previous next

Literary men and women of Somerville. (Continued.)

By David Lee Maulsby.
associated with Mrs. Bacon in the editorship of the Ladies' Repository was Nancy Thorning Munroe, who had indeed begun to contribute to its pages at the age of sixteen. She served as one of the two assistant editors during the term of her sister-in-law's leadership. Mrs. Munroe also contributed to the Rose of Sharon. One of her contributions (1856) has peculiar local interest, since it relates to the people who lived on Prospect Hill near her residence. The yellow house with high steps on Walnut street, fronting Aldersey—a house built by her husband—is where Mrs. Munroe lived for many years. In ‘Our Model Neighborhood,’ after discussing what makes good and bad neighbors, the author says of her own environment: ‘And now, when I would fain describe it, my heart begins to falter. It is not large, though not from any spirit of exclusiveness, be it understood. It is peculiar in many things, and one is this: the children in this model neighborhood never have any trouble. And as the children play together without any trouble, so the parents and older members of the neighborhood live peaceably and quietly. They all have kindly feelings toward each other. If one has good fortune, others rejoice with him and congratulate him. They are like members of one large family; they are so nearly connected that what is a joy to one must be a joy to another, and what is grief to one must be grief to all.’ Some interesting prose and verse appears from Mrs. Munroe's pen in the [26] Juvenile Annual called The Rainbow, published 1850. One of these contributions is a story about ‘The Old Pound’ of Somerville, a place where stray animals were locked up until redeemed by the owners. Toward the latter part of her life, Mrs. Munroe kept a greenhouse, and used her flowers as suggestions for dialogues of animated nature, called ‘Talks in My Home.’

Mrs. Munroe is described as a brunette of vivacious manner. When she entered a company, she displayed cheerfulness and smiles. Her sense of humor is revealed in an incident connected with the early history of Tufts College. President Ballou, in need of a set of Scott for the college library, sent a humorous rhymed epistle to Mrs. Munroe, who, after gaining the coopera-tion of the women of the Cross-street Universalist Church, sent him the books desired, accompanied by a rhymed humorous reply.

The first canto of this reply, which is in metre an imitation of Scott's ‘Marmion,’ describes the receipt of the president's request, and the anxiety resulting therefrom—

A curse within our college walls,
     A voice from Walnut Hill here calls,
Sir Walter is not there!
     And all the great, the good, the true,
Whose names are known the wide earth throa,
     Are up in arms; their fearful ire
Doth shake the walls with curses dire,
     And poison all the air.

After the favorable response of her co-workers,

Calm was the matron's sleep that night,
Hushed were her fears, her bosom light,
And, as she slept, a vision bright
Filled all the ambient air.

The vision presented Sir Walter with his train of characters, in varied picturesqueness, filing upon College Hill, where they were reviewed by the now satisfied ‘Dominie.’ [27]

Mrs. Munroe was born in what is now Somerville, married a Somerville man, who, with her, was active in founding the Cross-street Church, and died at her home on Walnut street in 1883, aged sixty-three years.

The Rose of Sharon of 1856, containing the prose just quoted, was edited by Mrs. Caroline M. Sawyer. Mrs. Sawyer was a resident of Somerville from 1869 until her death in 1894. During this period she lived at Tufts College, where her husband, Dr. T. J. Sawyer, was connected with the Divinity School-from 1882 as its dean. An interesting genealogical fact is that, five generations back, one Thomas Foxcroft had two sons, who married, respectively, two daughters of John Coney, a goldsmith of Boston, and the man who taught Paul Revere his trade. From one of these marriages descended Phillips Brooks; from the other, Caroline M. Fisher, who became Mrs. Sawyer.

During her long life Mrs. Sawyer was busy in literary activity, contributing prose and verse to the secular and the religious press, and editing in turn the youth's department of the Christian Messenger, the Rose of Sharon, and the Ladies' Repository, in the last office immediately succeeding Mrs. Bacon. In later years she translated Herder's ‘Leaves of Antiquity,’ and wrote many poems, some of which remain unpublished. A ‘Memoir of Mrs. Julia H. Scott’ attests long friendship with a fellow worker.

The verse written by Mrs. Sawyer, not to speak of numerous poetical translations, comprises pieces of a personal character, and those more objective in their suggestion. To the latter class belongs a stanza written on the occasion of raising the Stars and Stripes on the Lincoln schoolhouse of Somerville. This may properly be quoted, in view of its local associations:—

The Flag of our country, the Flag of the free,
The fairest unfurled o'er the land or the sea,
We give thy proud folds to the breeze, while we raise
The cheer to thy glory, the song to thy praise,
For we love thee and know that, wherever unfurled,
The Stars and the Stripes are the hope of the world.


One of the best of Mrs. Sawyer's poems, of this same impersonal sort, is the stanza of fourteen lines that appears in some of its manuscript versions as ‘Milton Sleeping.’ It is said that the incident here described did actually occur to the great Puritan poet—

In a cool glade the Bard Divine lay sleeping;
His young face beautiful with grace and power;
When, through the bosky reach of leaf and flower,
Came, with her maiden-guard, a fair dame weeping.
Startled, she paused, drew near, her soft eyes keeping
Fixed on the Bard's sweet face till, in her breast,
Her young heart melted, and she knelt and prest
A light kiss on his lips, he still a-sleeping.
At this sight grave and startled looks went round
Among the maids, as if they said, “Can this, Our high-born lady, thus a stranger kiss?

But she rose proudly, with reply profound,
“I did but greet a seraph who keeps wait, With song celestial, at a mortal gate.

It is hard to resist the impression that the poem called ‘A Love Song,’ although it is not manifestly personal, yet belongs to that pilgrimage of more than sixty years which the writer and her husband were privileged to make in company. One who saw her with him, going home from church, it might be, Sunday after Sunday, cannot shake off the impression of a long life journey, affectionately traveled together. The third stanza of the poem runs as follows:—

I know there are sorrows and tears, love,
     There is night as well as day,
But the sorrows will fade and the tears will dry,
     If Love's hand wipe them away.
Then come and be mine, my darling,
     And whatever our future bring,
Whatever the storm that may round us beat,
     In our hearts 't will be always Spring.


Of the poems manifestly personal, many deal with the losses of life. A religious note is heard in these. For example, the lost little children are remembered in ‘Doubting and Blessing’:—

I sit beside the window, gazing after-
     The little feet
That come and go, 'mid bursts of merry laughter,
     Along the street.

But soon, along the winding highway dying,
     The voices pass;
I hear, instead, the low wind faintly sighing
     Among the grass.

So years ago—Oh, years how long and weary!
     Out from my day
Others as young, as laughing, bright, and cheery,
     Vanished away.

Alas! no children were they of the stranger-
     Like these, unknown;
By life's supremest agony and danger
     They were my own!

I gave them birth; my yearning heart kept saying,
     'Mid joyful tears,
How they will love me, every pain repaying,
     In coming years.

I fondly watched their growth in strength and beauty
     From day to day;
I gently led them in the path of duty
     A little way;

And then they left me!-did I say forever?
     O, untrue word!
Will they not be mine own again, where never
     Farewells are heard?


Again, the mother lingers, not altogether with pain, upon the memory of the daughter that left her at life's noon. Years afterward she writes:—

My tryst was held beside your bed—
     A radiant shawl of India's loom,
That seemed to brighten all the room,
     A loving hand had o'er you spread;

The sunset through the casement streamed,
     And lay upon your placid face,
Still wearing all its living grace,
     And smile that almost living seemed,

And children shyly came to fill
     Your hands with morning-glories fair,
Low whispering, as they smoothed your hair,
     “Our dearest is so very still!”

No strange, cold dread their bosoms knew
     To overawe the love which led
Their little feet to climb your bed,
     That they might closer come to you!

Dear scene! It lives before me yet!
     Alas for them whose memories keep
Of their beloved when they sleep
     No picture they would ne'er forget!

One other extract may be given, to show the essentially religious tendency of Mrs. Sawyer's mind. Toward the close of her life, the retrospect seemed to her to detect too little harvested in the fields of God. Yet will the reaper not despair.

The night draws near, and I have not compassed
     The task by the Gracious Master set;
Ever and ever by incompleteness
     My efforts all have been sore beset.

[31] The hands grew weary that fain had labored,
     Nor asked for rest till their stent was done,
Till now, scarce heeded, their work is lying
     Unfinished at nearly the set of sun.

The brain I trusted has lost its cunning,
     And when I look for its wonted aid,
The answer comes in a voice unready,
     That leaves me doubting and sore afraid,

I sought the field in the early morning,
     When life was gladsome and hope was high,
And I said, “I will work with a hand unwearied, And gather a harvest by and by.

But the days and the years in swift succession,
     While I was waiting, by me passed;
And when I looked for a golden harvest,
     I found but a dreary waste at last!

Maybe some gleanings may still be waiting
     For me to cull, ere Thy call shall come,
So empty-handed I need not enter,
     Shame-faced and weeping, the gates of home!

It will not be long,—the Messenger cometh;
     Step by step He is drawing near;
I listen, and seem through the dusky gloaming
     Of the Land of Shadows a Voice to hear!

When It calls my name, I will gladly follow,
     Nor fear in the darkness to lose my way;
For Thou, O Master! wilt walk beside me,
     And lead me safety to endless day!

An impression left after one has read much more than can here be quoted is that Mrs. Sawyer, in her most impressionable years, had felt, in connection with many others, that great wave of Romantic tendency that swept about the globe in the days of Byron and Wordsworth. Her poems, notably one called [32] ‘Viola,’ show unmistakable traces of this tendency. Add to this her strong natural affections, and her faithful acceptance of the reality of what is unseen and eternal, and an outline of her poetic thought is indicated. As a wife and mother, she was in her rightful kingdom; as a Christian, despair was upheld by faith; as a writer, her home life and her spiritual experience combined in a natural expression of herself.

[To be continued.]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Sharon (Massachusetts, United States) (3)
Puritan (Ohio, United States) (1)
College Hill (Massachusetts, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1856 AD (2)
1894 AD (1)
1883 AD (1)
1882 AD (1)
1869 AD (1)
1850 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: