Works of Annie Fields
LIFE AND LETTERS OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
ANCESTRY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD
THERE were generations of character and fine development behind the life of Mrs. Stowe. John Beecher and his mother, the first of the race who came to this country, eighteen years after the arrival of the Mayflower, were of the company of Davenport, a distinguished clergyman of London, under whose leadership came a rich and able body of men and women with the serious intention of founding a new colony. Mrs. Beecher was a good woman, and useful to the company, therefore they gave her a lot of land in New Haven, whither they soon betook themselves. The equivalent of this land had been promised to her husband before his death, which occurred on the eve of their departure. Their first religious service was held under a large oak upon this place, and there later the house was built, called latterly the old Beecher house.
It is impossible to understand the development of genius unless we regard the root from which it springs. We wonder at the beauty of the rose, but we think little of the bush which bore it until we find no other rose to equal it, and then we say, Whence came this wonder!
The Beecher race may justly be considered a noble one, as we trace it from this beginning; strong in spirit as well as in body, always readers and thinkers, always animated with love of the public good, and holding it predominant above private good. The grandfather of Mrs. Stowe was "one of the best read men in New England; well versed in astronomy, geography, and history, and in the interests of the Protestant reformation. Old Squire Roger Sherman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, used to say that he always calculated to see Mr. Beecher as soon as he got home from Congress to talk over the particulars."
Surely it is not often that one discovers such persistence of traits and habits as in this family. One would seem to be reading of Mrs. Stowe's father rather than her grandfather, as the history continues: "He always kept a number of college students and of representatives to the Legislature as boarders, being fond of their conversation. He often kept pace with his student boarders in their studies, frequently spending his evenings in their rooms. He had a tenacious memory for what he read, but was entirely forgetful and careless as to his dress, hat, tools, etc." This grandfather was not a preacher, nor a college-bred man. He was a farmer and blacksmith and maker of tools, employing a man to do the ordinary work of the shop. Dr. Beecher used to say he himself was so like his father that when his sister Esther grew old she often called him "father" by mistake, instead of "brother."
The same strange absent-mindedness which we shall find in Mrs. Stowe is spoken of as a trait in her grandfather's character. "Your Aunt Esther," says Dr. Beecher, "has known him at least twelve times to come in from the barn and sit down on a coat pocket full of eggs, jump up and say, 'Oh, wife!' 'Why, my dear,' she would reply, 'I do wonder you can put eggs in your pocket after you have broken them so once.' 'Well,' he would say, 'I thought I should remember this time.'"
The same love of fun, the same suffering from depression of spirits, possessed this grandfather as was seen in his son and his grandchildren. Dr. Lyman Beecher's mother was of Scotch descent, a Miss Lyman. He says of her: "She was a woman tall, well-proportioned, dignified in her movements, fair to look upon, intelligent in conversation, and in character lovely. I was her only child. She died of consumption two days after I was born. I was a seven months' child; and when the woman that attended on her saw what a puny thing I was, and that the mother could not live, she thought it useless to attempt to keep me alive. I was actually wrapped up and laid aside. But, after a while, one of the women thought she would look and see if I was living, and, finding I was, concluded to wash and dress me, saying, 'It's a pity he hadn't died with his mother.' So you see it was but by a hair's breadth I got a foothold in this world."
One experience, testifying to the sincerity of heart of the Beecher family, and to their clear judgment, was common to father, son, and grandson, Henry Ward Beecher. They all married women distinguished for intellect and character. Whatever appreciation of grace and refinement may have been theirs, their wives possessed qualities born of energy of mind and piety of heart. Dr. Beecher grew up in his uncle's family at Guilford, Connecticut. It was country life indeed, but there was an excellent school where he was very early told by the teacher to come up "next the head," because he was the best reader in the school. His pride at this announcement can be imagined. It dwelt with him all his life, and came back to his memory when, being too old to write himself, his children gathered round and made him tell the story of his days.
"They say everybody knows about God naturally," continued the old man. "A lie. All such ideas are by teaching. One Sunday evening, I was out playing. They kept Saturday evening, and children might play on Sunday evening as soon as they could see three stars. But I was so impatient I did not wait for that. Bill H. saw me and said: --
" 'That's wicked; there ain't three stars.'
" 'Don't care.'
" 'God says you mustn't.'
" 'Don't care.'
" 'He 'll punish you.'
" 'Well, if He does, I'll tell Aunt Benton.'
" 'Well, He's bigger than Aunt Benton, and He'll put you in the fire and burn you for ever and ever.'
"That took hold. I understood what fire was and what forever was. What emotion I had thinking, No end! no end! It has been a sort of mainspring ever since.
"Curious now, this thing of personal identity! Here I am an old man, telling you this story about a little boy; and yet I feel I am the same person I was then."
But the continuation of this identity as we see it in his son Henry Ward Beecher and in his daughter Harriet makes the wonder of it still more living. How like in character is that tale of Henry's childhood, when, being very angry, he rushes from the house behind the barn and after a pause, says to himself, "Damn it." Then he remembers that it is wicked to swear; what would become of him! The thought was too horrible to be endured. Sweat stood in great drops upon his forehead. After a while, he could bear the solitude no longer and went back into the house, but doubtless carrying with him an unhappy conscience for many a long day.
To show moral courage of a high order was common to them all. Lyman Beecher went to college, although there was very little money, his father having married again, and the house being full of children. His uncle helped him out; but he was very industrious, and made a good deal of money, for that time, by his own exertions. He heard a robber one night in his room, and waked just in season to see him disappearing with some garments through the window. Lyman Beecher had a hot chase, but caught the thief, brought him back to his room, and made him lie on the floor by his bed until morning, when he carried him before the judge.
Mrs. Stowe asked her father once if he was never afraid when he was a boy alone in the fields hoeing corn, and one of the great summer thunderstorms broke over him. "Not I. I wished it would thunder all day. I never heard such thunder since, except once in the hills round Marietta, Ohio."
When his college days were nearly over, he began to spend a part of his vacations in Guilford, near the large house and farm of General Andrew Ward. Here Roxana Foote lived, whom he married after a courtship of two years. He found her reading [']Sir Charles Grandison.['] "She said she never meant to marry until she found his like -- I presume she thought she had. All the new works that were published at that day were brought out to the old house at Nutplains, read and discussed in the old spinning-mill. When Miss Burney's 'Evelina' appeared, Sally Hill rode out on horseback to bring it to Roxana. A great treat they had of it. There was the greatest frolicking in that spinning-mill! Roxana was queen among those girls!
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"I was made for action. The Lord drove me, but I was ready. I have always been going at full speed. The fifty years of my active life have been years of rapid development."
Mrs. Stowe said of her father: "He often expressed to me great displeasure at the publication of private diaries of good men, especially if they were of a melancholy cast, or those recording great alternations of ecstasy and gloom. Indeed, for no other thing did he become more celebrated than for his power of imparting hope to the desponding; and it was those dark and doubting hours of his own early life -- painful as they were -- which furnished him with the necessary knowledge for the guidance of hundreds of sensitive and troubled spirits to the firm ground of a cheerful, intelligent religious hope." He never preached without his eye on his audience. He noticed every change of countenance, every indication of awakened interest; and these he immediately followed up by seeking private conversation. His ardor in this pursuit was singular and almost indescribable. He used to liken it to the ardor of the chase.
Speaking of his wife Roxana, Dr. Beecher said: "There were some things about your mother's religious character peculiar, and very satisfactory in the retrospect. She thought herself converted when five or six years old. She could scarcely remember the time, but that, in all her childish joys and sorrows, she went to God in prayer. She experienced resignation, if any one ever did. I never saw the like, -- so entire, without reservation or shadow of turning. In no exigency was she taken by surprise. She was just there, quiet as an angel above. I never heard a murmur; and if there ever was a perfect mind as respects submission, it was hers. I never witnessed a movement of the least degree of selfishness; and if there ever was any such thing in the world as disinterestedness, she had it."
Dr. Beecher married Roxana Foote in 1799, as soon as possible after his settlement in the town of East Hampton, Long Island. He was then twenty-four years old, full of youthful energy, not to be daunted by the strange conditions of his new island home.
The parish of East Hampton was still a wild and removed spot when Dr. Beecher carried thither his young wife. The place was first visited by white people under Hudson eleven years before the arrival of the Mayflower at Plymouth. "They found an interminable beach of snowy sand, on which the ocean never ceases to beat; dark forests, wild fowl in countless flocks, and throngs of admiring and astonished savages. … When Dr. Beecher went to this picturesque but wild spot a windmill stood at each end of the one long street. There were no trees except a line of poplars between two of the best houses, and a single enormous elm which had been trimmed up to a head."
East Hampton was early settled by intelligent men, and there was but one church, a large dignified building with bell and clock, the finest on the island. In these early days one fourth of the whales stranded on the beach were always presented to the minister as a portion of his salary.
The part of the parish first settled was Gardiner's Island, which was separated from the town by a bay four or five miles wide. This island has never passed out of the hands of the Gardiner family, and while Dr. Beecher was at East Hampton he found true pleasure and companionship with the seventh heir, John Lyon Gardiner, whose hospitable mansion was always ready to receive the young minister. Here it was that Dr. Beecher and his wife started in life. Here he planted an orchard, the first that had been seen in that land, behind a pleasant house on the grassy street very near to the tumbling sea. Here their life of tireless industry went on. Mrs. Beecher added to everything else a love of painting, and finished twenty-four fine miniatures upon ivory at this period. But as children came to them, the remoteness and the labor of their post were too great, and they removed to Litchfield, Connecticut, whither the minister had been "called."
Harriet Beecher was born in Litchfield, June 14, 1811. This town was first settled in 1720 in a pleasant high country among hills, lakes, and valleys. Evidently intelligent men founded also this settlement, because they were stirring patriots during the war of the revolution, and were visited by Washington, Lafayette, Rochambeau, and many of the principal officers of the army. One of the chief heroes of that time lived to be a parishioner of Dr. Beecher. Also during his life in Litchfield and helping to make the town famous, were, among others, Governor Oliver Wolcott, Jr., a member of Washington's cabinet, John Pierpont the poet, and Judge Reeve. These men became intimate friends of Dr. Beecher; especially Judge Reeve, who had founded in Litchfield a celebrated law school, to which young men were sent from nearly every State in the union. The Reverend Mr. Huntington, who preceded Dr. Beecher, wrote of Litchfield: "It is a delightful village on a fruitful hill, richly endowed with schools, both professional and scientific, with its remarkable governors and judges, with its learned lawyers and senators, and representatives both in the National and State departments, and with a population enlightened and respectable. Litchfield was now in its glory."
The meeting-house, of course, made a great impression upon the child Harriet. She described it later in life in her first book, called "The Mayflower:" "To my childish eyes our old meeting-house was an awe-inspiring thing. To me it seemed fashioned very nearly on the model of Noah's Ark and Solomon's Temple, as set forth in the pictures in my Scripture Catechism. … Its double row of windows, of which I knew the number by heart, its doors, with great wooden quirls over them; its belfry, projecting out at the east end; its steeple and bell, all inspired as much sense of the sublime in me as Strasbourg Cathedral itself. … But the glory in the execution of those good old billowy compositions called fuguing tunes, where the four parts that compose the choir take up the song, and go racing around one after another, each singing a different set of words, till at length, by some inexplicable magic, they all come together again, and sail smoothly out into a rolling sea of harmony! I remember the wonder with which I used to look from side to side when treble, tenor, counter, and bass, were thus roaring and foaming, and it verily seemed to me as if the psalm were going to pieces among the breakers, and the delighted astonishment with which I found that each particular verse did emerge whole and uninjured from the storm."
Harriet Beecher was hardly four years old when her mother died, leaving eight little children weeping round her bed. Of these children two possessed what the world calls genius. They were all more or less distinguished, Catherine, the eldest, being a woman of remarkable character. Harriet and Henry Ward were next to the youngest, always inseparable companions, always inspired with the tenderest love and faith in each other to the end of life.
Mrs. Stowe says of her mother and of her touching departure from this world: "I was between three and four years of age when our mother died, and my own personal recollections of her are therefore but few. But the deep interest and veneration that she inspired in all who knew her was such that, during all my childhood, I was constantly hearing her spoken of, and, from one friend or another, some incident or anecdote of her life was constantly being impressed on me.
"Mother was one of those strong, restful, yet widely sympathetic natures, in whom all around seemed to find comfort and repose. She was of a temperament peculiarly restful and peace-giving. Her union of spirit with God, unruffled and unbroken even from early childhood, seemed to impart to her an equilibrium and healthful placidity that no earthly reverses ever disturbed. The communion between her and my father was a peculiar one. It was an intimacy throughout the whole range of their being. There was no human mind in whose decisions he had greater confidence. Both intellectually and morally he regarded her as the better and stronger portion of himself, and I remember hearing him say that, after her death, his first sensation was a sort of terror, like that of a child suddenly shut out alone in the dark.
"Her death occurred at a time when the New England ministry were in a peculiar crisis of political and moral trial, and the need of such a stay and support in his household was more than ever felt.… I asked him the question whether he ever had any reason to believe that the spirits of the blessed are ever permitted to minister to us in our earthly sorrows, and he said after a moment of deep thought, 'I never but once had anything like it. It was a time of great trial and obloquy, and I had been visiting around in my parish, and heard many things here and there that distressed me. I came home to my house almost overwhelmed; it seemed as if I must sink under it. I went to sleep in the north bedroom, -- the room where your mother died. I dreamed that I heard voices and footsteps in the next room, and that I knew immediately it was Roxana and Mary Hubbard coming to see me. The door opened, and Mary stayed without, but your mother came in and came toward me. She did not speak, but she smiled on me a smile of heaven, and with that smile all my sorrow passed away. I awoke joyful, and I was light-hearted for weeks after.'
"In my own early childhood only two incidents of my mother twinkle like rays through the darkness. One was of our all running and dancing out before her from the nursery to the sitting-room one Sabbath morning, and her pleasant voice saying after us, `Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.'
"Another remembrance is this: Mother was an enthusiastic horticulturalist in all the small ways that limited means allowed. Her brother John, in New York, had just sent her a small parcel of fine tulip-bulbs. I remember rummaging these out of an obscure corner of the nursery one day when she was gone out, and being strongly seized with the idea that they were good to eat, and using all the little English I then possessed to persuade my brothers that these were onions such as grown people ate, and would be very nice for us. So we fell to and devoured the whole; and I recollect being somewhat disappointed in the odd, sweetish taste, and thinking that onions were not as nice as I had supposed. Then mother's serene face appeared at the nursery door, and we all ran toward her, and with one voice began to tell our discovery and achievement. We had found this bag of onions and had eaten them all up.
"Also I remember that there was not even a momentary expression of impatience, but that she sat down and said: 'My dear children, what you have done makes mamma very sorry; those were not onion-roots, but roots of beautiful flowers; and if you had let them alone, ma would have had next summer in the garden great beautiful red and yellow flowers such as you never saw.' I remember how drooping and dispirited we all grew at this picture, and how sadly we regarded the empty paper bag.
"Then I have a recollection of her reading to the children one evening aloud Miss Edgeworth's 'Frank,' which had just come out, I believe, and was exciting a good deal of attention among the educational circles of Litchfield. After that, I remember a time when every one said she was sick; when, if I went into the street, every one asked me how my mother was; when I saw the shelves of the closets crowded with delicacies which had been sent in for her, and how I used to be permitted to go once a day into her room, where she sat bolstered up in bed, taking her gruel. I have a vision of a very fair face, with a bright red spot on each cheek, and a quiet smile as she offered me a spoonful of her gruel; of our dreaming one night, we little ones, that mamma had got well, and waking in loud transports of joy, and being hushed down by some one coming into the room. Our dream was indeed a true one. She was forever well; but they told us she was dead, and took us in to see what seemed so cold, and so unlike anything we had ever seen or known of her.
"Then came the funeral. Henry was too little to go. I remember his golden curls and little black frock, as he frolicked like a kitten in the sun in ignorant joy.
"I remember the mourning dresses, the tears of the older children, the walking to the burial ground, and somebody's speaking at the grave, and the audible sobbing of the family; and then all was closed, and we little ones, to whom it was so confused, asked the question where she was gone, and would she never come back?
"They told us at one time that she had been laid in the ground, at another that she had gone to heaven; whereupon Henry, putting the two things together, resolved to dig through the ground and go to heaven to find her; for, being discovered under sister Catherine's window one morning digging with great zeal and earnestness, she called to him to know what he was doing, and, lifting his curly head with great simplicity, he answered, 'Why, I'm going to heaven to find ma.'
"Although mother's bodily presence disappeared from our circle, I think that her memory and example had more influence in moulding her family, in deterring from evil and exciting to good, than the living presence of many mothers. It was a memory that met us everywhere, for every person in the town, from the highest to the lowest, seemed to have been so impressed by her character and life that they constantly reflected some portion of it back upon us.
"Even our portly old black washerwoman, Candace, who came once a week to help off the great family wash, would draw us aside, and, with tears in her eyes, tell us of the saintly virtues of our mother.
"I recollect that at first the house was full of little works of ingenuity, and taste, and skill, which had been wrought by her hand, -- furniture adorned with painting; pictures of birds and flowers, done with minutest skill; fine embroidery, with every variety of lace and cobweb stitch; exquisite needle-work, which has almost passed out of memory in our day. I remember the bobbin and pillows with which she made black lace. Many little anecdotes were told me among her friends of her ceaseless activity and contrivance in these respects.
"One thing in her personal appearance every one spoke of, -- that she never spoke in company or before strangers without blushing. She was of such great natural sensitiveness and even timidity that, in some respects, she never could conform to the standard of what was expected of a pastor's wife. In the weekly female prayer-meetings she could never lead the devotions. Yet it was not known that anybody ever expressed criticism or censure on this account. It somehow seemed to be felt that her silent presence had more power than the audible exercises of another. Such impression has been given me by those who have spoken of this peculiarity.
"There was one passage of Scripture always associated with her in our minds in childhood; it was this: 'Ye are come unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and Church of the first born, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.'
"We all knew that this was what our father repeated to her when she was dying, and we often repeated it to each other. It was to that we felt we must attain, though we scarcely knew how. In every scene of family joy or sorrow, or when father wished to make an appeal to our hearts which he knew we could not resist, he spoke of mother.
"I remember still the solemn impression produced on my mind when I was only about eight years old. I had been violently seized with malignant scarlet fever, and lain all day insensible, and father was in an agony of apprehension for my life. I remember waking up just as the beams of the setting sun were shining into the window, and hearing his voice in prayer by my bedside, and of his speaking of 'her blessed mother who is now a saint in heaven,' and wondering in my heart what that solemn appeal might mean.
"I think it will be the testimony of all her sons that her image stood between them and the temptations of youth as a sacred shield; that the hope of meeting her in heaven has sometimes been the last strand which did not part in hours of fierce temptation; and that the remembrance of her holy life and death was a solemn witness of the truth of religion, which repelled every assault of skepticism, and drew back the soul from every wandering to the faith in which she lived and died."
Of this sad year after her mother's death, Catherine Beecher wrote: "The experience of this year in our family history was similar to that of a landscape in sunshine suddenly overcast with heavy clouds. The gentle, contented, smiling, healthful mother was gone, and the sunlight of our home departed with her to return no more."
Dr. Beecher married twice again during his long life, but Roxana was the wife of his young heart and the true companion of his thought. His piety and purpose found support and development in her companionship.
The prayer of this mother's heart was, that all her sons should devote themselves to the ministry, and this wish was accomplished. What her prayer for her daughters may have been we cannot know, but her influence was such that she left, as Mrs. Stowe always believed, an indelible impression upon her own life.
Doubtless it was a recognition of Harriet's sensitive nature, and the harm which might be done by leaving her in the shadow of the family grief, which led her aunt to carry her away to Nutplains, after her mother's death, to make a long visit. It was good for her to be there, although the intellectual food seems to have been rather strong for her years. A love of wit and humor was as natural to her as to her grandmother, and, as we have seen, they enjoyed much together.
Mrs. Stowe writes of this visit: "Among my earliest recollections are those of a visit to Nutplains immediately after my mother's death. Aunt Harriet Foote, from whom I was named, who was with mother during all her last sickness, took me home to stay with her. I can now remember, at the close of what seemed to me a long day's ride, arriving after dark at a lonely little white farmhouse, and being brought into a large parlor where a cheerful wood fire was crackling, partly burned down into great heavy coals. I was placed in the arms of an old lady, who held me close and wept silently, a thing at which I marveled, for my great loss was already faded from my childish mind. But I could feel that this dear old grandmother received me with a heart full of love and sorrow. I recall still her bright white hair, the benign and tender expression of her venerable face, and the great gold ring she wore, which seemed so curious to my childish eyes. It was her wedding-ring, as she often told me afterward. There was a little tea-table set out before the fire, and Uncle George came in from his farm-work, and sat down with grandma and Aunt Harriet to tea.
"After supper I remember grandma's reading prayers, as was her custom, from a great prayer-book, which was her constant companion. To this day certain portions of the evening service never recur to me without bringing up her venerable image and the tremulous tones of her aged voice, which made that service have a different effect on me from any other prayers I heard in early life.
"Then I remember being put to bed by my aunt in a large room, on one side of which stood the bed appropriated to her and me, and on the other that of my grandmother. The beds were curtained with a printed India linen, which had been brought home by my seafaring uncle; and I recollect now the almost awe-struck delight with which I gazed on the strange mammoth plants, with great roots and endless convolutions of branches, in whose hollows appeared Chinese summer-houses, adorned with countless bells, and perched jauntily aloft, with sleepy-looking Mandarins smoking, and a Chinaman attendant just in the act of ringing some of the bells with a hammer. Also here and there were birds bigger than the mandarins, with wide-open beaks just about to seize strange-looking insects; and a constant wonder to my mind was why the man never struck the bells, nor the bird ever caught the insect.
"My Aunt Harriet was no common character. A more energetic human being never undertook the education of a child. Her ideas of education were those of a vigorous Englishwoman of the old school. She believed in the Church, and, had she been born under that régime, would have believed in the king stoutly, although, being of the generation following the Revolution, she was a not less stanch supporter of the Declaration of Independence.
"According to her views, little girls were to be taught to move very gently, to speak softly and prettily, to say 'Yes, ma'am' and 'No, ma'am,' never to tear their clothes, to sew and to knit at regular hours, to go to church on Sunday and make all the responses, and to come home and be catechised.
"I remember those catechisings, when she used to place my little cousin Mary and myself bolt upright at her knee, while black Dinah and Harvey the bound-boy were ranged at a respectful distance behind us; for Aunt Harriet always impressed it upon her servants 'to order themselves lowly and reverently to all their betters,' -- a portion of the Church Catechism which always pleased me, particularly when applied to them, as it insured their calling me 'Miss Harriet,' and treating me with a degree of consideration which I never enjoyed in the more democratic circle at home.
"I became a proficient in the Church Catechism, and gave my aunt great satisfaction by the old-fashioned gravity and steadiness with which I learned to repeat it.
"As my father was a Congregationalist minister, I believe Aunt Harriet, though the highest of High-Church women, felt some scruples of delicacy as to whether it was desirable my religious education should be entirely out of the sphere of my birth, and therefore, when the catechetical exercise was finished, and my cousin, who was a lamb of the true Church, dismissed, she would say to me, 'Niece, you have to learn another catechism, because your father is a Presbyterian minister,' and would therefore endeavor to make me commit to memory the Assembly's Catechism.
"At this lengthening of exercises I secretly murmured. I was rather pleased at the first question in the Church Catechism, which is certainly quite level to any child's capacity, 'What is your name?' It was such an easy, good start. I could say it so loud and clear; and I was accustomed to compare it with the first question in the Primer, 'What is the chief end of man?' as vastly more difficult for me to remember. In fact, between my aunt's secret unbelief and my own childish impatience of too much catechism, the matter was indefinitely postponed after a few ineffectual attempts, and I was overjoyed to hear her announce privately to grandmother that she thought it would be time enough for Harriet to learn the Presbyterian Catechism when she went home.
"In her own private heart my aunt did not consider my father an ordained minister; and, as she was a woman who always acted up to her beliefs, when on a visit to our family she would walk straight past his meeting-house, as she always called it, to the little Episcopal church, where the Gospel was dispensed in what she considered an orderly manner. It was a triumph of principle, for she was very fond and proud of father, and had a lively, acute mind peculiarly fitted to appreciate his preaching, which she would often have been very glad to hear.
"She generally contrived, in speaking of these subjects before me, to restrain herself, and probably was not aware of the sharpness with which little ears sometimes attend to conversations which are not meant for them to hear, and perhaps was entirely unaware that I pondered in my mind a declaration I once heard her make, that 'many persons out of the Episcopal Church would be saved at last, but that they were resting entirely on uncovenanted mercy.'
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"I really think grandma stood a little in awe of Aunt Harriet. Occasionally she would give me privately her opinion of her when she was out of the room, -- opinions always very charming in my eyes, because they took my part in every childish grief, and in all those disciplinary sorrows which Aunt Harriet often thought the wisest expression of love to little girls. When I broke my needles, tore my clothes, lost my thimble, slipped out of the house and sauntered by the river when I should have been sewing, grandmother was always an accessory after the fact; and when she could not save me from condign punishment, would comfort me with the private assurance that 'I was a poor child, and that Harriet needed punishing a great deal more herself than I did.'
"It is said that such indulgences are dangerous to children, but I cannot remember that they ever did me any harm. In the main, I thought that justice and right were on Aunt Harriet's side; yet I loved grandma for the excessive tenderness that blinded her to all my faults. I did not really believe her sweet and comfortable sayings to be exactly true; I only saw how much she must love, to be so blind to all my faults.
"But grandmother was not by any means a weak woman. Her mind was active and clear; her literary taste just, her reading extensive. My image of her in later years is of one always seated at a great round table covered with books, among which nestled her work-basket. Among these, chiefest, her large Bible and prayer-book; Lowth's "Isaiah," which she knew almost by heart; Buchanan's "Researches in Asia;" "Bishop Heber's Life;" and Dr. Johnson's "Works," which were great favorites with her.…
"We used to read much to her: first many chapters of the Bible, in which she would often interpose most graphic comments, especially in the Evangelists, where she seemed to have formed an idea of each of the apostles so distinct and dramatic that she would speak of them as acquaintances. She would always smile indulgently at Peter's remarks. 'There he is again, now; that's just like Peter. He's always so ready to put in!' She was fond of having us read Isaiah to her in Lowth's translation, of which she had read with interest all the critical notes.
"Concerning Dr. Johnson's Christian character, she once informed me, with some degree of trouble, that she had had a discussion with my brother Edward, and that he thought that President Edwards was a better Christian than Dr. Johnson. 'He sent me his life to read,' she said, 'and I have read it, and he was a very good Christian; but, after all, I doubt if he could have written better prayers than these of Dr. Johnson's. Now just hear this,' she would say, and then she would read prayers which that great master of English, that deep and melancholy nature, certainly made wonderfully forcible and touching.
"Sometimes, in later years, after my brothers and I were grown up, we, being trained Congregationalists, would raise with our uncle and with Aunt Harriet the controverted questions of our respective faiths, which would be mooted with great vim. Grandma was always secretly uneasy lest these controversies should lead to any real disunion of feeling.
"On one occasion, after her hearing had become slightly impaired, a wordy battle had been raging round her for some time, which, as she could not understand what we said, and as we seemed to be getting more and more earnest, moved her solicitude very deeply. At last she called one of my brothers to her, and said, 'There, now, if you have talked long enough, I want you to read something to me,' and gave him that eloquent chapter in Isaiah which begins, 'Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee;' and goes on to describe the day when the whole earth shall be full of the glory of the Lord. Her face, while he was reading, was like a transparency, luminous with internal light. At the close she said, 'Bishop Heber tells in his memoirs how, off in India, there were four ministers of Christ met together, all of different denominations, and they read this chapter together, and found then there was one thing they all agreed in exactly.'
"We all looked at each other and smiled, for we were conscious that our discussion had been in the most perfect love and good will.
- - - - -
"One other thing must be confessed: in her secret heart grandma was, and always remained, a Tory. In her this took no aggressive form. It was only the clinging of a loving and constant nature to that which in childhood and youth she had learned to love and venerate. On these points she always observed a discreet silence in the family circle, but made a confidante of me in my early childhood. When, after hearing King George abused roundly one day by some patriotic American, she took the first opportunity to tell me privately that 'she didn't believe that the king was to blame;' and then she opened her old English prayer-book, and read in a trembling voice the old prayers for the king and queen, and all the royal family, and told me how it grieved her when they stopped reading them in all the churches. She supposed it was all right, she said, but she couldn't bear to give it up; they might have some other way to settle it.
"When afterward I ventured to say something to Aunt Harriet about it, she laughingly asserted that grandma was always an old Tory among them. I think, in the recollections of all the children, our hours spent at Nutplains were the golden hours of our life. Aunt Harriet had precisely the turn which made her treasure every scrap of a family relic and history. And even those of the family who had passed away forever seemed still to be living at Nutplains, so did she cherish every memorial, and recall every action and word. There was Aunt Catherine's embroidery; there were Aunt Mary's paintings and letters; there the things which Uncle Samuel had brought from foreign shores; frankincense from Spain, mats and baskets from Mogadore, and various other trophies locked in drawers, which Aunt Harriet displayed to us on every visit.
"At Nutplains our mother, lost to us, seemed to live again. We saw her paintings, her needlework, and heard a thousand little sayings and doings of her daily life. And so dear was everything that belonged to grandmother and our Nutplains home, that the Episcopal service, even though not well read, was always chosen during our visits there in preference to our own. It seemed a part of Nutplains and of the life there.
"There was also an interesting and well-selected library, and a portfolio of fine engravings; and, though the place was lonely, yet the cheerful hospitality that reigned there left them scarcely ever without agreeable visitors.
- - - - -
"The earliest poetry that I ever heard were the ballads of Walter Scott, which Uncle George repeated to Cousin Mary and me the first winter that I was there. The story of the black and white huntsman made an impression on me that I shall never forget. His mind was so steeped in poetical literature that he could at any time complete any passage in Burns or Scott from memory. As for graver reading, there was Rees's Cyclopedia, in which I suppose he had read every article, and which was often taken down when I became old enough to ask questions, and passages pointed out in it for my reading.
"All these remembrances may explain why the lonely little white farmhouse under the hill was such a Paradise to us, and the sight of its chimneys after a day's ride was like a vision of Eden. In later years, returning there, I have been surprised to find that the hills around were so bleak and the land so barren; that the little stream near by had so few charms to uninitiated eyes. To us, every juniper-bush, every wild sweetbrier, every barren sandy hillside, every stony pasture, spoke of bright hours of love, when we were welcomed back to Nutplains as to our mother's heart."
During this first long visit after her mother's death Harriet distinguished herself by committing to memory a wonderful assortment of hymns, poems, and scriptural passages, which enabled her, possessed as she was of a very retentive mind, to use and quote these valuable adjuncts of her writings during her mature life. She was only five years old the following winter when she and Henry, hand in hand, walked every day to Ma'am Kilbourne's school. He was a chubby little fellow, and the weather appeared to make no difference to either of them. With the ability to read, Mrs. Stowe said, in after years, there seemed to germinate in herself the intense literary longing that belonged to her from that time. The desire for expression so early developed reminds us of her father in his great age, when he exclaimed, "I am sick, because I cannot reveal the feelings of my heart;" and again when he took up his rusty fiddle, thrummed the strings, played a note or two unsatisfied, and said, "If I could only play what I hear inside of me, I'd beat Paganini." In those days there were few books for children. Harriet used to go searching hungrily through barrels of old sermons and pamphlets stored in a corner of the garret, looking for something "good to read." It seemed to her there were thousands of the most unintelligible things. An appeal "on the unlawfulness of a man marrying his wife's sister" turned up as she investigated, "by twos, or threes, or dozens, till her soul despaired of finding an end. At last her patient search was rewarded, for at the very bottom of a barrel of musty sermons she discovered an ancient volume of 'The Arabian Nights.' With this her fortune was made, for in these most fascinating of fairy tales the imaginative child discovered a well-spring of joy that was all her own. When things went astray with her, when her brothers started off on long excursions, refusing to take her with them, or in any other childish sorrow, she had only to curl herself up in some snug corner and sail forth on her bit of enchanted carpet into fairyland to forget all her griefs."
In this way the nature of the child developed itself, as the leaf quietly breaks away from the sheath that bound it, -- as the fruit at last forms and ripens on the bough. She was not an easy child for the careful women of the household to deal with, but her father held her in his heart and watched her growth. Grandmother Foote, too, as we have seen, had her own ideas of Aunt Harriet's strict methods of government, and the dreaming child found shelter under her wing at Nutplains as well as in her father's study at Litchfield.
LIFE AT LITCHFIELD
TWO years after the death of his wife, Dr. Beecher married Miss Harriet Porter of Portland, Maine. He had the good fortune to meet this lady in Boston, whither he had gone to preach, and where she was visiting a married sister. Miss Porter belonged to the best society of the time. One of her brothers was first governor of the new State of Maine, one was twice appointed minister to Great Britain. Of herself it was said that "her facility, gracefulness, amenity, and dignity were proverbial, and were the same in all her relations. Her sense of rectitude, order, and propriety was exquisite." Mrs. Stowe describes the advent of the new mother: -
"I was about six years old, and slept in the nursery with my two younger brothers. We knew that father was gone away somewhere on a journey, and was expected home, and therefore the sound of a bustle or disturbance in the house more easily awoke us. We heard father's voice in the entry, and started up in our little beds, crying out as he entered our room, 'Why, here's pa!' A cheerful voice called out from behind him, 'And here's ma!'
"A beautiful lady, very fair, with bright blue eyes, and soft auburn hair bound round with a black velvet bandeau, came into the room smiling, eager, and happy-looking, and, coming up to our beds, kissed us, and told us that she loved little children, and that she would be our mother. We wanted forthwith to get up and be dressed, but she pacified us with the promise that we should find her in the morning.
"Never did stepmother make a prettier or sweeter impression. The next morning, I remember, we looked at her with awe. She seemed to us so fair, so delicate, so elegant, that we were almost afraid to go near her. We must have been rough, red-cheeked, hearty country children, honest, obedient, and bashful. She was peculiarly dainty and neat in all her ways and arrangements; and I remember I used to feel breezy, and rough, and rude in her presence. We felt a little in awe of her, as if she were a strange princess rather than our own mamma; but her voice was very sweet, her ways of moving and speaking very graceful, and she took us up in her lap and let us play with her beautiful hands, which seemed wonderful things, made of pearl, and ornamented with strange rings."
There is a letter from the second Mrs. Lyman Beecher describing each of the children of Roxana Foote. She characterizes every one with a discerning touch. Towards the last she says: "Harriet and Henry come next, and they are always hand in hand. They are as lovely children as I ever saw; amiable, affectionate, and very bright."
There is a fragment of a letter written two years later by one of the children, which gives a glimpse of the family:
"Mamma is well, and don't laugh any more than she used to. Catherine goes on just as she always did, making fun for everybody. George is as usual. Harriet makes just as many wry faces, is just as odd, and loves to be laughed at as much as ever. Henry does not improve much in talking, but speaks very thick. Charles is the most mischievous little fellow I ever knew. He seems to do it for the very love of it; he is punished and punished again, but it has no effect. He is the same honest little boy, and I love him dearly. Poor little Fred has been quite unwell, but has got better now; he grows more and more interesting every day. Now for the boarders. Miss M - is just as amiable and lovely as when you was here. Miss B -- loves fun still. Miss W - and L -- same as usual. Miss C -- the most obliging and useful of the family. To conclude, the old cat has got the consumption."
Henry Ward Beecher, in later life, described the effect upon his childish mind of the new mother: "My dear mother -- not one that gave me birth, for I do not remember to have ever seen her face, but she that brought me up, she that did the office-work of a mother, if ever a mother did; she that, according to her ability, performed to the uttermost her duties -- was a woman of profound veneration, rather than of a warm and loving nature. Therefore her prayer was invariably a prayer of deep yearning reverence. I remember well the impression which it made on me. There was a mystic influence about it. A sort of sympathetic hold it had upon me, but still I always felt when I went to prayer, as though I were going into a crypt, where the sun was not allowed to come; and I shrunk from it."
In these days of continual oversight of the education of children it is well to recall the long hours Harriet Beecher was allowed to pass in her father's study. We recognize the good to the developed man which comes from solitude and opportunity to make his own discoveries; what then shall we say of the value to a child, whose mind receives impressions like that of a sensitive plate, when allowed to range freely and seek the thing he loves.
"High above all the noise of the house," wrote Mrs. Stoee, "this room had to me the air of a refuge and a sanctuary. Its walls were set round from floor to ceiling with the friendly, quiet faces of books, and there stood my father's great writing-chair, on one arm of which lay open always his Cruden's Concordance and his Bible. Here I loved to retreat and niche myself down in a quiet corner with my favorite books around me. I had a kind of sheltered feeling as I thus sat and watched my father writing, turning to his books and speaking from time to time to himself, in a loud earnest whisper. I vaguely felt that he was about some holy and mysterious work quite beyond my little comprehension, and I was careful never to disturb him by question or remark.
"The books ranged around filled me, too, with a solemn awe. On the lower shelves were enormous folios, on whose backs I spelled in black letters, 'Lightfoot Opera,' a title whereat I wondered, considering the bulk of the volumes. Above these, grouped along in friendly social rows, were books of all sorts, sizes, and bindings, the titles of which I had read so often that I knew them by heart. There were 'Bell's Sermons,' 'Bonnett's Inquiries,' 'Bogue's Essays,' 'Toplady on Predestination,' 'Boston's Four-fold State,' 'Law's Serious Call,' and other works of that kind. These I looked over wistfully day after day, without even a hope of getting something interesting out of them. The thought that father could read and understand things like these filled me with a vague awe, and I wondered if I should ever be old enough to know what it was all about.
"But there was one of my father's books that proved a mine of wealth to me. It was a happy hour when he brought home and set up in his bookcase Cotton Mather's 'Magnalia,' in a new edition of two volumes. What wonderful stories those! Stories, too, about my own country. Stories that made me feel the very ground I trod on to be consecrated by some special dealing of God's providence."
About this time, somebody seems to have read aloud the Declaration of Independence. "I had never heard it before," wrote Mrs. Stowe, "and even now had but a vague idea of what was meant by some parts of it. Still I gathered enough from the recital of the abuses and injuries that had driven my nation to this course to feel myself swelling with indignation, and ready with all my little mind and strength to applaud the concluding passage, which Colonel Talmadge rendered with resounding majesty. I was as ready as any of them to pledge my life, fortune, and sacred honor for such a cause. The heroic element was strong in me, having come down by ordinary generation from a long line of Puritan ancestry, and just now it made me long to do something, I knew not what: to fight for my country, or to make some declaration on my own account."
When the little girl was ten or eleven years old, she went to the Litchfield Academy, where the teachers appear to have won her love and confidence. Mrs. Stowe says of this period, "Much of the training and inspiration of my early days consisted not in the things I was supposed to be studying, but in hearing, while seated unnoticed at my desk, the conversation of Mr. Brace with the older classes. There, from hour to hour, I listened with eager ears to historical criticisms and discussions, or to recitations in such works as 'Paley's Moral Philosophy,' 'Blair's Rhetoric,' 'Allison on Taste,' all full of most awakening suggestions to my thoughts.
"Mr. Brace exceeded all teachers I ever knew in the faculty of teaching composition. The constant excitement in which he kept the minds of his pupils, the wide and varied regions of thought into which he led them, formed a preparation for composition, the main requisite for which is to have something which one feels interested to say."
It was evidently one of Harriet's earliest joys at school to be allowed to write compositions. Her young soul was already overflowing with thought and feeling. She was only twelve years old when a school exhibition took place, whereat three of the best compositions were read aloud before "all the literati of Litchfield."
"When my turn came," said Mrs. Stowe in after years, "I noticed that father, who was sitting on high by Mr. Brace, brightened and looked interested, and at the close I heard him ask, 'Who wrote that composition?' 'Your daughter, sir,' was the answer. It was the proudest moment of my life. There was no mistaking father's face when he was pleased, and to have interested him was past all juvenile triumphs."
The subject, "Can the Immortality of the Soul be proved by the Light of Nature," was indeed an extraordinary one to be treated by a child of twelve years, but the manner of the treatment is that of undeveloped genius. Her arguments, drawn from history, from Addison, and other writers, show no mental indigestion. At the end she says: "Never till the blessed light of the Gospel dawned on the borders of the pit, and the heralds of the Cross proclaimed 'Peace on earth and good will to men,' was it that bewildered and misled man was enabled to trace his celestial origin and glorious destiny."
The winter of her eleventh year Harriet passed at Nutplains, where Catherine wrote to her in February: --
"I suppose you will be very glad to hear you have a little sister at home. We have no name for her yet.
"We all want you at home very much, but hope you are now where you will learn to stand and sit straight, and hear what people say to you, and sit still in your chair, and learn to sew and knit well, and be a good girl in every particular; and if you don't learn while you are with Aunt Harriet, I am afraid you never will."
The time had now come when Harriet was to leave Litchfield, not permanently at first, but as it proved, she was there very little after her twelfth year. She loved the place! it made an indelible impression on her mind, and in later life she says of it: --
"My earliest recollections of Litchfield are those of its beautiful scenery, which impressed and formed my mind long before I had words to give names to my emotions, or could analyze my mental processes. I remember standing often in the door of our house and looking over a distant horizon, where Mount Tom reared its round blue head against the sky, and the Great and Little Ponds, as they were called, gleamed out amid a steel-blue sea of distant pine groves. To the west of us rose a smooth-bosomed hill called Prospect Hill; and many a pensive, wondering hour have I sat at our play-room window, watching the glory of the wonderful sunsets that used to burn themselves out, amid voluminous wreathings, or castellated turrets of clouds, -- vaporous pageantry proper to a mountainous region.
"Litchfield sunsets were famous, because perhaps watched by more appreciative and intelligent eyes than the sunsets of other mountain towns around. The love and notice of nature was a custom and habit of the Litchfield people; and always of a summer evening the way to Prospect Hill was dotted with parties of strollers who went up thither to enjoy the evening.
"On the east of us lay another upland, called Chestnut Hills, whose sides were wooded with a rich growth of forest-trees; whose changes of tint and verdure, from the first misty tints of spring green, through the deepening hues of summer, into the rainbow glories of autumn, was a subject of constant remark and of pensive contemplation to us children. We heard them spoken of by older people, pointed out to visitors, and came to take pride in them as a sort of birthright.
"Seated on the rough granite flag-steps of the east front door with some favorite book, -- if by chance we could find such a treasure, -- the book often fell from the hand while the eyes wandered far off into those soft woody depths with endless longings and dreams, -- dreams of all those wild fruits, and flowers, and sylvan treasures which some Saturday afternoon's ramble had shown us lay sheltered in those enchanted depths. There were the crisp apples of the pink azalea, -- honeysuckle apples we called them; there were scarlet wintergreen berries; there were pink shell blossoms of trailing arbutus, and feathers of ground pine; there were blue, and white, and yellow violets, and crows-foot, and bloodroot, and wild anemone, and other quaint forest treasures.
"Between us and those woods lay the Bantam River, -- a small, clear rocky stream, pursuing its way through groves of pine and birch, now so shallow that we could easily ford it by stepping from stone to stone, and again, in spots, so deep and wide as to afford bathing and swimming room for the young men and boys of the place. Many and many a happy hour we wandered up and down its tangled, rocky, and ever-changing banks, or sat under a thick pine bower, on a great granite slab called Solitary Rock, round which the clear brown waters gurgled.
"At the north of the house the horizon was closed in with distant groves of chestnut and hickory, whose waving tops seemed to have mysteries of invitation and promise to our childhood. I had read, in a chance volume of Gesner's 'Idyls,' of tufted groves, where were altars to Apollo, and where white-robed shepherds played on ivory flutes, and shepherdesses brought garlands to hang round the shrines, and for a long time I nourished a shadowy impression that, could I get into those distant northern groves, some of these dreams would be realized. These fairy visions were, alas! all dissolved by an actual permission to make a Saturday afternoon's excursion in these very groves, which were found to be used as goose-pastures, and to be destitute of the flowery treasures of the Chestnut Hills forests.
"My father was fond of excursions with his boys into the forests about for fishing and hunting. At first I remember these only as something pertaining to father and the older boys, they being the rewards given for good conduct. I remember the regretful interest with which I watched their joyful preparations for departure. 'They were going to the Great Pond -- to Pine Island -- to that wonderful blue pine forest which I could just see on the horizon, and who knew what adventures they might meet! Then the house all day was so still; no tramping of laughing, wrestling boys, -- no singing and shouting; and perhaps only a long seam on a sheet to be oversewed as the sole means of beguiling the hours of absence. And then dark night would come down, and stars look out from the curtains, and innuendoes would be thrown out of children being sent to bed, and my heart world be rent with anguish at the idea of being sent off before the eventful expedition had reported itself. And then what joy to hear at a distance the tramp of feet, the shouts and laughs of older brothers; and what glad triumph when the successful party burst into the kitchen with long strings of perch, roach, pickerel, and bullheads, with waving blades of sweet-flag, and high heads of cat-tail, and pockets full of young wintergreen, of which a generous portion was bestowed always upon me. These were the trophies, to my eyes, brought from the land of enchantment. And then what cheerful hurrying and scurrying to and fro, and waving of lights, and what cleaning of fish in the back shed, and what calling for frying-pan and gridiron, over which father solemnly presided; for to his latest day he held the opinion that no feminine hand could broil or fry fish with that perfection of skill which belonged to himself alone, as king of woodcraft and woodland cookery.
"I was always safe against being sent to bed for a happy hour or two, and patronized with many a morsel of the supper which followed, as father and brothers were generally too flushed with victory to regard very strictly dull household rules.
"Somewhat later, I remember, were the expeditions for chestnuts and walnuts in the autumn, to which all we youngsters were taken. I remember the indiscriminate levy which on such occasions was made on every basket the house contained, which, in the anticipated certainty of a great harvest to bring home, were thought to be only too few. I recollect the dismay with which our second mother, the most ladylike and orderly of housekeepers, once contemplated the results of these proceedings in her well arranged linen-room, where the contents of stocking baskets, patch baskets, linen baskets, yarn baskets, and thread baskets were all pitched into a promiscuous heap by that omnipotent marauder, Mr. Beecher, who had accomplished all this confusion with the simple promise to bring the baskets home full of chestnuts.
"What fun it was, in those golden October days, when father dared William and Edward to climb higher than he could, and shake down the glossy chestnuts! To the very last of his life, he was food of narrating an exploit of his climbing a chestnut-tree that grew up fifty feet without branches slantwise over a precipice, and then I whirling himself over the abyss to beat down the chestnuts for the children below. 'That was a thing,' he said, 'that I wouldn't let any of the boys do.' And those chestnuts were had in everlasting remembrance. I verily believe that he valued himself more on some of these exploits than even his best sermons.
"My father was famous for his power of exciting family enthusiasm. Whenever he had a point to carry or work to be done, he would work the whole family up to a pitch of fervent zeal, in which the strength of each one seemed quadrupled. For instance: the wood of the family used to be brought in winter on sleds, and piled up in the yard, exactly over the spot where father wished in early spring to fix his cucumber and melon frames; for he always made it a point to have cucumbers as soon as Dr. Taylor, who lived in New haven, and had much warmer and drier land; and he did it by dint of contrivance and cucumber frames, as aforesaid. Of course, as all this wood was to be cut, split, and carried into the wood-house before an early garden could be started, it required a miracle of generalship to get it done, considering the immense quantity required in that climate to beep an old windy castle of a house comfortable. How the axes rung, and the chips flew, and the jokes and stories flew faster; and when all was cut and split, then came the great work of wheeling in and piling; and then I, sole little girl among so many boys, was sucked into the vortex of enthusiasm by father's well-pointed declaration that he 'wished Harriet was a boy, she would do more than any of them.'
"I remember putting on a little black coat which I thought looked more like the boys, casting needle and thread to the wind, and working almost like one possessed for a day and a half, till in the afternoon the wood was all in and piled, and the chips swept up. Then father tackled the horse into the cart, and proclaimed a grand fishing party down to Little Pond. And how we all floated among the lily-pads in our boat, christened 'The Yellow Perch,' and every one of us caught a string of fish, which we displayed in triumph on our return.
"There were several occasions in course of the yearly housekeeping requiring every land in the house, which would have lagged sadly had it not been for father's inspiring talent. One of these was the apple-cutting season, in the autumn, when a barrel of cider apple-sauce had to be made, which was to stand frozen in the milk-room and cut out from time to time in red glaciers, which, when duly thawed, supplied the table. The work was done in the kitchen, an immense brass kettle hanging over the deep fireplace, a bright fire blazing and snapping, and all hands, children and servants, employed on the full baskets of apples and quinces which stood around. I have the image of my father still as he sat working the apple-peeler. 'Come, George,' he said, 'I'll tell you what we'll do to make the evening go off. You and I'll take turns, and we'll see who'll tell the most out of Scott's novels;' for those were the days when the 'Tales of my Landlord' and 'Ivanhoe' had just appeared. And so they took them, novel by novel, reciting scenes and incidents, which kept the eyes of all the children wide open, and made the work go on without flagging.
"Occasionally he would raise a point of theology on some incident narrated, and ask the opinion of one of his boys, and run a sort of tilt with him, taking up the wrong side of the question for the sake of seeing how the youngster could practice his logic. If the party on the other side did not make a fair hit at him, however, he would stop and explain to him what he ought to have said. 'The argument lies so, my son; do that, and you'll trip me up.' Much of his teaching to his children was in this informal way.
"In regard to Scott's novels, it will be remembered that, at the time they came out, novel writing stood at so low an ebb that most serious-minded people regarded novel reading as an evil. Such a thing as a novel was not to be found in our house. And I well recollect the despairing and hungry glances with which I used to search through father's library, meeting only the same grim sentinels. There, to be sure, was 'Harmer on Solomon's Song,' which I read, and nearly got by heart, because it told about the same sort of things I had once read of in the 'Arabian Nights.' And there was the 'State of the Clergy during the French Revolution,' which had horrible stories in it stranger than fiction. Then there was a side-closet full of documents, a weltering ocean of pamphlets, in which I dug and toiled for hours to be repaid by disinterring a delicious morsel of a 'Don Quixote' that had once been a book, but was now lying in forty or fifty disjecta membra, amid Calls, Appeals, Sermons, Essays, Reviews, Replies, and Rejoinders. The turning up of such a fragment seemed like the rising of an enchanted island out of an ocean of mud.
"Great was the light and joy, therefore, when father spoke ex cathedra: 'George, you may read Scott's novels. I have always disapproved of novels as trash, but in these is real genius and real culture, and you may read them.' And we did read them; for in one summer we went through 'Ivanhoe' seven times, and were both of us able to recite many of its scenes, from beginning to end, verbatim.
"One of father's favorite resorts was Aunt Esther's room, about half a minute's walk from our house. How well I remember that room! a low-studded parlor, looking out on one side into a front yard shaded with great elm-trees; on the other, down a green hillside, under the branches of a thick apple-orchard. The floor was covered with a neat red and green carpet; the fireplace resplendent with the brightest of brass andirons, small hanging bookshelves over an old-fashioned mahogany bureau; a cushioned rocking chair; a neat cherry tea-table; and an old-fashioned looking-glass, with a few chairs, completed the inventory. I must not forget to say that a bed was turned up against the wall, and concealed in the daytime by a decorous fall of chintz drapery.
- - - - -
"Aunt Esther herself, with her sparkling hazel eyes, her keen, ready wit, and never-failing flow of anecdote and information, interested us even more than the best things she could produce from her closet. She had read on all subjects -- chemistry, philosophy, physiology, but especially on natural history, where her anecdotes were inexhaustible. If any child was confined to the house by sickness, her recounting powers were a wonderful solace. I once heard a little patient say, 'Only think! Aunt Esther has told me nineteen rat stories all in a string!' In fact we thought there was no question we could ask her that she could not answer.
"I remember once we said to her, 'Aunt Esther, how came you to know so much about every sort of thing?' 'Oh,' said she, 'you know the Bible says the works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. Now I happened to have pleasure therein, and so I sought them out.'
"It was here that father came to read her his sermons, or the articles that he was preparing for the 'Christian Spectator;' for he was a man who never could be satisfied to keep anything he wrote to himself. First he would read it to mother, and then he would say, 'I think now I'll go over and read it to Esther.'
"It was in Aunt Esther's room that I first found a stray volume of Lord Byron's poetry, which she gave me one afternoon to appease my craving for something to read. It was the 'Corsair.' I shall never forget how it astonished and electrified me, and how I kept calling to Aunt Esther to hear the wonderful things that I found in it, and to ask what they could mean. 'Aunt Esther, what does it mean -- "One I never loved enough to hate"?'
"'Oh, child, it's one of Byron's strong expressions.'
"I went home absorbed and wondering about Byron; and after that I listened to everything that father and mother said at the table about him. I remember hearing father relate the account of his separation from his wife; and one day, hearing him say, with a sorrowful countenance, as if announcing the death of some one very interesting to him, 'My dear, Byron is dead -- gone.' After being awhile silent, he said, 'Oh, I'm sorry that Byron is dead. I did hope he would live to do something for Christ. What a harp he might have swept!' The whole impression made upon me by the conversation was solemn and painful.
"I remember taking my basket for strawberries that afternoon, and going over to a strawberry field on Chestnut Hill. But I was too dispirited to do anything; so I lay down among the daisies, and looked up into the blue sky, and thought of that great eternity into which Byron had entered, and wondered how it might be with his soul.
"The next Sunday father preached a funeral sermon on this text: 'The name of the just is as brightness, but the memory of the wicked shall rot.' The main idea of the sermon was that goodness only is immortal, and that no degree of brilliancy and genius can redeem vice from perishing. He spoke of the different English classics, and said that the impurities of Sterne and Swift had already virtually consigned them almost to oblivion. Then after a brief sketch of Byron's career, and an estimate of his writings, he said that some things he had written would be as imperishable as brass; but that the impurities of other portions of his works, notwithstanding the beauty of the language, would in a few years sink them in oblivion. He closed with a most eloquent lamentation over the wasted life and misused powers of the great poet.
"I was eleven years old at the time, and did not generally understand father's sermons, but this I understood perfectly, and it has made an impression on me that has never been effaced.
"If it be recollected that the audience to whom he preached was largely composed of the students of the law school, sons of the first families from all parts of the Union, and graduates of the first colleges, and the pupils of the female school, also from the first families in all parts of the nation, and that the Byronic fever was then at its height among the young people, it will be seen how valuable may have been the moral discriminations and suggestions of such a sermon.
"Father often said, in after years, that he wished he could have seen Byron, and presented to his mind his views of religious truth. He thought if Byron 'could only have talked with Taylor and me, it might have got him out of his troubles;' for never did men have more utter and complete faith in the absolute verity and power of what they regarded as Gospel doctrine than my father and the ministers with whom he acted. And though he firmly believed in total depravity, yet practically he never seemed to realize that people were unbelievers for any other reason than for want of light, and that clear and able arguments would not at once put an end to skepticism.
"With all that was truly great among men he felt a kindred sympathy. Genius and heroism would move him even to tears. I recollect hearing him read aloud Milton's account of Satan's marshaling his forces of fallen angels after his expulsion from heaven. The description of Satan's courage and fortitude was read with such evident sympathy as quite enlisted me in his favor, and in the passage, --
'Millions of spirits, for his fault amerced
Of heaven, and from eternal splendors flung
For his revolt, yet faithful how they stood,
Their glory withered; as when heaven's fire
Hath scathed the forest oaks or mountain pines,
With singèd top, their stately growth, though bare,
Stands on the blasted heath. He now prepared
To speak; whereat their doubled ranks they bend
From wing to wing, and half inclose him round
With all his peers: attention held them mute.
Thrice he essayed, and thrice, in spite of scorn,
Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth,' --
On reaching this point father burst into tears himself, and the reading ended.
"He had always, perhaps on the same principle, an intense admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte, which he never cared to disguise. He was wont to say that he was a glorious fellow, and ought to have succeeded. The criticisms on his moral character, ambition, unscrupulousness, etc., he used to meet by comparing him with the Bourbons whom he supplanted, -- 'not a whit better morally, and imbecile to boot.' Of the two, he thought it better that a wise and able bad man should reign than a stupid and weak bad man. He never altogether liked Dr. Channing's article on Napoleon. 'Why rein his character up,' he said, 'by the strict rules of Christian perfection, when you never think of applying it to the character of any other ruler or general of the day?'
"The fact is, that his sympathy with genius was so intense, especially executive genius, that it created what might almost be called a personal affection toward the great leader, and with it was blent somewhat of the anxiety of the pastor, the habitual bishop of souls, for a gifted but erratic nature. His mind was greatly exercised about the condition of the emperor's soul, and he read every memoir emanating from St. Helena with the earnest desire of shaping out of those last conversations some hope for his eternal future.
"Father was very fond of music, and very susceptible to its influence; and one of the great eras of the family in my childish recollection, is the triumphant bringing home from New Haven a fine-toned upright piano, which a fortunate accident had brought within the range of a poor country minister's means. The ark of the covenant was not brought into the tabernacle with more gladness than this magical instrument into our abode.
- - - - -
"Father soon learned to accompany the piano with his violin in various psalm tunes and Scotch airs, and brothers Edward and William to perform their part on the flute. So we had often domestic concerts, which, if they did not attain to the height of artistic perfection, filled the house with gladness.
"One of my most decided impressions of the family as it was in my childish days was of a great household inspired by a spirit of cheerfulness and hilarity, and of my father, though pressed and driven with business, always lending an attentive ear to anything in the way of life and social fellowship. My oldest sister, whose life seemed a constant stream of mirthfulness, was his favorite and companion, and he was always more than indulgent toward her pranks and jokes."
In a letter to her son, written in 1886, speaking of this period of her life, Mrs. Stowe says: "Somewhere between my twelfth and thirteenth year I was placed under the care of my elder sister Catherine, in the school that she had just started in Hartford, Connecticut. When I entered the school there were not more than twenty-five scholars in it, but it afterwards numbered its pupils by the hundreds. The schoolroom was on Main Street, nearly opposite Christ Church, over Sheldon & Colton's harness store, at the sign of the two white horses. I never shall forget the pleasure and surprise which these two white horses produced in my mind when I first saw them. One of the young men who worked in the rear of the harness store had a most beautiful tenor voice, and it was my delight to hear him singing in school hours: --
'When in cold oblivion's shade
Beauty, wealth, and power are laid,
When, around the sculptured shrine,
Moss shall cling and ivy twine,
Where immortal spirits reign,
There shall we all meet again.'
"As my father's salary was inadequate to the wants of his large family, the expense of my board in Hartford was provided for by a species of exchange. Mr. Isaac D. Bull sent a daughter to Miss Pierce's seminary in Litchfield, and she boarded in my father's family in exchange for my board in her father's family. If my good, refined, neat, particular stepmother could have chosen, she could not have found a family more exactly suited to her desires. The very soul of neatness and order pervaded the whole establishment.
"The mother of the family gave me at once a child's place in her heart. A neat little hall chamber was allotted to me for my own, and a well made and kept single bed was given me, of which I took daily care with awful satisfaction. If I was sick nothing could exceed the watchful care and tender nursing of Mrs. Bull. In school my two most intimate friends were the leading scholars. They had written to me before I came and I had answered their letters, and on my arrival they gave me the warmest welcome. One was Catherine Ledyard Cogswell, daughter of the leading and best-loved of Hartford physicians. The other was Georgiana May, daughter of a most lovely Christian woman who was a widow.
- - - - -
"Catherine and Georgiana were reading Virgil when I came to the school. I began the study of Latin alone, and at the end of the first year made a translation of Ovid in verse, which was read at the final exhibition of the school, and regarded, I believe, as a very creditable performance. I was very much interested in poetry, and it was my dream to be a poet. I began a drama called 'Cleon.' The scene was laid in the court and time of the emperor Nero, and Cleon was a Greek lord residing at Nero's court, who, after much searching and doubting, at last comes to the knowledge of Christianity."
For a girl of her age this drama is indeed remarkable. The little books in which the fragments of the play were written are now before me, and I can seem to see the young girl exciting herself over the scenes as they appeared to her imagination. The following extracts will give a hint of her growing power. The play is prefaced by a map of the ground around Olympia, drawn by her own hand. She indicates the situation of the city, the temple of Jupiter, the sacred olive-tree, whence victors were crowned, the way of the processions, the treasurer's house, the Hippodrome, the seats of the judges, Alphæus River, and much beside.
The drama opens in a street of Rome.
Enter LENTULUS, LUCULLUS, and others.
Lentulus. And so you missed the banquet -- 't is a pity!
You would have seen a new sight in those days.
Lucullus. Why -- was 't uncommon?
Len. Jupiter, that it was! why, this same Cleon,
He is a perfect prince in entertainments.
. . . . .
Such show of plates and cups both gold and silver,
Such flaming rainbows of all colored stones,
Such wine, such music . . . .
Luc. And so the emperor himself was there.
. . . . .
He takes to this young lord with special favor.
. . . . .
We shall live twice as fast while he is here.
Len. By Bacchus then we shall be lived to death.
I'm almost out of breath with living now.
. . . . .
Luc. Cleon seeks pleasure with a ravening thirst.
. . . . .
Diversion is his labor and he works
With hand and foot and soul both night and day
He throws out money with so flush a hand
As makes e'en Nero's waste seem parsimony
. . . . . .
SCENE. Cleon's house. .4n apartment splendidly furnished. Cleon reclining on a couch.
Slave. My lord, an aged man doth wait to see you.
Cleon. Well, have him up. [Exit Slave.
In nature's name what now!
Cleon. Ha! may I trust my eyes, Diagoras!
Dia. I am Diagoras if thou art Cleon.
Cleon. Why then thou art, but wherefore eye me so?
Sit down and contemplate me at your leisure.
Dia. Thou dolt not seem the same that once I knew.
Cleon. Why, that's the truth -- for since that time, good sire
Nature hath made me present of ten years,
And much bath been rubbed off or out of me
In the rough jostle of this worthy world.
. . . . .
I pray you to sit down.
Dia. There is no seat.
Cleon. Why, thou halt lost thy eyes, good sire, I think;
Thou'st a fair choice between some thirty couches,
Phrygian and Græcian and of every name.
Dia. Oh, then these beds adorned with pearls and gold
Are made to sit on. Pray you pardon me;
I am a simple man, used to plain things.
Cleon. Ah, I divine thou art displeased, good master.
As it is there is no choice between two evils:
Either to rest thy philosophic feet
Upon this most profanely glittering floor
Which as thou seest is all inlaid with gems,
Or rest thyself on these aforesaid beds.
Nay, I but jested; look not sad, good father,
Thou knowest Cleon's reckless tongue of old;
I do assure thee of a hearty welcome.
And pray you sit that I may see thee longer.
[Seats him on a couch.
Dia. But I am sad for what I see and hear.
I hear thou art the common talk for waste,
And that in riot and loose luxury
Thou dost outstrip even these degenerate days.
. . . . .
And thou companion of the very scum,
The very dross and dregs of all mankind;
Cleon. Which is the Emperor!
Dia. Be that as it may, such is the tale of thee;
Which I discredited until I carne
To look upon thee with my personal eyes;
And I have questioned much . . .
Is this the Athenian Cleon? Is this he
Who drank philosophy and worshiped virtue?
This he who triumphed in the Olympic race
Followed by wondering eyes? . . .
Rememberest thou the glory of those days?
. . . . .
Cleon. Good master! I am even as you see,
A most degenerate and apostate thing
Convicted utterly . . . .
Dia. But canst thou tamely sink into a brute?
Cleon. 'T is but anticipating transmigration.
And then, if ever I am called to that
I shall behave the more respectably
For having practiced somewhat in this world.
. . . . .
Dia. I do not wish to hear thy mockery.
. . . . .
Oh, could thy noble brother from the dead
Look up, how would his high-born spirit burn
To see thee groveling in this filthy sty.
Cleon [much moved].
'T is well! 'T is well! Thou shouldst have spoke of him
My brother . . .
You find me, it is true, embedded here,
Sunk as you say in this luxurious slough.
. . . . .
Would that there were no vestige of high hopes,
No ghosts of happier moments to return,
. . . . .
No need to labor in such desperate case.
It is my curse that I have had all things.
. . . . .
The things that satisfy the common crowd
I have possessed and desperately striven
To bend my soul to satisfaction with them.
. . . . .
And what said Cleon? Steady as Heaven
He answered with a decorous majesty
Declaring in so many words his purpose,
And willing to abide whate'er should come.
Why, Nero could have stood a fiery answer,
But this severe composure madded him.
. . . . .
His face grew livid and he stamped his foot
And bade the slaves bring in the torture.
The worst of us were scarce prepared for that.
. . . . .
SCENE: CLEON, NERO.
Cleon, weak and faint, led in by two soldiers.
Nero. Sit down, Lord Cleon.
Cleon. I can stand.
Nero. My lord, we have bethought us since last night,
Regretting much that reverence for the gods
By thee attacked so fired our mind with zeal
As to outstep the limits of our mercy.
We would that gentler measures had been tried
Or thine avowal in less open day,
Less in the very teeth of our commands.
. . . . .
Cleon. Grieve not, my liege, for you have scarcely
Nero. There have been few frequenters of our court
On whom our eye bath borne such kind regard.
Thyself doth know how we have chosen thee
To be the prime companion of our revels,
From which hath grown a friendship of whose strength
We knew not till of late; for when last night,
The fumes of wine dispelled and ourselves cool,
Our very heart was shaken with remorse.
. . . . .
Nero will ask thee pardon of his wrong;
Thy friend and not thy prince behold in him.
Cleon. My sovereign, Cleon hath no way complained.
Nero. But here, my lord, our mind is much perplexed.
We lave forbid and interdict this faith
As what we have good cause to know is ill,
Infecting men with pestilential fumes,
Transforming them to haters of the Gods.
. . . . .
We would give tolerance to the freest thought
Wert not that we have lately given to justice
The sect and faith which thou canst not embrace
Save 'gainst our face -- against our very laws.
. . . . .
We are thy friend and not disposed to hear
That which might chafe us to severity,
Of which the gods do know we've had enough.
. . . . .
My lord, we cannot think that you will hold it.
We are persuaded of your better reason
To be a follower of a crazy Jew.
Cleon [starting up].
I could sit still to hear myself reviled,
But not my sovereign . . . .
I will not hold the right of drawing breath
Nero. These are most decorous fruits of holy faith!
. . . . .
Cleon. I stand rebuked, my lord, both before thee
And Him who is thy King no less than mine,
For whose sake I would reverence all forms.
Nero. Thou art resolved to trespass on forbearance,
Yet we will still forbear and seek to conquer
By mildness more than force. . . .
Since this name moves you, we will say no more.
What need we say. Suppose you be a Christian,
Why need all nature know it; be you quiet,
You shall have private tolerance; hold your peace
And worship what you will out of my sight.
. . . . .
Cleon. But then, if I am questioned of my faith?
Nero. Art thou so versed in smooth decoying phrase
. . . . .
And cannot turn off blank enquiry?
. . . . .
But we can put you in a post of honor
So that all men shall wink upon thy will.
. . . . .
Cleon. My lord, I scarce can trust myself to answer,
. . . . .
Since I have heard such degradation named.
In place of open bold apostasy,
. . . . .
Thou dost propose an hourly, daily lie.
. . . . .
It is my settled purpose while I live
To leave no word or argument untried
To win all men to reverence Him.
"I filled blank book after blank book," Mrs. Stowe says, "with this drama. It filled my thoughts sleeping and waking. One day sister Catherine pounced down upon me, and said that I must not waste my time writing poetry, but discipline my mind by the study of Butler's 'Analogy.' So after this I wrote out abstracts from the 'Analogy,' and instructed a class of girls as old as myself, being compelled to master each chapter just ahead of the class I was teaching. About this time I read Baxter's 'Saint's Rest.' I do not think any book affected me more powerfully. As I walked the pavements I used to wish that they might sink beneath me if only I might find myself in heaven. I was at the same time very much interested in Butler's 'Analogy,' for Mr. Brace used to lecture on such themes when I was at Miss Pierce's school at Litchfield. I also began the study of French and Italian with a Miss Degan, who was born in Italy.
"It was about this time that I first believed myself to be a Christian. I was spending my summer vacation at home, in Litchfield. I shall ever remember that dewy, fresh summer morning. I knew that it was a sacramental Sunday, and thought with sadness that when all the good people should take the sacrificial bread and wine I should be left out. I tried hard to feel my sins and count them up; but what with the birds, the daisies, and the brooks that rippled by the way, it was impossible. I came into church quite dissatisfied with myself, and as I looked upon the pure white cloth, the snowy bread and shining cups of the communion table, thought with a sigh: 'There won't be anything for me to-day; it is all for these grown-up Christians.' Nevertheless, when father began to speak, I was drawn to listen by a certain pathetic earnestness in his voice. Most of father's sermons were as unintelligible to me as if he had spoken in Choctaw. But sometimes he preached what he was accustomed to call a 'frame sermon; ' that is, a sermon that sprung out of the deep feeling of the occasion, and which consequently could be neither premeditated nor repeated. His text was taken from the Gospel of John, the declaration of Jesus: 'Behold, I call you no longer servants, but friends.' His theme was Jesus as a soul friend offered to every human being.
"Forgetting all his hair-splitting distinctions and dialectic subtleties, he spoke in direct, simple, and tender language of the great love of Christ and his care for the soul. He pictured Him as patient with our errors, compassionate with our weaknesses, and sympathetic for our sorrows. He went on to say how He was ever near us, enlightening our ignorance, guiding our wanderings, comforting our sorrows with a love unwearied by faults, unchilled by ingratitude, till at last He should present us faultless before the throne of his glory with exceeding joy.
"I sat intent and absorbed. Oh! how much I needed just such a friend, I thought to myself. Then the awful fact came over me that I had never had any conviction of my sins, and consequently could not come to Him. I longed to cry out 'I will,' when father made his passionate appeal, 'Come, then, and trust your soul to this faithful friend.' Like a flash it came over me that if I needed conviction of sin, He was able to give me even this also. I would trust Him for the whole. My whole soul was illumined with joy, and as I left the church to walk home, it seemed to me as if Nature herself were hushing her breath to hear the music of heaven.
"As soon as father came home and was seated in his study, I went up to him and fell in his arms, saying, 'Father, I have given myself to Jesus, and He has taken me.' I never shall forget the expression of his face as he looked down into my earnest, childish eyes; it was so sweet, so gentle, and like sunlight breaking out upon a landscape. 'Is it so?' he said, holding me silently to his heart, as I felt the hot tears fall on my head. 'Then has a new flower blossomed in the kingdom this day.'"
If she could have been let alone, her son says in his valuable compilation of Mrs. Stowe's Letters and Journals, and taught "to look up and not down, forward and not back, out and not in," this religious experience might have gone on as sweetly and naturally as the opening of a flower in the gentle rays of the sun. But unfortunately this was not possible at that time, when self-examination was carried to an extreme that was calculated to drive a nervous and sensitive mind well-nigh distracted. First, even her sister Catherine was afraid that there might be something wrong in the case of a lamb that had come into the fold without being first chased all over the lot by the shepherd; great stress being laid, in those days, on what was called "being under conviction." Then also the pastor of the First Church in Hartford, a bosom friend of Dr. Beecher, looked with melancholy and suspicious eyes on this unusual and doubtful path to heaven, -- but more of this hereafter. Harriet's conversion took place in the summer of 1825, when she was fourteen, and the following year, April, 1826, Dr. Beecher resigned his pastorate in Litchfield to accept a call to the Hanover Street Church, in Boston. In a letter to her grandmother Foote at Guilford, dated Hartford, March 4, Harriet writes: --
"You have probably heard that our home in Litchfield is broken up. Papa has received a call to Boston, and concluded to accept, because he could not support his family in Litchfield. He was dismissed last week Tuesday, and will be here (Hartford) next Tuesday with mamma and Isabel. Aunt Esther will take Charles and Thomas to her house for the present. Papa's salary is to be $2,000 and $500 settlement.
"I attend school constantly and am making some progress in my studies. I devote most of my attention to Latin and to arithmetic, and hope soon to prepare myself to assist Catherine in the school."
This breaking up of the Litchfield home led Harriet, under her father's advice, to seek to connect herself with the First Church of Hartford. Accordingly, accompanied by two of her school friends, she went one day to the pastor's study to consult with him concerning the contemplated step. The good man listened attentively to the child's simple and modest statement of Christian experience, and then with an awful, though kindly solemnity of speech and manner said, "Harriet, do you feel that if the universe should be destroyed (awful pause) you could be happy with God alone?" After struggling in vain, in her mental bewilderment, to fix in her mind some definite conception of the meaning of the sounds which fell on her ear like the measured strokes of a bell, the child of fourteen stammered out, "Yes, sir."
"You realize, I trust," continued the doctor, "in some measure at least, the deceitfulness of your heart, and that in punishment for your sins God might justly leave you to make yourself as miserable as you have made yourself sinful?"
"Yes, sir," again stammered Harriet.
Having thus effectually, and to his own satisfaction, fixed the child's attention on the morbid and over-sensitive workings of her own heart, the good and truly kind-hearted man dismissed her with a fatherly benediction. But where was the joyous ecstasy of that beautiful Sabbath morning of a year ago? Where was that heavenly friend? Yet was not this as it should be, and might not God leave her "to make herself as miserable as she had made herself sinful"?
In a letter addressed to her brother Edward, about this time, she writes: "My whole life is one continued struggle: I do nothing right. I yield to temptation almost as soon as it assails me. My deepest feelings are very evanescent. I am beset behind and before, and my sins take away all my happiness. But that which most constantly besets me is pride, -- I can trace almost all my sins back to it."
At this period the influence of her sister Catherine, the eldest of Dr. Beecher's children, may be clearly seen.
Miss Beecher was a woman of singular and original power, and from her earliest years exercised strong sway over the excitable poetic nature of this younger sister. Her own character had been strengthened by much sorrow. At the age of twenty-two, having become engaged to Professor Fisher of Yale College, her lover was lost at sea, the ship which was to have borne him to England being wrecked on the Irish coast.
"Without this incident," writes the Rev. C. E. Stowe, "'The Minister's Wooing' never would have been written, for both Mrs. Marvyn's terrible soul struggles and old Candace's direct and effective solution of all religious difficulties find their origin in this stranded, storm-beaten ship on the coast of Ireland, and the terrible mental conflicts through which her sister afterward passed, for she believed Professor Fisher eternally lost. No mind more directly and powerfully influenced Harriet's than that of her sister Catherine, unless it was her brother Edward's, and that which acted with such overwhelming power on the strong, unyielding mind of the older sister must have, in time, a permanent and abiding influence on the mind of the younger."
Catherine's bravery was only equalled by her family affection; she lent herself to her younger sister's interests with peculiar zeal, and took her into the school she had founded, where as pupil and teacher Harriet passed the early years of her young womanhood.
Works of Annie Fields