother’s children were far from strong. This may have been caused by the disparity of years in our parents. But I think the health of all was materially affected by our mother’s entire ignorance of the subject. It was the one great defect of her intelligence that she had no appreciation of the ounce of prevention which is worth more than a pound of cure. With an iron constitution herself, strong nerves and healthy blood, she had no understanding of how the lack of these things may be supplied and built up by patient forethought and care. But when her warm heart was wrung by the sufferings of those for whom she would cheerfully have given her life, we could only regret that she had known so little how to avert the calamities she deplored. She was a very faithful and devoted nurse in the severe illnesses that occurred, not only in her own family, but in those of her neighbors and friends ; always ready to lose her sleep, night after night, as long as any one needed it. But the moment all danger was over, the patient was well, to her mind, and it was high time to set about the real business of life, in which sickness was an untold interruption. Usually, if the illness was a low, nervous fever, not dangerous, but requiring much care, she thought it a good time to improve all our minds by a course of reading aloud, for which there was never any uninterrupted time in our ordinary life. And I remember one such illness, when Ranke’s History of the Popes and Carlyle’s French Revolution were manfully put through under what would have been serious difficulties to anybody else. She always seemed to consider nerves rather as vicious portions of the human character than as constituents of the moral frame ; and as they interfered sadly with duty, with benevolence and every other virtue, they must be discharged without delay. She desired to be thankful that she was born before nerves were the fashion. She believed entirely in the power of mind over body. Alas! she forgot that so long as the two are united there must be constant action and reaction of each upon the other; and we who saw her mistakes in this wise knew that some of the heaviest trials of her life came from this one-sided view of the subject. Yet even here her forcible character implanted a grand outlook in the heart of an invalid; and one, at least, of that large family has never known whether most to deplore the ignorance and false view that wrought such sad consequences, or to thank and bless her for the belief so powerfully inculcated, that though the outward man perish, the inward may be renewed day by day.”
It is hard to stay the hand in making extracts from the earlier portion of Mrs. Lesley’s volume. How, indeed, is it possible that too much should be told the younger readers of to-day concerning the life that used to be lived in those old wooden country-houses, cubical in form, white, with green blinds and terraced front yards, and ample orchards behind them, — quaintly described somewhere by Dr. Holmes as “ boulders deposited by the respectability of a previous generation,”— or concerning the brave doings and pithy talks of those who shaped and swayed that life? The fifteen years which followed Mrs. Lyman’s marriage were exceedingly crowded. They were the years during which her six children were born, and those of her husband’s first marriage, as well as the nieces they had virtually adopted, were established in life. They were the years also during which her own creed and character took their final shape, and in which she gayly assumed, and began graciously to wield, the sceptre of their pleasant provincial society. It was well that she had been early trained in the duties and impressed with the privileges of a self-sacrificing hospitality, for the Northampton house had always its full complement of guests ; including not merely the relatives and intimate friends, who naturally found it the pleasantest visiting-place in the world, but the more eminent of the lawyers and judges who periodically visited the town during “court week,” and, in general, any strangers of distinction who had been lured by the beauties of the Connecticut Valley, and who could be persuaded to exchange for one of the “ best chambers ” of the mansion house their primitive quarters at the village hotel. The arrival of the stagecoach from Boston was always awaited with interest, for railways in the Connecticut Valley were not yet; and, “ Don’t you think it would be better to have their trunks brought directly here ? ” was always a frequent inquiry on the part of the genial master of the house, and in the summer season almost a regular one. Here is an amusing reminiscence of one of the more august of their legal guests. One evening, when Chief Justice Shaw was with them, an inquisitive juvenile observed that this great dignitary sat with his chin buried in his shirt-front, and did not join in the general conversation. “Father,” whispered the awestricken child, “is the Chief Justice asleep?'” “My dear,” was Judge Lyman’s grave answer, but one can fancy the twinkle of his eye, “ he is thinking the profoundest thoughts that ever pass through the mind of man! ”
One wonders how the two guest-chambers, described in Mrs. Lesley’s charming geography of the Northampton house, were ever equal to it all. One wonders yet more how time was found, amid the cares of such a household, where the servants were often no more than two, for the writing of uncounted letters and the reading of as many books. Yet it is in Mrs. Lyman’s family and friendly correspondence that the records of this time are chiefly to be found, and her reading comprised the entire belles-lettres of her day : Scott’s novels as they came, and Cooper’s and Bulwer’s, and so on down to the era of Jane Eyre; Byron and Southey and Wordsworth and Coleridge in their freshness ; the North American Review always, and later the Christian Examiner; beside a goodly number of weightier authors, such as Paley, Sismondi, De Wette, Jouffroy, and Channing. I shall have occasion to speak later on of her judgments of books, which were absolutely independent, expressed in the most uncompromising fashion, and curiously characteristic of herself.
A few years after Mrs. Lyman’s marriage, there came to be another household high up among the bleak hills of Berkshire, twenty miles away, which was connected by the closest ties of blood and sympathy with the one in Northampton. The elder sister, Sally, of whom mention has been made, was married, in 1813, to Samuel Howe, a cousin of Judge Lyman, and a member of the same learned profession. What business, in the abstract, had an accomplished lawyer to fix his home and place his bride in a little mountain hamlet like Worthington, consisting of “ half a dozen houses and a store ; ” and what business, in the concrete, one is impelled to inquire, can he ever have had there ? As a matter of fact, he seems never to have had much. Life at Worthington was necessarily one of privation and toil, monotonous and solitary in the extreme, especially in the long ice-bound winters. There was none of the healthful change and movement, the social coming and going and occasional crowding, which made the homes at Milton and at Northampton so cheery. But if hands and feet were fettered amid the Berkshire snows, thought was free, and the singularly elevated tone of the letters written there shows how genuine and vigorous an intellectual life was lived upon those lonely heights. Friends from the gayer world paid the Howes long visits occasionally, even in the winter ; more than one young student of distinction, William Cullen Bryant among them, read law for a while in Judge Howe’s office; and when the supply of contemporary literature failed, and the new books and magazines “ came slowly up that way,” the husband and wife read Tacitus and Sallust and Virgil together. Theirs was another and more austere type of New England home than that which Mrs. Lyman adorned, but it was equally a type. In all the less accessible inland counties there were once scores of such. We picture them as comfortless, and the restricted existence of those who peopled them seems painful and unnatural when regarded from a distance, like that of the cloister. But never, I believe, in any cloister, even under the rarest combination of circumstances, was it possible to live more completely “ unspotted from the world ” than did they in their involuntary detachment. There is a letter of Mrs. Howe’s, written from Worthington when she was barely thirty, in which she speaks, very simply and pathetically, of the way in which the fear of death had fallen from her, and the path to immortality been made plain by the passing of so many friendly feet along it. It was a formidable type of Calvinistic preaching to which this thoughtful pair had to listen, in the conventicle of their mountain village, but listen they did, while they stayed there, meekly and bravely, and long without a word of audible protest; and the sternness of it did not break, as we have seen, but only sealed their friendship with the “ Angel Death.”
Nevertheless, the time of the Unitarian movement, call it revolt or call it advance, as the reader will, was now fully ripe; and the Lymans, with their intellectual openness, their cordial charity, and their healthful appreciation of the excellence of this present life, were naturally among its pioneers in the Connecticut Valley. No chapter in Mrs. Lesley’s book is more interesting and historically significant than that in which the story is temperately told of the “signing-off” of her parents from the old First Church of Northampton, where the mighty Jonathan Edwards had once “ fulmined over ” his quivering flock, and the establishment, chiefly through their means, of a religious society vowed to more liberal views. This happened in 1824, and they had the coöperation of Judge and Mrs. Howe, who had now come down from the hills, and were living in their neighborhood, and of a few other families. It is noticeable that the two wives were considerably in advance of their husbands in desiring this decisive departure from the old ways. They had heard Channing and Buckminster preach sometimes, during their girlhood in Milton, and had long rebelled, in private, against the cant of Puritanism, its narrow range and rather grim parade of austerity. The tensely drawn strings of the elder sister’s being had vibrated even painfully when her husband first met with grave reproof the timid confession of her heresies, made on a Sunday evening in winter, in the early part of their life in Worthington. Yet the four minds came soon to be in substantial accord, and a goodlier company of recusants would certainly be far to seek.
“ That it cost them something,” says the gentle historian, “ to part company with old friends and neighbors on a question of such vital importance, who can doubt ? Or that the stigma attaching to their views was hard to bear ? But my father and uncle Howe knew what they had undertaken, and why, and, having put their hands to the plough, they did not turn back. I do not suppose that women of the ardent temperament of my mother and aunt Howe were always wise and judicious in their course at this time, though I never heard that they were not. But their piety was as strong as their convictions, and no personal bitterness ever mingled with the sorrows of the change. A friend who was at our house during this period recalls the glow of my mother’s face on those beautiful Sunday mornings, when, having finished breakfast with the large family, she called to Hiram to take the horses and carriage, and go to the outskirts and gather up a few ‘ liberals ’ who had no means of getting into town; then busied herself to collect the children’s silver cups and her old tankards, which she gathered in her large apron, and carried into the town hall to prepare the communion table; how she dusted the table, and then tucked her apron under the seat, and looked round thankfully on the little audience gathered to listen to Mr. Hall, and to receive the broken bread of life, — a real upper chamber, where ' two or three were gathered in Christ’s name.’ ”
The more adventurous and ideal minds of the time were unquestionably with them. Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Dwight, and a score of others, destined powerfully to influence the thought and shape the growth of their generation, preached in the Northampton chapel, and were made welcome in the Lyman home. The glimpses which we get, in these pages, of the youthful Emerson are especially fascinating : " During this autumn my mother heard that Mrs. Hall was expecting one of the preachers to stay at her house for a fortnight. She did not even know the name of the expected guest, but she knew Mrs. Hall was not well; so she sent word that, when the preacher came, she would like to have him transferred to her home. It was Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson, then a young man, who took up his abode for a fortnight under her friendly roof. I have no power to convey in words the impression she used to give me of this visit, or its effect, on her appreciative mind. To her sister she mirthfully quoted an expression sometimes used by her Orthodox neighbors about certain students at Amherst, and wrote, ‘Oh, Sally, I thought to entertain a pious indigent, — and lo! an angel unawares ! ’ ”
The occasional subsequent letters of this angelic visitant are very graceful, with a certain quaint formality in their mode of expression which gives them a striking individuality. One, introducing Mr. George Bradford, is a model of its kind. Here is a characteristic passage from near the close of it: “I hope yourself and Judge Lyman are well. I am truly sorry that the distresses of the time should have come so near your friends. God seems to make some of his children for prosperity; they bear it so gracefully and with such good-will of society; and it is always painful when such suffer. But I suppose it is always dangerous, and especially to the very young. In college I used to echo a frequent ejaculation of my wise aunt’s, 'Oh, blessed, blessed poverty! ’ when I saw young men of fine capabilities whose only and fatal disadvantage was wealth. It is sad to see it taken from those who know how to use it; but children whose prospects are changed may hereafter rejoice in the event.”
Mrs. Lyman continued all her life an enthusiastic admirer of Emerson. “ She was wont,” her daughter says, “ to feel a sort of property in him and his works ; and I have seen her ready to shed tears when she could not see any appreciation of his thought in her listener. To one I have heard her say, ‘Well, you call that transcendental, and that’s all you have to say about it! I call it the profoundest common sense.’ To another,
‘ You think it very arrogant of me to pretend to understand Mr. Emerson. Well, I tell you I have the key to him, and I am not going to pretend I have not, whatever any one thinks.’ ” There is always the same emotional thrill in her language when she touches upon this theme, up to her very affecting last mention of Mr. Emerson, made at threescore years and ten, after both mind and body had begun sorrowfully to fail:
“ Yesterday was Phi Beta day, and who do you think called on me ? Why, Mr. Emerson! And he brought his charming good daughter, too. I am glad he has that daughter. I introduced him to C. C. is so very profound I knew Mr. Emerson would think a great deal of him. Perhaps I shall never see Mr. Emerson any more. Well, I ’saw his day, and was glad.’ ”
Her deep sympathy with the prophet of transcendentalism illustrates the large ideality which constituted one phase of this many-sided character, and her literary preferences reveal the same. The one thing which she felt perfectly sure a book ought always to do was to take its reader out of the workaday world.
“ I was entertained,” she says, “ with the Pioneers, but it appears to me it is one of those ephemeral productions which cannot outlive the present day. The object of this work is, in itself, very small, and the effect produced seems to be in exact proportion with it. In reading, nothing is more fatiguing to me than minute details of low people, with which I think this book, like the Spy, is very much encumbered.”
She had a cordial contempt for Dickens upon the selfsame ground (" it was funnier,” says her biographer, “ to hear her talk of Dickens than to read him”), and it is amusing to hear her contrast Pickwick with the Letters from Palmyra, immensely to the disadvantage of the former. “ You must tell me,” she writes to one of her sons, “ if you have read the Letters, which, upon a second reading, I think one of the most delightful books I have ever seen. There you see illustrated the dignity and interest of the female character in its true light; a beautiful representation of agreeable intercourse between young people ; a great deal of well-sustained conversation of the most intellectual character, and well calculated, by the refined moral sentiment contained therein, to improve and raise the standard of morals and religion. I am disgusted with the great commendation given to the Pickwick Papers. I think it might have done to publish one volume of such stuff; but four is oppressive, and promotes a waste of time that is unpardonable ; to say nothing of furnishing an additional quantity of vulgarity to contemplate, of which there is already a superabundance in everybody’s experience of every - day life.”
The romanticism of De la Motte Fouqué was, however, much too vapory for her taste. “ What nonsense ! ” is her remark upon Undine, while all she has to say of another book, which has had quite a revival of late, — being lauded as an extraordinarily early precursor of the most powerful school of modern fiction, — is this : “ I have lately been reading such trash as Adam Blair ! ” What would she have said to the realistic fiction of to-day, so morne and so minute, so affected sometimes, it must be owned, in its obstinate preference for homespun ? We can no more guess than Mrs. Lesley can imagine what her mother would have thought of the profuse furbelows in which women of all ranks now aspire to be arrayed, whereas the wardrobe of that stately dame consisted invariably of three costumes only: a “ good gown ” of silk, an “ every-day gown ” of stuff, and a “ working-gown ” of cotton, otherwise called her “ vessel of dishonor,” all made up with the same antique severity.
When Woodstock appeared, she was quick to recognize and welcome the transient recovery of much of the old masterly touch on the part of the great enchanter, and her enjoyment of the Excursion was intense. " I do wonder,” she says, “ that it is not more read and enjoyed by thinking people! There is little in it to gratify the appetite for narrative and adventure; it is sometimes dull, even to tediousness ; notwithstanding which, I consider it the most splendid monument of thought, of deep reflection and beautiful sentiment, that has been reared in many generations. It has to do with the mind altogether, its capacities, its pleasures, its abuses, and its diseases; and to understand it, you must read it with all your faculties as much concentrated as to read Locke. It contains the truest philosophy, the soundest views of life, the purest devotion, and the most eloquent poetry ; and if these are not more than enough to compensate for its defects, then indeed it deserves the neglect it has met with. To my apprehension, Wordsworth has excelled in the highest order of poetry, — the moral sublime.” Making allowance for the changes of fashion in phraseology, is not this precisely Matthew Arnold’s judgment?
It was their flagrant deficiency in the “ moral sublime ” which repelled her in Byron and the youthful Bulwer; and though we have it at second hand, from a young friend who was staying with her when Jane Eyre appeared, that she sat up reading it, with her feet on the fender, until the toes of a pair of brandnew shoes were quite burned through, yet this is how she felt bound to express herself about the book, in writing to a married daughter : “ ‘ I have read Jane Eyre, and, though it is intensely interesting, I advise you not to read it, for I think it has a most immoral tendency.’ I believe,” adds the biographer, “that the character of Rochester, and what she always designated as his lie at the altar, was what had impressed her. Certainly he bore no resemblance, either in his character or circumstances, to any of her living or dead standards.”
All this is very curious, as revealing along with her immense idealism the strong Puritanic element which formed the adamantine basis of this rich and impressionable nature. She too, who was so sweeping and defiant in her theoretic democracy, who seems positively to have enjoyed seating at her own table, and treating as a distinguished guest, an unsavory old negress, the child of a slave in her husband’s father’s family, — even she was, for the best of reasons and in the most honorable sense of the term, a stout aristocrat. She, who proclaimed herself so liberal, who fancied herself even revolutionary in her sentiments, was at heart extremely conservative. We see it in her deep distrust of the anti-slavery agitation, and in her attitude with reference to the speculations and the negations of the later transcendentalists. “ How can any one,” says the daughter, “ who did not hear her take in the infinite satire she conveyed, when she spoke of one of her children as fearing she had gone over to ‘ those loose-enders ’ (meaning the transcendentalists), and of another as having ' got beyond ordinances,’ because she did not wish to go to church two or three times a Sunday ! ” Surely that was the perfect moment in the history of New England Puritanism, when the rough rind of it had opened just sufficiently to reveal the blush and the lustre of the rounded fruit within; when that fruit was wholly ripe at last, and not yet over-mellow. The apples have fallen now, under the universal and unchanging law; and some were gathered into good storehouses, and some left openly to decay; and the garden, for the nonce, is sere : but other springs will bloom after the winter of our discontent, for those who live to see them.
Meanwhile, in the lives also of those whose history we have been following, the season of decline was insidiously stealing on. The shadows were lengthening, the daylight hours narrowing; the great storms of life’s autumnal equinox had gathered, and were beginning to break. Mrs. Howe was suddenly left a widow, after fifteen years of married life, and had to leave her bright new home in the Connecticut Valley, and take up a burden of untried care. The beautiful eldest daughter of Mrs. Lyman died, after months of agonizing illness ; the others went out, one by one, to homes of their own and posts of responsibility in distant places; the husband and father passed away, full of years ; and the ample village dwelling, amid its orchards and gardens, was left unto its brave mistress, desolate. The particulars of these inevitable changes and bereavements are too sacred to be recited here. Let us rather turn, with Mrs. Lesley, in the pensive pause that followed after her mother’s active life was done, and look back over the fruitful course of it ; gathering up a few more souvenirs of those full mid-years, “ which are the most luminous of life,” as Sainte-Beuve says, “ but which we do not count: ” —
“ The amount of plain speaking that people will bear from one whose goodwill is perfect is always an amazement to those accustomed to circumlocution.
I recall the things I have heard my mother say to others, which at the time astonished me from their directness, and yet I know they rarely gave offense; for the persons thus addressed refer to them now with an amount of pleasure and gratitude that is unmistakable. ‘ I came to her one day,’ said a friend, ‘ with a list of troubles and grievances for which I wanted her sympathy. She heard me very patiently, but when I was all through, she only said with intensity, “ Oh, Mrs. P., gild your lot with contentment ! ” I saw that was all she had to say, so I went home, but you may imagine I did not forget it.’ ' M., can you tell me what is the reason,’ she said one day to a young girl, ‘that when your family are in a peck of trouble, that always appears to be the signal for you to abdicate ? Oh, don’t do it, child ! Pray don’t! The next time the family coach gets into a rut, you take right hold, and see if you can’t move it, if only an inch.’ “ Abdication had a peculiar meaning on her lips, and was one of the seven deadly sins, as nerves were another. She had little patience with people who backed down in emergencies, and considered it her bounden duty to bear her testimony, and stiffen them up a little. . . . And yet, though she would sometimes give strength where sympathy was wanted, it was only where her clear moral insight told her that this was best; not from any lack of sympathy. No need for her to sing, as she did every Sunday night, ‘Oh, give me tears for others’ woes ! ’ for her eyes were rivers of tears when the real sorrow of any one was brought to her notice.”
“ She was called in by a young friend, one day, to look at her elegant wedding trousseau. When all had been shown, she turned to B., and said, ' Well, whatever else you do, don’t turn into a clothes-horse, my dear! Don’t you know, if it was to purchase your salvation, you could not wear more than one of these gowns at a time ? ’
“ To another, she said, ‘ Oh, I see what you are after ! Creature comforts, — these are what engage your attention ! Ah, how you do hate to eat “ humble pie ” ! But it is good for you. You ’ll tell me so some day.’ ”
“ ' C., you think it does not comport with your “ dignity ” to take such a step ! Well, your dignity is n’t worth two pins, if you have got to spend your life taking care of it and nursing it up ! If it cannot take care of itself, it may as well die a natural death.’ ”
“ She noted the peculiar traits of her children, rejoiced in their individualities, delighted in their original remarks, but ' she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ No one ever heard her call attention to them, or repeat anything they had said in their presence.
In fact, she was so fearful that others might be less careful than herself that she did not often speak of them to her friends, and it has been an amazement to us to find so many references to us in her letters. A child’s simplicity and unconsciousness were more sacred to her than to any one I have ever known, and she guarded them with a jealous care I have never seen surpassed. . . . She had always great faith in keeping children in a rather humble and subordinate position; but entirely on their own account, and from a strong conviction that it would be a help to them all through the journey of life. So she dressed them in the plainest clothes, taught them always to be ready to give up personal ease and pleasure for the sake of older people, and wished them always to show deference to superiors. I think in the matter of dress she sometimes erred, partly from her own lack of taste. But the principle, with her, was a fine one.” And it would surely be unfair to deny the reader the delicious anecdote which follows: —
“I well remember a certain indigoblue print, covered with white stars, very much worn by children in orphan asylums and by working-people. It was our detestation, and so my mother dubbed the material ' mortification.’ I had never heard any other name for it, and did not suppose it had any other. We had our fresh white dresses and blue ribbons for Sundays and for company, but on workingdays ‘let all children eat humble pie ’ was my mother’s maxim, and it was in many respects a good one. And so, one day, when I was eight years old, I was sent to the ‘ store ’ to buy six yards of the hated fabric, to make an everyday dress. ‘ Please, sir,’ said I sadly to the clerk who made his appearance,'have you any blue mortification ? ’ ‘ No ! I never heard of it,’ was the quick reply. My spirits rose, and I was about to leave the store, when I almost stumbled over a pile of the very goods. Conscience was too strong for me. ‘ This is it,’ I said timidly. I heard a suppressed giggle behind the counter, and as the clerk measured off six yards of ‘ mortification,’ one of the partners said in an audible whisper, ‘ Of course it ain’t the name, but Mrs. Lyman always gives her own names to everything.’ ”
“ I thought her manners then,” the daughter reverently resumes, “and I think them now, after a long review, the finest I have ever seen except my father’s, which were even finer ; having in them the trace of a life filled with the beatitudes. My mother had a noble presence, and what would have been called stately manners, had they not been so gracious, so full of friendliness and sympathy and sincere cordiality. And I cannot remember that either she or my father ever enjoined fine manners on the many young people they educated, or even talked about them. With them it was always the principle to work from within outwards, and not the reverse. They believed that if one could make a child perfectly truthful, disinterested, and considerate toward all God’s creatures, fine manners would be the inevitable and unconscious result. Both of them despised conventionalities, and often taught us, both by precept and example, that appearances were naught except as types of an interior reality. . . . I cannot help recalling how possible it was for her to appear like quite a poor, depressed, commonplace woman, when some accident would place her in the society of persons whose life was in externals. The neighbors in our village, who appreciated her so fully, would never have known her for the same person. Silent, abstracted, she was either absorbed in some homely work, or her mind had traveled to some distant space.
I remember a young lady of fashion waking her suddenly from one of these dreams by saying, — “ ' Mrs. Lyman, you were at ———’s yesterday. Did you hear any enthusiasm expressed about the carpets and curtains ? ’
“ She looked half dazed, but when the question was fairly understood said slowly, ' Carpets ! curtains ! enthusiasm ! Well, well! I’ve heard of enthusiasm for fine natural scenery, for grand music, for a noble poem, but I never in all my life heard of it for those things.’ And she relapsed into solemn silence.”
I could add to these extracts twice as many more, all equally striking. I must allow myself at least one, which illustrates the finer side of the old-fashioned village neighborliness ; the way in which the members of that simple and wholesouled community, of which Mrs. Lyman was an ornament, fulfilled the law of Christ in the bearing of one another’s every-day burdens : —
“ There were certainly the kindest people in Northampton then that ever lived. It had been one of the hottest of summer days, and a tea-party of distinguished strangers were expected in the evening, but there was such a succession of transient calls on every member of the family that the evening drew on, and our preparations for the supper were most incomplete. The dear woman encouraged us all that we should see how everything would come out right, if we had only ‘ faith as a grain of mustard-seed; ’ and she had hardly said the word when one friend after another walked in. ‘ Did n’t I tell you, girls ! ’ called out my mother, triumphantly. ‘ Now see: here is Mrs. W. has sent me an elegant basket of fruit and flowers ; and Mrs. D. such rusk as nobody can make but she ; and as true as you live, there is Mrs. H. with a great basket of seckel pears ! Now don’t tell me they ever have any better things at the Boston parties.’ . . . This we considered a pleasing fiction ; only another way of expressing her pleasure at our efforts and the kindness of our neighbors. ‘ And now, girls,’ she called out, jovially, let us all go to Bedfordshire ’ (which meant that we were to lie down and rest), ‘ for we shall sail before the wind.’ ”
It was that battered voluptuary and exceedingly mundane old sage, King Solomon, who remarked, in his aphoristic fashion, that it is never wise to “ inquire the cause why the former days were better than these.” He does not explain himself. That would have marred the aphorism. We are left to conjecture whether he desired merely to administer a special snub to some low-spirited laudator temporis acti, or to reprove, in a general way, all futile and sentimental yearning over the days that are no more; or whether he chose this artificial and inverted manner of saying that, as a matter of fact, the present is always as good as the past, all times being excellent in their order, and none designed to be permanent. In either case, there is a dry wisdom about the precept, which we are all ready passively to acknowledge. But none the less is it true that in every form of life as we know it, whether conscious or unconscious, whether individual or national, there are the infallible stages of infancy, expansion, culmination, and decay ; and that there is a bloom, a freshness, a sanctity, about the early time of which the later is necessarily denuded. Most conspicuously in the realm of ethnology, in the history of every people destined to a great and influential career, there has ever been a cool, clear morning season, of plain fashions and austere moralities; when lawless loves have been the rare exception; when the family bond has been, to all intents and purposes, a sacramental one, and the family hearth an altar. There was such a time, say the poets, when the green branches of the Branstock sustained the roof of King Volsung. There was such a time, we know very well, in the youth of the world-subduing Roman race; and the half - remorseful memory of it throbs through all the greater Latin literature, adding a searching point to the logic of Cicero, a thrill of emotion to the brilliant lines of Livy, an unbidden tear to the lingering look backward of him who was to be Dante’s guide : —
Casta pudicitiam servat domus. ”
Nay, long after the strong sons of the Italian aborigines had emerged into the garish light of their noontide history, their high priest went out yearly and sacrificed for his people on the mossy altar of the antique Penates, in the already crumbling city of Lavinium, under the Alban Mount. The same tale is repeated in the annals of the two memorable races that have flourished successively upon the soil of the beautiful Tuscan country where I now write ; of that primeval people of whom the spacious family tombs, with all their strangely pictured activities, run deep into the volcanic hills on every side ; and of those more familiar Tuscans, the stout burghers of the pre-Renaissance era, who laid the foundations of their palaces so deep that the earthquakes and thunderbolts, the “ drums and tramplings,” of five centuries have hardly availed to shake them. Men built their houses wide enough, in the best days of this worthy old city of Siena, to hold the families of children and children’s children, as they came on ; they carved the stemma over every lintel, on the stiff chairback of the patriarch, and on the solid old marriage chests which held the outfit of a long series of brides. The palaces are void now; the city herself is so shrunken, in her stately age, that orchards and gardens fill half the space encompassed by her massive walls, but she lives in history by the doings of her prime, when for love and fidelity, for emprise and for vengeance, too, the family bond was all-powerful.
It is partly, perhaps, because I have seen through so long a vista, from under the shadow of a civilization in decrepitude, and with the irresistible proneness of an absentee to idealize the primitive homes of New England’s earlier day, that their sober fashions have appeared to me so entirely noble, their ideal of conduct so spotless, their atmosphere so exquisitely bright and pure. As the nation grows older, as interests become more complex, and wealth and luxury increase, the individual home must necessarily stand for less, the metropolis for more. But to the men and women of our race the pieties of the hearth are still the profoundest of all, and have ever been held symbols of the most sacred of those inconceivable things which are unseen and eternal. And the regret of the exile from such a home as that which we have been privileged to visit would indeed be unappeasable but for his ingrain persuasion that it is but a prototype ; but for the expectation he instinctively cherishes of a final re-attachment somewhere of the mysterious ties of kindred; but for the habit, learned long since at the New England fireside, of brooding with dreamy hopefulness over the soothing words, “ In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you.”
Harriet Waters Preston.