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Lydia Maria Child.

by Anna D. Hallowell.
few reputations survive the almost universal mortality of a hundred years. Whenever, or wherever, this exception occurs our curiosity is challenged to inquire what elements of character triumphed over the limitations of time, what traits were a part of immortal life. Almost a century has elapsed since a little girl was born in the village of Medford, on Feb. 1, 1802, and duly christened by Dr. Osgood, minister over the First, and only, Church,—Lydia Maria Francis. The substantial brick house in which she opened her eyes was built and owned by her father, David Francis, and is now occupied by the Medford Historical Society.

Richard Francis was the first of the name to come to America. He died in 1686 or 1687, aged eighty-six years, ‘or thereabouts,’ according to his gravestone in West Cambridge, now Arlington.

The next knowledge of the family is of Mrs. Child's grandfather, Richard Francis, a weaver by trade. He was an ardent ‘Liberty man,’ an excellent marksman, and is reported to have killed five redcoats at the Concord fight. He served four years in the war of the Revolution, and afterwards resumed his trade, which was a good one, no cloth being imported at that time. His wife was Lydia Converse, an orphan, brought up by her uncle, Dr. Converse, of Woburn. Their home is supposed to have been in Menotomy, the old Indian name of West Cambridge, adjoining the estate of Peter C. Brooks in Medford. Their son, David, was born [p. 96] there, and remained there for several years after his marriage to Susannah Rand, of Charlestown. Then in 1800 they removed to Medford, to the brick house already mentioned. He was a baker by trade, known far and wide by his ‘crackers’ and gingerbread. The ‘crackers’ were stamped ‘Medford,’ and were exported to England in large quantities. He retired from business at the age of fifty, with a fortune of $50,000, equal to a million now.

His boyhood had been passed in the stern realities following the seven years war of the Revolution, and his wife, Susannah Rand, was one of a family who were driven from their home in Charlestown by the flames of the battle of Bunker Hill, with almost entire loss of property. As a result of this early time of heroism and endurance, their daughter Maria inherited a sturdy constitution with that spirit of independence and enthusiasm for human liberty which distinguished her in after years. Fine animal spirits, delight in living, tireless activity and energy, were a part of her abounding health. She said of herself that she was ‘born before nerves came into fashion.’ She was the youngest of five children, bright, impulsive, warm-hearted, and self-willed. It is much to be regretted that so few incidents of this remarkable child can be collected.

The first school she attended was the ‘dame school,’ kept by ‘Marm Betty,’ an ancient spinster of Medford, the envied possessor of some ‘flowered bed curtains’ of fine needlework, the wonder of all beholders. She was a great tea-drinker, and on one occasion was deeply mortified because Governor Brooks found her drinking from the spout of her teapot. Tradition also asserts that she sometimes invited favorite scholars to take a cup of tea with her in her little back room, after the labors of studying the ‘three R.'s’ in the front room. After this school it is supposed that Lydia attended the ‘Academy,’ kept by Dr. Hosmer.

When she was twelve years old her mother died, a [p. 97] calamity which was followed in about a year by the marriage of her elder sister Mary, on whom had fallen the duties of mother and housekeeper, and to whom she was warmly attached. Mary was eight years older than Maria, a well-poised character, and of rare judgment. The child was inconsolable, refused to be present at the wedding ceremony, and, taking her kitten for a sympathetic companion, disappeared up the side lane until all was over.

This dear sister's home was in the beautiful valley of the Kennebec, in the ‘District of Maine,’ a cruel distance in the slow stage-coach days of 1814, and the household left behind in Medford felt the separation keenly. Maria was left to the companionship of her always busy father, who wrote to a friend that he was ‘alarmed at her increasing fondness for books.’ This taste was fostered by her elder brother Converse, then a student at Harvard. Through him she had access to books beyond her entire comprehension, but all the more attractive to her imagination. It is easy to understand that David Francis should find it wise, after two or three years of school in Medford, to send this precocious daughter to Maine, to be under the care of her judicious sister, whose husband, the Hon. Warren Preston, was a lawyer of standing in Norridgewock, the shire town of Somerset county. The ‘Kennebec region,’ as it was called, was largely settled by members of cultivated Massachusetts families, graduates of Harvard and other universities, and professional men seeking new fields of occupation and interest. The court convened in Norridgewock. This brought judges and lawyers with their families to the town, from various parts of the State, and formed a centre of intelligence and refinement, in which Judge Preston's home was prominent. These new associations, combined with the freshness and vigor of the climate, the majestic forests and rivers, far beyond anything the young girl had ever seen before, could not fail to stimulate a temperament of such enthusiasm as hers. [p. 98]

Soon after going to Norridgewock, when she was fifteen years old, she wrote to her brother Converse:

‘I have been busily engaged in reading Paradise lost. Homer hurried me along with rapid impetuosity; every passion that he portrayed, I felt. I loved, hated, and resented, just as he inspired me. But when I read Milton I felt elevated above this diurnal sphere. I could but admire such astonishing grandeur of description, such heavenly sublimity of style.’

One cannot help wondering how many girls of fifteen at the present time read Homer and Milton with such understanding, or express their appreciation so eloquently. In a letter three months later she wrote: ‘Much as I admire Milton, I must confess that Homer is a greater favorite with me.’

Two years after, when she was seventeen, she gave the following account of her reading to her brother:

‘I usually spend an hour after I retire for the night in reading Gibbon's Roman Empire. I have likewise been reading Shakespeare, and I have been looking over the Spectator. I do not think Addison so good a writer as Johnson, though a more polished one. Indeed, Johnson is my favorite among all his contemporaries.’

While this remarkable selection of books for daily reading gives us insight into Maria's intellectual growth and training, we have evidence also of the way in which her sister, Mrs. Preston, attended to the development of her domestic accomplishments, in a piece of her handiwork lately presented to the Medford Historical Society,—an infant's gown, of quaintest pattern, embroidered in an elaborate pattern, with seams, gathers, and hems exquisitely sewed, all the work of her own hands, while she was in her teens. She was also taught to take part in the daily duties of her sister's household, as became a young lady of that primitive time.

Meantime, during these few years that she spent in Maine, her father had removed from Medford to Dorchester, and her brother Converse had been settled over [p. 99] the First Church in Watertown. She joined him in his new home, and there found the stimulating society and associations which presently bore fruit in active intellectual work. In 1824, when she was only twenty-three, her first novel, ‘Hobomok,’ was published, and her reputation as a writer was established. Its success was so great that she soon published another called ‘The Rebels; a Tale of the Revolution,’ which, like its predecessor, ran through several editions and brought showers of praise on its youthful writer. In a confidential letter to her sister, she said:

Praises and invitations have poured in upon me, beyond my utmost hopes. . . . “I should think more highly of the talent of the woman who could write ‘Hobomok,’” Mr. H. says, “than of any other American woman who has ever written, though to be sure it has its faults.” --“ Say nothing of its faults,” urges the editor of The North American; “they are the faults of genius, and the beauties weigh them down.” The Misses Osgood hold up their hands, and exclaim, “prodigious, prodigious!” I mention these things to you because you want to hear all the talk that is passing.

General Warren was the hero of ‘The Rebels.’ It was received with the same favor that ‘Hobomok’ had called forth, but some of the Calvinists took umbrage at the allusions to Dr. Byles. Of this she wrote to her sister:

‘The Calvinists, you know, have a fist always doubled up for a combat. They expect to find the Thirty-Nine Articles supported as manfully in a modern novel as in Dr. Griffin's sermon. I do not think it worth while to battle with them or their doctrines. As mankind advance in the steady march of free and rational principles their absurd tenets will die away, together with image worship, pilgrimages to Mecca, and holy alliances. Indeed, their present extraordinary zeal is but the convulsive spasm of approaching dissolution.’ [p. 100]

In 1825 she again wrote to her sister: ‘Evenings in New England has been out several weeks, and meets with much more unqualified approbation than Hobomok.’ This book was a charming memorial of Lafayette's visit to this country. She had witnessed his triumphal entrance into Boston, and the overwhelming enthusiasm on Beacon street when the attempt was made to take out the horses and draw his barouche by hand. This was more than the noble patriot could bear. He rose from his seat, with gestures of deprecation, while tears rolled down his cheeks. Afterwards, at the reception given him by the governor, Maria received from him a kiss on her hand, which she declared should ‘never be washed off.’ At this time ‘the brilliant Miss Francis’ was one of the lions of Boston. She was invited everywhere. Mr. Ticknor, an aristocrat of the first water (spoken of by some as the ‘Croesus of Boston,’), would write first to her before inviting other guests, declaring that he desired no one if she could not make one of the company. We can readily believe that the presence of a young lady of such wit and vivacity, fearless, and enjoying to the full her own success, should be coveted on all social occasions. She was attractive in appearance also, but even then, in the height of youthful charms, could not be called beautiful. It was her friend and schoolmate, the preeminent Emily Marshall, who alone deserved and graced the title of ‘The Beautiful.’

On Aug. 28, 1826, she wrote ‘You have no idea how busy I am. Besides my other work I have engaged to edit a book for children, ninety pages once in two months, and all original matter. Two publishers made the request to me, and I refused, but some Boston ladies finally persuaded me into it.’ The ‘Juvenile Miscellany’ proved to be one of the best periodicals of its kind. Only a few years ago one of the most scholarly men of our time declared in glowing terms his obligations to its healthful influence, and another, a prominent [p. 101] writer, said he owed his literary style to a familiarity with its admirable English. Some parts of it were republished in 1844 and 1845, with additions, in two small books, called the ‘Flowers for Children.’ They are the best books for little children that I have ever known. The stories are short, direct, wholesome, and admirably told. Unfortunately they are now out of print. The ‘Juvenile Miscellany’ began with a subscription list of eight hundred and fifty, a large number in these days, and, we are told with pride, ‘continued to increase.’

It was in this year, 1826, that Alexander painted Maria's portrait, which she sent to her sister, Mrs. Preston, writing, ‘I hope you will like it. There is a glow and enthusiasm about it which belongs to the author of “Hobomok,” rather than to L. M. Francis.’1

Another letter, about this time, also to her sister, with whom she maintained an intimate and confidential correspondence, spoke thus of her literary reputation and social success: ‘The “Miscellany” is very kindly received. It seems as if the public was resolved to give me a flourish of trumpets, let me write what I will. If I were not vain, I should be a prodigy. Indeed, I have been too much caressed of late by a flattering world. Valuable gifts, jewels, beautiful dresses pour in upon me, invitations beyond acceptance, admiring letters from all parts of the country. The world seldom smiled so graciously on one so little worthy of its notice.’

It certainly is safe to say that rarely has a young author, altogether unheralded, without social distinction, personal beauty, or wealth, been so overwhelmed with admiration and devotion, and it is remarkable that her head was not completely turned, and that she was only ‘a little vain,’ and that when the summons came to relinquish these plaudits of a smiling world for the sake [p. 102] of principle, she found herself not unfitted for the heroic sacrifice. But the time had not yet come, nor even shown itself as a cloud on the shining horizon. She was still the petted darling of the intellectual and fashionable society of Cambridge and Boston. In order to perfect herself in French, she passed the winter of 1826 in the family of Madam Canda, the famous French teacher, saying, ‘I decided to board in the family in order to hold my English tongue.’ Here she made some delightful friendships, among them that of Emily Marshall, the celebrated historic beauty of Boston. To her latest day, Mrs. Child never mentioned her without emotion.

During all this season of adulation and popularity, a quiet influence had been at work, of which the success was still unsuspected. It is revealed in the following extracts from her journal:

‘Dec. 2, 1824. Mr. Child dined with us at Watertown. He possesses the rich fund of an intelligent traveller without the slightest tinge of a traveller's vanity.’

And a month later:

‘Jan. 26, 1825. Saw Mr. Child at Mr. Curtis's. He is the most gallant man that has lived since the 16th century, and needs nothing but a helmet, shield, and chain armor to make him a complete knight of chivalry.’

And again:

‘May 3, 1825. One among the many delightful evenings spent with Mr. Child. I do not know which to admire most, the vigor of his understanding or the ready sparkle of his wit.’

In her letters are many expressions of a strong determination never to marry—‘Nature never intended me for anything but single life, and I am not going to quarrel with her plans.’ It goes without saying that opportunities calculated to shake this conviction were not wanting; one, in particular, seemed ideal, and might [p. 103] have spared her impulsive genius many of the ‘whips and scorns of Time.’ But who can tell?

On Oct. 28, 1827, she wrote to her sister: ‘I blush that I should have been absolutely engaged more than a month, without having found a moment to tell you of the important news. Mr. Child's extreme devotion and my own excess of happiness must form my excuse for this negligence. Indeed, my dear sister, I am happy, happy, happy, beyond my own imagination.’ This event did not meet with the cordial approbation of her friends and family. Mr. David Lee Child was a most accomplished scholar and refined gentleman, of unquestioned integrity and moral worth, had travelled extensively in Europe, was familiar with ancient and modern languages, was courtly in his manners; but with all these desirable qualities was one most undesirable—a genius for experiments, without counting the cost. He was a lawyer in Boston, and a member of the Legislature, but gave up his profession to edit the ‘Massachusetts Journal,’ soon after their marriage, which took place in Watertown, at eight o'clock Sunday evening, Oct. 19, 1828.

Maria's letter to her sister, concerning the preparations for this event, is characteristic of herself and of the simple living of that day. She had a comfortable income from her books (we wish we could know just how much the word ‘comfortable’ meant, but no clue to the amount is given), and devoted a share of it to the renting and furnishing of a small house in Harvard street, in Boston. She spoke of her new home as ‘a proper little martin box, furnished with very plain gentility,’ and thus went on to describe her wedding-presents: ‘A pretty butter knife and cream ladle,—a study lamp,—from Mrs. Thaxter a jar of pickles [Mrs. Thaxter was the mother of Levi Thaxter, the Browning scholar.]—Mrs. White sent me a keg of tongues [Mrs. White was the mother of Maria White, James Russell Lowell's first wife.]—Mrs. Tyler Bigelow, a pair of [p. 104] plated candlesticks,—Emily Marshall, a pair of stellar lamps, and Mary M., polished steel snuffers on a plated tray. My mantua-maker has been here a week. I have a claret-colored silk pelisse, lined with straw-colored silk, made in the extent of the mode, enough to make anybody stare; one black figured levantine silk, and one swiss muslin. My wedding gown is India muslin, a good deal trimmed with white satin. Clarissa Bigelow is to be bridesmaid, and I have bought 35 lbs. of cake of Nichols.’

The ‘proper little martin box’ was situated on Harvard street, but they soon removed to Cottage place, a small street leading out of Washington street, on the neck, beyond Dover. It may be that it is one of several quaint wooden houses still standing, sufficiently attractive even now in their tenement-house decadence, and suggestive of the time when they commanded a view of Dorchester and Brookline over the water. To the years spent in this house, Mrs. Child afterwards referred as the happiest in her life.

Not long after their marriage a Spanish pirate ship was captured, and brought to Boston. The men were charged with most cruel crimes and were threatened with summary punishment. David Lee Child offered his services in their behalf and urged a fair trial. Mrs. Child believed in their innocence and warmly espoused their cause, to the length of travelling all the way to Washington by stage-coach in the depth of winter, to intercede for them with President Jackson. In this interview she employed all her eloquence, and at last cast herself on her knees before him, begging for their lives, without avail; she could not move him. His only reply was, ‘By the Eternal, let them hang!’ But, according to Mr. Wendell Phillips, the efforts of Mr.Child and Mrs. Child secured the miserable men a trial according to law.

During all this time Mrs. Child's pen was never idle. In the interval between her marriage in 1828, and that [p. 105] turning-point in her career, the writing of her famous pamphlet on slavery, in 1833, entitled ‘An Appeal in Behalf of that Class of Americans called Africans,’ she published nine books:

‘The First Settlers of New England.’

‘The Frugal Housewife.’

‘The Mother's Book.’

‘The Girl's Own Book.’

‘The Coronal,’ and

‘The Ladies' Family Library,’ in 4 vols., a series of admirable short biographies.

The ‘Mother's Book’ ran through eight American editions, twelve English, and one German. The ‘Frugal Housewife,’ which achieved twenty-five editions, embodied the practical housekeeping of the first quarter of the century, and largely regulated that of the second quarter. It is most entertaining as well as useful reading. Mrs. Child was then one of the most popular writers in the United States. Publishers eagerly accepted her manuscripts, and paid her well. The highest literary authority in the country, the ‘North American Review,’ declared that no woman could outrank her. The Boston Athenaeum went so far, to honor her, as to present her with the freedom of the library. Every door, literary and social, was open to her. But the hour had come when principle was to contend with popularity and ambition.

The Anti-Slavery agitation was coming to the front. Mr. Child had been interested in the question for several years, and had become a member of the New England Society. In 1832 he had addressed a series of able letters on slavery and the slave trade to Edward S. Abdy, a prominent English philanthropist, his outspoken hostility to the ‘peculiar institution’ seriously affecting his profession. In 1833 the American Anti-Slavery Society was formed by a convention in Philadelphia, and soon after, Mrs. Child published the famous book [p. 106] already alluded to, ‘The Appeal in Behalf of that Class of Americans called Africans.’ In the preface to it she says: ‘I am fully aware of the unpopularity of the task I have undertaken, but though I expect ridicule and censure, I cannot fear them. A few years hence the opinion of the world will be a matter in which I have not even the most transient interest; but this book will be abroad on its mission of humanity long after the hand that wrote it is mingling with the dust. Should it be the means of advancing even one single hour the inevitable progress of truth and justice, I would not exchange the consciousness for all Rothschild's wealth or Sir Walter's fame.’

John G. Whittier, in his preface to Mrs. Child's ‘Letters,’ published in 1883, wrote, concerning this appeal: ‘It is quite impossible for any one of the present generation to imagine the popular surprise and indignation which this book called forth, or how entirely its author cut herself off from the favor and sympathy of a large number of those who had delighted to do her honor. Social and literary circles closed their doors to her.2 The sale of her books, the subscriptions to her magazine fell off to a ruinous extent. Thenceforth her life was a battle, a constant rowing against the stream of popular prejudice and hatred. And through it all she bore herself with patience, fortitude, and unshaken reliance upon the justice and ultimate triumph of the cause she had espoused. Whenever there was a brave word to be spoken, her voice was heard, and never in vain.’

In a letter written to the Rev. Samuel J. May in 1867, Mrs. Child refers as follows to the change in her circumstances made by the publication of the ‘Appeal’: ‘With regard to society I was a gainer decidedly, for though the respectables, who had condescended to patronize me, forthwith sent me to Coventry, AntiSlav-ery introduced me to the noblest and best in the land, intellectually and morally, and knit us together in that [p. 107] firm friendship which grows out of sympathy in a good but unpopular cause. I was quite surprised one day, some time before this, by a note from the trustees of the Boston Athenaeum, offering me the use of the library, the same as if I owned a share. About the time of this unexpected attention from the trustees, Mr. Garrison came to Boston and I had a talk with him. Consequently, the first use I made of my Athenaeum privilege was to take out some books on that subject (slavery), with a view to writing my “Appeal.” A few weeks after the “Appeal” was published, I received another note from the trustees, informing me that at a recent meeting they had passed a vote to take away my privilege, lest it should prove an inconvenient precedent!’

Of the influence that Mr. Garrison had exerted upon her, Mrs. Child wrote in 1879, a year before her death, ‘It is wonderful how one mortal may affect the destiny of a multitude. I remember distinctly the first time I saw Garrison. I little thought then that the whole pattern of my life web would be changed by that introduction. I was then all absorbed in poetry and painting, soaring aloft on Psyche wings into the ethereal regions of mysticism. He got hold of the strings of my conscience and pulled me into reforms. It is of no use to imagine what might have been if I had never met him. Old dreams vanished, old associates departed, and all things became new. But the new surroundings were all alive, and they brought a moral discipline worth ten times the sacrifice they cost.’

Mrs. Child never posed as a martyr; indeed, she never posed at all, but was straightforward to a fault, as her directness sometimes got her into trouble with those that did not understand it. She said of herself: ‘I don't like conventional fetters. There have been many attempts to saddle and bridle me and teach me to keep step in respectable processions, but they have never got the lasso over my neck yet.’

The following verses are supposed to have been [p. 108] written during the season of reproach and privation which resulted from her brave ‘Appeal’:

Few in the days of early youth
Trusted like me in love and truth.
I've learned sad lessons with the years,
But slowly, and with many tears.
For God made me to kindly view
The world that I am passing through.

Though kindness and forbearance, long
Must meet ingratitude and wrong,
I still would bless my fellow-men
And trust them, though deceived again.
God keep me still to kindly view
The world that I am passing through.

From all that fate has brought to me
I strive to learn humility;
And trust in Him who rules above
Whose universal law is love.
Thus only can I kindly view
The world that I am passing through.

When I approach the setting sun
And feel my journey well-nigh done,
May earth be veiled in genial light
And her last smile to me seem bright.
Help me till then to kindly view
The world that I am passing through.

In 1836 Mrs. Child published ‘Philothea,’ a Greek romance in the time of Phidias, Plato, Anaxagoras, Pericles, Alcibiades, and Aspasia. It was pronounced the crowning achievement of her intellectual efforts, and was received with something of the enthusiasm that had greeted her early novels. Everybody read it, every library contained a copy. It is one of the pathetic reverses of the whirligig of time, that these same copies are now dusty and unread, completely out of favor with modern sensational taste. The classical allusions in which it abounds are carefully explained in an admirable appendix, which closes with a passage as [p. 109] frank as the heart of the writer: ‘If there be errors in the application of Greek names and phrases my excuse must be an entire want of knowledge in the classic languages. But, like the ignoramus in the old drama, I can boast “though I speak no Greek, I love the sound on't.” ’

Between ‘Philothea’ in 1836 and the ‘Letters from New York’ in 1843 and 1845, there were several publications of less importance, besides numberless contributions to the Anti-Slavery cause in newspapers and magazines. Meantime, Mr. Child visited England and France, whence he returned full of the idea of manufacturing beet sugar, and with this end in view they removed to Northampton, where they bought a suitable farm, and established what would now be called a plant. It cost a great deal of money, principally of Mrs. Child's earnings, and proved an entire failure. Mrs. Child's letters from Northampton do not sound very happy. One begins: ‘If I were to choose my home, I certainly would not place it in the valley of the Connecticut. It is true the river is broad and clear, the hills majestic, and the whole aspect of outward nature most lovely. But oh! the narrowness, the bigotry of man!’

We can glean from other extracts some idea of the hardships of her daily life, a life of actual hard work, made endurable by the perennial vigor of her cheerful disposition, the sustaining power of her love for the beautiful in nature and in art, and a vivid religious sentiment.

This is noticeable in the following letter to her brother Converse: ‘I am ashamed to say how deeply I am charmed with sculpture. I have a little plaster cast of a caryatid which acts upon my spirit like a magician's spell. Many a time this hard summer I have laid down dishcloth or broom, and gone to refresh my spirit by gazing on it a few minutes. It speaks to me. In summer I place flowers before it, and now I have laid a garland of acorns and amaranth at its feet.’ [p. 110]

In another: ‘A month elapsed after I came here before I stepped into the woods which were all around me blooming with wild flowers. I did not go to Mr. Dwight's ordination, nor yet have I been to meeting. He has been to see me, however, and though I left my work in the midst and sat down with a dirty gown and hands somewhat grimed, we were high in the blue in fifteen minutes. I promised to take a flight with him from the wash-tub or dish-kettle any time he would come along with his balloon.’


You are right, my dear brother, to attribute such freshness as I have to a vivid religious sentiment. If I can in quietness and peace forego my own pleasure and relinquish my own tastes, I seem to those who live in shadows to be cooking food or mixing medicines, but I am in fact making divine works of art which will reveal to me their fair proportions in the far eternity. Another means of keeping my soul fresh is my intense love of Nature. Another help, perhaps stronger than either of the two, is domestic love.

The only house on our farm is a sort of shanty with two rooms and a garret. We expect to whitewash it, build a new woodshed, and live there the next year. I shall keep no help, and there will be room enough for David and me. I intend to half bury it in flowers. I have obtained a hyacinth bean, which I value because it grew around my door in Cottage place, where I spent the happiest years of my life.

Here let me quote a little from that admirable biography, Mrs. Leslie's ‘Recollections of my Mother’:

Mrs. Lyman had the greatest affection for David Lee Child and his gifted wife. But she was often much tried with the amount of time, hard labor, and money which Mr. Child expended on schemes that never succeeded, and with his going from one failure to another with unbounded enthusiasm. At one time it was the “morus multicaulis”, at another it was beet sugar. For years he toiled upon a farm that was a worthless [p. 111] swamp when he bought it, and made a hundred blades of grass grow where one grew before, but at an awful expense of bone and sinew, of life and health and money, and much anxiety to his dear, devoted wife, whom he loved sincerely and fully believed he would make rich.’

Mrs. Lyman once asked Mrs. Child what her husband was busy at then; to which Mrs. Child replied that he was ‘carting stones for the new railroad.’ ‘Indeed,’ said Mrs. Lyman; ‘well, how much do you suppose your husband loses on every load of stone that he carts?’ Mrs. Child answered cheerily, ‘As nearly as I can compute it, Mrs. Lyman, he must lose about ten cents on every load.’

‘Oh—well now,’ said Mrs. Lyman, ‘if he has got hold of anything by which he loses only ten cents a load, do encourage him in it!’

Mrs. Child's ready sense of humor probably prevented a very natural resentment at her friend's brusque wit, for her only reply was an amused smile.

The intention to live in the ‘shanty’ on the farm was never fulfilled. Mrs. Child was called to New York to edit the ‘Anti-Slavery Standard.’ In her first impression of this new work she wrote: ‘My task here is irksome to me. It was not zeal for the cause, but love for my husband, which brought me hither. But since it was necessary for me to leave home to be earning somewhat, I am thankful that my work is for the Anti-Slavery cause. I have agreed to stay one year. I hope I shall then be able to return to my husband and rural home, which is humble enough, yet very satisfactory to me. I trust this weary separation from my husband is not to last more than a year. If I must be away from him, I could not be more happily situated than in Friend Hopper's family.’

‘Friend Hopper,’ as she called him, according to the custom among friends in addressing a person older than yourself, was Isaac T. Hopper, whose remarkable [p. 112] life she afterwards wrote. Whittier calls this one of the most readable biographies in English literature. During her stay in New York, which continued, contrary to all expectation, until 1849 or 1850, she wrote a series of letters to the ‘Boston Courier,’ edited by Joseph Buckingham, which were published later in book form, as ‘Letters from New York, First and Second Part.’ She began also her great work, ‘The Progress of Religious Ideas through Successive Ages.’ This was published in 1855. About this time James Russell Lowell admirably portrayed Mrs. Child in his ‘Fable for Critics.’ He evidently admired her greatly.

In 1849 she left New York and joined her husband in West Newton, but soon after they went to Wayland to live with Mrs. Child's father, the aged David Francis. In this house they spent the rest of their lives, with an occasional winter in Medford with their friends, the Misses Osgood, or in Boston, either boarding or visiting other friends. Those of us who were privileged to see the home in Wayland will never forget it. The house was an unpretentious country house of one story and attic, set a little back from the public road, and separated from it by a charming old-fashioned flower garden, the delight of Mrs. Child. The interior was simple and attractive, with evidences of studied economy. To the mere looker — on the inmates seemed shut in from the world, but in reality they kept in touch with its best interests. Never was a more striking instance of plain living and high thinking. One of Mrs. Child's fancies was to hang prisms in the windows to trap the rainbow colors. She desired to have cheerful colors, cheerful pictures, and cheerful faces about her. Cheerfulness was part of her every-day religion. She turned her face resolutely to the better side of things. In a letter to a friend, she said of herself: ‘The world is so full of sadness that I more and more make it a point to avoid all sadness that does not come within the sphere of my duty. I read only “chipper” books. I hang [p. 113] prisms in the windows to fill the rooms with rainbows. I gaze at all the bright pictures in the shop windows. I cultivate the gayest flowers. I seek cheerfulness in every possible way.’

Her aged and invalid father lingered with them until December, 1856, when death released him. She felt the loss keenly. ‘The occupation of my life seems gone. I cannot settle down to work. Always when I came back from Boston there was a bright firelight in his room for me, and his hand was eagerly stretched out, and the old face lighted up as he said, “You're welcome back, Maria”.’ After his death it was only David and Maria until 1874, and then, until 1880, only Maria.

A friend who had ample opportunity to know the home life of Mr.Child and Mrs. Child said of it: ‘Their domestic life seemed to me perfect.’ Their sympathies, their admiration of all things good, and their hearty hatred of all things mean and evil, were in entire unison. Mr. Child shared his wife's enthusiasm, and was very proud of her. In all her undertakings he gave her that sympathetic support which makes work so easy. He lived among his books, but was never too busy to dig up the garden, chop wood, or do any domestic service to save her trouble. They kept no help. In Mrs. Child's letters there are many allusions to her husband's tender thoughtfulness. One of these is as follows: ‘How melancholy I felt when you went off in the stage in the morning darkness. It almost made me cry to see how carefully you had arranged everything for my comfort before you left; so much kindling wood cut up, and the bricks piled to protect my flowers.’ In such ways, their affection, never paraded, was always manifest. After Mr. Child's death, Mrs. Child said, in speaking of a future life: ‘I believe it would be of small value to me, if I were not united to him.’ In this connection, let me quote a few lines from some reminiscences of her husband, found among her papers, and published in the preface to her ‘Letters.’ [p. 114]

‘In 1852 we made a humble home in Wayland, Mass., where we spent twenty-two pleasant years entirely alone, without any domestic, mutually serving each other, and dependent upon each other for intellectual companionship. I always depended on his richlystored mind, which was able and ready to furnish needed information on any subject. . . . But what I remember with the most tender gratitude is his uniform patience and forbearance with my faults. He never would see anything but the right side of my character. He always insisted upon thinking that whatever I said was the wisest and the wittiest, and that whatever I did was the best. The simplest little jeu d'esprit of mine seemed to him wonderfully witty. Once, when he said, “I wish for your sake, dear, I were as rich as Croesus,” I answered, “You are Croesus, for you are king of Lydia.” How often he used to quote that! His mind was unclouded to the last. He had a passion for philology, and only eight hours before he passed away, he was searching out the derivation of a word.’ He died in 1874, a little over eighty years old.

It is pleasant and profitable to dwell on the domestic side of an intellectual woman, known to the world chiefly by her writings and her interest in public reforms. She was no Borriaboolagah sentimentalist, busied with the needs of remote barbarians; her field was close at home, among the sick and needy of her own neighborhood. A firm believer in the reform then called ‘Woman's Rights,’ whose supporters were supposed to be disdainful of home life and its duties, she was yet an admirable housekeeper of the most practical kind, and author of the standard cook-book of the day. She carried her belief in the cause of temperance to the extent of reclaiming a wretched neighbor from the degradation of drunkenness, and steadily supported his efforts to withstand the horrible temptation. She delighted in music, particularly the violin, and sought every opportunity to hear it, when she was staying in [p. 115] Medford or Boston. Her love for the beautiful was a marked characteristic, and, as she often said, a great help to her in some of the trying experiences of her varied life. With all these traits, she was naturally very impetuous, and impatient of hindrances. She liked to have her own way, and was full of prejudices, which were most difficult to uproot, when once they had started. But these were only the balancing faults of a strong nature, the shadows that brought out the lights. Her friends can all echo the words of Wendell Phillips: ‘A dear lovable woman, welcome at sick bedsides, as much in place there as in facing an angry nation, contented in the home she had made, a loyal friend, a wise counsellor, one who made your troubles hers. She was the kind of woman one would choose to represent woman's entrance into broader life.’ We must not pass over her being a hearty hater, as well as a most loyal friend; and one more prominent trait must be mentioned: she was a royal giver of her time, her sympathy, and her money. She practised the most rigid economy, to the smallest particular, in dress and manner of life; used an envelope twice, inside as well as out, and never wrote on a whole sheet of paper when half a sheet would answer; but she saved with one hand to give away with the other. Her one luxury was to give, and in this she exercised no self denial. She once offered Mr. Phillips $100 for the freedmen, in a particular emergency, and he deprecated her giving so large an amount. ‘Well,’ said she, ‘I'll think it over.’ The next day she wrote, ‘Wendell, make it $200!’ Another time she wrote him, ‘I have $400 to my credit at my publishers, for my book “Looking toward Sunset;” please get it and give it to the freedmen.’

My personal acquaintance with Mr.Child and Mrs. Child began a little before this, in the troubled times just before the Civil war, and just after what was called the ‘John Brown raid.’ Mr.Child and Mrs. Child spent that winter of 1859 and 1860 in Medford, with their friend [p. 116] Miss Lucy Osgood, and we met them frequently. It was an anxious winter. Abolitionists were hated, ostracized, and mobbed. Wendell Phillips went to and from his lectures surrounded by a body-guard of young men, self appointed to protect him from the violence which was constantly threatened and sometimes attempted. Even sedate, conservative Medford shared in the disturbance. On one memorable occasion one of the few abolitionists in the town, warmly seconded by Mrs. Child, arranged to hold an Anti-Slavery meeting in the Town Hall, with Miss Sally Holly as speaker. This was said to be the first meeting of the kind ever called in Medford. It aroused such excitement, such threats of violence (even to the tarring and feathering of the gentleman in charge3), that the Selectmen feared a mob, and gave orders that the Hall should not be opened. It apparently did not occur to them that free speech could be defended more wisely than suppressed. The appointed evening came, bitter cold, with heavy snow on the ground. When we drove down to the meeting, the square was a surging mass of men, the steps to the Hall were packed solid, and the doors were closed! The crowd talked angrily, but no violence was done. Several of Mr. Phillips' ‘body-guard,’ having heard of the excitement, were on hand in case of need, and stood about the sleigh while Miss Holly rose and made a brief address. Then she and her friends withdrew to Mrs. Child's parlor, and held a lively indignation meeting there.

If time and space permitted, I should like to quote many passages from Mrs. Child's later letters, telling of her varied activities and interests, but I must sum up briefly the amount of intellectual work she accomplished during her life in Wayland, passing by the amazing record of sewing done for Kansas, and the freedmen, with only one instance: the making at one [p. 117] time of sixty yards of cloth into garments, in eight days, with the help of a neighbor and her children.

How she found time, between 1850 and 1880, to do her own housework, to visit, to read, to sew, to garden, and to write thirteen books, is beyond an ordinary comprehension. Thirteen books, including,

‘The Progress of Religious Ideas,’ in 3 vols.; the famous ‘Correspondence with Governor Wise of Virginia,’ at the time of John Brown's execution at Harper's Ferry; ‘The Freedman's Book;’ ‘A Romance of the Republic;’ ‘Looking toward Sunset;’ and, only two years before her death, ‘Aspirations of the World.’

Her death occurred quite unexpectedly on the morning of the twentieth of October, 1880. She had been as well as usual, and had been making plans for the winter, when suddenly she complained of a severe pain, and before help could be summoned, passed gently away, in the seventy-ninth year of her age. A few friends from Medford drove up to her funeral on the beautiful October day, and listened to the inspired words of Wendell Phillips, as he stood by his old friend, with his hand on her coffin, and told us, as only he could, of the struggles and the triumphs which had built the noble character he described. Then, led by the whitehaired undertaker, the small procession slowly walked to the burying-ground near by, and as we stood there, in reverent silence, a magnificent rainbow spanned the eastern sky.

Inscription on the stone at Mrs. Child's Grave in Wayland.

Lydia Maria Child
born Feb. 11, 1802
died Oct. 20, 1880

You call us dead
We are not dead
We are truly living now.

1 This portrait, a life-size oil painting, is now in the possession of the Medford Historical Society, the gift of Mrs. Preston's family.

2 Mr. Ticknor passed her by on the street without seeing her.

3 Richard P. Hallowell, who received anonymous letters to that effect.

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