The Autobiography and Other Memorials of Mrs Gilbert, Formerly Ann Taylor,
by Ann Taylor (1782-1866), edited by Josiah Gilbert.
Henry S. King & Co. 65 Cornhill, London, 1874.
Volume I and Volume II.
Engraved by J. C. Armytage.
FROM A PAINTING BY THEIR FATHER.
Published by Henry S. King & Co. 65 Cornhill, London.
AUTHOR OF "CADORE;OR, TITIAN'S COUNTRY," ETC., AND JOINT-AUTHOR
OF "THE DOLOMITE MOUNTAINS."
" Life, I repeat, is energy of Love,
All rights reserved.
"Lord, what is Life?–if spent with Thee
HYMNS FOR INFANT MINDS.
ANN TAYLOR was young when she penned the above stanza. She little thought that she was writing her epitaph. It was not a short, but a long life that was destined for her; and when at the age of eighty-five she was laid in her grave, they who knew her best, thought no words could be more fitting for a final memorial than those in which she had summed up life as "duty, praise, and prayer."
To present a true picture of such a life to the reader is the object of the following pages. It was duty as she believed, though of an ordinary sort, that withdrew Ann Taylor from the literary career that brought others of her family into note; and while it will be due to [Page vi] her memory to point out the large share she had in works long before the public, and to rescue wise and thoughtful words upon many topics from the oblivion of manuscript, the chief justification of this memoir is sought in the life it portrays–a life very active, very useful, and, despite inevitable sorrows, very happy.
The Autobiography with which the work opens, passes to some extent over the same ground as the memoir of Jane Taylor by her brother; but as a personal narrative of an almost unique family life, it is told very differently, and with large additions. It was addressed, it will be seen, to her children, and some discursiveness has been corrected, but its character of "Domestic Recollections" should be borne in mind. Yet the quaint personages, with their no less quaint surroundings, which appear in its pages,–the quiet English places, half town, half village, where they lived, reproduce the old Puritan life–homely, frugal, studious, which is perhaps only known to most of us through the art of the novelist; and it may be interesting to compare the real with the ideal picture. A later phase of Nonconformity, also, is displayed in the other portion of the work.
The Autobiography ceases early, but it is believed that the loss will be compensated by the brightness and freshness of the extracts from correspondence, of which the [Page vii] rest is mainly composed. A few selections, poetical and other, taken from a mass of material, as illustrative of character or circumstance, complete the portrait of a clear and active mind, and show the outlook of their author upon great questions, both of this day and of every day.
MARDEN ASH, May 1, 1874.
TO enable the reader to follow with more advantage the "Domestic Recollections" of my mother, I will extract from some notes upon the family history, drawn up by my mother's father, a few particulars, of which, had they been at hand, she would probably have availed herself. They illustrate the formation of hereditary tastes, and account for the adoption of certain family names.
Her grandfather, the first Isaac Taylor, was the son of a brassfounder at Worcester, and while learning his father's business, early showed a talent for Engraving. Upon the death of his father, who in some way had fallen into poverty, the young Isaac came to London, giving half-a-crown for leave to walk by the side of the stage waggon. In London he first entered the cutlery works of Josiah Jefferys, then employing sixty or seventy men in his business, and who afterwards retired to Shenfield, in Essex, where he died. A Nathaniel Jefferys, his brother, was at the same time Goldsmith and Cutler to the King; and Thomas, another brother, who became Geographer to the King, married a sister of the Mr Raikes of Gloucester, well known as the founder of Sunday Schools. [Page x]
Josiah Jefferys had, at the age of eighteen, married a Miss Hackshaw, aged sixteen, as she was on her way to market. Her father, then a man of substance, with a rent roll from an estate near Raleigh of £1000 per annum, was extremely angry, and told her that, being his child, he would not turn her out of doors, but that if she ever went beyond them she should never return. Upon these strange terms she remained two years under his roof, when her brother interceded, and persuaded her father to set the young husband up in business as a cutler, in which, as appears above, he prospered. Her father, on the contrary–Robert Hackshaw–after mortgaging his estate, fell further into misfortune, and died of grief. The marriage was twice celebrated, the first having taken place before registers were kept. This young wife, when a child, sitting upon the knee of Dr Watts, received from him a copy of his Divine Songs for Children, which eventually came into the possession of the Taylor family; for the Isaac Taylor who had walked from Worcester in due time married her daughter, Sarah Hackshaw Jefferys, but not till after the family had retired into Essex, for it took place at Shenfield Church, May 9, 1754.
The Hackshaws (or Hawkshaws) were either of Dutch extraction, or belonged to the Puritan emigration in Holland, for the father of the above-named Robert Hackshaw, was purveyor to King William III., and came over with him to England. He was called the "Orange skipper," from having been employed, before the Revolution, to carry despatches backwards and forwards, concealed in his walking-cane.
Isaac Taylor had engraved crests and other devices [Page xi] at Worcester, and so distinguished himself in that department in Josiah Jeffery's works, that it led to his adopting art engraving, then recently introduced, as a profession, to which he added presently the business of an art publisher. His house became in this way the resort of several personages of note in art and literature. Goldsmith, the illustrations to whose works are often signed "Isaac Taylor," was frequently there, and upon one occasion, when consulted upon the title of a book with an apology for troubling him upon so trifling a matter, replied, "the title, sir! why the title is everything." Bartolozzi, Fuseli, and Smirke, were among his friends, and he was one of the original founders of the Royal Incorporated Society of Artists of Great Britain, from which sprang the Royal Academy. The celebrated Woollett was for many years secretary to the Society, and Isaac Taylor eventually succeeded him in that office. Thomas Bewick was his valued pupil, who in his turn speaks of him in his autobiography, as "my warm friend and patron Isaac Taylor." And again, "he was in his day accounted the best engraver of embellishments for books, most of which he designed himself. The frontispiece to the first edition of Cunningham's poems was one of his early productions, and at that time my friend Pollard and myself thought it was the best thing ever done." The most important work executed by this Isaac Taylor was a large plate, the "Flemish Collation," after Ostade. Howard the philanthropist took such notice of one of his daughters, when a child, that in later years she named a son after him–Howard Hinton, an eminent Baptist minister lately deceased. Of the three sons of Isaac Taylor,–Charles, [Page xii] Isaac, and Josiah,–the second was the father of the subject of these Memorials.
The long association with metal working, of both the Jefferys and the Taylor families, throws an interesting light upon the engraving talent which both the first, and the second Isaac Taylor, my mother's father, developed, and the connection with Holland and the Revolution suggests early preferences for Nonconformity.–[ED.]
The Review of Life–Her Father's Character–Her Mother's History–The Old House at Lavenham–The Meeting-house and its Congregation–Home Ways and Home Education–Early Scribbling. 1-47.
Rural Holidays–Castle Building–First Visit to London–Artistic Work at Home–Her Father's Dangerous Illness–The New House–Youthful Gaities and Nervous Fears–Political Disturbances–State of Religion–Her Father enters the Nonconformist Ministry–Removal from Lavenham. 49-90
The Colchester House–Colchester Town–Colchester People–The Work Room, and Engraving Mysteries–Youthful Friends–First Appearance in Print–Domestic Economy–A Minister's Wife–Umbelliferous Society 91-120
Her Father's Scientific Lectures–Constable's Country–The Minor's Pocket Book–Lawful Amusements–Forbeses and Conders–The Stapletons–Sudbury Visits–The Strutt Family–Scarlet Fever in the House–Religious Conviction–The Editor of Calmet–Family Festivals–Jane Taylor's Jeu d'esprit, 121-160
Application from Darton and Harvey–Isaac's First Piece–Active Literary Work–Terror of Invasion, and Flight to Lavenham–Private Theatricals–Mournful Deaths–Interview with Joanna Baillie–Evils of Diary-Making–The Brothers Remove to London–Approaching Change–Removal to Ongar–Review Writing–Ilfracombe, 161-206
Ann and Jane compared–The domestic character of Ann's Poetry–Specimens of its Arch Drollery–The Tragic Element and Sara Coleridge's Criticism–Observations upon Ann's Hymns–The Poem "My Mother" and its history–Scott, Southey, and Edgeworth–Ann Taylor's Prose, 207-243
Ongar Scenery–The Winter at Ilfracombe–A Visitor and an offer of Marriage–Mr Gunn and his Sailors–Return to Ongar–Engagement to Mr Gilbert–Marriage; and Letter from her Mother, 245-271
Yorkshire Life–Salome–The Cookery Book–The Allied Sovereigns in London–Visit to the New Home at Ongar–"Eclectic" Articles–Her Mother's Authorship–Prospect for the Autumn–Birth of a Son–Illness of her Father–Nursery Delights, 273-298
Another Ongar visit–Her Little Boy's Accomplishments–Criticism upon her Sister's Poems–Change of Residence–A Welcome to a Birthday–Visit from Jane and Isaac–Excursions to York and Stockport–The Break up from Rotherham and Removal to Hull, 299-324
|ANN AND JANE TAYLOR, from a painting by their Father.||Frontispiece.|
|THE TWO HOUSES AT LAVENHAM, from a Sketch in 1873. The larger one, that first occupied,||Page 37|
|THE HOUSE IN ANGEL LANE, COLCHESTER, from a Sketch in 1873,||120|
|THE SECOND HOUSE AT LAVENHAM, from a Sketch by Mr Taylor, Senr.,||173|
|THE CASTLE HOUSE, ONGAR, from a Drawing by Jane TAYLOR,||facing p. 248|
The Review of Life–Her Father's Character–Her Mother's History–The Old House at Lavenham–The Meeting-house and its Congregation–Home Ways and Home Eduction–Early Scribbling.
"My father! Well the name he bore,
"And found myself in full conventicle.
AND now, my dear children, I am not about to enter the confessional. Such of my faults as you may not have discovered, may as well remain in what obscurity they can, and I feel that I do not here afford you, in these respects, the full benefit of my experience. Many you know, I wish you did not; forgive and forget them as soon as you are able, though doubtless your training has suffered more or less from some. The faults of a parent can seldom be so dammed up as to leave no taint in the stream, or feculence on the shores.
It is my heartfelt conviction, on the closest inspection of [Page 4] my circumstances and character, that, excepting a few–very few–external trials, my unhappiness, whenever I have not been happy, has arisen solely from myself, or, at least, that it might have been corrected by a better state of things within. A pervading influential Christianity would, I am persuaded, have rendered my life one of the happiest possible, for I have ever been surrounded with the materials for happiness, many and abundant.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; I have had, almost to my heart's desire, a goodly heritage; and as at present most of you enjoy similar advantages, I would press it upon you, with maternal earnestness, more fully to improve them than I have done, and not to suffer impatience, pride, self-will, indolence, or any other of our bosom enemies, to slip in between you and the cheerful enjoyment of the blessings surrounding you. Make the most of what God has given you, and you may be happy if you will.
You have often appeared interested when I have related particulars of my early history, and it seems but right that you, who (as I have said) are almost certainly either better or worse for my habits and tendencies, should know something of the circumstances amongst which they were formed, if only as finger-posts on your own road.
It has sometimes surprised me to perceive to how great a degree you were ignorant of things and events so long familiar to my own recollections, but of course you can know on these subjects only what you are told, and presuming that to know more may be either amusing or useful, I have long entertained a wish to leave for you a brief outline of what I have been, or felt, with the various [Page 5] turns and interferences of Providence by which I have become what you find me.
To review my life will not in all respects be a pleasant occupation, for it presents much that I would fain erase. The close inspection of my character which it calls for gives me anything but satisfaction; but when I refer to the course through which I have been conducted, and the flowery fences by which I have at all times been hedged in, my causes for gratitude are more than I can enumerate, and greater than I can express.
Few, perhaps owe so much–certainly few more–to Providential arrangements than I do; my intimate associates have always been, in one respect or another, better than myself–not all in everything, but each in some things; so that there has been a continually ascending influence acting upon me, and counteracting, in some degree, less favourable circumstances or tendencies.
Among these, the mercies of my position, I must place first the personal history and singular characters of my dear parents, of whom it would delight me to present you with a graphic portraiture. What little you know of them was not sufficient to furnish you with a correct idea, nor could you form one without knowing also the disadvantages with which severally they had to contend.
Your dear grandfather was an unusually single-hearted man and Christian. His life till nearly thirty was spent in London, but he caught not a taint from its atmosphere. So long as he remained at home his father, a man of sense and ability, and a well-known artist of the time, was not, it seemed, under the influence of Christian principle, though a strictly moral man; and he exhibited towards [Page 6] his family an austere reserve which was little calculated to awaken the domestic affections to genial life.
His mother, possessing no small share of practical good sense, and real concern for the interests of her children, was yet so more than occupied in the labours of rearing them, and withal of a temper so heedless of the graces of life, that it seemed scarcely possible for kind and tender dispositions to expand under her influence; but my father not only revered, but as his nature could not help, loved her also. Her will was law, and in many respects her family reaped the advantage of such a parent, but it is perhaps surprising that a heart so warm as his, should have been trained under her hand. His willingness, docility, and obedience were a little "put upon" while a youth; he was made something like the "fag" of the family; but so great was his pleasure in serving at all times, and in all ways, those by whom he was surrounded, that it was less irksome to him than it would be to many.
At thirteen he commenced a life which became one of diffusive piety. At sixteen he joined the church under the Rev. Mr Webb of Fetter Lane, and from those early years, till he went down to the grave, at seventy-one, his character was one beautiful progress through the benignant graces of Christianity.
His love of knowledge was early, strong, and universal. Nothing was uninteresting to him that he had opportunity to acquire, and when acquired his delight was to communicate. Apt to teach he certainly was, and ingenious as apt; all his methods were self-devised, and the life of few men devoted to teaching as a profession, would have accomplished more than he attained [Page 7] by husbanding the half hours of his own. Early hours and elastic industry were the "natural magic" by which his multitudinous objects were pursued, and labours performed.
Whatever I possess of knowledge came from his treasury, and far more than is now mine, for many engagements, and a memory never good, and perhaps in childhood too little cultivated, have deprived me of much. Too little cultivated, I say, because my dear mother having suffered from injudicious exactions upon memory when a child, erred perhaps in training her children in the other extreme. As far as I recollect, we were never required to learn anything by heart!
It was my father's habit, whenever a question arose in conversation on points of science or history which we could not accurately determine, to refer at the moment to some authority–the lexicon, the gazetteer, the encyclopædia, or anything from which the facts could be gained; so that much was in this way imbibed by his children without labour of any kind, and at the expense only of some little impatience at a digression with which they would at the time have been willing to dispense. "Line upon line," was, however, in this way gradually traced and deepened. Method, arrangement, regularity in everything, were the characteristics of his mind; as were a tranquil hoping for, and believing in the best, those of his heart.
The future he could at all times cheerfully commit to his heavenly Father, the present had ever some bright spot for which to be thankful, and on this his eye, as by a natural attraction, fixed itself, while his [Page 8] wit or humour could strike a spark out of the dullest circumstances.
The two words which he adopted as his daily guide in education, were mild, but firm; and he was fitted by natural disposition for both mildness and firmness. He was not easily moved from an opinion once formed, but the kindness of his heart, and the sobriety of his judgment, habitually prevented him from forming hard or unsound ones.
Few, perhaps, have ever moved in active life for seventy years, retaining a tendency to judge so favourably of all he met with. Hope and cheerfulness were as the air he breathed, and these were confirmed and rendered habitual principles, by a faith in the providence and the promises of God, often tried, but never observed to fail. His activity was untiring, and stimulated by a glowing kindliness it enabled him to do with his might for all whom he could benefit, whatsoever his hand found to do.
He was never a clog on plans of usefulness, or even of pleasure. His heart was love, and his life a holiday. For nearly half a century he was the lover as well as the husband, alive to all the impressions of tenderness, and constantly devising with considerate affection pleasant little surprises for my dear mother. Her forty years of incessant bodily suffering afforded ample field for such a heart to adorn with the flowers and evergreens of love, and with ingenious tenderness he did so to the last.
As a youth, he had accustomed himself to rise early, but the habit declined through disturbed nights during the infancy of his children. After a few years, it was renewed and never abandoned, and, if I am not mistaken, it was by [Page 9] the following incident that he was induced to return to six o'clock as the commencement of his day. He had received a call from some poor minister, with a request that he would purchase from him a small hymn-book, beautifully bound in morocco; the price was half a guinea, a larger sum than he could prudently afford, but his open heart could not refuse the aid that was asked for in this form, and the little volume proved, in the end, of incalculable value to him, for, sensible of his indiscretion, he resolved to cover the loss by making a longer day for labour. This, though constitutionally disposed to sleep, he resolutely accomplished, starting from his bed at a quarter before six every morning, till within a short period of his death. It was not managed without difficulty. At first, an alarum clock at the head of his bed was sufficient, but becoming accustomed to the monotony, he placed a pair of tongs across the weight of the alarum, so disposed, that when it began to move, the sudden fall of the tongs would surely move him also. *
My father's habits of devotion formed a valuable part of his example. Rising thus early, the time from six to seven o'clock was always spent in his closet–enclosed by double doors. But though thus secluded, and in a remote part of the house, we were, at times, near enough, in a room below, to be aware of the [Page 10] earnestness of his prayers, which were uttered aloud. He always preferred articulate prayer, and when retirement can really be secured, it is a habit I should warmly recommend. It prevents, in some degree, the vagrancy of thought which so often interferes with mental prayer, and it reacts upon the mind, deepening the impressions from which it springs. * I would also, and with more solicitude, urge the habit of stated prayer. The heart is so apt to slide from under its intentions, if not compacted by the regularity of habit, that it is rarely safe to trust them; every hour brings its hindrance, and so often in the shape of all but needful business that "the path to the bush" will, in most cases, be overgrown, if not trodden at the stated period.
We may deceive ourselves with the belief that we do pray regularly, because we wish and intend to do so, but on many a day, I fear we should search in vain for the act, unless reminded of it by the hour. It is true that a perfunctory formality may be thus induced, but the benefits, as far as my own experience or observation extends, exceed greatly the disadvantages. It is "a world of compromise," and for this reason, we are exhorted to watch as well as to pray.
After a day of continued labour, such as my father's always was, he was again in his closet from eight till nine; occasionally when work had to be sent off by the night mail for London (he then living in the country), he might [Page 11] be prevented from devoting the full hour, but I do not remember the time when the season of retirement was wholly omitted.
How much of the excellence of his own character, of the providential mercy that so often appeared for him, and may I not add, how many of the blessings enjoyed by his children and by theirs, may not have been the gracious answer to this life of supplication?
It was not likely that a youth, warm with so many affections, should be long content with domestic solitude. He was, indeed, but a youth, and his prospects were not such as in these days of aim and show would have admitted the thought of a wife, as prudent, or even possible. His early wish to devote himself to the ministry, had been frustrated by an illness of such severity and continuance, as to destroy his hopes of study, and to unfit him for its labours.
Lodgings which had been taken for him by his mother at Islington–then quite a country place–and horse exercise, contributed to his recovery; and he then reverted to his profession, that of an engraver, for which he had been educated under his father, who was among the first to execute book plates respectably. *
At twenty-two, my father married, and the income on which he calculated that he could live with comfort, consisted of a half a guinea certain for three days' work in each week, supplied to him by his elder brother, Charles, after- [Page 12] wards known as the "learned editor of Calmet's Dictionary of the Bible," who was, at the time, in business for himself as an engraver and publisher,–and so much as he could earn during the remaining three days, when he was at liberty to work on his own account. This, with thirty pounds in hand, was his independency; my mother's dowry being one hundred pounds stock, bequeathed to her by her grandfather, with furniture supplied by her mother, sufficient for the pleasant first floor at Islington they were to occupy. *
It delights me to revert to this day of small things, and to trace the goodness and mercy which did follow these dear, simple-hearted parents of mine all the days of their life, till they were called to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
My dear mother was a character more peculiar, and her disadvantages had been greater than those of my father. The sensibility of her frame, both mental and bodily, was extreme; her affections were strong and lively, and her sufferings (irrespective of bodily pain) from the sorrows and bereavements of her seventy-two years, proportionably intense. Her mother's father, the son of a clergyman at Beverley, had been ruined in some building speculation at York, and her mother, a beautiful girl of sixteen, was sent off alone on the top of the York coach for London, with, I know not, what prospect of [Page 13] result, except that she resided for a time with a family in Kensington Square.
By some accident, her favourite brother had been prevented from seeing her off, but ran after the coach, and was just able to wave his hand to her as it turned a corner. It was the last she ever saw of him, or of any of her family; separation then was separation indeed! She married early a Mr Martin, the son of an estate agent at Kensington.
My mother was the eldest of two children, and at six years old lost her father, who died of fever at twenty-nine. Of him I know little except that he was one of Mr Whitfield's early converts, and thus happily prepared for early death. But he was probably alone in his religious preferences, for upon one occasion having taken his little girl to hear Mr Whitfield, she suddenly stood up in the pew and exclaimed, "what have you brought me here for, among a pack of Whitfieldites?"
His anxiety for my mother was more lively than discreet. He thought it wise to exercise her infant patience by inflictions which she recollected as producing paroxysms of anguish. He once called her to see a new and favourite toy thrown on the fire, hoping in this way to induce a salutary self-control! Such measures could not but exasperate instead of soothe the excitability of her temperament; but nevertheless, the sensitive child entertained for him a strength of attachment much above her years. On the night of his death she dreamed that she was in a desolate and shattered dwelling, through the rents of which she could see the stars; suddenly among them her father's form appeared, departing upward in a [Page 14] chariot, by gestures taking leave of her, and encouraging her to follow. On waking, she was told that he was dead, and to the excess of her grief her life was nearly sacrificed; nor did she through her more than threescore years and ten fail to commemorate the 13th of February, the anniversary of her loss.
On this first sorrow she was removed from her mother's house near Gray's Inn, to that of her paternal grandfather at Kensington, for change of air. There her health was soon renovated, but she fell under injudicious training, a mixture of weak indulgence with uninviting instruction. Yet her attachment to Kensington was extreme, and she regarded it as an Elysium to her life's end. * Home had, indeed, become no longer home. Her mother, a very [Page 15] beautiful woman, married again, but not long afterwards lost her second husband, and married a third. The result was an increasing family, and the solitary little girl was made to suffer in their bitterness most of the sorrows of such a situation. Even her mother did not defend her from the selfishness of a stepfather, and the oppression of his children. She was the slave of all; she seemed abandoned, with scarcely an eye to watch, or a hand to guide–yet, who that should trace that young life to its close but would thankfully acknowledge an Eye that did watch, a Hand that did guide!
A day-school–a good one, as day-schools were a hundred years ago–afforded all the education that as such she enjoyed, but her character was too original and interesting to escape attention, and she attracted the notice and kind regard of several intelligent persons, who perceived her ability and aptitude to learn, and by the loan of books, and other means, awakened the dormant energies of her spirit, excited a thirst for knowledge, and raised her by imperceptible degrees above the brothers and sisters who were allowed to tyrannise over her; and on whom, nevertheless, she lavished a warm affection,–afterwards repaid by the honest love of some of them.
She very early discovered expertness at her pen, and its poetic and often satirical effusions soon gained her a local celebrity. My father was one of a group of young men occasionally visiting at her mother's house, but their first approach to each other, if such it might be called, was when at some breaking up of the school he attended, she was the admiring spectator of his receiving a silver pen (a rarer [Page 16] thing then than now) after reciting, with applause, a piece from Shakespeare.
They were only children then, and a more important incident was the exercise of his skill in engraving her initials upon the silver shield in front of the beautiful little teapot, still in our possession, and in which he deposited a copy of verses upon returning it to her. These led to a smart rejoinder, and that to a paper war which, for a time, made the gossip of the little circle, till it was terminated by a treaty of peace, never afterwards infringed.
But interesting as was my mother's character, and attractive to many, some of them literary men, who would fain have rivalled my father in her affections, she was but ill-furnished with that practical knowledge of the details of housekeeping, without which marriage involves a girl, not in a rank above domestic management, in the deepest anxiety. When she married, at the age of twenty-three, she had everything to learn, and most sedulously, with the resolve of a sensible woman, and the diligence of a conscientious one, did she set herself to learn. She became an excellent housekeeper, for with a humily that often surprised me, she would accept the smallest particulars of information from the youngest or the humblest. To the latest hour of my observation at home she had always the rare wisdom to acknowledge ignorance.
On their wedding day, April 18, 1781, my parents entered their first home, in a house standing back from the street, and exactly opposite Islington Church. It was a first floor only, but from the back room, the best one, there was a view over an extent of country, including the Highgate Hills, and on the day of their marriage, though [Page 17] so early in the year, a vine was in full leaf over their windows. There, on the 30th of January 1782, on which day my youthful father reached his twenty-third year, I was born; and on the 23d of September the year following, their second daughter, Jane Taylor, known, perhaps, I might say, on the four continents, and known only for good, came into the world; but at this time they had removed for the convenience of business to Red Lion Street, Holborn, then a sufficiently quiet place.
Here their first son, and third child, was born; and here, scarcely allowing herself an hour of recreation either for body or mind, practising the utmost economy, and with her children filling every thought of her heart, my poor mother broke down in health, and might have surrendered herself to be the mere drudge of her family, had not a wise friend suggested to her that it would be well if her husband found in her a companion, as well as a housekeeper and nurse. She took the hint immediately, and resolved to secure the higher happiness that had nearly escaped her. For this purpose she commenced the practice of reading aloud at meals, the only time she could afford for mental improvement, and for nearly half-a-century it supplied her daily pleasure, while it sustained the native power of her mind.
But now the rapidly increasing family, and its consequent expenses, suggested the desirableness of removing to the country, and my dear parents, young, poor, loving, simple-minded, with nothing to call experience, resolved to transplant their household to what then appeared a remote and dreary distance from every relative or friend. They had neither of them been more than twenty miles [Page 18] from London in their lives, and my father, always methodical, obtained a list from Homerton College of all the ministers supplied from that Institution to within a hundred miles from the metropolis, and wrote, I believe, to all of them as to the cheapness of rent and of provisions in each locality, with some other domestic items. One of these applications reached a minister at Baddow when a cousin of his, the Rev. W. Hickman, of Lavenham in Suffolk, happened to be visiting him. They laughed over the questions propounded, which they attributed to some antiquated bachelor, but Mr Hickman remembered a house at Lavenham, which he thought he could recommend, and, writing to that effect, with other suitable inducements, my father undertook the formidable journey of sixty-three miles to reconnoitre.
He decided upon the venture, but the trial to the feelings of my dear mother was extreme. The removal to such a distance from all she loved was an anguish almost as much as she could endure. Owing to great susceptibility of nature, nervous, anxious, and foreboding, and with these tendencies during the greater part of her life aggravated by incessant pain, yet there was in her character a steady strength at hand for emergencies, which sometimes carried her through difficulties under which it might have been supposed a mind like hers would reel.
It was in June 1786, the fine old-fashioned weather of the eighteenth century, as my memory pictures it, that the little colony set forth–I well remember the freshness of that six o'clock on a summer's morning–in a hackney coach for the stage. My father had gone before to Lavenham to receive and arrange the furniture, and never [Page 19] was "Queen's Decorator" more busy, more anxious, (in some respects more capable,) than he that everything should appear in tempting order, and in the best style of which it was susceptible. His materials, indeed, were few, but his taste and contrivance inexhaustible. The house, which a cottager described as "the first grand house in Shilling Street," was indeed so, compared with former residences.
It was the property of, and had been inhabited by a clergyman. On the ground floor were three parlours, two kitchens, and a dairy, together with three other rooms never inhabited; and above them were six large bedrooms. An extensive garden, well planted, lay behind. A straight broad walk through the middle was fifty-two yards in length, with an open summer-house on rising ground at one end, and ha-ha fence separating it from a meadow, of which we had the use, at the other. There was also a large yard, with a pig-stye, uninhabited, till my sister Jane and I cleared it out for the purpose of dwelling in it ourselves. It was a substantial little building of brick, but, having no windows, and the door swinging from the top, it was somewhat incommodious, yet there, after lessons, we passed many a delightful hour.
For this spacious domain, (house and garden I mean, not the pig-stye), it will scarcely be credited that my father paid a rent of only six pounds a-year, but by such a circumstance the perfect out-of-the-wayness of the situation may be conceived. Neither coach road nor canal approached it, though I remember that the advantage the latter would be to the little town was often discussed. The postman's cart, a vehicle covered in for passengers, made its enlivening entrée every day from Sudbury, seven [Page 20] miles distant, about noon; and the London waggon nodded and grated in, I forget how often, or rather how seldom, I believe about once a week.
In a neighbour's large old fashioned kitchen I remember a painting representing the church standing in the middle of the town, and it must have been a place of some importance when that was the case; but, when we knew it, the church was quite at the extremity to the north, where the Sudbury road entered the High Street, which long street, at the further end, issued upon the road to Bury St Edmunds, ten miles off. The church was a noble Gothic edifice, built by the Earls of Oxford. Many of the details were drawn and engraved by my father, and published in one volume by his brother, then an architectural publisher in London. One of my brothers and two little sisters lie in the churchyard near one of the doors. The rector and curate of our day were of the old school, * free livers, yet religiously hostile to the little band of dissenters who occupied a small "meeting-house" that nestled under the shade of some fine walnut trees, standing back from the street. In this reviled conventicle (for the spirit of "Church and King" was the demon of the neighborhood, or rather of the times), there assembled a friendly and intelligent congregation. It was generally well filled, and for my own pleasure, more than for yours, shall I record the names, still familiar to me, of those who chiefly composed it?
Well then, first, were Mr and Mrs Perry Branwhite, with their daughter Sally, one of my first playfellows, and their [Page 21] sons Nathan and Peregrine. Mr Branwhite was a quaint, upright, stiff, but somewhat poetic schoolmaster, having charge of a branch of St Ann's Charity School, located at that distance from London for the advantage of cheap provisions. I say poetic, because he had done the Copernican system into rhyme, printed on a large sheet and framed. By him and his, four or five seats were occupied.
Next to them sat Mr Stribbling, the blacksmith, and family, plain respectable people, though he, to my youthful eyes, was very ugly. He was certainly stone deaf, notwithstanding which latter disadvantage he attended very regularly, troubling his minister occasionally by complaining of him as a "legal preacher," on the ground that he selected "Arminian texts." These at every service were looked out for him by his children, and upon them alone he founded his suspicions of Mr Hickman's orthodoxy. "Ann and Jane" sat vis-à-vis upon little cross seats at the ends of the next pew, and had ample opportunity thereby of forming an opinion upon Mr Stribbling's personal attractions.
Beyond our's was the seat of Mr Meeking, the baker, a personage who occupies a grateful niche in the recollections of my childhood. He was a good-natured, fresh-coloured, somewhat rotund old man, with blue eyes, a light flaxen wig curled all round in double rows, and a beard duly shaven once a week. He kept a bakehouse of local celebrity, and with it a small shop, amply provided with that nondescript variety of grocery, drapery, and haberdashery, farthing cakes, and penny bindings, suitable for humble customers, or needed at a pinch. * Three sons [Page 22] and two daughters, all grown up, at least so they appeared to us little people, composed his family, and the old-fashioned kitchen, or house-place, in which they lived, is fresh in my memory as the scene of warm and bountiful hospitality to all, and of indulgence to us little girls, who frequently found our way there at times of any domestic discomfort. The floor of this kitchen was of brick, uncarpeted, one small window (of course you do not care about it, but please let me tell you) looked into the street, and a very large one opposite, with diamond panes and brick mullions, into the garden. There was a door from the shop, another towards the parlour, and a third large heavy square one, studded with iron-headed nails, leading to the garden and orchard. But, notwithstanding, this various provision for the admission of fresh air, nothing could exceed the comfort and glow of the chimney-corner, large enough to admit the bulky arm-chair of the master on one side, and a seat for small folk on the other; the whole hedged in by an ample screen.
And, O, the piles of hot toast, thick, heaped, and sodden with butter, that used morning and evening to crown the iron footman in front of the fire!–toast not cut from a modern neat tin-baked loaf, but from such a loaf–a rugged mountain! Here "Nancy and Jenny," as we were called, were always, and heartily welcome, or indeed to anything we could contrive to wish for; and in this friendly circle my sister was fairly released from the timidity that concealed the rich store of humour [Page 23] in her arch little nature, and became the centre of fun and frolic. * To the wise restraint and plain fare, and limited indulgences of home, Mr Meeking's chimney corner afforded the widest contrast; and the good-natured kindness, less judicious than generous, which always greeted us there, placed our occasional visits among the red-letter days of our calendar.
Once a year, somewhere about Christmas, the "best parlour" was duly warmed and inhabited. The young men were musical, there were several in the congregation who could either sing or play, or liked to hear others who could, and on these occasions they would get up something like a concert, where a bassoon, played by the eldest son, with sundry flutes and clarionets, afforded pleasant amusement to as many of the "friends" as could be crowded in. A piano was at that time quite beyond the Lavenham style, though I remember a spinnet or harpsichord in the best parlour of some other friends, presently to be mentioned.
My dear mother had always the strongest objection to leaving her little girls to the care of servants, and seldom visited where we were not invited,–we were but two, not troublesome, perhaps something of favourites, so that completely social as these and similar parties were, we were often admitted to them at an age when now we should scarcely have emerged from the nursery. But nurseries at Lavenham, and at that time of day, I do not remember. The parlour and the best parlour were all that was known [Page 24] beside the kitchens, and thus parents and children formed happily but one circle.
Of course it was necessary under the circumstances that the latter should be submissive to good regulation, or domestic comfort must have been sacrificed; but my father and mother were soon noted as good managers of their children; for little as either of them had experienced a wise education themselves, they had formed a singularly strong resolve to train their young ones with the best judgement they could exercise, and not to suffer humoured children to disturb either themselves or their friends. There is scarcely an expression so fraught to my earliest recollection with ideas of disgrace and misery as that of a "humoured child," and I should have felt truly ashamed to exhibit one of my own at my father's table.
Yet, I can only say that it has been my endeavour to steer clear of this evil. It is inexpressibly difficult, pressed by daily business and perpetual interruption, to judge correctly of the course we are pursuing, or to retrace it if in error. On this account I should recommend every burdened mother to allow herself an occasional visit away from home without her children. She will then be much better able to review her habits and plans, and, if needful, to reform them, than while surrounded by the din, and borne down by the pressure of daily employments.
She will look at herself and her proceedings, as from a distance, and sometimes in the solitude of the chamber, or the garden, will find it no unhealthy exercise to describe herself aloud. Many things look unexpectedly ugly when put into words; and in order to derive unadulterated bene- [Page 25] fit, so far as may be, she will take care at such times to keep aloof from the excellences. In other families also she may silently observe what is right or what is wrong, and amend her own doings accordingly. A degree of freshness is imparted to both body and mind during such a process, and probably she will go in the strength of that meat many days.
In rearing a family it is scarcely till the youngest has been educated, and often not then, that we come to a satisfactory conclusion respecting the course most desirable to pursue. The elder ones may have been sacrificed in part to inexperience, and the younger to burden and pressure.
Happy the mother who can hold an even balance between the strict and the lenient, for, perhaps, on this ability depends the characters of her children more than on any other part of her conduct. The aim is all I can boast of; to inspire the confidence of love by kindness, and to secure obedience by adhering steadily to principles, or regulations once laid down. But if, on reviewing the sins of our youth, we feel it often necessary to ask forgiveness from dear departed parents, equally imperative shall we find it, as we reflect on the failures of after-life, to make the same request to our children; and thus, dear children, do I with love and sorrow ask pardon of you.
But to return from this long digression. Mrs Snelling, the old pew opener, will wonder what I am doing if I do not pass along the aisle more briskly. We are come now to the "table pew;" William Meeking has the bassoon to his lips, and some dozen of country beaux, each with a leaf from the walnut trees in his button-hole, with perhaps a [Page 26] pink, a stock, or sprig of sweetbriar, are raising the Psalm. In yonder square pew, entered only from the vestry, sits Mrs Hickman, the wife of the minister, amongst whose family a little boy, rather younger than myself, lived to become the highly respected minister of a congregation at Denton in Suffolk; but passing on to the furthest of four square seats under the line of windows in front of the pulpit, I must introduce a family of singular excellence, and high esteem in the neighbourhood.
The staple trade of the town was wool, and Mr Watkinson was one of the master woolcombers, wealthy for such a locality, for he was reckoned to be worth £30,000. He owned one of the best houses in the town, built by himself with every accommodation for a family of twelve children. * Beyond the extensive yards and warehouses were a bowling-green and pleasure garden, with a shrubbery enclosing a swimming bath, and a large kitchen garden with orchard adjoining. With Anne and Jane Watkinson, the two youngest daughters, it was the priviledge of Ann and Jane Taylor to be intimate. The family were well ordered almost to a proverb, and well educated too. Mr Watkinson had been a member of the Society of Friends, and never relaxed, so far as my observation went, in the formality and reserve formerly distinguishing that community. His wife was a plain, sensible, domestic woman, of perhaps the fewest words that in such a family could be done with. Of the host of sons and daughters I can dis- [Page 27] tinctly call to mind the features of each, but I could have had but slight knowledge of their characters. Of Anne, however, my own companion, though she left England with her family for America at fourteen, I have heard Mr Hickman say that he always felt something like respectful awe in her presence! Such was the mental provision for my earliest friendship.
The Lungleys, shopkeepers of repute and means, as most of those good folks were, occupied one of that set of pews. Mr Lungley was a singularly simplehearted, and free spirited man; Mrs Lungley, a clever, active, managing woman, as much at home with the young as the young themselves. Their house was always open, the rendezvous of as many as could anyhow reckon themselves friends or cousins.
Their one child, a daughter, spent the closing year of her education under the care of my father and mother, after they left Lavenham, and years later, when at the head of a large family of her own, she told me that her first permanent religious impressions were made by my dear father's conversations, and that important arrangements in her family were founded on a recollection of his plans. One of these, the assignment of a separate "study" for each of the children when old enough to use it, the wealth of her husband enabled him to carry out to the fullest extent in building a new residence.
Mr Buck, a stiff, old-fashioned linen-draper, is waiting for notice in the adjoining pew; what I chiefly remember about him is, that in his best parlour there hung a large frame, containing what I never saw anywhere else, varieties in "darning," all sorts of fabrics being admirably imitated, [Page 28] from plain muslin to various damask patterns, the performances of Betsy Buck his daughter. I have sometimes wished for a leaf out of her book.
Mrs Sherrar and two maiden daughters occupied one of the upper seats in the synagogue; and her son-in-law, Mr Hillier, the "squire's pew," carefully screened at both ends from the vulgar gaze. These ranked among the small gentry of the neighbourhood; the Sherrars keeping what was no mean establishment for the little country place, two maids and a man; the Hilliers living in a handsome house with grounds at the lower end of the town. He was in the main a worthy man, and though a regular attendant upon Mr Hickman's ministry, might be called the squire, not only of the humble Meeting-house, but of Lavenham itself.
His wife was a clever, showy woman, reckless of such graces as are deemed specially feminine, and able to utter speeches not so easy to repeat as to remember. The infirmity of both, if my recollections may be trusted, was pride–Mr Hillier's a quiet reserved pride, his wife's a bold and open pride; and a circumstance occurred that sufficiently stirred the pride of both, proved disastrous to the interests of the small community, and though little suspected then, affected greatly our own future destiny in life.
This brings me to the pulpit, which has been almost forgotten in the pews. Mr Hickman, the minister, was a plain sensible man, of no aim, in manner or anything, but with a fund of natural humour in conversation. He was, perhaps, as little likely to make the venture that he did as any one we could think of; yet, having become a [Page 29] widower in process of time he thought of, and –singular presumption–addressed, prevailed with, and married Mrs Hillier's sister, Fanny Sherrar! She was neither young nor handsome; neither rich enough to render it a tempting speculation, nor, as was supposed, specially qualified to become an intelligent companion.
The gentry of a small country town could then afford to do with humble attainments in that line, and I am inclined to think the tradespeople were as a rule better informed. Upon one occasion, at a party in honour of a bride who had belonged to this higher grade, the lady addressed my father across the room with, "Mr Taylor, who wrote Shakespeare?" The husband, feigning an amused laugh, could only say, "Just hear my wife!" It was a question none of the humbler folk there needed to ask. With Fanny Sherrar, however, Mr Hickman was somewhat captivated, and he proceeded to the offensive extremity of making her his wife. Nothing could exceed the righteous indignation of the Hilliers on this occasion. He, worthy man, actually made a church question of it, on what possible grounds it is difficult to conceive. There was for a long time a scene of grievous contention, convocations of neighbouring ministers were called in to arbitrate, and it ended in the Hilliers leaving both the Meeting and the town. I should add that Mrs Hickman's conduct as a wife, and especially as a step-mother, went far to redeem the credit of her husband's discernment.
The poor of the congregation sat in the galleries, the men occupying the one, the women the other; the girls and boys of the small Sunday School being similarly [Page 30] apportioned in one or the other gallery. * This could not be long subsequent to the reputed origin of Sunday Schools in the benevolent heart of Mr Raikes. That at Lavenham was collected, I have reason to believe, greatly through my father's personal exertions. He was active in everything, regular, I may venture to affirm, and never weary in well doing.
A small volume, entitled "Twelve Addresses to a Sunday School," contains the substance of some spoken to this very early congregated little band. † He did not take a class, but acted rather as superintending visitor. And when, after an interval of more than sixty years, I visited [Page 31] Lavenham, I found, among surviving members of this school, proofs that "the memory of the just is blessed." Wherever he moved his name is still fragrant.
Mr Hubbard, a basket-maker, a young man of very peculiar character, part simple, part conceited, part worthy–yes, a good part worthy–part thinking, and very theological, was engaged, as the paid teacher of the boys, sitting with them in the gallery and supplying the want of gratuitous teachers. Teachers of this sort were indeed, at that time, as little known as schools. There was scarcely one department of Christian usefulness, as it is now understood, at that time, occupied or even thought of by our churches as necessarily belonging to church work.
I must not, in my present review, forget "Old Orford." But where shall we find him? Not in a pew–it may have been half a century since he sat in one–but high up on the pulpit stairs, for he is very deaf, and does not, I fear, contrive to hear much even with his conspicuous trumpet; but he tries. His aged features, surmounted by a red night-cap, are among a set of pencil studies, still extant, by my father. How old he really was, I cannot say, but so long as I remember him, "Old Orford" was popularly reputed to be a hundred years old, though, I suppose, he moved among the figures at about the same rate as most of us. * [Page 32]
And, certainly, Peter Hitchcock, the clerk in the "table pew," ought to have been named earlier–as much a character as could be found in the congregation. A stout, thickset little man, of, as one might say, the "cock robin" build was he, with the peculiarities of the bachelor, and betraying some of its least offensive propensities in his queer physiognomy.
As a retired flour dealer, he possessed a snug independency, and had fitted up, for himself, a small house, for the garden of which my father, early in repute as a landscape gardener, kindly drew a variety of plans. Yet it was but a slip, and the economic Peter saved the expense of a man, by clipping the grass-plots himself with a pair of scissors.
Two maiden sisters, Miss Sally and Miss Betsy, never otherwise called, lived with him, each a perfect specimen of an "old maid." Miss Betsy, the youngest, had, perhaps, the most fretful, unhappy expression of countenance that could well be conceived. Verily, she looked as if it had been half a century, at least, since [Page 33] the world had smiled upon her, if, indeed, it had not been ill-using her for quite that period.
No doubt, she was unhappy, and benevolence, even Christian benevolence, does not seem to extend to this description of sufferer. Fathers and mothers, and young people of both sexes, appear to have received dispensation for heartlessly adding to the sorrows of that solitary condition. In parents, nothing can be more indiscreet; in young women, less indelicate; in young men, nothing more ungenerous.
What can that father expect from his daughters, who allows himself to taunt, with "cruel mocking," the unmarried women of their society? What but the conviction that to marry is indispensable, and therefore, at whatever risk? Yet is it always the least excellent, the least valuable of a family who is left to fill the withering ranks at which the young and the thoughtless–the old and the thoughtless, I may safely add,–point the finger? If constrained to guess at histories, I should be disposed to affirm that, more frequently than otherwise, the useful retiring, affectionate daughter, is left to expend her womanly love on the declining years, and trying infirmities of her parents, while the colder heart plays a successful game, and sports the honours of the wedding ring.
Perhaps there would be more of romantic history in the biographies of the old maid of society than in those of twice the number of flourishing wives,–history that would excite, if known, the tenderest sympathy, the truest respect. Many might be the causes enumerated that have led virtuous women to refuse marriage–women among whom might be found some of that almost extinct [Page 34] class, whose New Testament includes that awkward text–"only in the Lord."
What, however, may have been Miss Betsy's history, I know nothing, beyond the obvious discontent of her countenance; but of Miss Sally, there were traditions of some interest, how far correct, I cannot say. She was, I think, the senior by several years, and must have been pretty in her time, while her now aged quiet face had none of that expression which made her sister so conspicuous. But she was admitted to be "not quite right, you know," for, as the mood came over her, she would retire to the corner of the room (I have seen her do so when it was filled with company), and stand there, for a length of time, straight upright, with her face to the wall, and occasionally whispering a little to herself.
It was something of a trial to "Ann and Jane" to see Miss Sally making so queer an exhibition of herself, but I do not remember having our gravity upset by it; it was only Miss Sally in one of her freaks, and we were too young to understand the mysterious hints occasionally floating, "that, many years ago, she had a disappointment, and had not been quite right ever since." I think, also, that one of her arms was paralysed, and hung useless at her side. Such were the hieroglyphics of one mournful, yet not uncommon history.
In a circle, such as I have now described, we children, of five and six years old, were placed on our parents' removal from London. It was a happy seclusion. Yet my mother had gone down to it with an almost breaking heart, bringing, to this circle of strangers, a recent grief in the loss of one lovely child, and before the year was out, losing [Page 35] another; so that all the assiduities of my father, and the novel charm of a summer in the country, failed to reconcile her to the banishment, till the first dreary winter had passed away, and then a heart, sensitive as was my dear mother's, could not remain long untouched by natural scenes and pleasures.
But the winter was dreary. In the course of it, my father was called (as, indeed, he frequently was) for a month, to London, in prosecution of his profession as an engraver; and with her two little girls, her young half-sister, and a single servant, with the recollection of her lost children bleeding in her bosom, and in a house large enough to have accommodated half-a-dozen such families, my mother dragged wearily through the dismal evenings of this, to her, forlorn exile. One of them is still fresh in my memory, as I have heard her describe it.
It was a dark and stormy winter's night, the wind roared down the huge kitchen chimney, and screamed in the trees across the road. "Ann and Jane" had gone early to bed, the last dear babe had recently found its resting-place in the churchyard, and my poor mother sat in her grief beside the parlour fire. Suddenly a dreadful crash was heard; the kitchen chimney was exactly over the room in which we slept, and her instant thought was that it had fallen, buring us in its ruins.
She ran to the foot of the wide staircase and called, I was always a wakeful sleeper, but now there was no answer, and she felt no doubt of the terrible meaning of the silence. Her sister jumped out of the parlour window, and, my mother and servant following, fled up the [Page 36] dark street to Mr Meeking's, the nearest friend in need. She fell on the high steps leading up to his shop-door, and his little dog, rushing out, tore off her cap before she could regain her feet. "Oh! Mr Meeking, Mr Meeking, my children are both killed!" "Let's hope not, madam, let's hope not," and the worthy old man, with sons, staves, and lanterns, hastened back with her to the scene of disaster, first, of course, visiting our bedroom, where, holding a lantern at the foot of the bed, "Nancy and Jenny" were seen sound asleep.
That was enough; and when they had searched in vain through all the upper rooms of the large house, they began to smile at the alarm as one of imagination only, till entering the kitchen a mound of bricks upon the floor, that had fallen down the ample chimney, explained what had happened. The cracked grate long remained to attest the peril.
But my father returned–returned with sufficient employment in his art for months to come. Spring returned also, the winter had passed, the rain was over and gone, the time of the singing of birds was come, and my dear mother awoke to the beauties that surrounded her. Not that the style of country was particularly attractive. Suffolk, or at least that part of it, swells into shoulders of heavy corn land, with little wood, and these undulations shut out extensive prospects; a small river creeps dully through a succession of quiet meadows, and I think it must be partly owing to this tameness that a real taste for the country was not sensibly awakened in me till ten or twelve years later in my history.
I can hardly otherwise account for an impres- [Page 37] sion of gloom which, though it was seen under the sunlight of childhood, still hangs over that Lavenham scenery. Enthusiasm must have been enthusiastic to be kindled among those flat meadows and cold slopes, with their drowsy river; but there might be other causes that make me feel even now that to walk in broad daylight, but alone, by that river's brink, or up the rugged "Clay Hill" beyond, would try my nerves. I came to love the real country afterwards, have long loved it, and have craved, perhaps, no earthly blessing more than a home and a garden in the country, and happy am I to say now, at sixty-two, that the delight derived from such pleasures is still healthily vivid within me. *
And, whatever the surrounding country might be, there was at Lavenham a large and beautiful garden. We lived not in either of the big front parlours, but in a small pleasant room opening into it. There my father's high desk, at which, during his whole life, he stood, as the most [Page 38] healthy position, to engrave, occupied the corner between the fire and a large window; my mother sat on the opposite site, and we had our little table and chairs between them. One wing of the premises seen from this window was covered with a luxuriant tea tree, drooping in long branches, with its small purple flowers; * on a bed just opposite was a great cinnamon rose bush, covered with bloom; a small grass plot lay immediately under the window, and beyond were labyrinths of flowering shrubs, with such a bush of honeysuckle as I scarcely remember to have seen anywhere. Then there were beds of raspberries, gooseberries, and currants, espalier'd walks, ample kitchen garden, walls and palings laden with fruit, grass and gravel walks, a honeysuckle arbour, and an open seated summer-house; flourishing standard fruit trees, and no end of flowers and rustic garden seats–all this world of vernal beauty, all to be enjoyed only by stepping into it, won my mother's heart in this first springtide out of London, and the country retained its hold on her affections to the last. She never loved the town again, and entered fully and for ever into the truth of those lines written long afterwards by her little Jane,–
"Happy the mother who her train can rear
Far 'mid its breezy hills from year to year!"
Here our habits and, to some degree, our tastes were formed, and here began our education. In that little back parlour we were taught the formal rudiments, and in the garden and elsewhere, constantly under the eye of our parents, we fell in with more than is always included in [Page 39] the catalogue of school learning at so much per quarter. Books were a staple commodity in the house. From my mother's habit of reading aloud at breakfast and at tea, we were always picking up something; to every conversation we were auditors, and, I think, quiet ones, for, having no nursery, the parlour would have been intolerable otherwise.
There was a large room adjoining, having a glass door into it, and there, or in the garden, we were at liberty to romp. A closet in this room was allowed us as a baby-house, round the walls of which we arranged our toys, but I must acknowledge that here we were not the aborigines, an interminable race of black ants had taken previous possession, and we could only share and share alike with them.
I do not know how far children so completely invent little histories for ourselves as we did. We most frequently personated two poor women making a hard shift to live; or we were "aunt and niece," Jane the latter and I the former; or we acted a fiction entitled "the twin sisters," or another, the "two Miss Parks." And we had, too, a great taste for royalty, and were not a little intimate with various members of the royal family. Even the two poor women, "Moll and Bet," were so exemplary in their management and industry as to attract the notice of their Royal Highnesses the Princesses ("when George the Third was King.") When these two estimable cottagers were the subject of our personation, we occupied (weather permitting) either the summer-house or the ci-devant pig-sty. On the grassy ascent upon which the summer-house stood, terminating the long walk, the grass was mixed [Page 40] with a small plant, I fancy trefoil, but I have never been botanist enough to know; however, its name to us was Bob, why, I cannot imagine, unless from the supposed similarity of the three letters to its three small leaves. This we used to gather for winter food, (so hard bestead were we) and the seeds of the mallow we called cheeses, and laid them up in store also. These were simple, healthy, inexpensive toys and pleasures, and, having such resources always at hand at home, and without excitements from abroad, we were never burdensome with the teazing enquiry, "What shall we play at? What shall we do?" Yet we had always assistance at hand if needed. Both father and mother were accessible, and many a choice entertainment did we owe to their patient contrivances. My father, especially, was never weary of inventing, for our amusement or instruction. I have still a little glass case containing a cottage cut in cork, a few trees of moss, a piece of looking-glass for a pond, a cork haystack, and so forth (a Suffolk idyll) which was one of these productions. Another was a small grotto fitted up with spars and minerals. But there was one of these home-made toys which I can hardly think of now without pleasure; it was a landscape painted on cardboard, cut out and placed at different distances, through the lanes of which, by means of a wire turning underneath, there slowly wound a loaded waggon and other carriages; it was contained in a box about seven inches by twelve, and two in depth, with a glass in front. What became of this masterpiece of mechanism I do not know, but it greatly delighted me, and I sometimes think that I owe to it the [Page 41] pleasure I have felt up to this day at the sight of a tilted waggon winding along a country road. *
Of course my dear mother, with health never strong, and all the needlework of the household on her hands, could not undertake our entire instruction. Reading, the Needle, and the Catechism, we were taught by her, and as my father was constantly engraving at the high desk in the same room, it was easy for him to superintend the rest. We were never severely treated, though both my parents were systematic disciplinarians. But I record one instance of mistaken punishment only to show how possible it is, when a child is confused or alarmed, for parents to fall into that error. It must have been when I was very young, for it was owing to a supposed obstinacy in not spelling the word thy. I had been told it repeatedly, t-h-y, in the same lesson, still at the moment it every time unaccountably slipped from the memory. My mother could only attribute it to wilful perverseness, though I believe that was a disposition I could not be charged with. She felt, however, so fully persuaded that I knew, and would not say, that she proceeded to corporal punishment, very rarely administered, but not so entirely abandoned as is the fashion now; a fashion, as I conceive, not countenanced either by reason or scripture, so long as the child is so young as to be sensible to little beyond bodily pleasure and pain. "He that spareth the rod hateth his child," but the proper season must be borne in mind. Wholly to withhold it in early childhood, and to [Page 42] continue it when higher feelings might be appealed to, are errors perhaps equally mischievous. Happy are they (and happy theirs) who with a nice discernment pause at the moment when affections and principles may be brought to bear.
The precise hours allotted to our instruction I now forget, but they were regular, and regularly kept. I remember pleading once in vain for some temporary deviation. We breakfasted at eight, dined at half-past one, took tea at five; then at eight we went to bed, and my father and mother supped at nine. On Sundays, however, we were indulged to sit up to supper, a treat indeed.
Of our Sunday habits I am thankful to remember that, though never gloomy, they were after the olden fashion–strict. It was a day unlike to other days–a feeling I should wish to preserve as a perpetual safeguard. I will not say how much I was profited by accompanying my father at seven o'clock on a winter's morning, to the early prayer meeting, as I conclude, to be out of the way during early duties at home. The only vivid recollection now in my memory is of the astonishing noise made by the blower in raising the vestry fire. This, with the assiduities of Mrs Snelling, the pew-opener, have survived the friction of much more than half-a-century. As Lavenham lies embedded in clay, and there was neither paving nor lighting, Water Street, which frequently well deserved its name, offered sometimes difficulties to Sunday chapel-goers, and not a few of the gentlemen wore pattens. A massive pair, belonging to our friend, Mr Watkinson, the tall, sedate, immoveable man, never guilty, if he knew it, [Page 43] of saying or doing a droll thing, was, when with his family he removed to America, given by him to my father.
Occasionally, when my mother was not well enough to go from home on the Sunday, I have been left to stay with her, and one of our quiet Sundays was signalized by an incident that shook my nerves. She had fallen asleep in the little back parlour, leaving me sole guardian of the premises. Suddenly I heard a tremendous noise somewhere in the kitchen, a knocking and a battering so long and loud, that nothing less than determined burglars could account for. My mother was so poorly that I dared not wake her, and even then so deaf that she did not hear the noise. With inexpressible terror I listened and watched to see the ruffians either enter the room or emerge from the back door into the garden, and, only eight or nine years old as I might be, armed myself with the poker for the worst. If I had not happened to catch sight of the culprit at the precise moment of escape, the mystery might have remained to this day unaccounted for. But I did; an immense dog issued suddenly with prodigious speed from the back door with the remains of a large, deep, stone milk-jar about his neck! Doubtless a small quantity of milk had been left at the bottom, the poor fellow had unwittingly thrust in his nose, the neck was narrow, the milk beyond his tongue-tip, he thrust, and thrust, till he found himself in dreadful custody. Then began the sound that chilled my blood as he banged his portable prison about the kitchen floor, till the bottom giving way, he made use of recovered daylight, though still with a good portion of the pot about his neck, and decamped through the garden, wearing, to [Page 44] my astonished eyes, something like a close cottage bonnet. Whither his terror carried him I never heard, though if he scampered through the town in such a guise I think it would have made some stir. *
And another Sunday afternoon had its terror. From my earliest childhood I had a nervous apprehension of the sudden death of those about me, so that any inequality in the breathing, if asleep, or anything unusual in appearance, excited my alarm. This time, my father being slightly unwell, I was left at home alone with him. For our mutual edification he read aloud Wilcox's Sermons, not the liveliest volume in the world, and after a time I perceived something very singular in his pronunciation and tone, a confusion of syllables, a lengthening and a pause! I thought he was going to die! He did not die, but soon safely recovered; yet it was years afterwards that, recalling the symptoms of this appalling seizure, the true character of it occurred to me, my good father had been–almost asleep!
I had always a conscience, whether or not enlightened, yet always a conscience, and especially with regard to the Sabbath. One Sunday I was myself alone at home, from some trifling ailment, and employed the morning in reading [Page 45] a little book by the Rev. George Burder, containing the "History of Master Goodchild," and various other strictly Sunday readings. Towards the end is the fable of the kite and the string, but this stopped me–a fable might not belong to Sunday reading?–and I left the book open at the place, till my father returned from Meeting, to know whether I might proceed. He silenced my apprehensions, while approving the hesitation. I should prefer so to educate a child as that his errors should always lean to the safer side. If misconceptions cannot always be avoided, those which shall early imbue his feelings with a reverence for the Sabbath are at least less perilous in their tendencies than an over liberal view in the opposite direction. I have, as before stated, no gloomy associations with the Sundays of my childhood, but habits were then formed such as afford a safe ground-work on which principle may build with advantage.
The time at which I began to string my thoughts (if thoughts) into measure I cannot correctly ascertain. It could not be after I was ten years old, and I think when only seven or eight, and arising from a feeling of anxiety respecting my mother's safety during illness. Not wishing (I conclude) to betray myself by asking for paper at home, I purchased a sheet of foolscape from my friend, Mr Meeking, and filled it with verses in metre imitated from Dr Watts, at that time the only poet on my shelves. What became of this effusion I do not know, but I should be glad to exchange for it, if I could, any of my later ones,–
"Not for its worth, we all agree,as Swift says of learning in ladies. [Page 46]
But merely for its oddity,"
The earliest stanza that dwells in my memory, whether belonging to this production or not I cannot tell, is the following
"Dark and dismal was the weather,
Winter into horror grew;
Rain and snow came down together,
Everything was lost to view."
Certain it is, anyway, that from about this date it became my perpetual amusement to scribble, and some large literary projects occupied my reveries. A poetic rendering of the fine moral history of Master Headstrong; a poem intended as antecedent to the Illiad; a new version of the Psalms; and an argumentative reply to Winchester on Future Punishment, were among these early projects, and more or less executed.
Though from the result in substantial pecuniary benefit to ourselves (as much needed as unexpected), together with, I venture to hope, some good to others, I have great reason to be thankful for the habit thus contracted, yet I have certainly suffered by allowing the small disposable time of my youth to expend itself in writing rather than in reading. My mind was in this way stinted by scanty food. Of that I am fully sensible, and leave it as a warning to whomsoever it may concern. If I had not breathed a tolerably healthy atmosphere it would have been lean indeed. But there was always something to be imbibed; either from my mother's reading at meals, or that in which we afterwards all took turn in the workroom; from my father's untiring aptness to teach, his regular habit of settling all questions by reference to authorities, and the books that were always passing through the family. [Page 47] Wherever my father moved there soon arose a book society, if there had not been one before. One word, however, about the reading aloud at meals. I believe my mother fostered thereby a habit of despatching hers too quickly, by which her digestion was permanently injured; and, again, it hindered our acquiring readiness in conversation. To listen, not to talk, became so much a habit with us, as rather to impair fluency of expression–at least in speech.
Rural Holidays–Castle Building–First Visit to London–Artistic Work at Home–Her Father's Dangerous Illness–The New House–Youthful Gaities and Nervous Fears–Political Disturbances–State of Religion–Her Father enters the Nonconformist Ministry–Removal from Lavenham.
"The simple ways in which my childhood walked."
. . . . . .
"Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up,
QUIET, and destitute of amusement as Lavenham was, we yet had our holiday seasons and pleasures, all in keeping with life in the country. In very fine weather, the tea, or even dinner, in the garden, for which there was a choice of spots whether in sunshine or in shade, was an occasion to the children. But the great thing was a whole day's ramble, on what would now be called a pic-nic excursion–father, mother, children, and servants–my father with his pencil, my mother with a book, the servant with provisions. And wherever there was a cottage, a stump, or a tree, worth sketching, there we gathered round him (those of us who did not prefer to hunt for violets), and my mother read till the sketch was finished. Well I remember my father's signal, for attracting our notice to any slip of the "picturesque" that might catch his eye. "Lookye, lookye there?" It was certainly not his fault if my love for it was not kindled so early as might have been. Several [Page 52] drawings and small cards are still in my possession, the result of these happy excursions.
But of all our rural holidays the most exciting was an annual visit to Melford fair. Melford was, perhaps is, a very pretty town of a single street, terminating at the upper end in a large, open, and extremely pleasant green, with respectable houses on one side, a fine old church at the top, and fringed on the other by the park of Sir Harry Parker. On this green was spread the fair, not, as my recollection serves, rude and riotous, but attracting an assemblage of respectable country people from several miles round. Yet the fair made but a part of the pleasure, for on the return walk of about four miles was there not tea at Mr and Mrs Blackadder's, a worthy couple, the perfect personification of farmer and wife far up in Suffolk, say a hundred years ago, for they were still quite of the olden times. Their little homestead was the very centre of old-fashioned hospitality, and tea from the best china in the best parlour was no small delight. Best parlour, however, I should not call it, for the "House, or houseplace" as it is called in Lincolnshire, on the other side of the entrance, could not aspire to anything like so genteel a name. There the 'min' were admitted to regal themselves,–master and men together after their daily labour, unless there was "company." But of the parlour the great attraction for us little girls was the mysterious weather-house on the mantlepiece, from which, if fine weather was to be expected there turned out "a full-dress" lady, or when storms, a gentleman. Home again, it was a pleasant three miles summer evening walk, perhaps with moonlight, all of the olden time! Once, Jane was retained for a few days, a [Page 53] great treat for her, in the midst of farm occupations; but it was with a dash of terror in the enjoyment, that she used to accompany Johnny Underwood to collect the cows for milking. Sometimes, but this was later, when my father's circumstances were becoming easy, there was tea at the "Bull" at Melford, and a drive home in a post-chaise, with its bob-up-and-down postilion, the invariable vehicle for a party in those days. For the clay-roads, however, and among the foot-deep ruts of Suffolk, a lighter vehicle was in use called a "whiskey" or a "quarter-cart." This was constructed to run beside the ruts, and the horse did not occupy the middle of either the carriage or the road, but ran in shafts on one side, so as just to escape the heavy dragging fissure made by the waggon-wheels. Now, so long as the animal kept the track, and especially so long as the side on which he ran did not suddenly sink, all was safe, the weight of the horse counterbalancing the sway, but if suddenly raised on the opposite side, horse and chaise would go over together. To drive a "quarter-cart," therefore, along a Suffolk road required some skill, yet, my father, who had a regular engagement to supply the drawings and engravings of the gentlemen's seats of the county, for Gedge's Pocket-Book, published at Bury, drove continually in a "quarter-cart" and never met with an accident.
On the 9th or 10th of October (perhaps both), Lavenham Fair was held in the "market place," though it boasted no market. And on the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes came out in all his glory. That night (if one may speak for another) the excitement was intense. Exactly opposite our house was the playground of Mr Blower's [Page 54] school, and it was a matter of moment to ascertain whether the young gentlemen intended to make their annual display of fireworks on the premises or in the market place. If the former, we had an excellent view from our upper windows, alloyed by only two circumstances; the one, that the principal front of all the fireworks was directed towards a bevy of ladies assembled, for the evening, in the gardens of the bachelor clergyman; we little people, therefore, could only rejoice in the happy freedom of squibs, sky-rockets, and Roman candles, which confessed neither law, limit, nor politeness in their eccentricities. The other detraction from the pleasures of the evening, consisted in the dark uninhabited remoteness of the large chamber, from which we witnessed the exhibition; a flight of dark stairs led up to it; a few pieces of ambiguous lumber were its only furniture, and even by daylight, I did not pass the foot of that flight without a response from my nerves. But at night! It was only the fireworks in front, and papa and mamma behind, that rendered it tenantable.
If, however, Mr Blower's young gentlemen "let off" in the market place, the interest and anxiety were greater still. We had then to be conveyed through innumerable perils by our dear, careful father, to "Bob Watson's," a fat, good-natured hairdresser, from whose large upper window the view was excellent–except, that again, as fate would have it, the most brilliant Catherine wheels and every determinable article were always set, would you believe it?–opposite the house of Mr Brook Branwhite, who possessed a numerous family of unmarried daughters! Nay, the two young doctors, brothers, usually known as [Page 55] Dr Tom and Dr John, displayed exactly the same perversenesss, calculating all their effects for the same bay-windows! very provoking, but historians must be faithful.
These brothers, Dr Tom and Dr John, carried on the various departments of the medical profession for miles round Lavenham, and lived together in the same house, but, according to popular report, without ever speaking to each other! The patients, however, were never interchangeable. We belonged to Dr Tom, the youngest, a handsome man, who, as surgeon in the militia, sometimes quickened the pulses of little patients by appearing in the uniform of his regiment. For myself, he won my heart by the gift, one day, of a most diminutive pill box, a real original Dutch-made wooden pill box–not one of the paper substitutes to which we were condemned when the trade with Holland was broken up by the French war, and with which the country has remained apparently satisfied ever since–cured or killed, as before!
I have hesitated whether to give the local colloquial appellation of "Bob Watson" and others, but I am amused (as, perhaps, you may be) at the extent to which this homeliness of style was then and there carried. Whether from the seclusion of the place or the distance of the period, most of our poorer neighbours were always so spoken of: taking the cottages, as they stood nearest to us, there was Poll Porter, and Bet Carter, and Bob Nunn, Billy Joslin, and Sam Snell. Wishing, as far as I can, to photograph both place and period, this homeliness cannot be excluded. Be it remembered that it was as far back as 1786 that the sun first shone on Lavenham for me. Such as it was then, I give it you, and pleasant it was on a [Page 56] summer's afternoon to see the street lined with spinning wheels (not spinning-jennies, but Jennies spinning); everywhere without, the whiz of the wheels, and within, the scrape of the shuttle, the clatter and thump of the loom at which the men were at work. Picturesqueness was got out of it all, if not gold. *
Upon "Bob Nunn," a journeyman carpenter, I remember to have expended much compassion and worlds of contrivance, by which he was never benefited. Very early, I took to castle building, and the desolate condition of this poor man laid the first stone, as far as I can remember, of these aerial edifices. He was one of the ugliest, dirtiest, and most forlorn looking persons I can call to mind; but withal, reputed industrious and honest, so that his misery must have sprung from an indolent, ragged, offensive, dawdle of a wife. His mud cottage, with its mud floor, and wretched destitution, were the pity of the neighbourhood. It was, therefore, a favourite speculation of mine to take him in hand, and, in some way, ridding him of his female incumbrance, I conferred upon him the advantages which industry and honesty ought to secure; in fact, I made a new man of him. This was one [Page 57] of my castles, and for years, I can assure you, they were of the most benevolent and even patriotic character. I had another protégé. Billy Joslin was, by trade, a hand weaver, with a wife, a clever char-woman, perhaps of doubtful integrity, but occasionally employed in our service. He was a member of our church, had a large family, and was worthy enough, and poor enough, to become a recipient of my bounties. For this family, I did wonders. There was a house on the common, shaded by two fine trees, which, repaired and white-washed, would be very pretty; this, therefore, I mentally repaired and white-washed accordingly, and next, provided the family with suitable clothing, determining the number and patterns of every article, being greatly indebted for the colours of the little frocks required, to the diligent study of the patchwork quilt under which I slept–or should have slept, when these perplexing cares sometimes engaged me. Having thus made full preparation, I enjoyed the satisfaction of breaking to them the singular secret; when, having them all clean and dressed, I took them in procession, two and two, to their new habitation, where, I have no doubt, that I supplied any deficiency in their means of subsistence.
I believe that all this good was done before I was twelve years old–perhaps I should rather say all this evil! For what a ruinous pre-occupation of mind does it imply? The habit itself, whatever be its object, is so grievously injurious, that I would leave it, stamped with double earnestness, as a charge to my children and to theirs, never to indulge in it; the best way being never to begin. How must they be characterised, who, passing like [Page 58] shadows only, among the realities of living duty, inhabit hourly, daily, and for years, a world of imagined interests, wasting mental vigour upon exertions never made, and dimming common comforts by an ever-hovering mist of vain imaginings!
When, during my youth, something like religious impression was made upon my mind, I felt the disadvantage, was convinced of the sin, and made severe struggles to disentangle myself from the snare in which for so many years I had been a prisoner. And for a time, I think a considerable time, I sustained the resolve; but at length a small circumstance, nothing more than having to copy a beautiful landscape, carried me over again into fairy land, and led my musings into the seductive regions from which, as I thought, I had escaped. It had its day–a day too long–but eventually the realities of life made forcible entrance; though duty itself has sometimes had to pioneer its way over the rough roots and broken stems of an imperfectly cleared wilderness. Oh, my foolish heart, what hast thou to say to such a retrospect! *
We had been in the country about three years, when [Page 59] my mother's yearnings to see her family and friends in London were brought to a point by the expected visit of the king (George III.) to St Paul's, to return thanks for his recovery from mental illness; a scene of excitement little calculated to continue a sane condition, but there was probably some unacknowledged political reason for amusing the public by the fearful venture. Among the thousands who on that occasion flocked to the metropolis were my mother and her two little girls. I was then, June 1789, somewhat more than seven, and Jane not quite six years old. We were to travel by the Bury coach, which passed through Sudbury, seven miles distant, as early as seven in the morning on its road to London. Between one and two, therefore, that summer morning we left our beds in order to start by "Billy East," by which must be understood the postman's cart. Loaded, and covered in as we were, behind our single Rosinante, I soon began to feel very sick; and being asked how I was, replied, "I am inclined for what I have no inclination to." That I should have borne this early sprout of the pun in mind for much more than half a century, seems something like a waste of memory, does it not? Yet, if in my wisdom I were to try and forget it now, I daresay I should not be able. My father accompanied us to Sudbury, then returning to his high desk, and the sole companionship of his promising little boy, Isaac, third of his name, my still living and well-known brother. He was at his birth (1787) a remarkably fine child, as is fully attested by a sketch taken of him when less than twenty-four hours old, by my father; but he began immediately to pine, his death at one time was hourly expected, and a glass held [Page 60] over his mouth alone detected his breathing. In this state Mrs Perry Branwhite insisted upon taking him to a wet-nurse, a young woman of nineteen, and the change for life was almost instantaneous. He was thenceforward carried daily to "Nanny Keble," of whom there is a small portrait, painted as a gleaner, at Stanford Rivers. * For size and beauty as a child he became after this almost proverbial. Martin, born fourteen months afterwards, was also placed out with her, and Isaac, therefore, was the only one left at home when we set out for London.
Of London, and its brilliant doings, I can recal but here and there a shred. We had friends in Fleet Street, on the left hand side, looking up to St Paul's, and there we were to take our stations. A better position could scarcely have been selected from which to witness the cavalcade. We went to the house at five in the morning of the 25th of June, the room, a first floor, being fitted up with seats rising from the windows a considerable height behind, but we as little folks were happily placed in front. There we waited, oh, so long! There was amusement, however, in watching the throngs below less fortunate than ourselves, and the ladies in the room, many in full dress with their hair curled and powdered, and head-dresses adorned with white ribbons carrying in gold letters the words, "God save the king." At length, towards noon, the splendid pageant arrived, and fortu- [Page 61] nately for us a carriage with several of the princesses was detained a considerable time under our windows. They were dressed in white, and some sort of golden ornament lay in the lap of one of them. Poor things! I have thought since, for the lot of English princesses has not always been enviable. So the cavalcade passes into the mists of memory, which refuses to produce more of that long forgotten day.
The evening of the following day London was splendidly illuminated. We children saw a little of it in Holborn, but my poor mother was induced reluctantly to accompany a party to the India House, which was reported particularly brilliant, and from that night dated much of her after life of suffering Whether from fear of fire, or some local accident, the plugs in that neighbourhood were up and the streets under water, while, to make matters worse, in the midst of the overwhelming crowd both my mother's shoes were trodden off. Many others it seems were equally unfortunate, for in the course of the night, she met a woman with a barrowful of lost shoes, amongst which she had the strange luck to pick out first one, and then the other of her own! The cold thus taken, however, became so threatening that my father was summoned to town, and though she recovered the immediate effects, her health was never sound afterwards.
Among the few additional circumstances which I retain of this excursion is a visit to Kensington, to see that James Martin (my mother's uncle), of whose conduct to his aged father you have heard me speak. * Yes, and my [Page 62] terror at passing a door in my uncle Charles Taylor's house, leading to a room, as I was told, full of "dead men's arms and legs," a terror which scarcely yielded to the information, afterwards obtained, that it was only a depositary for plaster casts. The "dead men's legs" continued to speed after me, notwithstanding.
My mother having sufficiently recovered, we again left London for our pleasant country home, to her with feelings how different from those under which she first entered it! It was now a home, and with the prospect of more than comfort. The work, to complete which in cheap retirement my father had quitted London, was a set of plates to an edition of Shakespeare, published by his brother Charles. These had been so well executed as to establish his reputation as an artist. Alderman Boydell about this time projected what was to be a great national work, calculated to give employment for many years to the first talent in the country, both in painting and engraving. All the artists of note were engaged to furnish pictures in oil, most of them illustrative of Shakespeare, and all the engravers followed in their wake. Upon my father showing to Mr Boydell some specimen plates of his small Shakespeare, he was immediately entrusted with a large plate (measuring about 24 inches by 18), the subject being the death of David Rizzio by Opie. For this engraving, an immense advance upon anything he had done before, my father was to receive 250 guineas. I have heard it said that the painter having some cause of pique against Dr Walcot, the notorious Peter Pindar of the day, introduced his portrait as the principal assassin. It is possible that Peter in some of his satires may have justly incurred the rebuke. [Page 63]
I have heard my dear father say with what a pang of depression and anxiety he contemplated so large an undertaking, which must be carried through with his own solitary hand, and upon which so much of the well-being of his family was suspended. But his was not the heart to cower before difficulties. Hope, faith, activity, patience, cheerfulness–what a train of angel helpers!–were at his side, and to it he went. The work was admirably executed, though not without difficulties. It was necessary to send the plate frequently to London for proofs, and at every such time the painter revised it, suggesting alterations of effect by black and white chalk. Who but an engraver knows the doleful meaning of a "touched proof?" An alteration freely made while the painter could count ten, might cost the engraver more, probably, than as many days, or even weeks to that effect. However, the plate was entirely successful, and being exhibited at the Society of Arts in the Adelphi, obtained the gold medal, and a premium of ten guineas, as the best engraving of the year. *
My father was now loaded with commissions, and the large parlour which, unoccupied, had been our play-room, became the centre of attraction to the neighbourhood. "The Pictures at Mr Taylor's" became the lions of Lavenham. One of them, a noble picture by Stothard–the [Page 64] first interview between Henry the VIII. and Ann Boleyn–contained sixteen figures, rather larger than life, so that it filled the side of the room. A beautiful one by Hamilton, about eight feet by six, represented the separation of Edwy and Elgiva. That of Jacques and the wounded deer was of the same size, with many others. For engraving the Ann Boleyn the price was 500 guineas. It was now necessary to take apprentices, and two were engaged, one of whom, Nathan Branwhite, the eldest son of the schoolmaster, afterwards became an artist of repute. Both lived in the town, and did not, therefore, intrude on the comfort of the fireside, to which my father and mother would not willingly have submitted. Another room, however, was fitted up as a workroom, to which my father's high desk was removed; and, as various smaller works were in hand at the time, a printing press was procured for "proving," and a young woman, glad to earn a few shillings apart from the spinning wheel, was instructed to work it; the building intended for a brewhouse being converted into a printing office for the purpose.
A course of easy prosperity appeared likely now to reward my father's industry; but an immediate difficulty arose from the fact that our pleasant house was required by its owner, the Rev. William Cooke, and enquiry in every direction for another was made without success. After much anxiety it was found necessary to purchase one close by, having ground sufficient for a garden, and with three cottages adjoining. It was in ruinous condition. For the entire property the purchase-money was £250, and it was to cost £250 more to render it habitable.
This work, now commenced, therefore, and with all the [Page 65] pleasure that a thorough contriver, architect, and gardener, such as my father by nature was, could not but feel in the seducing business of brick and mortar, paint and paper, grass and gravel. Time, thought, ingenuity, and hope were occupied to his heart's content. Here, in a home of his own, contrived in every particular on his own ideas of convenience and comfort, and with a large garden laid out to his own taste, he hoped to rear his family , and spend his life. But a cloud the size of a man's hand was in the sky.
On the 30th of October in this year, 1792, your Uncle Jefferys was born. Nanny Keble was then out of date, and the infant was consigned to the care of nurse Hunt, a very clean cottager living up an entry in the High Street, but open to the country behind. He was about six weeks old, when my father started on one of his annual journeys for the Pocket-Book. As usual it was in a "quarter-cart," and this time as far as Thetford in Norfolk. The season was advanced, it came on continued rain, and having no shelter, he returned with a severe cold, and rheumatic-fever ensued. It was the commencement of a time of trial, not perhaps exceeded by any of the subsequent afflictions of my mother's life. For three months he was confined helpless, and almost hopeless, to his bed. Very soon it was requisite to stop the workmen at the other house, which, close in view of the room in which my father lay, was a sight of agony to my poor mother; it stood dismantled and desolate, and with every probability that it would never be inhabited by him.
On my father's personal exertions depended our entire provision. Nothing had as yet been realised beyond what [Page 66] was required for the purchase of the house. Two apprentices, not sufficiently advanced to do anything but of the humblest order, were left unemployed. The four children at home, the eldest not eleven, the youngest only four years old, were left to the tender mercies of a kitchen, full of the helps and sitters-up that disorganise a house on such occasions; while my mother, weak from her recent confinement, stricken in her tenderest affections, giving up in one desperate abandonment every care of which her husband was not the object, confined herself night and day with little sleep or food to his bedside. What it cost her to give up her children none can estimate who did not know the depth of tenderness with which, till then, she had devoted herself to our interests. It was sorrow indeed!
I have wondered since that I was not admitted to render more assistance than I recollect was the case, but I suspect the typhoid form, which I believe the disease assumed, prevented this. I remember well the forlorn foreboding that was continually upon me, for, though I was not told my papa was dying, yet the daily visits of the Lavenham doctor, then those of Dr Drake of Hadleigh, and at last the summons of Dr Norford from Bury, told me of the danger; and when on the Christmas morning I awoke and heard the bells, my first fear was that they were tolling for his death. But on Christmas-eve a special prayer-meeting was held in behalf of him of whose recovery little hope was left, and he was restored, as it seemed, at the supplication of the sympathizing Christian friends who then assembled. On the same dreary evening, Dr Norford at his bedside, after fixing his eyes upon him, and apparently with deep attention watch- [Page 67] ing his pulse for a long time,–my mother breathless on his eyes and lips, said cheerfully,–"Well, sir, you are not a dying man to-night." Oh! the moments of intense joy that sometimes sparkle like stars in the midst of trouble! No seasons of what is called happiness are half so delightful. It was a mournful circumstance that within a month of this visit when Dr Norford's words brought life to the household, he was himself removed by sudden death.
It was at the most alarming period of my father's terrible illness that the mind of my dear mother seemed on a sudden to give way. She had done and borne everything with indefatigable patience and energy; a single egg in the day was for a length of time all the sustenance she could take; she never left the room, and committed the personal attendance requisite to no other hand; but on one of those gloomy winter days she was suddenly missing. The alarm of the whole house was very great. Mr Hickman was sent for, and at length she was found alone in the solitary meadows, walking on the brink of that dull river. He soothed and brought her home, but for an hour or two she did not seem aware of the circumstances. She presently entirely recovered, and never sank afterwards.
So at last the winter of sorrow, deeper and more gloomy than that of the season, began to break up. Relapse, it is true, came upon relapse, and I well remember the undefined terror with which, from time to time, I heard that word, but still our dear father was evidently recovering. With spring came hope and glimpses of happiness, and at last the workmen were summoned to the abandon- [Page 68] ed house again. After five month's confinement, my father once more appeared amongst us. There were large bills to pay–besides physician's fees, £30 to the surgeon, the cost of a bushel of phials left as perquisites on our hands–innumerable derangements to rectify, anxious work to resume, and strength wasted all but to the grave to recover; but, nothing dismayed, he took his place among various and pressing duties, with thankfulness, faith, and hope.
At the mid-summer of 1793 our new house was deemed habitable, and thither, as to a new life, we were delighted to remove. By his unfailing contrivance, the house was made to suit us exactly, and the garden, beautiful and pleasant, to our heart's desire. The best parlour (a "drawing-room" was not then known in Lavenham), till a little of the pecuniary pressure was worked down, was left unfurnished at the disposal of "Ann and Jane" to whip their tops in, but the common parlour was as pretty and comfortable as it could be, with a door and a large bay window into the garden, and a sliding panel for convenient communication with the kitchen. China closets and store closets were large and commodious; all was so convenient, so contrived for the comfort of every day, that to live and die there was the reasonable hope, as it was the highest ambition, of my parents. The garden, too, was an especially nice one. Happily there were several well-grown trees already on the ground, and a trellis arbour covered with honeysuckle, stood on a rising ground underneath a picturesque old pear tree. Then there was a long shrubbery walk, and an exit by a white gate and rails to the common. A poultry yard, containing sometimes [Page 69] seventy fowls of different sorts was on the premises behind, and an excavated and paved pond for ducks.
To this agreeable residence, however, my mother carried a state of health, which effectually prevented her from enjoying it. Doubtless the demands made on both mind and body during my father's illness conduced to this result. But so it is, that in various ways it almost uniformly happens that the entrance upon any scene from which much has been anticipated is spoiled. The thorns and briars threatened as the spontaneous growth of a sin-smitten world seem here to be planted thickly, and with clear design to obstruct the path. Yet, though assisted by these constantly recurring intimations, how long it is before we learn effectually, if ever, that the next projected change–the home we have selected and furnished for ourselves–does not contain a single element of substantial happiness; that it is not fitted to be our rest; that it might be a greater curse than any other if we could contentedly feel it to be such! Perhaps in time, after numerous disappointments, we begin to spell out the meaning, to regard the future with chastened expectation, and to enjoy with more sobriety the comforts that are vouchsafed to us. Happy if such is the result rather than a dull unthankful impatience!
But even if no obvious interference occurs with our designs, yet to every spot whither we go we carry ourselves, and with ourselves the root of evil. An ill-governed mind, and may we not say that every mind is more or less so? cannot be entirely happy anywhere, and blessed is he who can honestly say, "I have learned in [Page 70] whatsoever state I am to be therewith content." Till then,
"'Tis but a poor relief we gain,
To change the place and keep the pain."
But even the Christian heart, controlled and regulated as in some degree it is, needs the constant memento. Some bitter must needs be infused into every cup of enjoyment in order to sustain in the spirit the recollection of its true character. There is but one remove respecting which a hope without alloy may be safely indulged, if even this always safely.
The scene of comfort with the prospect of temporal prosperity now before us, was such as fully to meet the quiet ambition of my parents. I sometimes heard their speculations for the future, but a change of style was not among them. Would that such were now the spirit of the times! To live as they were, but without anxiety, and to command all that was needed for the education of their children, formed the limit of their wishes. Yet, even in such a secluded sphere, we were not quite secure from moral hazards.
Our nearest neighbour was the Rev. W. Cooke, whose tenants we had recently been, and with his daughter, a sweet and beautiful girl of our own age, we became acquainted at the dancing school, the pupils of which consisted, besides ourselves, of the younger Watkinsons, and a selection from the young gentlemen of the school opposite. Our fat dancing-master–for light as might be his professional step, his reputed weight was eighteen stone–came over weekly from Bury to a room at the Swan Inn, and it has been no small pleasure to me to [Page 71] meet in after years with one of my dancing partners of those days, in General Addison, belonging to a Sudbury family of Nonconformists, and who showed himself to the last not ashamed of his colours. With the Cooke's we were soon at home. He was quite a clergyman of the old style,–slender in make, courtly in manners, his wife something between a fashionable and a motherly woman. The Favells, mother and daughter, generally resided with them, and during vacations young Favell, a gay good-natured Cambridge-man, fuller of amusing tricks than of qualifications for the clerical profession, for which he was training. In this family, while the elders took their evening game at cards, the children amused themselves with an old pack in the corner, and I became exceedingly fond of the diversion. About the same time an elderly lady, a relative of my mother, whose sources of amusement lay in narrow compass, visited us, and we were allowed to borrow a pack of cards for her entertainment. They were returned as soon as she left, not without urgent entreaty on our part that we might have a pack of our own. My wise father firmly refused. He believed in the "stitch in time."
Bury St. Edmunds fair, was a mart for all the surrounding country. There, not "dresses" but "gowns" were bought, destined not for the dressmaker, but the "mantua-maker." Prints of 3s. 6d. per yard, calendered, as we now do our chintzes and curtains, made handsome "gowns" for a married lady, a square neck-handkerchief of book muslin, duly clear-starched, being pinned over the dress. It was one of our Autumn holidays to drive over in a post-chaise and spend a day at Bury fair, making necessary [Page 72] purchases. There our winter clothing, as well as my first wax doll, were bought. On one occasion when, after dining at an inn, our chaise was ordered for the return, troops of enviable holiday-makers were flocking into the theatre opposite. We were urgent again, "just for once," but again my father refused. In these cases the narrow end of the wedge may have been in his mind, and the remembrance may be worth preserving.
At the Watkinsons', grave people as they were, there were Christmas dances, and of course at the Cookes', but to these we were too young to be invited.
On one occasion, however, we were allowed, under my mother's wing, to go to what was called a dance. It was at a farm house, to the family of which we had been introduced under circumstances illustrating the habits of the place and time. The small-pox was not allowed to make its appearance within an inhabited district. A singularly deplorable building, at a short distance on the road to Bury, was appropriated to the reception of cases occuring among the poor of Lavenham; nor shall I forget the feeling of mingled terror and mystery with which we regarded it, if ever we passed within sight of this forlorn receptacle of disease and misery. But from the same rule, when respectable families had resolved on innoculation, it was necessary to take lodgings for the purpose at a distance from the town. Mr Coe, of the farm house referred to, was about to innoculate his own family, and it was decided that my mother and I should remove thither, in charge of my three young brothers, that they might submit to the anxious process. (My sister and I had passed favourably through it in London.) As none [Page 73] throughout the household were seriously ill, the sojourn amongst them was more of a holiday than anything else; and now at Christmas we were invited to the dance, where no less than sixty rural belles and beaux assembled. The chamber of arrival was thickly strewn with curl papers, my own hair was dressed as a wig two or three inches deep, hanging far down the back, and covering the shoulders from side to side, a singular fashion which I have lived to see re-appear among my grandchildren. Perhaps I had better confess that, though having learned to dance, an advantage not general to the company, I might have expected some appreciation as a partner, the full-formed easy figures, glowing complexions, and merry eyes of the farmer's daughters, were undeniably more in request. There was one among them that, if my impressions are correct, was in all respects the most beautiful young woman I have ever seen. I am now in my eightieth year, where is she? Her history, whatever it has been, we may be almost sure is closed. To me it is very impressive to review the associates of my chilhood with the though–still existing–gone somewhere–but whither?
I have frequently adverted to a nervousness of imagination, from which, indeed, I have suffered through life. The mention of Hadleigh, the residence of Dr Drake, of literary celebrity, recals to my mind a torment of my childhood, with which one of the martyr-worthies of the reign of Queen Mary, Dr Rowland Taylor, who was rector of that place, had some connection. Low, sloping hills rise on almost every side of Hadleigh, and from their summits may be seen the winding river, the green meadows, the substantial bridge, and the ancient houses [Page 74] of the town; a steep lane, between banks, leads up to Oldham Common, where an old rude stone bears this inscription:–
Defending that was goode,
At this place left his Blode.
He had been taken to London and imprisoned in the Compter. After degradation by Bishop Bonner, and an affecting interview that evening with his wife and children, the sheriff and his officers led him forth in total darkness, for it was two o'clock on the morning of the 6th of February, to the Woolsack Inn in Aldgate, "but"–here I quote from a brief biography–"as he passes through St. Botolph's Churchyard, his wife and two little girls are waiting, shivering with cold. They spring out to meet him, and they four kneel down to pray for the last time. He gives them parting counsel and his blessing, kisses his children and his wife, and the brave woman says, 'God be with thee, dear husband, I will, by God's grace, meet thee at Hadleigh.' At this spectacle the sheriff weeps, and the officers, strong men as they are, are bowed down. And now, committed to the custody of the sheriff of Essex, and guarded by yeomen and officers, the prisoner is placed on horseback, and the cavalcade moves on to Brentwood, to Chelmsford, and so to Lavenham. Two days are spent at Lavenham, the last halting-place. Many gentlemen assemble there and try to turn him to Popery. Pardon, preferment, even a bishopric are offered him, but all in vain." And so he passes on to Oldham Common, but a few miles off, is chained to the stake, and breathes [Page 75] out his last words amidst the flames, 'Father, for Jesus' sake, receive my soul.' "
Familiar with this mournful narrative, a nervous terror fell upon me whenever I had to pass the old brick building in which Dr Taylor was said to have been confined. It stood at some distance behind a wall, so that I could see little of it except the upper storey–in my time, I fancy, a hay loft. In this was an opening, not exactly a window, but an orifice closed by shutters of time-blackened boards, sometimes left open, and disclosing a dark unknown –the very chamber, as I either heard or supposed, in which the martyr had been immured! Whenever I had to pass this haunted spot alone, I well remember that I always ran. You will wonder that I have not been frightened to death long ago. You will understand, at least, why I so regularly refuse to listen to a ghost story.
We had, in our new house, a large room, running the entire length of one part of the building, this was appropriated to business. My father's high desk was placed at the upper end; a row of windows facing the yard, was occupied by the apprentices, and another, overlooking the garden, was filled by the children pursuing their education, with whom, two or three times a week, were associated some of the juniors of the Watkinson family, to share advantages which were now well understood by our neighbours. One young lady became an inmate for a time, who was endeavouring to learn the art of Engraving, to which, however, neither her taste nor her health proved equal. Another addition, too, was made about this time, in a Mrs Salmon, a sister of the Dr Norford who [Page 76] has been mentioned, Her history was singular and mournful. Early in life, she had been on the stage, had married an officer, and accompanied him to America during the war there; she was now a widow, in nearly destitute circumstances, and having been brought through accumulated trials to her "right mind," had fallen, in some way, among the Christian people at Lavenham. My father and mother, much interested in her condition, offered her a temporary home under their roof, and her lively manners and variety of anecdote, rendered her a not undesirable guest. Our house was thus a scene of active and intelligent industry, and our circle not wanting in diversity of interest, yet notwithstanding our numerous household (to which Nathan Branwhite was now added), we never kept more than one servant! Incredible, and therefore impossible it would be thought now, yet the home of my childhood was not disorderly. We were always punctual as to time as well as early, in part, perhaps, the secret of this creditable state of things; and though, during the ten years at Lavenham, we had our share of indifferent or unworthy servants, we had the good fortune to have, at least, two who deserved the favourable mention of them by my mother, in her "Present to a Young Servant," under the names of Susan Gardener and Sarah Leven; both remained with us till they married, and the latter came occasionally afterwards. Needlework was never put out, but the abundant ornament now thought necessary for children, was happily not thought so then. My mother used to say that "a child is pretty enough without trimmings."
Yet, with all this activity, my mother suffered con- [Page 77] stant pain, and at this time, though drives two or three times a week were recommended, the jolt over a small stone in the road was almost more than she could bear. It was determined, therefore, that leaving Mrs Salmon to act as housekeeper, she should visit London, and take the best advice there. My father, mother, and I, then twelve years old, made up the party, and remained in lodgings at Islington about a month. She derived, however, little benefit from the treatment prescribed. But it was at this time that I was first introduced to the valued friends of my youth, Susan and Luck Conder, the only surviving children of Mr S. Conder of Clapton. A distance of more than half a century, and half the globe, has not yet severed associations then formed. Their father and mother, even before their marriage, had been the friends of both my parents, and it gives me pleasure to feel that the entail has not yet been cut off. The changes of situation, and too often of feeling which frequently terminate early friendships, are, to me, peculiarly painful to contemplate. It is true that, in many instances, the local associations of childhood and youth are better dropped than continued; moral differences may widen, and tastes so opposite may develope themselves, that continued intimacy might be as burdensome as dangerous. But where it is only that one party has been fortunate, the other unfortunate, the separation is mournful indeed. How much more so when the inequality divides the brothers and sisters of the same nursery!
I please myself in the belief that, among you, dear children, there is a feeling too deeply fraternal and sisterly to fear much from the blights of time or circumstance. [Page 78] Still, who shall predict the irritations, supposed or actual wrongs, which, as life sweeps roughly over you, may interrupt the harmony! "The mother of mischief is no bigger than a midge's wing," and, as in a sea bank, you would dread a fissure, however small, rid yourselves with loving ingenuity, speed, or sacrifice, of the first feeling of suspicion, of jealousy, or any of the thousand wedges, hot from a forge below, by which hearts and families are sundered,–above all, dreading the "wedge of gold." Ah, I cannot help pausing over the bitter possibility, and by all the tenderness that consecrates a voice from the grave, would entreat you not to allow a breach to commence. Will circumstances never arise to try the elasticity of affection? strange if they do not! But are you obliged to succumb to them? No, you were born probationers. Life is but one advancing trial; the best of its possessions have to be paid for–some by industry, privation, suffering; others, and the best of all, by forbearance, self-control, self-denial; by the reflections and resolves of a rational and Christian mind. Habituate yourselves to realise the feelings natural to those around you, and deal as tenderly with them as with your own. Above all, and may that be the master key to all your hearts, "Be tender, be pitiful, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." So prays your mother, living and amongst you, so, with intensity of emphasis, would she pray, if allowed to address you from her final resting-place.
But to return to Lavenham. A change of weather was in the sky, and it blew from different quarters. The Revolution in France had produced, in England, universal ferment, and with it, fear. Parties in every nook and [Page 79] corner of the country bristled into enmity, and the dissenters, always regarded as the friends of liberty, fell under the fury of toryism, exploding from the corrupt under-masses of what, in many places, was an all but heathen population. "No Press, no Press," meaning no Presbyterians, was the watchword of even our quiet town. Troops of ill-disposed, disorderly people often paraded the streets with this hue-and-cry, halting, especially, at the houses of known and leading dissenters. On one occasion, as has been related, both in my sister's "Life" and in my brother's "Recollections," our house was only saved from wreck by the appearance of our clerical neighbour, Mr Cooke, at his door, with a request to the vagabond concourse to pass on, but the credit of which interference he entirely disclaimed to my father when he went to thank him the next day, coolly giving as his reason that Mrs Cooke's sister was unwell at the time, and the disturbance might have been injurious to her.
And it was not from an ignorant populace only that danger was to be apprehended. A system of oppression and espionage was adopted, which threatened to violate the free privacies of life. No one felt safe in expressing a political opinion, even at his own table, if a servant stood behind his chair. The shades of Muir and Palmer raised a warning finger in even the least suspecting companies. The safeguards of Habeas Corpus were removed, and the counsel once given, "let them that are in Judea flee unto the mountains," seemed fearfully appropriate to the day. America was the home of safety to which all who could emigrate began to cast a longing eye, and under the conviction that England would become less [Page 80] and less of a mother country to her children, our friend, Mr Watkinson, to the inexpressible regret and loss of the circle with which he was connected, announced his intention of transplanting his family to that land of liberty. Of Mr Watkinson's twelve children, one daughter had married a gentleman holding a farm not far from Lavenham, and not only did they consent to share the removal, but others, to the number of sixty in the neighbourhood, took advantage of the convoy, and left at the same time.
It was the first serious breach upon the prosperity of our little church, and it was speedily followed by another. This was in 1794, when "Ann and Jane" were respectively twelve and eleven years of age; yet the correspondence was kept up with their friends across the water, till the death of Jane Taylor in 1824, broke one link of the friendship, and that of Ann Watkinson in 1835, the other.
Though Mr Watkinson was eminently the wealthy man of the congregation, my father was the friend from whom, when quarter day did not come quite soon enough, the minister was accustomed to borrow. If in need of temporary assistance in this way, Mr Hickman would come into the workroom, and exhibit five or ten fingers on the edge of my father's desk, when the dumb show would be adroitly responded to without exposing the business to children, apprentices, or standers by. My father and mother made early confidants of us in their own affairs, but they held it to be neither kind nor wise to be equally frank with the affairs of others. Our children they thought are not their children, and this to them makes all the difference. My mother had a truly Christian delicacy in these respects, and used frequently to say, [Page 82] "People excuse themselves by saying, it was only my husband, only my child, to whom I told it; but unless it were your husband, or your child, this renders it not a whit more agreeable to the confiding friend. " My mother, who was anything but reserved, made a strong distinction between concerns simply her own, and those with which she might be entrusted.
Let me add a word upon this. There are two things in our intercourse with society which it behoves us to keep in mind: one is, that a burdened spirit in the relief afforded by communication and sympathy is sometimes led into disclosures which may afterwards be sorely regretted. It should be felt binding, therefore, on the honour of the receiver to hold sacred even an implied confidence. Many little occasions may arise trying to this integrity of friendship; but they are moments of temptation. Remember that for the short-lived pleasure of telling, you barter the approval of your own heart, and forfeit, it if come to light, the confiding esteem of your friend. Remember, too, that once told, neither skill nor regret can recall the wrong. The thing is known, will always be known, and unless others have more delicacy than yourself, it will also spread. The other point refers to such a case as this: you have come into possession of some scandal, by which the standing of persons within your circle is irrecoverably lowered, though it may have occurred early in life, or been followed by a complete change of character, or years of consistent usefulness; and then some stranger has scarcely set foot in the locality when you are impelled to dole out to him all the grievous history! A mischief this as irreparable, as it was need- [Page 82] less, has been committed; the disgrace of the unconscious victim is handed on, and no length of blameless conduct can avail to deliver him from the grip his sin has got upon his name. No doubt there are cases in which it becomes a painful duty to instruct a stranger in the real character of persons to whom he may be unsuspectingly introduced, but let it be seen to, that such is the necessity, before the wrong be done.
It was at this juncture, when infidelity and crime seemed to have come forth with shameless ferocity, that the Missionary Society (not to mention the Bible Society) took its rise. Its history you will better learn elsewhere, but it is curious to recollect the hesitancy with which it was met. Mr, afterwards Dr Bogue, was among the first actual movers in this great Christian enterprise. If only permission from government could be secured he wished to transport himself as a missionary to India, but great objection was in the way, and application was made, I conclude, to the churches generally, to unite in petitions to Government to that effect. The strange proposal was discussed in our parlour between Mr Hickman and my father; and forward as he was in every good word and work, I remember the doubt with which he entertained it. Could it be a duty? was it not running before Providence? and so forth. Where could the antiquated christian be now unearthed, whom we could find harbouring such suspicions? What hath God wrought!
From such a state of feeling generally towards the great missionary work, it might be supposed that vital religion did not exist in the country. But the suspicion would be as unjust as it may appear natural. The religion [Page 83] of the State–that by law established–was indeed snoring in its sleep, or if a little more awake, was speaking only in the great swelling words of vanity, which the pet of kings and statesmen is sure to utter. It is true there were Scotts and Newtons to be found weeping for the evils by which they were surrounded, and diffusing a clear light within limited spheres; but as far as, either at Lavenham, or afterwards at Colchester, my own knowledge extended, it might be charitable not to depict the character of our authorized teachers generally.
It was more than half a century earlier than the period to which I refer, that Wesley and Whitfield darted, as by electric flash, the light of heaven through the stagnant masses of a church-going population, and from that time vital religion found new homes. Brutal, senseless opposition could not extinguish a work that was of God, and the good of Methodism will survive whatever may become of it as a system. But it was of the Independent Churches that I knew the most, and many were the excellent of the earth who found a shelter among them. They had, however, been hemmed in by early persecution, they were isolated in narrow localities, and had yet to learn, among other things, the practical meaning of those words, "Go ye into all the world." The command had been addressed to the earliest church, but seemed now quietly consigned to the churches of times yet long to come. But day was dawning, and the injunction was at length spelt out and obeyed.
But I shall finish my life before my memoir if I indulge in these perpetual digressions. The sore feeling which had been excited in the church at Lavenham by Mr Hick- [Page 84] man's marriage, and the removal about the same time of so many from the congregation by the Watkinson exodus to America, decided him shortly after, to surrender his little charge under the walnut trees, and to accept an invitation from another church. There was still a nucleus of intelligent hearers, but little prospect of sufficient support for a respectable minister; and under these circumstances a suggestion was made which it might have been wise to adopt. My father had been for several years a deacon in much esteem, and during the occasional absences of Mr Hickman had been accustomed to conduct a service in the hall of our house, which, on such occasions, was generally well filled. His early aspirations had been directed to the ministry; his qualifications both as a christian, and a man of thought and knowledge were probably superior to what the church as now situated would be likely to secure, and he had, moreover, the opportune advantage of an income which would relieve its now crippled resources. It occurred, therefore, to Mr Hickman to propose him as a successor. But it was not to be. The ministers and churches of the neighbourhood did what they could by opening their pulpits to my father to sanction the proceeding, but the majority of the Lavenham church apparently could not brook that a fellow-member should thus become their minister. * [Page 85]
Yet by this means, a door was opened to ministerial labour elsewhere. In the course of his above-mentioned services in the neighbourhood my father preached on Sunday at Nayland, a small place within six miles of Colchester, and on Monday walked over to look at the interesting old town. There he met with a Lavenham friend, who, hearing how matters stood, immediately formed the design of transplanting him into his own locality. There was at the time (besides the influential "Round Meeting" as it was called) a small congregation of Presbyterian origin, which had degenerated into a condition, not so intellectual, but as cold as Unitarianism. There was a good building, some small endowment, and two or three substantial families; while a return to something like evangelical sentiments seemed the only chance of revival. It happened that a Monday evening lecture was held at the Methodist Chapel, and the Lavenham friend arranged that my father [Page 86] should be invited to officiate, while some of the principal members of the vacant church were apprized that a stranger would preach that night, who might be available if they wished. It illustrates the state of feeling with regard to Methodism, that one of them confessed to having hidden himself behind a pillar to hear the sermon, from shame of being seen at a Methodist Chapel! So, however, it came about that my father was scarcely at home again before the friend who had been so active in the matter appeared, commissioned, if practicable, to secure his services.
My mother foresaw at a glance the speedy termination of all her hopes and plans for Lavenham, and her heart sank at the prospect that was opened. She disliked both change and publicity. To the country she had now become deeply attached, and to exchange the domestic privacy which her deafness and constant suffering rendered additionally grateful, for a conspicuous station in a large town was a grievous trial. But she was not the woman to suffer tastes and feelings to interfere with duty. My father preached his first Sunday sermon at Colchester on the 1st of November 1795; and on the 20th of January, 1796, Jane and I took leave of the pleasant home of our childhood at Lavenham, commencing with the new era, the perils, the follies, the enjoyments, the vanities of youth! "Oh Lord, remember not against me the sins of my youth nor my transgressions!"
[ED.–Seventy-five years, and more, after the last-mentioned date, two grandsons of Mr Taylor set off one after- [Page 87] noon from Hadleigh, to walk to Lavenham. They took the ten miles by pleasant footpaths, that wandered up and down from village to village, noticing among the cheerful Suffolk cottages, the gable ends, and projecting storeys, and thatched roofs, and embowered porches, familiar to them in their grandfather's sketch-books.
Towards evening, a lofty tower rose in the distance, and marked where Lavenham stood. But the way soon sank into a wooded hollow, where uncared-for timber, avenues all overgrown with weeds and bushes, and a deserted mansion–it had been years in Chancery–seemed to burden the air with memories. A footpath traversed meadows where lavish herbage concealed a silent stream, and suddenly the dun roofs of a small town, with almost as many trees as houses came into view–the lordly tower retreating to the left. They then recognised in the "solitary meadows, and the dull stream," the scene of the wife's anguish during the supposed death-illness of her husband.
A street of low nodding houses strayed upwards from a small common. Upon the gable fronts, elaborate devices in plaster work, bulging with age, justified the dates they carried–1690-1695, and so on; while some black carved doorposts, or cornices thick with whitewash, indicated dates still earlier. No spinning-wheels encumbered the pavement, but the sound of the handloom and the song of the girl weaver were heard from several open windows; the fabric, however, was only horse-hair.
A succession of lanes branching off, and all climbing upwards, were bordered as much by old gardens and orchards as by houses; while these, again, were sometimes [Page 88] cottages, and sometimes many-peaked mansions. At the foot of one such lane the travellers stopped and gazed with curious interest, puzzled by alterations, and, yet, with a dreamlike consciousness of identity. "Is this Shilling Street?" they asked. "Yes, sure," replied an ancient; but he was not quite ancient enough to tell what they wanted, and further on, a lean old man, resting upon the dilapidated steps of a doorway was referred to as a better authority. "Yes, yonder was Cooke's house, and he had heard say that a Mr Taylor once lived there, and in the one next below too." "And which was Mr Meeking's?" "Why, here to be sure, this very door, but it's not as it used to be, you see; it was all one then from end to end."
It was somewhat difficult to choose quarters for the night; one or two antiquated inns, of which the "Swan" was one, showed gaping gateways, where the London waggon might erst have rumbled in, but bed-rooms looked fusty and forlorn. They found accommodation at last, where the ceiling of one large chamber was richly decorated, and a recurring device showed that the house must have had something to do with the "Springes," a name older than the fifteenth century in Lavenham, and of great note in woolens–now perpetuated as "Spring Rice."
Morning, in the market place, showed it crowning a knoll, from which lanes of old houses dropped down on every side, an old-world town. At one corner a very picturesque half-timbered house, quaintly carved, went by the various names of the "Guild Hall," its first designation, the "Poor-house," and Mr –'s wool store. Connected with its premises at the back was a weird old building, abutting on a wall, and answering to the description of Dr Rowland Taylor's last resting-place on his way to the stake at Hadleigh. But the two houses that had belonged to their grandparents were of course the chief attraction to the visitors. One of them, "Cooke's House," the earliest and the longest occupied, was in all the antiquated condition that could be desired, though showing a decent front to the lane. The large parlour, where Stothard's and Opie's great gallery pictures used to rest against the wall, lacked only them. The little work-room where Ann and Jane sat at their lessons, while the father handled his graver and the mother sped her needle, was, like all the rest, intact. The house gables towards the garden were a tangled mass of luxuriance–vine, and pear, and jasmine, and many coloured creepers, and the garden itself, abundant in careless flower and fruit, stretched away into an orchard of grey-stemmed trees and cool grass. Upstairs they explored rambling ghostly rooms, one of them that in which the Isaac Taylor, most known of the name, was born. It looked over to the second house inhabited by his father. This was too modernized to retain much interest, though work-room and printing-room and the place of the charming old "bay window" could still be recognized. The Branwhites, and Watkinsons, and Meekings were remembered names in the place; an honoured representative of the latter occupying the Watkinson's house. The venerable depopulated grammar school, slumbered among its walnut trees. In Water Street, the water course was now controlled or hidden, and pattens would no longer be needed to reach the Meeting-house, lying back from the street, but now replaced by a carpenter's yard. [Page 90]
In the evening, the church, a grand edifice standing on a hill apart, was visited. The tower, lofty and massive as a castle keep, shewed, on nearer view, that it was intended to carry pinnacles, of which the bases only remained. The explanation lay in a half-demolished tomb before the church door, described as that of the architect, killed by falling from the tower's "dreadful height," upon which, in consequence, not another stone was laid. Notes of an organ, and of choristers, drew the visitors within, where a few lights mingled with the yellow dusk. The chanting ceased, and a voice was heard reciting,–"And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ," and the listeners thought that among the ancestry they had come to honour were some who had worthily filled more than one of those noble offices.]
The Colchester House–Colchester Town–Colchester People–The Work Room, and Engraving Mysteries–Youthful Friends–First Appearance in Print–Domestic Economy–A Minister's Wife–Umbelliferous Society.
"Not wholly in the busy world, nor quite
TENNYSON, The Gardener's Daughter.
"And I must work thro' months of toil,
TO remove from a country seclusion like that of Lavenham to a gay and busy garrison town such as Colchester, was to a girl of fourteen a move of some peril. My father, as before, had been our pioneer, and he had succeeded in obtaining a house with a garden, almost the only advantage for which my mother and he were disposed to stipulate. But it was nearly in the centre of the town, in a street which, though narrow and disagreeable at one end, became wider, and owned several excellent houses at the other. Ours was among the excellent houses, but it was not one of them. It was just respectable, and would just hold us; and the garden, not a small one, contained some well-grown trees. Speedily, under my father's hand, it showed grass plots, and winding walks of good Essex gravel, a white seat, a vine-covered arbour, and so forth, besides laburnums and lilacs that warm my heart to think of even now. [Page 94]
Our travelling party consisted of my mother, Ann, Jane, Isaac, Martin, Jefferys, and our favourite cat. Of myself I cannot think as other than stiff and awkward, as I was certainly thin and pale, though enjoying good health, and a strength beyond that of my companions generally. Jefferys was a delicate child of three, for he had suffered from measles, whooping cough, and fever successively. The beauty of the party was the cat, as "Beauty" was her name, but she became so unwell a few weeks after our arrival that it was deemed best to consign her to a watery grave. She was taken down two or three lanes to the river, a brick was tied round her neck, and she was thrown into the stream. The next morning, however, she appeared at our back door in excellent health (perhaps the earliest "water cure" on record.) Not the least puzzling circumstance was her scenting out the new dwelling in the midst of the strange town. Yet a far more extraordinary instance of sagacity was related of a cat belonging to a lady of Lexden, two miles from Colchester. This lady also possessed a house in Bedford Row, London, to which she was in the habit of removing for the season. The cat always travelled with her, but on one occasion was forgotten and left behind in London; yet within a fortnight she made her appearance at the country-house in Lexden. By what means had she steered her way over the sea of roofs and hedges intervening between one home and the other ? Many similar exploits, however, are related of dogs, and I do not know–does anybody ?–why cats should not be as clever.
On arriving at Colchester we were located for a few days under the hospitable roof of a Mr Mansfield, one of [Page 95] the deacons, a worthy man of some property, a manufacturer of "says" and baize, the former a sort of poor flannel, then the lingering staple of the town.* Here we were struck with the singular concatenation of relationship among those who assembled to greet the new minister's family–it was my "Cousin Dolly" and my: "Cousin Jerry," &c., without end.† Mr and Mrs Mansfield completed their wedding jubilee soon afterwards, when house and garden were thrown open to all comers, and they were filled with children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and relations in every degree.
With as much speed as possible our new residence was got into order, and only a month after we had entered it, my brother Decimus, the tenth child of my parents, was born. He was a dear quiet little fellow, and, though dying from scarlet fever when little more than five years old, he lived long enough to leave a trace, and his loss a thorn in my memory, up to the present time.
It surprises me to remember that, although now at the womanly age of fourteen, one of my first cares, in conjunction with Jane, was to fit up a closet in our bed-room as a doll's house. That this was a pleasure shortly to wane we did not foresee. The closet was duly furnished, but it did not do; and I remember the pang of regret and disappointment with which the discovery broke upon me [Page 96] that dolls and doll's houses did not maintain their interest for ever. The closet was arranged, but, that done, we could never enjoy it afterwards. The new interests of Colchester consigned the doll regime to oblivion. Yet I never could sympathize with the philosophy which proscribes the doll. What harm does it do ? Certainly in our own case it did not interfere with or curtail the processes of an assiduous education. No more time was expended in the doll house than formed a reasonable relaxation, and many were the good results, with, as far as my convictions reach, no bad ones. A cheerful use of the needle is acquired in dressing these innocents; much thought, contrivance, arrangement, and prelusive affection are brought into play; and the natural avidity with which a little girl, left to her own choice, seizes, caresses, loves a doll, seems to indicate the suitableness of the amusement. Yes, do let the little girl alone, she knows about it better than you do. For my part, I like the old-fashioned arrangement; that children precede adults–girls women. It is prettier, at any rate.
I have already remarked that, from whatever cause, my local recollections of Lavenham appear always as if under a cloudy day; though certainly not because I was unhappy there. Those of Colchester, however, never present themselves but as bright and warm with a summer's sun. I do not use the terms figuratively, they express the real colouring with which the two scenes are suffused whenever they appear to my mind's eye. It is a nice old town, and the country has just that cheerful pleasantness about it which is inviting to the evening walk or the social ramble. The town, clean, open, and agreeable, is situated [Page 97] on a healthful gravelly hill, descending towards the north and east, commanding from many points a view of the Colne, the meadows through which it winds, and the horizon fringed with, wood–"the High Woods," which formed the most delightful portion of our longer evening excursions. But in this direction I am told that the engineer has been defacing with his iron lines, and brick station houses, one of the. prettiest spots, and, to our memories, one of the dearest in the whole vicinity. Yet I must not be unjust to the beautiful village of Lexden, terminating a pleasant walk west of the town, or the ornate path through Lexden springs. Innumerable happy associations place them among the brightest of our mental pictures. Large barracks adjoined the town on its southern side, and an air of business and activity was given to the place as a great military station, while the High Street was quite a gay promenade. The music of the evening bugle is still a pleasant note in my ears, as well as that of the eight o'clock curfew bell, from the tower of Old St Nicholas.
The castle, which, in one shape or another, has braved the storms of a thousand winters, forms the conspicuous feature from the northern meadows, as well as a giant poplar towering above the broken ivied tower of St Martin's Church, and denoting, within a few yards, the house in which we resided. Colchester was quite remarkable for its churches. Though containing not more than 14,000 inhabitants, the town was divided into fourteen parishes, and there were still twelve churches, more or less dismantled, and with dilapidations dating from the rough work of the civil wars, especially of the siege by Fairfax. [Page 98] Large portions of the town walls remained entire; and the fine ruins of St Botolph's Priory and St John's Gate, added to the picturesque and historical interest of a place which was full of interest for both antiquary and artist.
The number of chapels, at the time we knew Colchester, was small. Dissent there was not many-headed, but neither was it intelligent, nor of a sort to promise increase. There was a tendency to "high doctrine," (leaving a low sediment,) in most of the congregations. In the large old "Round Meeting," holding about a thousand people, and generally well filled, there was an elderly, heavy, unattractive minister, under the singular chant of whose slow, monotonous delivery the young people of his charge just thought their own thoughts, and considered they had paid sufficient respect to Sunday. Indeed, so sad was the state of things when we entered Colchester, that no young person of good education, position, and intelligence, was associated in the membership of any Nonconformist church in the town. In our own congregation there were a few substantial families, and two or three wealthy individuals, but these were the only present materials. The dissenters of the town were men of habit more than men of piety, and few knew or thought why they dissented. This condition, however, did not continue; many felt there was a reason before they saw it, and the consciousness of a principle came at last. Among the twelve churches in the town the ministrations at one only were accounted evangelical, at that time the sole form of life in the Establishment, and the abilities of the clergyman officiating there, excellent man as he was, were about as commonplace as were likely to obtain holy orders. Of the clergyman of [Page 99] our own parish, the Rev. Yorick S–, I can only record the sacerdotal-looking but very portly figure, the rotundity of which was the more striking, from his habit of walking with his hands behind him, and which occasioned at last his melancholy end; for not observing thereby an open cellar, he fell into it, and was killed ! "Alas, poor Yorick !"
In those early days my father, in such an atmosphere, had certainly much to struggle with, and the decay of religious sentiment in the place that had chosen him for its minister might afford ground for suspicion that he could scarcely be quite sound himself. At his ordination, however, which took place April 21, 1796, his orthodoxy was sufficiently attested by the presence and assistance of many known ministers, and thenceforward no apprehension of the sort could be honestly entertained. My father's manner, though always methodical, still had more of animation and extempore freedom than was then known in the town; so that, though the place was somewhat large, his Sunday evening lectures were crowded, and at last it was arranged that they should circulate among the three congregations, the other ministers taking their turn. The intervening evenings thus left at liberty my father employed in village preaching, these evening services being in addition to the regular morning and afternoon ones at home. There were, however, no societies, no committees, no public meetings on the week days to divide his attention or expend his strength; but the labours requisite for the maintenance of his family, along with the necessary ministerial preparation, more than fully occupied his time.
We were many to provide for; the two apprentices still [Page 100] formed part of the family, and at this time a change was passing over the country–over Europe, I should say–which blighted the prospects of almost all the artists, young and old. Engraving had offered so fair an opening just previous to the French war, that almost every family having a son who could draw, hastened to place him with an engraver, as in later times, every likely lad has been for trying his skill as an engineer. But the foreign market being suddenly closed by the war, a fearful stagnation in art employment was the consequence. The larger works were at once discontinued, and book engraving was carried on in a very small way, while troops of young men, just entering their profession, and sorely needing bread and cheese, were glad to engage in it at almost any prices. My father, at fifty miles distance from London, was naturally at a great disadvantage in the struggle, and a grievous reverse of fortune thus fell upon him. All prospect of making money passed away, and to feed his large family and keep out of debt was the utmost he could hope for.* Had we remained at Lavenham, where there were no other resources, we must have [Page 100] suffered indeed, but just in time we were providentially removed, and so enabled to retain a loaf and a little more on the pantry shelves.
The two apprentices, when they left us, shared common misfortune; one soon died, and the other turned his ability into another walk of art. It pleases me sometimes to recollect that it occurred to him, some three or four years later, to make me an offer; because perhaps it is not in every instance that an offer would be made after so much probationary acquaintance as living so long under the same roof implies.*
Again, it was speedily discovered (for he never made application) that Mr Taylor's modes of education were worth participating in, and several families requested that their young people might share in them. This was another signal mercy, for by the addition thus made to his income, he was able to withstand the pressure of many trying years. We had, as before, a large room designated the "Workroom." It was not originally part of the house, but a door was broken into it, while there was also a general entrance from without. A large diamond-paned window occupied the middle of one side, and sash windows were put in to light the entire length. Here, at his high desk at one end, stood my father, and long tables ran from thence the length of the room, where the eldest of us were soon prac- [Page 102] tising the engraver's art. Nearest to him sat my brother Isaac, then Martin, then myself, and next to me Jane. Behind us a second range of tables was occupied, two or three days a-week, by pupils. Happy days,–mornings, evenings, Happy years!–have I spent in that shabby old room! From the windows we could just see over the garden, and beyond the roofs, Mile End church and parsonage in the pretty distance, reminding us of the evening walk by which the day's business was so often closed.
Our many callers in after years never thought of finding us "in the parlour," like other young ladies, but regularly turned into a back yard from the street, ascended the short flight of brick stairs, and placed themselves each on some wooden stool beside Jane and myself, watching what they were sometimes pleased to call our "elegant art." I must say we were never ashamed of it, and why need we have been ? We had, I might almost say, the honour of stepping first on a line now regarded as nearly the one thing to be accomplished, the respectable, remunerative, appropriate employment of young women. It was not the prevision of such a course by which we were led, but happy domestic circumstances brought us into it, and thankful should I be if opportunities such as we enjoyed were more generally available.
A paragraph has fallen under my eye which induces me to add a few words to my honest outburst of happy recollection. In the April No. for 1859 of the "Edinburgh Review," under the head of "Female Industry," it is said–"It seems not very long ago that the occupation of the Taylor family was regarded as very strange. The delightful Jane Taylor of Ongar, and her sisters (N.B. Sister ), [Page 103] paid their share of the family expenses by engraving. Steel engravings were not in very good demand, yet the young women were incessantly at work, so as to be abundantly weary of it, as Jane's letters plainly show." Now, notwithstanding the first rate literary authority of this passage, I must challenge its correctness. Doubtless, we were sometimes weary (I have heard of people weary of doing nothing), and sometimes should have preferred a favourite employment of our own just then in hand; or, with a zest the unemployed cannot feel, should have enjoyed a holiday; but, nevertheless, the life in that "shabby old room " was a happy one; and if Jane did at times dislike the monotony, it never reached habitual weariness. * For myself, what I have said, I have said, and that most truly. Nay, the time has been, when I have risen in the morning with exhilaration to put on the brown-holland bib and apron, with sleeves to match, in preparation for two or three days of "biting," this not very charming employment frequently falling to my lot.
But you will hardly know what "biting" is, and I will endeavour to explain it, as I have often. done to interested and interesting visitors.
Singularly ignorant about it people often are! I remember once after my father had spent much time in explaining the various processes of engraving to a lady, she exclaimed with sudden perception–"O then you only prepare for the printer!" while, not long ago, on my showing a gentleman the engraving of the Ann Boleyn, and saying that my father received 500 guineas for it, he remarked–"I [Page 104] think neither you nor I would have cared to give that," supposing that the print alone cost that sum! Well, then, as to "biting." A plate of polished copper (not steel at that time), of the size intended for the print, having been thickly covered with a sort of waxy ground, the subject to be engraved is etched upon it with a steel point, as you might say drawn with a strong needle, much as you might with a pencil or pen, but cutting through the ground to the surface of the copper.* The lines, however, are of no depth, and of course all alike, and to increase and vary both depth and width, the work must be "bit." To effect this a wall of wax is raised round the plate, with a spout, moulded at one corner, by which to pour off the liquid, and a dilute preparation of aquafortis (nitric acid) is poured on, which eats away the copper in the exposed lines. It is now a delicate matter to watch the operation, ascertaining when the needful depth of the lightest portion is attained; at the moment, the acid is poured off, water plentifully applied, and then dried out of the lines. A thin coat of varnish is now painted over the parts that are sufficiently deepened, technically speaking they are "stopped out," and the process of biting is recommenced. But all this is subject to accidents; and one trying misfortune is, when the ground, from some defect in its composition, or from being laid on under too great a heat, "blows up," as it is called, and the acid penetrates to the copper where it is not wanted, causing innumerable specks which must be immediately stopped out, and requiring a grievous [Page 105] amount of labour afterwards with the "graver" to repair. An engraving after Ostade, the interior of a Dutch kitchen, was etched by me, and covered almost entirely with work, but in biting, the ground blew up largely, and it was my business for three months afterwards to sit at the patient repair of it, speck by speck. I should not wonder if during this time I did feel "abundantly weary." So much for weariness, and for "biting," a part of the process for which it will be seen there was good reason to be armed with bib, apron, and sleeves.
One further remark I am bound in honesty to oppose to the reviewer's assertion. I cannot please myself with the thought that we contributed much towards "the family expenses" by our daily toil. Our dear father, always liberal to the extent of his ability, gave us not only board and lodging, but also wages, so that in keeping us at home I am sure he did not consult his own advantage. He thought he was fitting us for self-support in after life, not otherwise than feminine; and in keeping us around him at home he retained a domestic feeling, strong in every one of us. Providence, as it proved, had different designs for us, but little at that time could they have been predicted.
But these work-a-day times do not belong to our first years at Colchester; I am forestalling our engagements by two or three years. At Lavenham I had but one quiet story to tell, but I find myself now surrounded by so many scenes, circumstances, people, and interests, that I fear to become sadly prolix. If among the points I select some should appear to me more worthy of note, than to you, forgive me. The nearness of my point of sight may prevent a correct vision–yet not near either, when much [Page 106] more than half-a-century is interposed between the facts narrated and the narration. Who shall say how they have been stored? Surely there is nothing about us more wonderful–wonderful as is every thread of our frame–than memory! For what purpose is this great deposit, the wealth of which only appears by glimpses ? Is it some day to form the ground of amazing thankfulness when we review the course through which we have been led? Or, fearful alternative, the vitality of that worm, which is to be fed by unquenchable recollections ?
Let me introduce you to the society now surrounding us. In our own congregation there were no young people of similar age and education with ourselves, but we were soon introduced to others, with whom we formed lasting intimacies. The plain respectable household of the Keeps, was almost within call of us. There were ten children, but Mary Keep was the only one near enough to our own age to become our associate. With her we soon reached blood-heat–fever-heat on the thermometer of friendship. And through the Keeps we were next introduced to the Stapletons–a name interwoven with our history for many years. Dr Stapleton was a physician, a dissenter, a plain good man; Mrs Stapleton was every way a superior woman, the backbone of the family, and maintaining in it a calm and wise authority. She had been married, I suppose, not twenty years before we knew them; but I have been told that on the Sunday of her bridal appearance, the party being discomfited by a heavy shower, it was opportunely recollected that an elegant convenience called an umbrella had been seen in one of the shops, which was sent for and borrowed for the occasion. It was, however, deemed an [Page 107] ill-omened assumption of style on the part of the bride. At Lavenham, even in my time, it was considered a mark of luxurious refinement for a man to carry one.*
Four very interesting, and, in different ways, lovely girls, and one son, composed their family circle. Mira, the eldest, seventeen, when we arrived in Colchester, was too much our senior at first to become a familiar associate. Her face was beautiful with intelligence, and the intellectual pride, which was perhaps her tendency, was scarcely indicated beneath the mild and lovely expression of her features. Bithia was a strong contrast to her sister; animated to enthusiasm, daring, spirited, affectionate, and very near my own age, a sort of spontaneous combustion, and interfusion speedily ensued. Eliza was a fine showy girl, with less of mind, and perhaps of heart, than her sisters. Letitia, similar in age to my sister Jane, became by instantaneous attraction her bosom friend. She was very pretty, but her tastes, pleasures, and pride were all intellectual, and certainly at that time not far from romantic. To read by moonlight some favourite poet, among the picturesque fragments of the old town wall on the Balkerne Hill, was sufficient happiness for them both.
The Stapletons were among the first to become my father's pupils, so that we had almost daily opportunities of intercourse; nay, it was so incessant, that my mother [Page 108] used to remind us of the ancient counsel, "keep thy foot from the house of thy friend, lest he be weary of thee." Our acquaintance had subsisted for little more than a year when Dr Stapleton died. He had been seized with apoplexy early in the morning, and with the strong affection of her nature, Bithia, who was not quite dressed, ran without shoes or stockings along the very rough pavement of one of the principal streets to obtain medical assistance. He rallied slightly, but only for a short time.
Considerable changes necessarily took place in his family. Mira had, during the life of her father, occupied herself as a teacher in a boarding-school in Colchester; it was at that time a new thing for a young lady, under no pecuniary necessity, so to employ herself, and it was as usual wondered at by the wonderers, a class existing in most communities; the wisdom of such a step has been since better appreciated. Mira occupied a separate room, and it was there that I learnt from her, going for an hour daily, what little French I once knew, and also the practice of ornamental needlework. It was the only sight I ever had of the interior of a school. I have sometimes been surprised that my father thought needlework an accomplishment worth the time we bestowed upon it; but Miss Linwood's pictures in wool work were just then talked about, and it might be this, together with an unappeasable disgust at the bad in any production, whether of art or mechanism, which suggested an attempt to improve the raw taste of the times in this matter. A girl and doves in tambour, a cat and mouse in marking stitch, a small oval imitation in "print-work," as it was called of a painter's etching, a landscape in coloured worsteds from a good drawing, and a [Page 109] small group of flowers in embroidery, remain to attest my industry in this line; but it was one of the very few points –I do not recollect another–in which it has struck me that labour was ill bestowed in our education.* Yet a lady of not less than fifty years of age, placed herself at the same time under his instruction, and executed a large piece of worsted from a good mezzotinto print–a cupid and lion. There was a mournful tearfulness in her face to which I have often since thought there must have been a history attached, but we knew only that she was a lady residing in the neighbourhood.
We were perhaps rather sought after as "clever girls " at this time, and of the two, Jane always conceding a large share of birthright to me, I seemed to be generally [Page 110] accepted as the cleverest.* The mistake has been rectified by the public since, and indeed so as to swing a little beyond the mark, attributing to her many productions that are really mine. Publishers have frequently given a convenient wink, and announced "by Jane Taylor," when "Ann Taylor" was the guilty person. Dear Jane never needed to steal, while I could not afford to lose. But what signifies it? When you read this, what will remain to me save the moral results of my life, and of the "talent," the one, or more than one?
I must have scribbled a good deal, but about this time, being accused of literary vanity, perhaps justly, or the suffering would have been less, I made a magnanimous conflagration of all my MSS., and resolved to go humbly all my days. For a time, my favourite amusement was laid aside, but it could not be for long. Writing, as a mere manual exercise, was always agreeable to me, independently of the pleasing necessity of giving expression to the emotions, new and innumerable, of the young bosom, though in truth as old, and as often repeated as the moonlights and spring days, the hopes and affections by which, in every age, they have been elicited. It was, I think, in 1797 that I made my first poetical appearance in print on the occasion of a contested election, when [Page 111] Robert Thornton being the Tory candidate, and a Mr Shipley the Whig, I ventured an election song for home-reading solely. But it happened to be seen, and was speedily printed, a distinction that no doubt I felt as somewhat dazzling. The production, I am constrained to say, exhibits sadly little wit, and much more than was appropriate of the moral lecture. I knew, by report, the excellence of the Thornton family, and felt aggrieved by his taking, as it appeared to me, the wrong side!
While our intimacy with the Stapleton's was at its height, our circle was enlarged by two interesting girls, somewhat older than ourselves, Cecilia and Fanny Hills, orphan sisters, each attractive in her way, but of characters wholly different. They resided with an aged grandmother, and on coming of age, were to possess a pleasant independency of about £400 a year each. They belonged to the Church of England, and were educated for the "world." Cecilia was of a quickly impressible, enthusiastic character, exposed to powerful impulses, and with courage, perhaps eccentricity, sufficient to carry them out. Through the Stapleton's, she became a pupil of my father's; was pleased with his ministry, and from something like a fashionable church-goer, became subject to religious impressions, proved to be genuine, by a long Christian life afterwards. But she was not formed for a medium in anything. Having once broken loose from the society and habits to which she had been accustomed she was prepared for any lengths; and being seized upon, while young and unfixed in her new principles, by some religionists, certainly not attractive in themselves,– plain good people, but of low manners, narrow views, and, [Page 112] with a tendency to what was then the bane of Colchester, high (antinomian) doctrine, she was readily drawn aside, assumed a peculiar style of dress, would walk arm in arm with some of their leaders of a low grade in life, presently joined their persuasion, and in the presence of a crowd of her former fashionable associates, was publicly baptised.* Her attendance upon my father's ministry ceased, but our intimacy did not; yet it was between her and the Stapleton's that the attachment was extreme, and from this time, I was sensible of some decline in that of Bithia to me, a change which I felt bitterly. But, little as I then could have borne the thought, these first friends of my youth were to yield, before long, to a new circle, in the midst of which I have found my liveliest interests, not only during the period of my youth, but up to the present late autumn of my life.
Fanny Hills, the youngest sister, was altogether a different character. Lovely, not so much from direct beauty as from the frank sweetness of her countenance, pretending to nothing but to please and be pleased (which was no pretence), still retaining her intimacy with gayer companions, together with the Stapleton's and ourselves, I can give to any of her admirers the credit of loving her, if capable of love at all, notwithstanding the attractions of her fortune. A young clergyman of the town was one, but she did not like him, or thought, at least, that she liked some one else better. I happened to be at her house, when a call was made by the less fortunate lover, and heard the well-trained servant, notwithstanding many questions, continue to aver, with ingenious variations, that [Page 113] her mistress was "not at home," poor Fanny listening with tremor for the result. I was shocked then, and am not less so now. In what way are we to secure the honesty of servants towards ourselves if, for our own purposes, we inure them to complicated falsehoods ?
It was not long before Fanny passed out of our connection. A captain of artillery, then stationed in the town, of interesting appearance and manners, shortly won the open-hearted girl; and the last recollection I have of her, is as a recent bride driven past in the elegant phaeton of her husband. Many years passed away; we were, by time, distance, habits, everything, widely separated, and we knew nothing of her history. Long after my own marriage, I heard a melancholy fragment of it. My mother, then residing at Ongar, was one day visited by a shabby, sickly stranger. Whether she recognised the once attractive features, I now forget; but the outburst of feeling was strong and mutual, when it was found that Fanny Hills had come to seek her former friends. She told her story with frank simplicity. Captain M– had not long remained the enamoured husband; her property had been wasted, and they were now living at a lone house in the neighbourhood, where a person, thought by the wretched man, more attractive than his wife, was mistress. Fanny herself, broken-hearted and broken down, was little better than a servant. Beyond that sad point in her history, I know nothing more.
It was in the year '98, and again by Mary Keep, that we were introduced to a young friend of hers from Camberwell, who had been visiting in the neighbourhood. We had heard much of this young lady, and were in high [Page 114] expectation. She was within a year of my own age, of appearance, disposition, and manners, not a little interesting, and possessing an intense vitality, that left me far in the rear. A few among my associates, and she was one, have so far exceeded me in speed of wing, elegance of plumage, in, if I may so say, etherial buoyancy, that I have always felt in their society, less like a bird of kindred feather than a lame chicken, expected to accompany a lark in its flight. Yet, notwithstanding this discrepancy, my intimacy with Anna Forbes, not only commenced quickly, but without one interval of estrangement, has grown, and strengthened, and matured, till our respective families have risen to enjoy, and perpetuate the friendship. Begun in the glow of young extravagance more than sixty years ago, it has been at last rivetted by the endearing connection which linked a daughter of hers with a son of mine.
It had been on the 12th of July 1797, when I was in my sixteenth year, that the design always kept in view of educating Jane and me to engraving as a profession, was first put in practice; but in order that my mother might enjoy the assistance she needed, as well as that we might become sufficiently domestic in our acquirements, we took our places at the work-table only in alternate weeks; the one employed in the workroom being known as "Supra," and the other as "Infra," the latter a slight improvement upon the humble title of "Betty," which had been previously bestowed on the housekeeping sister. To "Infra," below stairs, belonged pro tem. numerous domestic duties, from essays in cookery, to washing and getting up the fine linens; so that the assistance we could render in needlework was really very small, and a heavy [Page 115] burden was still left on my dear industrious mother. But this the kindness of a thoughtful young friend frequently lightened for her–a kindness of which none can fully estimate the value, excepting those who have experienced it. I trust, any to whom these lines may come, who are able thus to assist their minister by assisting his wife and family, will not be backward to render this labour of love.
From the minister's wife, often a woman with small resources, a large family, and little assistance, more is frequently required in the way of public activity than from any other–unjustly as I have always thought, and possibly the occasion of irregularities sometimes complained of in ministers' families. If she have no children, or is so assisted as to be able to leave them without injury, let her stand foremost in every good work committed in these busy times to female hands: but if the little band, entrusted by special seal from heaven to her vigilance, must suffer while she labours abroad, would she not do well to heed the touching lament –"They have made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard have I not kept ?" Would that there were something like parish boundaries clearly defining the limits of contiguous duties! Opposing duties, though sometimes talked about, do not, as I conceive, exist. That which God does not require is not duty, and he never requires exertions inconsistent with each other. What we need is wisdom to draw correct lines, and then vigour to fill them up with our might. The minister's wife has, at least, the warrant of Paul to be "a keeper at home." To her own master she ultimately stands or falls, though the "many masters" to whom, as the wife of a minister, she may be supposed amenable, may possibly come to a verdict less [Page 116] gracious on her conduct. Happy is she who "condemneth not herself in that thing that she alloweth."
Another kindness shown to my mother, not in its nature inimitable, was by an excellent lady, a widow, residing alone with two servants of truly primitive style and character. They were Betty and Polly Tillett, and deserve a place in the list of our friends. Many years afterwards, when my brother Isaac visited Colchester, he found out Polly, the then survivor, whom he described to me as resembling a "faded primrose, stiff and dry." And such I can easily conceive her to have become. She was much attached to her minister, and most cheerfully seconded the considerate kindness shown by her mistress to his family. Almost every Saturday evening she came down with her pleased prim look, as the bearer of some little nicety under a white napkin for his Sunday's supper. Or, whenever a party had been entertained at the house, some of the remaining delicacies were sure to find their way in the same direction under the modest care of Polly. But the greater kindness referred to above, was when these willing and assiduous sisters would come with their "mistress's kind respects"–to fetch the fine linen of the family to be "got up"–and how beautifully !–in their ample leisure. Pleasant is the memory of such a friend, and of servants such as these. I must say, to the credit of our small congregation at Colchester, that they were not forgetful in this matter of their minister. He claimed no tithe, but in many a shape it came, freewill offerings whenever the opportunity occurred. Ah! I have felt a little, and seen more, of the difficulties under which many an excellent man has to labour, and appear cheerful. Do not fail, I beseech [Page 117] you, to the best of your ability, to think kindly for him who thinks, how responsibly, for you!
I have already hinted that the renunciation of my beloved pen did not last very long, and in April of 1798, I entered with great zeal into the formation of a society suggested, I think, by my father, intended to improve the talent for composition, and let us hope, the ability to think also. The title, I am sure, was suggested by him–"The Umbelliferous Society," designed, of course, to indicate many buds, blossoms, flowers–whatever we might consider ourselves most to resemble–on one stem. The original members were, Mira, Bithia, Eliza, and Letitia Stapleton, Mary and Betsy Keep, Jane and myself, to whom some others were afterwards added. We were to meet once in every month, rules were drawn up, officers duly appointed, and each member was expected to furnish some original production in either prose or verse, as well as written answers to questions proposed at the preceding meeting. Besides this we had readings in useful authors. Whether or not we derived benefit from these early exercises I can scarcely say, but pleasure we certainly did, and as all we wrote was in over-hours, either before or after the business of the day, we were excited to habits of industry at least.
We always breakfasted at eight o'clock, were allowed an hour's interval for dinner, half-an-hour for tea, and closed the daily routine in "that dear old workroom" (as more than one of our friends called it) at eight in the evening. It was chiefly, therefore, or according to the letter of the law, only by rising early and supping as late as half-past nine, that we could effect anything. But I must confess to having had pencil and paper generally so near at hand, that [Page 118] a flying thought could be caught by a feather, even when engraving or biting was going on; or, in cases of extremity, when it was to be feared that all would escape me before eight o'clock came, I have made a sudden exit, and in honest haste and unintelligible scribble, pinioned the fancy or the lines to the first slip of waste paper I could find, there to abide till happy evening. Instead of engraving, I was going to say etching, but this would be scarcely correct, for while etching it was generally desirable to keep the "point" unchanged in the fingers from meal to meal. Only a very beautiful point indeed would be so exquisitely true, that no inequality of stroke would result from changing it. To render the point perfect by grinding all the angles, was often not a little difficult, and would cost much time; as a hone for this purpose, a fragment of Roman brick, picked up among the ruins in the town, proved the finest and hardest substance we could meet with. And if I have said "bitings" it must be understood to mean, at times when the water was off, and the plate safely dry.
It had always previously been the custom to sup at nine; but when writing became most unexpectedly a business, as well as a pleasure, we petitioned for an additional half-hour, and considering the perfect regularity of my father's habits, I feel that we owed much to his good nature in granting it. Nor should I, perhaps, refrain from mentioning that of this precious hour and a half, part was occupied by a short devotional retirement, which, won by the example of our parent, we rarely omitted.
My father's plan of providing, as far as possible, separate small rooms as "studies" for his children, has been already mentioned; he carried it out as far as our con- [Page 119] fined space at Colchester would admit. What, either of mental improvement or of personal piety, can be expected to flourish where numbers are crowded into one room? How much may not be expected from those happy ones who enjoy the luxury of a chamber, or a closet to call their own ? How delightful and salutary is the morning hour under such an advantage? Let those who possess it remember that it is a talent for the use of which they are accountable. Isaac and Martin here contrived, each for himself, a small "sanctum," composed chiefly of pasteboard, and secluded by a humble door. It was in an unoccupied room, through which we had to pass continually. Of this, Isaac enclosed for himself the small window, and Martin secured sufficient light by removing a few bricks, and inserting a pane or two of glass. Contrivance, might have been our family motto. It was longer before Jane and I succeeded in making a similar arrangement. We had hitherto occupied the same room, in which was a small dark closet (the workroom being also at liberty, except during working hours) but there was a not very desirable attic, used as a lumber-room, on which she cast a thoughtful contriving gaze, and by vigorous measures she managed to fit it up as a bedroom sufficiently comfortable. From its window it had a peep of landscape over the roofs, of which, before we left Colchester, she took a view, still in my possession. * The [Page 120] lower-room of the house opposite, shown in this drawing,* was used as a dame school of not very high pretensions, and there Isaac, the future author, learned to read, my mother having found his initiation into that distinguished art a matter of quite unusual difficulty.
I believe the Umbelliferous Society continued about two years, for changes soon came over this second circle of my friendships. Those of my childhood had passed out of sight before we left Lavenham, and nearly all of this my early youth long before we left Colchester. So far as they are concerned, here I stand alone among the dead!
"Yes, Memory! gaze the vista through,
On scenes of love that once we knew,
That cheerful home, in which we spent
So many a year of young content."
Her Father's Scientific Lectures–Constable's Country–The Minor's Pocket Book–Lawful Amusements–Forbeses and Conders–The Stapletons–Sudbury Visits–The Strutt Family–Scarlet Fever in the House–Religious Conviction–The Editor of Calmet–Family Festivals–Jane Taylor's Jeu d'esprit.
"When each by turns was guide to each,
"Christiana did also begin to consider with herself."
SO far had I written years ago; and now in my eightieth year shall I live to complete the narrative ? O Lord, Thou knowest! Ah, my children, would that you could realise, while much of life may yet be before you, the sad reflections of a spirit sensible of many practical errors and neglect of opportunities, and of attainments wholly inconsistent with long continued advantages. Would that it might be your daily habitual request, "so teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom." Yet, what empty words, what a thrice-told tale, till the mind awakes to all the realities of existence!
Towards the end of the year 1798 an astronomical [Page 124] lecturer of repute delivered a course of lectures at the Old Moot Hall at Colchester. To such advantages my father was always anxious to introduce us, and the young people who had become his pupils; but in order that the lectures should be fully understood, he thought it desirable to give an introductory one at home. This he illustrated by familiar diagrams, drawn either by himself, or by us under his direction. A considerable number of our young friends availed themselves of the opportunity, and so much were all interested, that a strong desire was felt to extend the benefit beyond the immediate occasion. From this time, therefore, he continued to deliver rudimental lectures once a month, to as many as chose to come; and it became a day of much interest to us, and to many more. They were delivered in our own parlour, and as many as sixty or seventy young people, and their friends, were glad to attend. The subjects, admirably simplified and illustrated, were, as far as I now recollect them–astronomy, geography, geometry, mechanics, general history, and anatomy; the diagrams, rough, but vigorous and picturesque, when that was appropriate, being executed on large sheets of cartridge paper. I have sometimes been occupied for three days in preparing them. My father's aim in teaching was, wherever practicable, to address the eye, as being much more retentive than the ear. I especially remember the course on anatomy; representations of arteries, veins, bones, muscles, detached or combined, accompanied each lecture, of which there were several in every course, and we could not fail to learn a great deal which it was well to know. These lectures were continued for three or four years; they were [Page 125] gratuitous, but the time occupied, labour bestowed, and trouble occasioned, were most cheerfully submitted to; for he was willing to communicate in all good things. How many now survive to whom the recollection of those happy evenings would bring a glow of pleasure? The bright eyes have most of them long ceased to sparkle, and none could be found but shaded by the white locks of age or sorrow!
Although at this period we had scarcely a thought or feeling apart from the Stapletons, various circumstances were gradually bringing our intimacy to a close. Unable to meet with a suitable house, they were obliged at last to remove to Dedham, a village about seven miles from Colchester. It was to all of us a sore trial to be thus separated, and our lives assumed almost a new character. For a time there was frequent interchange of visits, and they generally came over on the evening of the philosophical lecture. A van passed within a mile of Dedham, but when the weather permitted we preferred to walk; once I remember accomplishing the seven miles in pattens! The road was pleasant, and in the evening we could put ourselves under the protection of old Howlett, the postman, who for many years carried sundry small parcels, together with his Majesty's Mail, between Dedham and Colchester. He was a picturesque old man, and I well remember walking alone with him, in the dusk of a summer's evening, and feeling a little nervous as the road sank into a hollow, with a wood on each side. We could have made but humble resistance with our united forces if attacked.
Upon the small house first occupied by the Stapletons [Page 126] we conferred the title of "Nutshell Hall," but they presently removed to a more commodious one, the property of Mr Constable of East Bergholt, whose son, John Constable, R.A., the eminent landscape painter, afterwards rendered the rural scenery surrounding his native village classic ground. It is still known as "Constable's country." It was in December 1799 that I was first introduced to his family, and I may venture now to say, that so finished a model of what is reckoned manly beauty I never met with as the young painter; while the report in the neighbourhood of his taste and excellence of character rendered him interesting in no small degree. There were, too, rumours afloat which conferred upon him something of the character of a hero in distress, for it was understood that his father greatly objected to his prosecution of painting as a profession, and wished to confine him to the drudgery of his own business–that of a miller. To us this seemed unspeakably barbarous, though in Essex and Suffolk a miller was commonly a man of considerable property, and lived as Mr Constable did, in genteel style.
I have pleasure in finding that the opinion formed at that time of John Constable by a jury of girls between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one, is attested to be true by his life, now published. He lived and died, it seems, the same man of taste, feeling, and truly domestic excellence that he appeared to us. His sister, Mary Constable, was in person as much distinguished as himself; but with a loveliness especially feminine. One little incident of our introduction to the Constables I am amused to remember. We had been invited to walk over to Bergholt to see his paintings, together with a portrait recently taken of him [Page 127] by his friend Mr Reinagle, and availing ourselves of this, one morning, we found his mother, Mrs Constable, a shrewd-looking, sensible woman, at home. There we were, five girls, all "come to see Mr John Constable's paintings," and as we were about to be shown up into his studio, she turned and said dryly, "Well, young ladies, would you like to go up all together to my son, or one at a time?" I was simpleton enough to pause for a moment, in doubt, but we happily decided upon going en masse.*
In December 1798, when our number at home had been supposed complete, my youngest sister was born. This eleventh and unexpected addition to the cares, labours, and expense of the family occasioned to my suffering and burdened mother a degree of anxiety which many with less cause might well understand. She was ready to exclaim, "All these things are against me." Yet if she ever had occasion for thankfulness for an earthly blessing it was for that child! She grew up in all respects the best looking of the family, and though by far the youngest, and therefore the one whom it is reckoned innocent to spoil, she was at six years old so good a little girl that a friend remarked, "One would think that child had been born before the fall." Need I tell you through how many years she was the comfort, the nurse, the solace, day and night, of her aged parents, with whom she remained till the latest look of affection had soothed them to the grave? I was the first to whose arms she was committed as a babe, and an affection grew up towards [Page 128] her which I believe was quite as vivid and anxious as that of any mother.
She was nursed from home for nearly two years in a cottage on the Wivenhoe road by a Mrs Bolinbroke; and generally after the morning service on Sunday we all walked down to see "baby." She was always clean and rosy, but my mother's principle was never to "dress" babies–pretty enough without it. I recollect that among several baptized in public at the same time by my father, she was the only one with simply a corded muslin cap, and no lace for a border. Happily the dear little heads are left now without such costly and troublesome encumbrance.
Belonging jointly to 1798 and 1799 was a small event, important as unexpected in its consequences to Jane and me. I had made the purchase of a "Minor's Pocket Book," and on reading the solutions of enigmas, and other poetic contributions to which prizes were adjudged, it struck me that, without great presumption, I might aim at as much literary distinction as these prizes conferred. With lively interest, therefore, I possessed myself of the prescribed conditions, unravelled enigma, charade, and rebus, and forwarded the results under the signature of "Juvenilia," as directed, to 55 Gracechurch Street. I little thought that it was bread I thus cast on the waters, or rather that it would return as bread after many days. I had, indeed, to wait long, and as the interesting season approached for the new pocket books to make their appearance in the window of old Mr Gibbs the bookseller, frequent and anxious were my glances in passing by. At last they arrived, and on turning them [Page 129] over on his counter with as much indifference as could be assumed, I ascertained that the first prize–six pocket books–had been awarded to "Juvenilia." Besides the general poetical solution, I find six charades with the same signature, some of which might not be worse for a little correction, but I must regard them gratefully, as productive of long continued advantages. From this time I was a regular contributor for twelve or fourteen years, and latterly became the editor, resigning only on my marriage.
From this early connection with Darton and Harvey arose our regular, and as it proved profitable employment as writers for children. Never doubt the gracious direction given by our Heavenly Father to the small, no less than the larger events of our lives. When you see a bee or a butterfly left unfinished, as beneath the exertion of creative wisdom, indulge your suspicions, and believe only in the obviously magnificent; but till then hold it as not less philosophical in principle, than true in fact, that to Him, our Creator, Provider, Governor, nothing is either small or large, whatever the aspect it may wear to us. It was the purchase, accidental, shall I say? of the pocket book for 1798 that gave direction, and I hope usefulness to our lives.
When I was eighteen I paid a visit to London. The half brothers and sisters of my mother there, whose experiences at home had been little likely to inspire religious habits, still less religious tastes, had surrendered themselves to evil influences, from which a sad downward course ensued, that led them at last, notwithstanding my mother's efforts, quite out of our knowledge. But one of [Page 130] them, my uncle John, I remember with interest and gratitude. Open, affectionate, generous, it was a pity he could not be rescued from the fortunes–the misfortunes –of his family. A rare chance in a lottery gave him for a time a competence that soon escaped him, and it was during this brief sunshine that I visited him. He was always devising something to please me, and, as a matter of course, proposed to take me to the theatre. No parental interdict had been laid upon me, and at that time the line had not been drawn so strictly in the case of amusements as it came afterwards to be in many Christian families. I hesitated, but consented. Under the novel attractions of the scene my scruples soon vanished, and I would have readily sacrificed many an evening to its fascinations. Happily, as I think, I never went again. Not long afterwards the question of such amusements was brought before the Christian public. A sermon, preached as one of a monthly series in London, by the Rev. George Burder, was published under the title of "Unlawful Amusements." The subject was extensively discussed; Mrs Hannah More threw her influence strongly into the scale, and Christian parents felt it more a duty to withdraw their children from indulgences of this kind.
In my belief, excitements of this nature are not needed to the due circulation of youthful blood. The mind is inebriated, and for a time unfitted for either religious or intellectual occupation, the hours, the intercourse, the various allurement of such scenes impair the healthful condition alike of mind and body; I speak of my own sex; whether evils still more formidable may not result to the other I do not say. [Page 131]
There is besides, as I think, a beauty and a safety in preserving a well defined boundary between the church and the world. It should be visible to which you wish to belong. It is a fruitless attempt to blend the one with the other, hoping yet to remain uninjured by the amalgamation. It is true that the line between a forbidding reserve, and dangerous concession, may require some wisdom to decide, especially in certain circumstances; but a simple desire to do right, and to maintain a Christian consistency of conduct with a conscience void of offence, will generally well supply the place of laborious discussion. A delicate mind feels in its own blush the difference between the pure and the impure, and so it is with the simply conscientious Christian. Such amusements as tend, unless under strong control, to excite the dangerous tendencies of our nature, it would surely be wise to let alone.
Yet I once wrote a prologue! My brothers, Isaac and Martin, received part of their education under a Mr Levett, a respectable man, who lived close by us at Colchester. During one of his holidays a little performance was got up among his pupils, the drama of Alfred, from "Evenings at Home," and we took in its preparation a lively and leading interest. My father, always ready to help, furnished the scenes, which were painted roughly, but effectively, in body colours, and we contrived dresses tolerably correct in costume. The Prologue, of which I was the author, beginning, "Now when assembled round the new built stage," was spoken by Isaac, who sustained not inappropriately the part of Alfred; while Martin took that of Gubba.
Well, none of the little company became actors in ear- [Page 132] nest, or contracted even a taste for the stage, though on the stage of life some have filled honourable parts. Three of them, all of one family, became clergymen, and the memoir of one, the late Rev. W. Nunn of Manchester, has been published. He was then a rather rough, unpolished but active lad, and he and Martin, both fond of country occupations, indulged this healthy taste by renting between them a small field near Mile End Heath, which, by rising at four o'clock in the morning, they contrived to cultivate themselves. It was planted with potatoes, and, if it brought them little money, conduced much to health and pleasure. On reading the life of this William Nunn, I am not surprised at the lamentable want of clearness in his views of gospel truth. His early training had been under the ministry of the only evangelical clergyman at that time in Colchester, to whose humble intellectual powers I have already alluded, and who, though a man of sincere piety, adopted the "high doctrine" so rife among the religionists of the town. Under this superficial, hot-bed teaching it was not likely that a youth of ardent temperament, and defective judgment, should become other than a one-sided theologian. Such, to a grievous extent, he appears to have been. Self-denying, laborious, economical, zealous in no common degree, and collecting around him a circle of "God's dear people," he was yet, as I cannot but believe, ill-fitted to lead the sinner to the Saviour. To leave him in the dark to his fate, unassisted till it should please Heaven to enlighten him, seems to have been his only thought; though when once "found of Christ," no one could have offered warmer congratulations. No delineation I have ever met with of the life and cha- [Page 133] racter of a really good man, has appeared to me so evil in its tendency as this memoir, aggravated as it is by the still "higher" sentiments of the biographer. How sorely uninviting is such a gospel ! How useless, one might say, to preach it at all ! Better leave the whole affair to Him who, as we all acknowledge, alone can give the increase, but who notwithstanding commissioned his servants to go into all the world and preach the "good news" to every creature.
The year 1800 commenced, as did I believe the year 1700, and will, I daresay, the year 1900, with a warm, general, still unsettled dispute as to the period at which the old century should be understood to close, and the new one begin; and as possibly you may not witness the arrival of the next, I give you notice that you may amuse yourselves by deciding the question beforehand. There was just a year's difference in the calculations of the disputants, though to each the question appeared to admit not a shadow of doubt. Did the eighteenth century close on the 31st of December 1799 or of 1800? that was the point. The opinion generally adopted I now forget. Close, however, it did, and here we are more than half through another!
In "the Minor's Pocket Book" for 1800, I appeared under the signature of "Clara," and we were now so far known to Darton and Harvey as to be frequently employed on small plates for their juvenile works. Writing was as yet only the amusement of my limited leisure, and a visit to London with my father, with which he indulged me in May of this year, greatly stimulated my zeal as an artist, and for a time rendered art almost the favourite [Page 134] pursuit. He made it his business to show me all he could, and introduced me to several artists of note, by whom my ambition was not a little excited. To Mr Byrne, an eminent engraver of landscape, and his three daughters, all of whom he had educated for the profession, I was particularly indebted. One of them etched landscapes, another painted flowers exquisitely, and the third, miniatures in oil. All were admirable artists in their different lines. They kindly lent me works in different styles to copy; the head of a Madonna slightly tinted, landscapes in Indian ink, and studies of trees, chiefly with the pen, are amongst the copies taken at this time, and still remaining to me. The pleasure of this employment induced me, during the ensuing summer, to rise at half-past five instead of six, we had the workroom then to ourselves till eight o'clock; and even in winter mornings we felt sufficient stimulus, from either drawing or writing, to pursue these favourite employments during that uninterrupted, unrivalled hour,–clothed, of course, as warmly as we could be, for the fire was not lighted till we left the room for breakfast. On many of these fine cold, bracing mornings, too, we would sally out–Ann, Jane, Isaac, Martin, perhaps also the children Jefferys and Jemina, to take a breathing run from the bottom of the Balkerne hill on the backway to Lexden. Pleasant recollections these, as will always be the domestic enjoyments of early life. They recal the freshness, the tenderness, the happy gaiety of youthful feelings, and by-gone days; tainted with less to deplore and repent of, than belongs to more exciting pleasures.
I often wonder, however, that sitting thus in the cold [Page 135] workroom, meeting in these morning walks the sharpest air, living during the day in a room unhealthily heated by a German stove; and then, as we often did, braving the cold again at eight in the evening, paying our "morning calls" on our young friends who rarely expected us earlier, and knew the reason why,–I often wonder that we sustained it all without injury, especially under an employment entirely sedentary, and continued during twelve or fourteen of our youthful years. Sorely, indeed, did my mother grieve over it, predicting for us premature old age at thirty, but so it did not prove; witness my hand copying this MS. in 1861. My father's regular health prevented him from feeling the danger; but he yielded at last to the fears of my mother, and allowed us to leave the workroom daily, weather permitting, at one o'clock, to secure a walk before the two o'clock dinner.
It was during the visit to London just mentioned, that I was first introduced to the family of Anna Forbes–that dearest friend of my life! They were a family bearing scarcely a trace of this world about them–a sort of oasis of evergreen simplicity in the great desert of London. The father, a surgeon in extensive practice, was a very child in feeling and manners; the mother, not a child, yet not a woman, such as we usually expect to see a woman in such a circle. She was quiet, reserved, always and imperturbably the same; her voice, one low even note; her person, neat and prim; her thoughts heavenly; but though safely, as none could doubt, in the narrow way, it was especially a narrow way for her. I do not mean that she was incommoded by its confinement, but that her mind had naturally little compass, or capacity for range. Her [Page 136] eldest son, strangely diverged from the family ways and rose to distinction as an army surgeon.* The second son died a few years later than the period of my introduction, in a state of mind enviably happy; and the youngest was that dear "Uncle William," whom you knew so well, inheriting largely the simplicity, kindness, and excellence of both his parents. Eliza, the youngest daughter, an elegant and lovely girl, became the friend and correspondent of my sister, many of whose published letters were addressed to her.
And another intimate association of my life comes first into notice during this London visit. I accompanied the Conder family to the midsummer breaking up of a school of some repute at Hackney, where Josiah Conder was honourably distinguished among his schoolfellows. He soon exhibited literary taste and ability, and became in a few years almost the centre of our poetic circle, or, as we ventured to entitle it, the "Wreath." Shortly after my return home his cousin "Luck" paid her first visit to us; she was one whose friendship I tenderly valued, and enjoyed till her death.
Thus were gradually supplied the vacancies already making in our earlier circle; for the remove of the Stapletons to Dedham was the precursor of further changes. Mrs Stapleton had relatives in Dublin to whom she naturally wished to introduce her daughters. They moved in a superior circle, and were persons of fascinating manners, much intelligence and general excellence. The inducements were considerable, but certain consequences might, perhaps, have been anticipated. [Page 137] It was an entirely Unitarian connection to which they were introduced, and certainly a very gay one. Mira and Eliza commenced a long visit there in January of this year, and late in the summer my especial friend Bithia followed them. There had been little in the religious circles of Colchester to attract the young towards what we regard as the doctrines of the Gospel, little to induce the tasteful and intelligent to join their company. In Dublin everything was captivating, and nothing offensive. The theatre, the ball-room, and all the warmth of Irish hospitality combined to allure; and when they again visited England the Stapletons belonged to another sphere than ours. Of Mira and Bithia my father had thought so favourably that without scruple he would have received them into the Church; but they came back with other views, had "freed themselves from educational prejudices," and soon indicated to their anxious mother, that the step so worldly wise, had but commenced a course of trial which terminated only with the life of each.
There are, it is true, few things in the treatment of a family requiring more of that wisdom which cometh from above, than the decision continually to be made between exposure and exclusiveness. To act out either principle fully would be almost equally injurious. God has placed us in a world requiring the discharge of active duties amid its innumerable temptations, and if we cannot defend our children from all, the best we can do is to arm them with principles for the unavoidable encounter–perhaps padding the shield on the inside with habits. We cannot watch over them till all dangers are past, but a steady eye upon the chief good will steer us safely through many. [Page 138] Do you remember the enquiry made of good old Thomas Scott on his death-bed ? In his own large family he had been greatly favoured, and they, having now children of their own to rear, asked their dying father whether he could name any special course or principle to which this success could be attributed ? He replied, with the humility of an aged Christian, that he was sensible of many defects and errors, but that one thing he had aimed at, and to that only could he refer the blessing that had distinguished his labours,–his uniform endeavour, both for his children and himself to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." So much had everything else been regarded as subordinate, that the Rev. John Scott, his eldest son, and biographer adds, that he believes, "not one among them would have ventured to inform his father that he was about to marry a rich wife!" How strangely diverse from the ruling principle now, even among those who profess to be not of this world!
Having named Thomas Scott I cannot resist the pleasure of expressing the veneration and love with which I regard him. What a beautifully honest man! Truth and conscience everywhere, the pole-star and the helm! There is to my mind in his writings an even-handedness which guides safely among the practical difficulties of theology. Read his volume of "Theological Essays," and you will be fenced in from error, not by dogmatism, but by the wisdom, judgment, christian experience, extensive knowledge of the best kind, and fearless integrity of one of the best of men. From my heart I admire him, and from my head, such as it is, not the less. He was a speckled bird, however, among the Churchmen of his times. [Page 139]
Till near the close of this year, though both destined for the arts, Jane and I had, as has been said, spent only alternate weeks in the work-room; but an engagement made by my father to supply monthly portraits to the Theological Magazine induced him to withdraw us both from the family, and now to the end of our residence in Colchester we continued fully employed in engraving, with exception of one day each, in a fortnight, for our own needlework, which was certainly most sedulously worked to that purpose. Indeed, without a careful economy of time, we could not have accomplished all that we contrived to accomplish during our little leisure; a leisure which we thoroughly enjoyed, for none but the fully occupied can appreciate the delight of suspended, or rather, I should say, of varied labour. It is toil that creates holidays; there is no royal road–yes, that is the royal road–to them. Life cannot be made up of recreations, they must be garden spots in well farmed land.
A name of enduring interest to me occurs first in the autumn of this year, that of Dr Mackintosh, the husband, as he now became, of our friend Miss Hills. Just sixty years ago he was introduced to us as the elegant and accomplished young physician, warm from the literary circles of Edinburgh. Forty-seven years afterwards, and after twenty years of discontinued intercourse, I was delighted by a renewed correspondence unexpectedly commenced by his wife. How little can we surmise among associates of early life who are to survive! who to wear well through all its trials and dangers–who to return to us after many days! In Dr and Mrs Mackintosh I regained truly valuable Christian friends. It [Page 140] was delightful to witness in her letters the ardour and vivacity of her youthful character, the firmness of the fine handwriting, the same graphic archness of description, a freshness of recollection, and a tenacity of friendship rarely preserved amidst the infirmities of years.
About this time we were introduced to a new and different family circle from which it was our own fault if we did not derive much benefit as well as pleasure. I think, indeed, that to this day I can trace some degree of moral improvement in my own character to intercourse with these excellent friends. Mr Holman, of Sudbury, was a venerable Christian man of the older school; he was the principal of a long-established firm, manufacturers of a fabric not, I believe, now in use, a thin white glazed woollen stuff used only for shrouds. It was then required by Act of Parliament, as part of the protectionist system of the day, and to encourage the wool trade, that everyone should be buried in wool.* The manufacture, therefore, was considerable; and in Mr Holman's factory not the material only, but the shrouds also were made. I vividly remember, on a dark winter's evening, returning from a visit to Rodbridge Hall, the hospitable residence of an uncle of our friends, and, stopping at a lone house between Melford and Sudbury, in which, under the care of some female relatives of Mr Holman, the shroud making was carried on. We were ushered into a large and lofty room, surrounded by something like dressers or counters, on which, at full length, were laid out the shrouds in all [Page 141] their grim neatness of plaitings, stomachers, ruffles, and gimping, while others hung above on the walls. It was about as much as nerves could endure by candle-light. But here were residing three solitary sisters, apparently unconscious of any speciality in their employment.
Of one of them, dying a few years after, I may relate a striking incident. They were all pious women, but one had fallen into a state of religious despondency, from which nothing availed to relieve her, and, to the distress of her family, she gradually declined to the grave under its influence. Dying, she made no sign, till at the last moment she suddenly exclaimed, "Glory! oh, this is glory!" and immediately expired, permitted, it seemed, in kindness to her sorrowing family, to antedate, but for an instant, Heaven itself. May it prove an encouragement to some suffering in a like darkness to hope on, "faint yet pursuing," till through Him in whom in life they have trusted, they are in death made more than conquerors.
There was a very pleasant circle at Sudbury, sufficiently intelligent to be interesting, and quite good enough to be very useful to us. Well do I remember the kind grave suavity of Mr Holman's manner, and the impressions made by his mild gentlemanly reproofs, when we chanced to take what he thought a little licence in speaking of our neighbours, which certainly sometimes we did. I think that almost my first real sensitiveness to this sin of the tongue was produced under the light of his mild eye, and under contrast with the kindliness of his amiable family. Most of them have been long in the grave, and in thus reverting to circle after circle I am ready to exclaim,–"I only am left alone to tell thee." [Page 142]
Whether or not to continue thus minutely to notice names and circumstances year after year, I cannot satisfactorily determine, but there were occurrences in 1801 which demand some speciality.
At this time a family was introduced to our intimacy that during the ten years following, were among our most familiar and agreeable associates. As they had always resided in Colchester, I do not know how it was that we came to know them then, or did not know them before. The house and household of Mr Strutt–or " Ben Strutt," as he was regularly called in the town–were altogether unique. The house was rendered as antique in appearance as it could be. In the centre was what was used as a music hall, occupying two stories in height, and hung round with pieces of old armour, weapons, and similar curiosities. One of the upper chambers opened into this hall, not by windows, but literally,–the whole side being removed. It was defended only by a low balustrade, so that the daughter whose room it was, might, as she lay in bed, have found her dreams disturbed by the spectral appearances of shield, helmet, and breastplate gleaming under the moonlight falling on them from a skylight in the roof.
Mr Strutt himself it is not easy to describe. What might be his occupation, or by what means he indulged his varied, peculiar, and sometimes expensive tastes, I never knew. He was artist, musician, antiquary, poet, and author, an amateur in each. His fine grey head and dark penetrating eyes made his appearance singular and interesting, while a marked scowl and a taciturn austerity seemed intended to express a high disregard of society in [Page 143] all its forms of external elegance and conventional politeness–intended, I fancy, to express all this, but, to my thinking, it did its business awkwardly. *
He was, I fully believe, naturally not only polite, but kind, so that notwithstanding the severe exterior, we soon felt at home and comfortable in his unornamented parlour; amused by his eccentricities, and honoured, as we could not help feeling, by his terse original conversation. Indeed, I think I may say he seemed to take a sort of liking to us. Of his theological views there were various conjectures afloat. No one ever doubted his opinions, but he was regarded as a sceptic after some school of his own, especially as he never attended public worship anywhere. His wife had been long dead, but his mother, an aged woman, yet younger and more vitally alive than many in their prime, resided with him, and an unmarried sister kept his house. With the eldest son, a dry, stiff, pedantic oddity, inheriting his father's queerness, without either his taste or intellect, we were but little acquainted, since he was considerably the senior of the family. Four others, Caroline, Jacob, Rachel, and Sarah, completed the circle, and it was with Caroline and Jacob that we were chiefly intimate. She was a fine girl of about our own age, peculiar as they all were, and with much talent for both music and drawing; but beyond a sort of church-going religion, which she shared with her aunt, she was entirely [Page 144] ignorant of what we understood as evangelical piety. It became the subject of much conversation and correspondence both with us and Anna Forbes, who had been paying us a visit; but she resented the implication of being "a sinner," as a term that was unfit and untrue; and it was impossible to say what impression was eventually made upon her mind. She died of consumption in 1805.
Jacob Strutt was an interesting, intelligent young man with much that was chivalrous both in appearance and character. A little speech depicts him. We were returning late one night from his father's house, Jacob being our escort, when I chanced to drop a bracelet on the pavement. We looked for it in vain; and, on giving up the search, he said, "a true knight would remain with his lance poised beside him till daylight to guard and recover the treasure." And well his dark scorn-speaking countenance would have befitted the knightly figure. He both drew and wrote well; you will distinguish him as a contributor to the "Associate Minstrels" (presently to be mentioned), under the signature S.–a graceful specimen of his lighter style. Being, however, a student of medicine at the time, he could not give full scope to his tastes, which inclined much more to art and literature than to science. He did not follow his profession, and I last heard of him vegetating among the ruins of Rome–himself too much a ruin. One can but sigh over a life that, with character formed, and energies controlled and exercised under Christian principles, might have shone, a light in the world. He married a lady of various literary ability, and competent to almost all sorts of work, includ- [Page 145] ing the composition of sermons for languid divines. One of her works I have read with pleasure, "The Triumphs of Genius and Perseverance," an interesting collection of biographies exemplifying those qualities.
It was in the social hour after eight that, if ever, we enjoyed ourselves from home, and it was then that we frequently supped with the Strutts. The fare was singular, since one of his peculiarities was the prohibition of animal food to his family, though he admitted of exceptions in favour of his mother and visitors; a lamentable crotchet to which I have always believed the lives of his two daughters, both dying of consumption, were in some degree sacrificed. It was a strange circle–Mr Strutt, the aged mother, the simple, kind hearted, nondescript maiden sister, little Sally, Rachel, a girl of such secluded temper and manners that we had scarcely a speaking acquaintance with her, occasionally the queer Edward, or the graceful Jacob, but we were as much at home in it as if all had been young like ourselves. *
About this date, the pressure in the arts continuing very heavy, and my father, in these fearfully difficult times, having a hard struggle to maintain his large family, it was suggested by a friend that I should accept a situation as governess in an intelligent Suffolk family. By most parents so circumstanced this would have been regarded as a desirable relief, but my kind father preferred for me the [Page 146] few grains I could pick up under his wing, so long at least as this was practicable, notwithstanding all its cares and privations. I can but regard this decision with thankfulness, both to my earthly and my heavenly Father, for notwithstanding all my home advantages, I was entirely unfit to undertake such a charge. It is probable that of some things I might know more than many, but I knew nothing secundum artem, having never been taught in schools; and though now nineteen, I was a mere child in judgment and experience. Indeed, I have often thought that, as a family, we were (I was going to say are ) younger than our years. Even now, whether at sixty-six, as when I first began this, or at eighty, as I am now, the feeling of being a grown woman, to say nothing of an old woman, does not come naturally to me. I arrive at the conclusion rather by a process of reflection than as a felt fact. I believe, therefore, that I might have been subjected to disgrace and disappointment had the offer been accepted, and that I was kept in a path better suited to both my taste and ability.
. . . . . .
There may be some, who, like myself, have mournful reasons for remembering the fearfully hot and dry summer of 1801. During many sultry weeks the sun looked out of the clear blue sky as if he had no pity. The parched fields gaped with thirst; the streets, even of clean Colchester, became almost fetid from want of rain, not a cloud of promise came, and fever broke out with us, as in most parts of the kingdom. In common with our neighbours we dreaded the prevalent infection, and at [Page 147] last our dear little brother Decimus was attacked by the disease. Not one of us was allowed even to see him during the few days of his illness; my mother nursed him alone, but in a week he died, having reached his sixth year. He was a quiet little fellow, and I cannot even now think of him without affectionate pain. Dear tranquil child, farewell to thee once more! We all followed him to the grave, and our grief was very real. Sympathy goes to the heart at such times. A soldier, standing in an inn yard that we had to pass, was heard to say softly "poor things," as we moved along. It touched us then, and wrote itself, as you see, on my memory.
We had been prohibited from taking even a last look before the coffin was closed, but a friend, more kind than wise, "just took us in to see," and the consequence was, that Martin and Jefferys were immediately seized with the disease. It proved, however, in their case, much less virulent, and they recovered favourably. Yet I cannot describe the nervous apprehension with which we were all affected; we lived in hourly terror, Jane and I especially; at length our fears subsided, the house was thoroughly cleansed, and we began to suppose ourselves free from danger. But on a fine still Saturday evening, just before we left the work-room, I felt a slight sting in my throat–the fever had commenced, and it proceeded rapidly. By the Tuesday night following, the degree of heat I experienced seemed more like that of heated metal, than of human flesh. My parents, brothers, and sisters, assembled in my father's study to pray for my life, and their prayers were heard. My only nurses were my dear, weary mother, and a tender-hearted servant, who had been already ex- [Page 148] posed to infection. She was but a good-natured, round-faced country girl, but I shall always gratefully remember her unselfish kindness and devotion. I wish her as kind a hand to smooth her own sick pillow–if pillow she still needs!
Long has been the interval since I wrote last, partly because it is difficult for me to command seclusion and leisure, and partly because a more serious point was approaching in my history than any I have previously had to touch. A quiet Sabbath evening inclines me to proceed.
Great as had been my anxiety when danger was only in sight, I do not recollect anything of the kind during my illness. Though I had no such assured hope of safety as could render the prospect of death other than alarming, the absorbing effect of disease, as I suppose, kept me tranquil. Perhaps such tranquillity may often be mistaken for the token of a "happy death." In extremity of pain or weakness the mind loses its sensitiveness to anything beside, and, except in special cases, becomes almost incapable of deep emotion. The sufferer appears, as it is said, "quite resigned," and so the weight of eternal issues is thrown upon the peradventure "that all is right," or the conviction that, if not, it is too late,–what must be, must be now!
In a short time I was restored to my usual health, and my dear father watched for "fruit." What were the indications from which he judged favourably of my Christian character I cannot say, but he did not lose the opportunity, on my recovery, of urging the necessity of decision, and before the end of the year I allowed myself to be [Page 149] proposed to the Church; how suitably God only knows, the day shall declare it. Oh that I may find mercy of the Lord in that day. * I was never confident, never satisfied, and there are some, of whose profession at the time I thought ill, whose Christianity has proved of better stamina than mine. They have survived to evidence growth, and reality, and leave me, I am constrained to fear, still a dark inconsistent wanderer, vainly attempting to lay hold on the hope set before me in the gospel. "Other refuge I have none," yet I fail of peace, "peace in believing," that blessed possession which the world can neither give nor take away.
"Oh, decide the doubtful case,
Thou who art Thy people's sun,
Shine upon the work of grace,
If it be indeed begun."
I have just alluded to my own life-long failure in reaching peace and joy. Yet there was a period, long after the date of my admission to the church, when I did enjoy what seemed a well-founded hope, and I will antedate my history by nearly forty years to narrate the circumstances under which it occurred. Those many years had passed over me with various alternations of comfort and discomfort, hope and fear, when in the summer of 1838 I was called to make a long sojourn at the sea, on a solitary coast. Our first Sabbath on the way thither was spent in a family where I should not have looked for re- [Page 150] ligious improvement; but I was there singularly affected. It was an ordinance Sabbath, and in my usual state of feeling, a doleful sense of need and misery, I joined the communion, of the small church there. During the administration, the yearning of my heart for salvation expressed itself in a whispered "Oh that I could!" no sooner uttered than a response seemed to say, "And what hinders? If you are willing, is God unwilling?" I was dumb. I could give no reply; and went from the chapel with a new feeling of hope. At the house I met with a book I should not have expected to find there–Newton's "Cardiphonia." I read it eagerly, and felt its suitableness to my condition.
Few spots in England could have appeared less favourable for spiritual improvement than the little sea-bathing place we were going to. At the parish church there was service only once on the Sunday, and I think only once a fortnight, and the sermon was an essay without an evangelical word. On the Sunday evenings, in the kitchen of a small shopkeeper, the humble teaching of a local brother among the Methodists was the only other opportunity; but it was gospel, and I enjoyed it. I had brought with me from home a volume of Scott's "Essays," and these formed my Sunday readings, and well I remember the delight, admiration, and gratitude with which, upon one occasion, while reading the essay on Justification, I perceived, as by a new revelation, the glorious wisdom, freeness, and sufficiency of the plan by which a helpless sinner may be saved! I rose from my seat, being alone, read the words aloud, and thanked God for them. From that time, and [Page 151] till long after, I felt a degree of peace and happiness which was new to me. But it faded.
And here I pause. Is there no balm in Gilead, no physician there? Why, then, is not my heart healed of its malady? Is not the same God rich in mercy to all who call upon him? Truly my sins have separated between between me and my God; that I can see, that I can understand; but then is it not said, "Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though red like crimson, they shall be as wool?" "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely?" Oh, Thou who art exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins, bestow upon me, I beseech Thee, these princely gifts, and strengthen the weak hand of my faith to take the living draught that I thirst no more! *
Among the improving influences by which, from my youth up, I have been surrounded,–some certainly at the time less agreeable than others, but for which I am constrained to feel not the less thankful,–I may mention a visit, paid soon after my recovery from the scarlet fever, [Page 152] to a good minister at Dedham. He was, I believe, the senior minister of the county, a plain, excellent straight-forward man, commonly spoken of as "Father Crathern." Happening to see me when yet scarcely recovered, he kindly invited me for a few days to his house for change of air. But my tongue had not yet learned aright the lesson of Christian kindness, and I ventured at Father Crathern's fireside to deal with some of my neighbours not exactly as I would have been dealt with. Of all places that was not the spot where it was prudent to indulge in this kind of sport, nor do I know any spot in which it would be desirable. Though in most cases a simple amusement, there are few faults into which it is easier to fall,–few of which it may be more difficult to see the unkindness, and the sin,–few, therefore, against which it behoves us to be more prayerfully on our guard. Sitting, as we brothers and sisters did, day after day, and year after year, side by side at the same employment, it was an easy amusement to divert ourselves at the expense of others, not in malice, but in thoughtlessness, and indulging that taste for the humorous, of which we all partook less or more. On these occasions when, perhaps, a running fire had been kept up for some time, my father would lift up his head from the desk at which he stood, look over his spectacles, and administer a short, grave, or kind, interjaculatory rebuke, which might silence, more easily than cure us.
It requires a deeper sense than we readily acquire of the sin and unkindness of the habit, to root it out of the heart, and rid it from the lips; but it may be to some extent removed by the plain dealing of those whom we [Page 153] cannot help respecting, and whose good opinion we should be ashamed and grieved to forfeit. Such on me were the effects of Mr Holman's remarks, and the graver reproofs of Mr Crathern. They gave me at least a sensitiveness to the offence, which I think has not left me. To the memory of these two excellent men, I desire to express a genuine gratitude, and perhaps I might suggest their example as a stimulus to others to do likewise; scattering thus upon the waters, and after how many days may not Christian counsel in its living fruit return to them? It is now more than half a century since the kind and wise words were dropped into my ear–and my heart.
My sister Jane and I were indulged in holiday visits to our now many friends in London, but we could be seldom spared together. Our grandfather and grandmother Taylor now resided at Edmonton, in comfortable independence. My uncle Charles, the eldest of their sons, and known since as the "learned Editor of Calmet," lived in Hatton Garden. * I wish I could paint for you his tall figure, slightly bending, or appearing to do so, from the habit of [Page 154] constantly walking with his left arm under his coat behind, his full grey hair turned loosely back, a plain, shrewdly good-natured countenance, with always a welcome, a queer speech or a pun, on his lips. He wife was a kind, precise gentlewoman of the olden school. She was of Welsh extraction, with a small fortune of her own, and had been brought up in the Tower of London, of which place her uncle and guardian was chaplain, and she retained a sort of antique air, contracted, one might suppose, within its walls. They had one son and two daughters.
My Uncle's study! Oh such a medley of books, papers, desks and dust! Whether visitors were ever admitted I cannot say, but I am pretty sure never the housemaid and broom. The house was frequented by many literary persons, but there seemed to be no society, or circle of friends. The son, my cousin Charles, was not much less a character than his father, of which I may give this proof. He had become the active superintendant of a Sunday school on Saffron Hill, in which he was greatly interested. "Cousin," said he, upon one of my visits to London, "I [Page 155] will take you to see the school, and you shall point out to me the Minerva of it." My sagacity was not sorely tried, one of the girls, she might be twelve or thirteen, could not be mistaken. She had a fine superior handsome countenance, full of intelligence, with dark hair and eyes; she well deserved the distinction, and soon after he placed her at a boarding-school, preparatory to a future closer connection; unfortunately, a short time previous to their marriage, she fell down and broke her nose, effecting a considerable change for the worse in her appearance; he was not one to recede, however, on that account, and she lived many years a valuable wife.
Another family circle opened to us at this time in London, with which we have been ever since closely connected. It resulted from circumstances entirely accidental. My sister was taken by a friend to hear some popular preacher of the day, and in a full place was shown into a seat next to one in which was a gentleman known to her companion. This was Mr Cecil, nephew to the Rev. R. Cecil of St John's, Bedford Row. He had a heart always open to the young, and manners particularly endearing to them; and taking a fancy to Jane, she soon became his guest, as he also was soon ours, and after that I his, in every future visit to London. There was no family, in which we were thenceforward more at home, or enjoyed ourselves with greater zest. Our friends, the Forbeses and Conders, were already intimate there, with many other young people of about our own standing, so that there could not be a pleasanter rendezvous. Accidental we call such meetings; but how can I doubt the prescience and ordination of a particular providence in them? I do not [Page 156] mean that God steps out of his way, or alters an original design in favour of some individual, but that in the great chain of providence not a link is missing or fractured; there are no small things, except as the acorn is smaller than the oak; all are important, the one as the other, in the great economy.
About this time Jane and I began the arduous experience of making our own dresses. Limited as our time for needlework was, this was no easy matter. It would be difficult, indeed, to say which was the scarcest article with us, money, time, or skill, but we managed as well as we could amongst them, and cut and contrived till a dress came out of it. It has always been a pleasure to me to contrive, so as "to make things do," and I am not sure but that more is really enjoyed by those who, like us at that time, lived in the constant exercise of contrivance, than by those who have only to ask and have. A carelessness is generated by the consciousness of unlimited supply–from the knowledge that "Papa will pay," or later in life from the dangerous postponement to the "Christmas bill." With the habit so early commenced of husbanding every minute of time, it has never been a recreation with me to sit doing nothing, and unless disabled by illness, I cannot learn it now. My mother used to say, "your work is worth little if it is not worth candlelight," and, therefore, that which is called "Blind man's holiday" is no holiday to me.
And with all our close work we had, as has been seen, our holidays; exciting visits to London, and others to Suffolk, little less delightful, and perhaps more salutary. And there were home holidays enjoyed after a different fashion, but with nearly as warm a zest. These were of [Page 157] two sorts: the "Parnassian Evening," as we ventured to call it for Winter; and the Gipsy Ramble in Summer. Domestic anniversaries were especially distinguished. For the winter celebration we surrounded the large dining table after tea–my father with his pencil, my mother with a book of some special interest, selected for the occasion, sitting at the head; and each of us, brothers and sisters, with drawing and needlework, as the case might be. Something inexpensive, but a little out of the common way, was provided for supper. Much, very much, did we enjoy these healthful home festivities. *
In summer there were several birthdays among us to afford happy excursions, generally ourselves only, but occasionally we assembled as many as twenty or thirty among our friends; took store for a pic-nic dinner under a hedge, in a green nook of the high woods, or on a country common, and finished with a refreshing tea at some roadside inn–the "White Hart" at East Bergholt, or a sequestered inn at Heckford Bridge; whither we rambled on the day Isaac came of age, our dear friend Luck Conder being at the time our guest. The day was passed as happily, perhaps, as if a host of tenants had been regaled in front of the ancestral Hall! There are not many conditions of life in which the affections, and the country, may not provide a sufficient feast for a red-letter day. Let those who, searching for pleasure, cannot find happiness make the experiment. [Page 158]
[ED.–It was amongst the lively circle at Colchester, who no doubt were sometimes amused with the dulness of their neighbours that Jane Taylor one day produced the following "Jeu d' esprit." After all, it would seem that the visit of the muses to the bucolic old town was not quite without result.]
"It happened one day–but 'tis not ascertained
At what time–that the 'Nine' of low spirits complained,
And to cheer their depression concerted a plan
Awhile to sojourn in the dwellings of man.
The groves of Parnassus, they said, were retired,
That Muses themselves recreation required,
And, therefore, the scheme they determined to follow,
Without even asking the leave of Apollo.
Their escort was Pegasus, ever intent
To conduct his fair friends wheresoever they went.
"The place they believed would enliven them best,
Was a snug little isle that lay far to the west;
So thither with speed they directed their course,
Their guide, as aforesaid, the classical horse.
"Their mode of conveyance is hard to discover,
Suffice it to say, it was something or other.
Perhaps through the ocean Old Neptune might send them,
In some worn-out car he might offer to lend them;
Or, with their winged friend, through the air they might sail;
Or climb o'er a rainbow; or traverse a gale.
Perhaps by some magical spell they were hurled;
Or they might travel post, like the rest of the world.
'Tis certain, however, they were at no loss,
Although for nine people there was but one horse,
For he, more obliging than hunter or hack,
Might take three or four at a time on his back.
And when he had landed them safely at Dover,
Return to Parnassus to bring the rest over.
"But whether they travelled by sea, or came by land,
'Tis certain they all arrived safe in our island,
And scarcely a town from the east to the west
But was honoured by having a Muse for a guest.
All paid them great homage; some came to adore them,
Pale poets by hundreds fell prostrate before them,
And they, in return for this politic praise,
Bestowed in profusion their laurels and bays,
A large stock of which they invented a plan to
Transport to this isle in a spacious portmanteau.
"In the course of this tour they arrived at a place
Whose name I conceal from a public disgrace;
Yet own, wishing not other towns to disparage,
'Twas on the high road between London and Harwich.
"So here they arrived, little doubting of meeting,
Like everywhere else, with a sociable greeting,
And being fatigued with the way they had been,
Were looking about them in search of an inn.
"But how the fair group were abashed and affrighted
To see the surprise their appearance excited!
The gentlemen, staring through opera glasses,
Declared they were old-fashioned odd-looking lasses;
The ladies assented, just deigning to cast
Some looks of surprise and contempt as they passed,
And hoped to such comical creatures as they
Their gentlemen friends would have nothing to say.
And the gentlemen vow'd, as they stifled their laughter,
They were the last girls they should ever go after.
"Poor Pegasus, too! sadly treated was he,
Some outlandish beast they supposed he must be.
All said his appearance was truly absurd;
Some thought him a horse; others called him a bird;
The gentleman jockeys declared 'twould be shocking
To ride him without at least nicking and docking;
And every man said, as they passed by his door,
They had never beheld such odd people before;
And indeed, if they might be allowed to speak plain,
They never desired to see such again.
"By this time the party had reached an hotel,
But began to complain that they did not feel well,
They scarcely could breathe, and felt strangely oppressed,
And Pegasus, too, was as bad as the rest.
So all of them ended their plaints by insisting
That this was an air they could never exist in.
They wished themselves fifty miles out of the way;
Then, ladies, said Pegasus, why do we stay?
And, being quite willing to take his advice,
They packed up their all, and were gone in a trice,
Lamenting the place they should ever explore,
And vowing they never would visit it more.
And all who of this famous town may have heard
Well know that they never have broken their word!"
Application from Darton and Harvey–Isaac's First Piece–Active Literary Work–Terror of Invasion, and Flight to Lavenham–Private Theatricals–Mournful Deaths–Interview with Joanna Baillie–Evils of Diary-Making–The Brothers Remove to London–Approaching Change–Removal to Ongar–Review Writing–Ilfracombe.
"We said to Time, 'twas long ago,
"Fraught with invective they ne'er go
I HAVE already adverted to the origin of our connection with Darton and Harvey, maintained for a few years under assumed signatures. But at length, observing that they were constantly publishing small books with plates, I ventured from my concealment, and informed them that, if they had engraving to dispose of, we could undertake a portion. With this suggestion they immediately complied, and it was not long before they made a proposition themselves. I insert a copy of the letter from our worthy friend Darton, which resulted in that occupation of our pens which for many years formed the delightful, as well [Page 164] as profitable employment of our limited leisure, and which placed Jane especially upon a track which through life she never abandoned, much to the benefit, I may say, of successive generations of the young. The admirable volumes of Q. Q. sufficiently attest this remark. The letter of Darton, addressed to my father, was as follows:–
LONDON, 1st 6 mo. 1803.
We have received some pieces of poetry from some branches of thy family for the Minor's Pocket Book, and we beg that the enclosed trifles may be divided among such as are most likely to be pleased with them. My principle reason for writing now, is to request that when any of their harps be tuned and their muse in good humour; if they could give me some specimens of easy Poetry for young children, I would endeavour to make a suitable return in cash, or in books. If something in the way of moral songs (though not songs), or short tales turned into verse, or,–but I need not dictate. What would be most likely to please little minds must be well known to every one of those who have written such pieces as we have already seen from thy family. Such pieces as are short, for little children would be preferred.
For self and partner, very respectfully,
DARTON AND HARVEY.
The "pieces" referred to were by Jane and me,–her's a poetical solution of the Enigmas and Charades of the [Page 165] year, prettily written in the character of a little Beggar with wares to sell, beginning–
"I'm a poor little beggar, my mammy is dead,"and mine, entitled the "Crippled Child's" Complaint–
"Kind Christians have pity, I'm helpless and lame,"which was suggested by the suffering and lameness of my brother Jefferys.
I well remember the arrival of this letter, and can see now the flocking to papa's high desk to read, enter fully into, comprehend, and calculate results. Various were our speculations as to what might be implied in the sentence "a suitable return in cash or in books." "Books good, but cash better," we thought. One remark made by my father I remember also,–"I do not want my girls to be authors." In that wish he was not entirely gratified, and I conclude that, before the death of his daughter Jane, he had retracted it. Little at the time, too, could it have crossed his mind that before many years had elapsed, his wife would become the author of numerous books as "Mrs Taylor of Ongar."
In the previous year I had sent up contributions under the signature of "Maria," which were thus noticed. "We are delighted with the steady and valuable correspondence of 'Maria,' under whatever name she pleases to appear, and hope the time will come when we may be amused with her productions on a more useful and extended scale." Nor can I forbear inserting a further extract. Along with my own "solution" at this time, I had sent up [Page 166] one by my brother Isaac, then only thirteen years old, under the signature of "Imus;" and it is interesting to perceive the sagacity with which its early promise was acknowledged in the following:–"We have been much divided in our opinion respecting the adjudication of the second best answer, for the competition has been very equal. However, we are not ashamed to announce that if the general solution signed 'Imus,' be the production of a boy thirteen years old, as it is professed to be, we should not hesitate a moment to adjudge him a prize for so wonderful a production. There are such a clearness of thought, and conciseness of diction in the piece, that we are led to suppose it the composition of a person far more advanced in years (though the handwriting does not belie the assertion.) However, if Maria (for we discover a family connection) will avouch the truth of this, we are ready to bestow on him an additional prize, in consideration of his uncommon genius."
This was the first appearance of the author of the "Natural History of Enthusiasm" in print, and the first award of literary fame, afterwards so justly earned. The "solution" which gave this happy augury was the following–the words in italics represent the solution of the enigmas and charades of the previous year, all of which had to be unravelled and included.
With languid ears, and lifeless eyes,
In chair of pain he panting lies,
With fruitless medicine he's plied,
And every art in vain is tried;
E'en Matlock's beauties, Downham's air,
Can only strengthen sad despair:
Rosemary's juice, in water pure,
Serves but to make his death more sure:
The thickened soup in saucepan made,
Untouched before him now is laid,
And garden, sonnet, nightingale,
Unheard, unseen, no more regale!
The flower that seemed so bright in bloom,
Droops now in nightshade's deadly gloom.
Like some wet firework's transient blaze,
Burns only out one half his days,
Death's mandate clips the string, and he
Obtains the awful passage key:
With earnest hope his soul ascends,
And all his pain in glory ends.–IMUS.
It could have been scarcely a year or two later, that his own health began to fail, and he would frequently stand during the greater part of a winter's evening leaning his head against the mantlepiece in the parlour, where only my mother was at work. We did not understand the meaning of it, but many years afterwards, when his literary career had fully developed itself, I ventured to ask him. "Do you remember that habit, and what was the reason of it?" "Yes, Ann," he replied; "I was in fact meditating on the evils of society, and wondering whether I could do anything to mitigate them." Cogitations not shared by many at a similar age, but in his case a pledge nobly redeemed in the works–"Enthusiasm," "Fanaticism," "Spiritual Despotism," and "Ancient Christianity," which occupied his riper years.
It was now, in complying with Darton's welcome re- [Page 168] quest, that our evenings became truly valuable to us. And the employment was so much to our taste, as well as advantageous for our limited funds, that it was the pleasure of the day to look forward to it, and to provide ourselves with some thoughts suitable for the simple treatment required. Happy she who could lay first claim to anything that admitted of consecutive versification! This look-out for ideas was one difficult part of our task; another, the simplification of language to suit our expected young readers. Much easier should we have found it to cater for such as ourselves. This probably most who have made the attempt will understand.
However, we contrived to send up material for the first volume of "Original Poems for Infant Minds." * Exactly when it appeared, I do not remember, but it must have been early, as a second was ordered in November, 1804. The first word that reached us respecting its success was from our friend, Mr T. Conder in Bucklersbury–"Much pleased with Original Poems, have sold forty already." For this volume the immediate payment was £5, but another £5 was afterwards added. The money was welcome; but more welcome still were expressions of pleasure like the above. Having written to order, we had no control over the getting out of the volumes, and should have been better pleased if contributions from other hands had been omitted. Several of these were signed "Adelaide," [Page 169] whom we understood afterwards to have been a Miss O'Keefe, a lady whose father had written for the stage. After the publication of these two volumes we were allowed to stand alone. I think I am correct in saying that for the second volume of "Original Poems" we received £15; and for the "Rhymes for the Nursery," still more simple in style, £20; so that we felt our purses comfortably filling, and from this time for several years were never without commissions of some sort. Among them were the "Limed twigs to catch young birds;" "City scenes;" "Rural scenes;" "Bible stories," large and small; a Child's Book, which we translated from the French, a revision of "A Mother's Fables," much altered, and, I must say, improved; and many others. Besides formal remittances, our friends of 55 Gracechurch Street, sent us occasional presents of fish, fruit, and other acceptable "oddments;" and to the last day I have been in town I could not pass No. 55 without a look of grateful remembrance towards both God and man; and a renewed recognition of that providential guidance, by which life is often insensibly turned into new, pleasant or useful channels.
Among the "jobs" entrusted to us was the revision and improvement of a queer book–"The World turned Topsy-turvey." This was sent to us by the then large publisher, Sir Richard Philips, who paid us 24 guineas for the operation; we added several new pieces, and certainly mended the old ones. It was, I think, about the spring of 1808 that the "Butterfly's Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast," a jeu d'esprit by Roscoe of Liverpool made its appearance. It became so popular as to produce numerous imitations, much below the original, and my ambition being stirred, [Page 170] I entered the field, pen in hand, with the "Wedding among the Flowers." The season and opportunity were especially favourable from two circumstances: one, that Jane at the time was on a visit to London, and I was left alone without companionship; and the other, that it was the half yearly recess which we used to denominate the Seven o'clockings. To explain: the regular hour to leave the workroom, summer and winter, was eight, but twice in the year, for about a fortnight each time, we could see without lighting up till seven, and broke up then: (we had each two candles in a low candlestick made for the purpose). Great was the boon of the additional evening hour, and it was of this that I availed myself, completing the little poem in the evenings of a happy fortnight. Our good friend, Darton, rewarded the pleasant labour–pleasant enough without reward–with the munificent gift, as I thought it, of twelve guineas. I may remark that, for none of our productions did we ever stipulate a price, but left it to our publishers. We have reason to believe that for many years they enjoyed an ample return for their liberality.
It has often surprised me, how successful were these early efforts, but we had the advantage of being almost first in the field. Dr. Aikin, Mrs Barbauld, and others, had written well for children, but mostly in prose; since the days of Dr. Watts there had scarcely been, I will not say a Poet, but a Rhymster on the ground, and therefore the road was open to a humble popularity. It has long been a legend in our family, and I have lately had it confirmed as true, that one of our great grandmothers was, when a child, taken on the knee of Dr. Watts and presented with a copy of his "Divine Songs for Children." I [Page 171] should be not a little pleased to possess that small volume, but I cannot ascertain its whereabouts.
After referring to the pecuniary advantage resulting to us from this employment of our pens, together with the deep satisfaction of receiving frequent praise, I feel bound to add that when thus fairly launched, we were sensible of an earnest desire to be as useful as we could. At first no suspicion of the extent to which we might become so entered our minds. We kept the little one for whom we were writing, so far in view as to write honestly for its benefit, but it was an object that had to grow with the consciousness that the benefit was felt, and widening. I have heard Jane say, when sitting down to our new evening's business,–" I try to conjure some child into my presence, address her suitably, as well as I am able, and when I begin to flag, I say to her, 'There love, now you may go.' "
In following our humble literary course I have made a leap forward of some years. The close of 1803 produced a temporary change in the home-circle of no small interest. England was beginning to look thoughtful at the name of Bonaparte. Especially towards the eastern coast, the suspicion of invasion was spreading alarm, and once or twice I believe beacons were actually fired to announce it. We had a large number of troops at Colchester, and it was afterwards surmised that the officers favoured the reports of a descent of French troops on that part of the Essex coast, in order to lessen the rate of lodgings. A panic, sudden and general, certainly occurred. Those of the inhabitants who could pay for immediate flight made off in every direction. But we [Page 172] were not of that fortunate number. To transport a large part of the family, with goods and chattels at all equal to the necessity, required no small amount of cash in hand, a position in which we rarely found ourselves. I was myself absent in London, so that I report only from hearsay. Conveyance of some kind had to be devised, and that without delay, so it was resolved to make use of the heavy stage waggon–there were no coaches on the road at all–which traversed the eighteeen miles between Colchester and Lavenham, where, happily, my father's house was then untenanted. My sister Jane and brother Isaac took charge of Jefferys and Jemima, (my father and mother, with Martin, remaining at home) and all were stuffed in along with soldiers' wives, their children, and what not of furniture and goods, for a slow journey, that did not come to its end till ten o'clock at night, when the groaning vehicle slid down Water Street, and discharged our portion of its worn and weary passengers into the warm welcome and kind comfort of the Lungleys, whose hospitality always kept an open door for our visits.
The next concern was to fit up the vacant house with the few articles of furniture that had travelled with them. The pleasant sitting-room, looking into the garden, was provided with a suitable table for engraving at; two bedrooms were put into decent trim; and taking the duties most suited to their several ability, Jane and Isaac, with little run-about helps in Jefferys and Jemima, contrived to do the needful as master, mistress, and servant, in the humble household–contriving, indeed, that things should look so pleasant and feel so comfortable as to become, in [Page 173] double-quick time, a very cheerful home. Besides the Lungleys, various branches of the Meeking family, of old and hospitable memory, remained; and a Mr Thomas Hickman, a cousin of our friend, had succeeded him in the pastorate. Nor were new friends wanting; so that this Lavenham episode, extending from October 1803 to February 1804, was enjoyed by all of us; my father, mother, Martin, and I making visits, or interchanges, to our great mutual satisfaction. It was with regret as well as pleasure that, on the 18th of February–this time, be it observed, in a post-chaise–our party returned, and we were once more united as a family at Colchester. Well do I remember the joy of the evening.
[ED.-The letters of her mother to Ann in London give a lively picture of the panic, and show how precarious were the sources of public information. She writes, October 11, to her "sweet girl,"–
". . . On Friday last the principal inhabitants of Colchester waited on General Craig, the commander here, and received [Page 174] from him the most solemn and decisive warning of our danger, and of the absolute necessity of the female part of the population, with their children, and what effects they could convey, leaving the town with all speed; and poor Mr W. has been over in great alarm, having just opened by mistake a letter intended for a young lady here, from her brother, an officer, entreating her to leave the town instantly, for that the attack might be expected any hour. Heath is commanded to bake twenty-five thousand loaves, of six pound each, every fourth day; soldiery keep pouring in daily; the cavalry horses have not had their saddles off for several nights; the butter market is being walled round; and General Craig is up early and late, indefatigable in his preparations. . . .
"And now you will not be surprised to hear that we are all in the utmost distress and consternation. Every face gathers blackness, and our knees smite together. . . . The Rounds are all going to Bath. Lawyer Daniel is packing up all his writings in sacks, and, with his family, will send them to Halstead. The East Hill people are flying thicker and faster. . . . And now, in this conjuncture, what is your advice to us ? Shall we tarry or flee ? and, if the latter, pray whither? Do give us your advice by return of post. You know it is not uncommon to ask advice, and then take our own; nor am I sure that to do it after we have taken our own is without precedent. Know, then, that this morning our dear Jane, Isaac, Jeff, and Jemima, with a considerable portion of our property, set off in Filcham's waggon for Lavenham. Oh! could you have seen us yesterday; the confusion we were in from the top of the house to the bottom, and our feelings so harrowed that we were actually ready to fight one another! I was up last night till midnight, packing, etc., and this morning such a parting! Oh, how poor Jane did cry! They are now, poor hearts, on the road, wedged in with chairs [Page 175] tables, beds, soldiers' wives, etc., etc. May the God of providence watch over them, and bring them safe to their journey's end ! . . .
"And now, lest you should think we have taken a needless step, know that before we took it, we all united round the throne of grace together, to beg direction, and since then your father's mind has been made up. I confess I rather hung back, but he says he knows the worst of this step, but he does not know the worst that might happen should our fears be realised. . . . I am not a little alarmed at hearing, that should the French land, London will be fortified and close shut up, none coming out or going in ! Pray, run no hazard, but fly if there is the least danger."
Oct. 15. "There is a Mr Candler, who has just arrived from France, where he passed for an American. He says that the preparations are immense. He was ten days in passing the artillery ! He is not very sanguine as to our resisting their landing; but, perhaps, he is no real judge, and is only intimidated by appearances. They said it would be six weeks before they were ready, and it will be a month next Sunday since they told him so. He says the French people are much against the invasion, but the soldiery are clamorous for it, and threaten high that they will neither give nor receive quarter ! But let not him that putteth on his armour boast, as he that taketh it off ! " . . .
"Just received letters from Lavenham. Such a journey ! Eleven hours and a-half ! Twenty passengers, mostly soldiers' wives, and every one with a child ! No air in the waggon, and our family mounted up at the very back, and the very top, on our great red chest, which was piled on the other goods. But what they endured from stink and oaths was nothing to what they suffered when night came on; the horses so tired they could hardly proceed, and the waggoners frightened, expecting the waggon to break down ! " . . . [Page 176]
Several letters to and from Lavenham at this exciting time are given in the life of Jane Taylor. Their mother describes to her children the rigours of the fast-day–"no cloth laid; half a round of toast at breakfast and no dinner! She dwells, too, upon 'the wonderful sermon' of her husband, of which she had chosen the text–David's words to Goliath of Gath. "Goliath, he said, had three significations, Revolution, Captivity, and Passing over. People came round him afterwards begging to have it printed." There was plain speaking in those plain days, for he failed not to set forth, "in most affectionate terms," to the volunteers present in their uniforms, that many might probably "wallow in their blood."
The Editor is tempted to introduce a further extract or two from a letter of this year, addressed by the mother of the family, then on a visit to London, to her loved ones in Colchester. She is so frequently alluded to in this narrative, as suffering and anxious, that her racy humour and energetic character might be unsuspected by the reader. The little dramatic scene it includes, is, to those who knew them, amusingly characteristic of each member of the family. Various domestic directions end with–
"I hope you take care of Dickey and ye trees, mind I can tell whether they have had justice done them by their looks. I am not sure if those two beautiful geraniums will do well where they are, if they look less healthy than they did, by all means remove them to their old situation in ye best parlour window, telling the new maid to mind she don't break them when she shuts the windows; and pray forsake not the poor rose-tree in ye pot in ye garden; if it is too much trouble there, have it in among ye rest. And pray tell me how you individually are in [Page 177] health, is your father really better–the old man of whom ye speak ? Tell no lies. And ye dear Jemima, how does she do ? and how does she look ? and where does she go ? and what does she say? And poor Jeff? And dear Jane, that will have no holiday this summer, an't she dull? As for Nancy, I neither love nor pity her, only I should like to hear she is well. And the boys! oh, how I long for them here, I would most willingly surrender my excursions to them, it would be high sport. For my part it is too much for me. Sorry am I to say my nervous symptoms increase. I know it is a great deal in ye imagination; but when I lie down in bed, I often think I shall not see ye morning, and when I go out alone, tho' I do not much fear a lyon in ye way, I often fear I shall be slain in ye streets. I have the constant fear of palsy, apoplexy, inflammation, mortification, and twenty other fears, all of which my better judgment tells me are groundless. . . .
. . . . . . .
"And now what shall I do to fill up my paper ! I can say I have just been called down to see Mr Cecil, and every little helps; but as there is no particular news, I am still far behind. I've a great mind to try my skill in ye drama way. A writer must be a great fool indeed that cannot find an equal one for a reader; and so–
Scene –Angel Lane.
Mr Isaac Taylor, sen. Miss Ann Taylor. Dramatis Mr Isaac Taylor, jun. Miss Jane Taylor. Personæ, Mr Martin Taylor. Children, Servant, and Porter
A ring at y' door–Servant enters.
Servant. There's a man with two arm chairs.
All. Two arm chairs ! ! ! [Page 178]
Servant. Yes sir; all done up in hay.
Mr Taylor. They can't be for us.
All (tumbling over one another). Let us see.
Ann. They are for Taylor the dyer.
Jane. But here is ye "Rev."
Isaac. Oh, pay for 'em ! pay for 'em ! I daresay mamma has sent them from London.
Martin. Yes, yes, that's likely. I know mamma better than that. You don't catch her at those tricks; besides, they are all gilt and japanned !
Father. Do hold your tongue, boy, and somebody pay for 'em. Who can lend me a shilling ?
All. I've got none.
Father. Can you change me a –? Call again. Well they are rare easy chairs, however, come they from whom they may. They are such a support to one's back when one is tired.
Jane. But if they should not be for us after all, we should look rare foolish.
Father. Ah, well, let's enjoy them while we have 'em, and not trouble ourselves who may sit in them to-morrow.
Isaac. Where will you set them, pa?
Father. Why, I don't know; let them stand in the best parlour for ye present, to be safe from mischief, and mamma shall settle it when she comes home.
Jane. Now, I'll lay anything I can tell where they came from. You know Fowler's a chair-maker, and he's very good natured, and perhaps' [Curtain drops.
A SHORT EPILOGUE.
Wist ye not that such an one as I
Can certainly divine ! * [Page 179]
Monday.–Saw Mr Clayton preach yesterday morning; Mem.–No sounding board. Heard Mr Bennett at Mr Brooksbanks' in afternoon; Mem.–A sounding board.]
The beloved circle in which we had lived during a few years of early youth at Colchester was beginning to thin in 1804; one and another passed away, till scarcely any of those in whom we felt an affectionate interest were left. On the 16th of April there died of decline, in Dublin, Bithia Stapleton, for a time my intensely attached friend. She burnt out prematurely, and we learnt nothing of her last days. Many letters had passed between us on the subject of her changing views, and I would fain regard it as the lingering of a latent faith; that in one of her last to me she said, "Do you think I can be saved by Christ without believing on Him?" Sad to lie down and die on such a precipice! On the 19th of January, in the following year, Mira, the elder sister, died at Exeter, whither she had removed for change of air, and where she was most kindly nursed by an amiable and intelligent Unitarian family. She was only twenty-six, a lovely girl, and of no common intellect. A single sentence only reached us from her dying words, indicating conflicting thoughts, "Lord save me in thine own way."
Letitia died on the 12th of December 1806. She was on her way to Exeter with her mother, but had been compelled to remain at the inn at Basingstoke, where she passed ten weeks of severe pain, bodily and mental. The change in her religious sentiments had led her to request [Page 180] her mother not to speak upon the subject of religion at all, but before the close of this trying period she had the consolation of witnessing a happy return "to a good hope through grace," in her daughter, who died in humble but entire reliance upon Christ. A singularly interesting account of her was drawn up by the Rev. Mr Jefferson of Basingstoke, and published as a tract. In the September previous to Letitia's death it was decided that Eliza, suffering, though less obviously, from the same disease, should remove to Dublin, to find a home–too soon a grave–where Bithia only two years previously had found hers. Her mother, being unable to leave Letitia, I was requested to take charge of Eliza as far as Birmingham, and as her illness did not then appear so fatal as it proved to be, the prospect of the journey was not unpleasant. Our first night was spent at the house of our invaluable friend, Mr Cecil. The second at Oxford; whence we travelled the next day by post-chaise to Birmingham, where she was met by another friend. After reaching Dublin she lingered only till the 23d of December, surviving her sister Letitia by less than a fortnight. But, deceived, as I have said, by the little appearance of so speedy a result, our journey had been cheerful rather than mournful, and many many times have I reproached myself for allowing this last opportunity to escape without one salutary word. A word spoken in season, how good it might have been! But, as far as I was concerned, the season was not improved, and the omission lies upon my conscience to this day. I am not without other regrets of the kind. How very difficult is it–so, at least, I have found it–to speak with faithfulness as well as tenderness to the incipient [Page 181] invalid ? How seldom do we, in view of a near eternity, suggest the right thought, or, honestly though not harshly, urge impending danger? It was under a pressing sense of the difficulty of speaking that I afterwards wrote the small volume addressed to a "Convalescent." Would that it may whisper what I have wanted courage to speak ! Letitia wrote to her sister from her deathbed, but it did not reach her in time. When Mrs Hutton, the friend at whose house Eliza died, afterwards read the letter, she said to Mrs Stapleton, "Those were exactly Eliza's feelings; she lamented that her mind had been so vain and trifling, and was continually calling upon me to read to her the promises of mercy and grace."
It was about two years after consigning the last of her four lovely daughters to the grave, that Mrs Stapleton died also–solitary, at Bristol, whither she had retired. And besides this entire family, we lost at Colchester, within nearly the same period, four other friends, with whom we had been intimate for several years, and whose names have appeared on these pages–Caroline and Rachel Strutt, Mary and Betsy Keep, the latter a beautiful girl recently married; paying one of her wedding visits on a wintry night she took down a heavy cloth coat that had long hung in the hall out of use, to defend herself from the weather; it was damp, and feeling the chill, she sportively exclaimed, "there, I have caught my death," and so it proved.
In this mournful way it was, that the path was clearing around us for those associates who have gone down with me far into the vale of life, and with some of whom I am still in affectionate correspondence. So three succes- [Page 182] sive circles surrounded me–those of Lavenham, of Colchester, and of London ! It is true I have since been favoured with valuable friendships, but the friends of advancing life cannot remember what I remember, and what a uniting charm, a natural magic, there is in that!
Colchester, it may be remembered, was the residence of Joanna Baillie and her sister, but they had left the town, where they had lived in much seclusion, before we went to it, and there were few, if any, within our reach to whom we could look with that idol worship, with which, as girls, pen in hand, we were wont to regard a "live author." It was not till 1807 that I paid a visit to London, which, through the kindness of various friends, gratified my intense, but humble, yearnings to see "Poetry " in the shape of man or woman. On this occasion I was introduced to both Dr. Aikin and Mrs Barbauld. A call I was privileged to make at Newington upon the latter, I cannot forget, nor the strange feeling of unearthly expectancy with which, in a small parlour, I waited her appearance. At length the door opened,–for she did not float in on a cloud or a zephyr,–and a small plain, lively, elderly lady made her appearance; but it was Mrs Barbauld, and that was enough! During the same visit I was introduced to a literary nucleus of a different but interesting description, consisting of Daniel Parken, then editor of the "Eclectic Review;" Theophilus Williams, who succeeded him; and Ignatius Montgomery, a relative of the Poet. Of James Montgomery himself, Kirke White, and others, we, from time to time, heard a good deal from our now intimate friend Josiah Conder, whose correspondence, through the "monthly parcel," was made intensely interesting to us by [Page 183] the literary intelligence it conveyed. I was captivated by art in my visit of 1800 but I was now wedded to literature, so far as literature would condescend to the alliance, and a turn was given, or rather confirmed, which influenced my course for several succeeding years.
I have mentioned that my father never omitted an opportunity of giving us scientific advantages beyond his own ability, so that whenever a lecturer of any note made his appearance we were sure to be among his auditors. From a course of chemical lectures delivered at the Moot Hall, my brothers, and especially Martin, became enamoured of the science, and by rising at four o'clock were able to conduct various experiments in the kitchen (early rising was a gift in the family) before it was required for domestic purposes. I suppose this got known about; and upon one occasion an unlucky lecturer appeared at our door with a request, which I will leave the following little note from my brother Isaac to me, the earliest remnant of a lifelong correspondence, to explain–
"You must excuse Martin's not coming. Just after you went there came a great rap–Jefferys went to the door. 'Have you got a brother that's a philosopher?' 'I don't know, Sir. I'll call my brother.' I went down–'Sir, are you a philosopher ?' I'm not so happy as to understand you, Sir; I can't say I am ? 'Well, Sir, but do you know anything about making gases ?' 'Oh, Mr Drummond, I suppose ?' 'Yes; my lecture begins in half-an-hour, and all my Oxygen is gone up the chimney. Can you make me any in time?' Martin came down; he engaged his services, and we have been hard at work ever since. Martin is [Page 184] now gone up with five bottles of gas in the capacity of foreman to the lecturer. Therefore you see he cannot come.*
I. T., jun.
On the 17th of October 1807, my grandfather, Isaac Taylor, died, at the age of seventy-seven. He had been of some note not only in art but in politics, for he had taken an active part in Wilkes's election, and had lost considerably more than £1000 in doing so. He was also for many years almost alone as an architectural publisher and bookseller, and acquired a comfortable independency upon which he retired to Edmonton, where, in the crowded burial ground, "Isaac Taylor, gent," may be seen upon his tombstone. The larger share of his property went to his eldest son Charles, but my father, along with three others, came in for a portion which was sufficient to add very materially to our comfort, and was the commencing step towards a much better state of things than we had known since the sudden decline at Lavenham.
1808 was marked by the serious illness of my brother Isaac, and by the addition to our home circle of the daughter of our friends the Lungleys for the completion of her education; and in this year, too, my father found a purchaser, though at considerable loss, for his house in Lavenham. As to 1809, would that I could well recall the events of that year! The almost daily memoranda contained in my pocket-books from 1797 to the present time, have only this interruption; the one for 1809 has [Page 185] been singularly mislaid. It may, or may not, be at the time, felt of any importance to make these daily entries, but in the course of years it is so interesting to retrace them, sometimes so salutary, though often so mournful, that I would recommend the practice to every one, for whom memory may possess any charm. Do not grudge the few minutes of time which you thus expend in order to preserve and enrich its stores.
In this recommendation I do not include what is technically called a diary of religious experience. To me it appears impossible that this should be honestly done. Much that generally enters into it should pass under the eye of God alone, and to the writer and the reader is almost equally injurious. If deeply self-abasing, it may pass for humility with one, for hypocrisy with another; or may encourage a pleasant self-complacency in some who compare themselves with it; while, on the other hand, if it describe a state of high religious enjoyment, it may have a slide down into Pharisaism on one side, or it may be too much like writing your own name in the book of Life! But the great evil is its almost certain publicity. How many such effusions, written in all sincerity and supposed secrecy, have been desecrated by unfitting readers, and for a little good, have done a full counterbalance of mischief!
It is, I conclude, to the loss of the pocket-book for 1809 that I must attribute the absence of memoranda respecting a volume which, under the title of "The Associate Minstrels," appeared early in 1810. However sacred may be the inner flame of Poetry–sacred to the few–yet sooner or later the vulgar public is sure to be admitted to gaze upon it. So at least it was with us. [Page 186] Josiah Conder had been our guest. He had relatives at Nayland, six miles from Colchester, who always opened a most hospitable home to us, and many were the excursions in which we availed ourselves of their kindly welcome. It was during one of those walks with him to Nayland on a beautiful summer evening, that the idea and the plan of the "Associate Minstrels" were elicited. Josiah was to be editor and publisher. It was to be inscribed to Montgomery. My brother Isaac was to furnish a design for the title page, and so, including a few pieces from the elder Mr Conder, from the lady afterwards Mrs Josiah Conder, from my father, and Jacob Strutt, we contrived a volume–Jane, Josiah, and I–which did pass into a second edition !
In turning over some old papers of this period I have been pleased to find several forgotten letters, in which pleasant, and even honourable mention is made, both of the "Associate Minstrels," and of the humbler volumes for children. All these distant critics were personally strangers to Jane and me, and therefore their opinions were the more gratifying. Among them are Walter Scott, Southey, Miss Edgeworth, Hayley, and others less known to fame. The two former spoke of their own children as already familiar with the smaller volumes. Pleased and thankful were we then, surprised, and as thankful am I now, at the success and encouragement thus afforded. Mrs Smith, a sister of H. Kirke White, dates from Nottingham, and says–"Should you at any time visit our neighbourhood, it would be a high satisfaction to show you under our humble roof every attention in our power." Nottingham! Why did not the very word thrill through [Page 187] me ? How little could I foresee its ultimate bearing upon my life ! All that I then knew about it was, that it was "down in the shires," the usual term in Colchester for the midland counties.
One event of deep and tender interest to us occurred in 1809, the first breach in our home circle, by the permanent removal of one of its members, my dear brother Martin. He could draw prettily, but he was not fitted to become a successful engraver, and a place was found for him in one of the large publishing houses in Paternoster Row. The feelings of a young man just liberated from home into the excitements and large interests of London, are neither expected nor wished to wear the hue of melancholy which falls on the circle he has left. He did, however, feel his solitude, by day in one of those immense warehouses, and at night not a smile to cheer him in his lodging; and many years afterwards, a touching proof was given of the tenacity of his affections when the house of business he then occupied being burnt down, his first care was to save his little girl, his favourite cat, and the box containing the letters from his family! The following year it appeared desirable that dear Isaac also should set foot in the open world, and there cater for himself. He had some ability as an engraver, more as a designer, and, under his father, had acquired some skill in painting miniatures; with these he was to win his way. It was an anxious launch for both brothers, and the hearts at home were feeling it such, more, perhaps, than they did themselves. On the 2d of January 1810 dear Isaac left us, and by monthly parcel on the 1st of May, the first copies of the "Associate Minstrels " were received. [Page 188]
But with 1810 commenced a series of changes, dark, many of them at first, but fraught with mercy when developed and understood. My father had now spent sixteen anxious and laborious years as a minister at Colchester; there were tendencies in the congregation in opposite directions on doctrinal matters, which had never been worked off; and various circumstances inclined him to terminate his engagement. This at length he did, and on the 21st of June his resignation was announced.* The move was one leaving no visible outlet, and till the following year it remained uncertain whither it might lead. Our valued friend, the Rev. John Saville, occupied the pulpit at the "Round Meeting," and thither as a family we shortly removed, my father being often engaged in supplying [Page 189] distant churches. We continued to engrave as well as to write, but for some time were a greatly disjointed family.
We did not, however, discontinue what we could retain of domestic festivals, with their commemorative rambles, if the season permitted; and even concocted a plan for constructing a small cottage among the woods, to be ultimately tenanted by our bachelor brothers, and called the "Old Boys' Cot," while another already existing nearer Colchester, by the rural beauty of which we had long been captivated, was appropriated to Jane and me as "The Old Girls." How different was it all to be ! And then there came the last happy Christmas meeting in the home of our youth, and long unbroken companionship. Isaac and Martin came from London, the latter by the mail in the middle of the night; we three, Jane, Isaac, and I, remain- [Page 190] ed up to await the tap at the back door, suitable caution having been sent to prevent our father and mother, persuaded reluctantly to go to bed, from being disturbed by a thoughtless thunder at the front. You will guess how we listened, and greeted the quiet tap with the prompt and warm welcome of love and gladness. Ah, you all know that the long interval from 1810 to 1860 has deadened neither my ear nor my heart for the sound of the Christmas wheels! On the following night, Christmas though it was, Martin returned by mail again to the paper walls of his London prison. So brief were the holidays of those days!
We were now regularly placing small sums at interest; but it was not till we began to publish for ourselves that we felt the solid advantage that literature might bring to us. The "Hymns for Infant Minds" were the first venture we thus made. In the first year of their publication we realized £150. But an unlooked-for disappointment awaited us in the failure of our publisher, an old friend, who was, I daresay, as sorry for us as we were for him. All our little savings were now floated off to meet expenses, and we had to make a fresh start. Valuable as money had always been to us, and still was, we yet could not feel the loss, as it was supposed among our friends that we must–almost ought to have done. The pleasures of writing, and the credit we were gaining by it, so overbalanced the simple money misfortune that we bore it with admired equanimity. Before the 1st of January 1811 the third edition of Hymns for Infant Minds had made their appearance, and we enjoyed the entire profit.
The confinement inseparable from years of engraving [Page 191] had long appeared to our friends too much to continue; though indeed, I did not feel it. But the suggestion was perpetually made to us, "Do take pupils; you know your father's methods, you have now a name yourselves, and we feel sure you would succeed." Such was the advice continually given, and in time it worked its way, though never into my affections. But it mingled with the prospect now opening to us of remove and change, and tinged everything with the feeling of an uncertain future. The lines in my album, a "Farewell to Sudbury," a place connected hitherto with only youthful holiday feelings, were commemorative of a last visit there. Life henceforth was to be neither youthful nor holiday, or so we felt it, and the lines are naturally embued with melancholy. Happily the course suggested was not pursued, but the prospect seemed to have been set before us for the purpose of detaching us from the groove in which, for twelve or fourteen years, we had run, and placing us in positions which, without a loosening like this, we should never have ventured on.
Friends from London and elsewhere, to whom the "High Woods," the "Springs," and even the "shabby old workroom" were almost as interesting as to ourselves, now came to pay final visits: while Jane and I went, as we felt for the last time, to every memorable spot within reach, sending loving looks in every direction. Colchester was very dear to us, though even now nearly every one we had really loved there had passed away. Colchester to me is dear still; I cannot see the name in a newspaper without a thrill of personal interest, as if it was something that belonged to me. [Page 192]
In the summer of 1810, Jane, when visiting London, had enjoyed a pic-nic excursion in Epping Forest, and observed on a sign post at one of the turnings, "To Ongar." It was the first time she had seen the name. She had presently occasion to recollect it; but little could she imagine how deeply it was involved with her future history! On a Sabbath in 1811, my father, not yet having any settled charge, preached for a brother minister at Brentwood, and on the day following walked the seven miles thence to Ongar. On coming to an angle in the road, from which the pretty little town is visible within the distance of a field or two, he rested against a gate to look at it, and said to himself, "Well, I could be content to live and die in that spot." And so it was to be, he lived and died there; spending more than eighteen years as the assiduous and beloved pastor of its little church. On the 14th of July that year he received a call to the pastorate.
So the time for removing really came at last, and on the 31st of August 1811, we closed, as it proved, our many years of work-room work. The Castle House, a quaint and very pleasant country residence, was engaged for us at Ongar, whither my father repaired to receive the furniture, &c., and, when all was ready, to welcome us–my mother, self, Jane, Jefferys, and Jemima, to the new home. But, instead of detailing from memory the circumstances of this, to us memorable transit, I will here introduce portions of a letter written, at my first leisure, to Luck Conder.
Castle House, Ongar, September 23, 1811. –The mere [Page 193] date of my letter, my very dear friend, might prove a text for many pages. Since September 23, 1810, what great changes have occurred to both of us ! We spent that day, if you recollect, at Heckford Bridge (which we have not since seen), and on the following Sabbath my father took leave of his charge at Colchester. O what anxious heartaches it would have saved us, could we have glanced but one look at the date of this letter! We did not know, but, "fools and slow of heart," we might have "believed." When providences open and discover the kindness and care of God, surmounting our fears and anxieties, we are apt to fancy that we have faith, because we are constrained to acknowledge the wisdom and goodness which have conducted us. But a poor faith is that which must thrust its hand into the prints of the nails before it will believe; and blessed, indeed, are those who, "though they see not, yet believe." I do wonder at established Christians, those who can "read their title clear to mansions in the skies," when they are overwhelmed with temporal anxieties, and seem as careful, and sorrowing, and even despairing, as if they had to choose their own path, and be sun, and shield, and rock, and staff, and God, to themselves. . . . It is a humbling proof of the weakness of faith, even in the liveliest Christians, that they cannot composedly trust in God for so much as a crumb of bread. If he lay but a finger upon their earthly comforts, or hide their path for a few moments behind a sharp turning, they begin doubting and wailing, as if He were some God whose kindness they did not know, whose power they dared not trust; and the poor prayers by which they think they evince their faith, are little better than impa- [Page 194] tient sallies, half fear half anger. As to a cheerful dependence, and humble resignation, they seldom come till their petition is granted; and then a great deal of gladness, and a little thankfulness, are too often mistaken for them . . .
On Monday evening, August 26, we all walked to the "Springs," to take leave of them, of the "Wild Mount," the "Church Lane," and every spot to which a single association was attached. We each brought home a spray of ivy, as a memorial of many of our happiest, gayest, or most agreeably melancholy hours–of sunsets, moon, and stars, such as (in spite of the philosophers) cannot be seen from Greenwich Observatory. On Saturday, August 31, Jane and I closed the labours of fourteen years in the work-room. It was a fine moonlight Saturday evening, and I have always felt something peculiarly sweet and penetrating in such a time; but now a tide of recollections and anticipations rendered this overwhelmingly interesting, and as we rose from our long accustomed places for the last time, and remembered all that had been, now past for ever, and glanced at dear Mile End through the trees, and the twilight, we resigned ourselves to a flood of bitter tears. Jane and I then sallied out for a lonely moonlight ramble. As it was late we could not go far; we only went to the bridge at the entrance of the meadows, and to a few familiar spots thereabouts, talking of Colchester, of Ongar, of all the dear friends who had walked with us here, and of the last moon we should see upon those woods, those meadows, and that stream! We returned up North Hill through the town. It was all life and bustle; the bright and busy shops on one side, and the broad light of the [Page 195] moon on the other; but we felt homeless strangers, and it seemed almost wrong for people to be so busy. On the Monday we all began the packing, and now collect all the ideas that make up confusion! Think of huge packing cases, hampers, straw, ropes, nails, and shavings; of dust and litter; of piles of china and furniture in every corner of the house; of knocking, hammering, calling, and scolding; of a gradual diminution of the commonest necessaries, and of the consequent shifts we had to make–an inverted extinguisher for candlestick, a basin or a teacup for a wine glass, one's lap for a dining table, the floor for a bedstead,–think of carpenters, brokers, and waggoners, and after all you will have but faint idea of that memorable week!
On Sunday, our house being entirely dismantled, we were kindly entertained at Henry Thorn's, the whole day. Such a strange Sabbath I never passed ! I thought the first singing would have overset me entirely; and when we left the Meeting in the afternoon (it was sacrament day) I could no longer refrain, but went home in such a general broken-heartedness that the smallest thing was too much for me.
On Monday was the final packing, and as if we had not enough to do, an express came from H. Thorn, about three, that the Prince Regent was expected to pass through the town every moment, and that we must all go up immediately to see him. So all hands struck, and throwing on our habits we sallied forth, like most loyal and loving subjects, to catch a glimpse of him, hoping, as the poet observes, "if we could not see the king, at least to see his coach." And this our loyal hope was exactly [Page 196] gratified, for, after waiting two hours, watching every undulation of the crowd, the royal carriage at length appeared, and we could just discern three plainly drest gentlemen in it as it passed, and then went home again! You did not expect that, even in such a general rummage, we should light upon the Prince Regent ? But if I follow him further, I shall find myself at Aldborough instead of Ongar.
Well, then, on Tuesday morning, at seven o'clock, came the waggon, which we continued packing till two. And I wish you could have seen us, and it, as it went nodding and waving from our door ! We were all at the upper windows, and all our neighbours were in the street, looking alternately at us and at it, as it groaned up the lane; for, indeed, it was packed to such an unusual height that it attracted general attention and apprehension. And during all this time how little we felt as we expected to feel! we were too busy; but, indeed, does one feel in any situation, however interesting, as one should have expected ? Feeling has past and future, but seldom a present tense. She loves to ramble with Memory, or to sport with Hope, but has comparatively little to do with the most important Now. (N.B. a touch of the sublime!)
. . . That night, after assembling at Mr Mansfield's * to say good-bye to a number of our friends, who kissed and cried over us, we dispersed to our several quarters. Jane and I, out of a number of beds that were offered us, pleased ourselves by spending our last night at Mr Strutt's, [Page 197] where we could feel and do just as we liked, and be sure of kindness and sympathy. We had sometime before admired a new room which Mr Strutt had opened at the top of the house, and he had kindly exerted himself to erect and furnish its gothic bed that we might be the first to sleep in it. In the morning we awoke in lithe, though fluttered spirits; and after breakfast, in their pleasant kitchen, with "Michael," and "Blue-eye," and "White Lady," and half-a-dozen more purring about us, we took leave of a house where we have enjoyed many pleasant hours, and once more assembled at our own as the final rendezvous. We walked round the garden, stroked poor Tom (left by agreement with the new tenant), looked once more into every room and closet, said good-bye to Mile-end from the workroom window, and at half-past eleven, September 11, 1811, saw the door close for the last time, and drove slowly up Angel Lane, leaving a circle of kind neighbours to watch us out of sight. I will not tell you how we looked first on this side, then on that, then through the window behind, that we might lose nothing it was possible to see–suffice it to say we were leaving Colchester: you will imagine all the rest! . . . As soon as we had passed Lexden, we left off looking, and arranged ourselves as comfortably as we could, but five of us, besides Nutty and her kitten (who was named "Pack" by way of memorial), and the fowls, ham, fruit, &c.–the kind offerings of several friends,–made a tolerable chaise full.
And, now, follow us, dear Luck, till we turn into the Ongar Road at Chelmsford. It was a fine afternoon; quite new country opening upon us at every step, and expectation, which had begun to doze, was all alive again. [Page 198] Father had directed us how to descry the white steeple of Ongar, and the Castle house and trees, about three miles before we reached it, and this gave us most interesting employment, till, at length, we all exclaimed, "There it is!" The road then turned off, and we saw it no more till–O that pleasant moment!–after driving about halfway through the town we turned up the lane and round a sharp corner, and the three peaks and the castle trees appeared in view. We drove up the long chase-way, the grass plot was strewed with packages, the hall door open, our good deacon and Rebecca at the chaise to receive us, but no father! We were both surprised and alarmed. He had gone to wait our passing at the house of a friend from which he could reach ours as soon as we by a shorter path; but, wonderful to relate, though he saw the chaise, and we saw him standing at the door, he neither knew us, nor we him! At length, a young man, who had seen us in the lane, told him that his chaise had passed some time. Fortunately, we had waited outside the doors, and would not enter till he arrived to conduct us.
And now, how I wish I could show, instead of describe it to you! but, alas! Ongar and Barnstaple! Well, then, I must e'en tell you of the pleasant places in which our lines are fallen. The house was built upon the site of the ancient castle, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who once honoured it with a visit. The hall-door, studded with clump-headed nails an inch in diameter, measures 6 feet, by 4 feet 7. The front is covered with a vine; before it is a flower garden; on the right, as pretty a village church among the trees as you ever saw; and close on the left the castle trees rising upon [Page 199] a high mount, with a moat of deep water encircling it. From every window in front we command a rich and beautiful valley, and behind see the town just peeping through a line of elms on a terrace beside an outer moat. Immediately adjacent is a farm-yard, and we have not only the usual live stock of such a scene, but a fine pair of swans, three cygnets, moorfowl, and solan geese upon the moat; rabbits running wild upon the mount; a rookery, wood doves, and, we are told, nightingales in the castle trees. Now, you may fancy, perhaps, that with all this appropriate scenery the house must be haunted, or, at least, hauntable; that there are nooks and vaults, and niches at every turn; and that sitting, as I now do, a broad moon shining in at my window, and the village clock striking eleven, the next thing must be a tall gliding figure patting down the stairs which wind from my room door, within the northern turret. But I assure you we are the picture of cheerfulness and comfort. The rooms are light and pleasant, not in the least ghostly, and fitted up with every modern convenience. We have a hall, two parlours, kitchen, store-room, &c., on the ground floor; three chambers above; and a good workroom, study, two bed-chambers, and a light closet on the attic floor. We had to saw the ivy from the back parlour window before we could see it, but some still remains to fringe the mullions; we have beautiful walks in every direction; and we have placed our garden seat at the end of a retired field, surrounded by the moats and the terrace elms immediately behind the house.
Just as we sat down to breakfast the first Sunday, who should appear at the garden gate but dear Martin, who came in his uncle's chaise, and returned the next morn- [Page 200] ing. He writes–"Since I took my farewell of your fairy land, I have not passed a waking hour without presenting my mind among you. It is the object to which my leisure moments, and lazy thoughts are always directed–it is my Miss Ongar."
On Sabbath evening, September 22, my father publicly accepted their invitation at a full vestry of apparently kind and worthy people; and with mother and me was received into Church relation. It was a truly interesting and pleasing season. The Meeting-house is very small, but extremely neat and pleasant, and as far as we know the congregation, they are a friendly and pious though plain people, not but that we have some dashing silk pelisses and feathers on a fine afternoon. Tuesday, October the 28th, is to be the public "setting apart."
The important change had now been effected. At last we had done with things behind, but the future was still looming on us from an unexplored distance. We had given up engraving, so far as it implied daily employment, though it was arranged that if occasionally my father required assistance, I should render it when at home. If we were to devote ourselves to education, important preparations were requisite, and for this purpose we accepted an invitation from our kind and valuable friends the Conders, then living at Clapton. Alas! how little we knew our many deficiencies; yet that I did know something of them my many misgivings and continued reluctance testified. Jane had no fuller confidence in her own sufficiency, but she saw some pleasant results in the [Page 201] change, and perhaps might fancy that I should stand foremost and prove a sort of shield.
It was, however, a serious thing to resolve on, and to arrange for the unavoidable expenditure, especially since our own resources had just suffered such an unexpected loss. It would be necessary to apply for assistance somewhere, and such a prospect did not lighten the burden already on my heart. I am thankful that no one came forward to volunteer that assistance. I will not enter into detail, but, after much anxious thought, and applying to our dear parents for their final sanction, the project was abandoned. The entire history of this transition period of our lives is to me a beautiful explanatory comment on the ways and the goodness of Providence. The suggestion so long urged upon us, the difficulties afterwards thrown in our path, resulted in leaving us at liberty to pursue other and much more congenial occupations. It would not be easy to express the relief we experienced in turning away from an undertaking so perilous, and retreating to hide ourselves behind the paper screen which seemed so clearly granted to us.
We had a few light-hearted visits to pay in London before returning to the dear and pleasant home in the Castle House at Ongar; but on the 18th of February 1812 we entered it now as we hoped to remain, and I cannot describe the feelings with which we did so. The pretty flower garden and grass plot in front had been put into the nicest order, snow-drops were just appearing, and if any one knew how to make an arrival look pleasant it was my dear father and mother. My own room was one I had requested on the attic floor commanding a [Page 202] beautiful country view, and having the advantage of a closet where I could sit and write. This was to be my "sanctum;" here a new life was to begin, and the employment more delightful to me than any other, was henceforth to be mine without let or hindrance. But a new turn was just now given to it.
Before we left Colchester, Mrs More's popular tale of "Coelebs in search of a Wife" was the book of the day, and in the literary correspondence kept up between Josiah Conder and me, I freely gave my thoughts upon it in a long letter sent by parcel. He was intimate with Daniel Parken, the talented editor of the "Eclectic Review," then in much note amongst us, and it was enquired whether I would undertake an article.* It had not been customary in that work to review fictions, but it was proposed to diverge a little from this rule, and a tale by Mrs West, entitled "Self Control," was suggested to me for a beginning. With anxiety, excitement, and delight, I undertook it. After writing every morning till about weary, I used to take the MS. to a clump of trees a little in the valley as seen from my window, and, sitting beneath them, read it aloud, for until able to judge from the ear I could never form an opinion of what I had written. It appeared in the "Eclectic" for June, and, being favourably received, I was forthwith continually employed. The next review was of Miss Edgeworth's [Page 203] Tales, I forget which series, sent up in August of the same year.
A visit about this time from Josiah Conder and James Montgomery gave great pleasure to us. Few and far between had been our glimpses into literary society, and in Montgomery, from first admiring his poetry in the "Athenaeum," we had felt the most lively interest–yes, and notwithstanding the remark of a young lady belonging to our higher circle in Colchester, who, hearing from me that he was printer at Sheffield, exclaimed, "La ! how terrible." It was scarcely worth while to remember it for half a century, but how can we get rid of anything that chooses to stay ? On the afternoon of their visit, our walk with the two poets across the meadows, and up the winding lane to Stondon Church was indeed delightful; and yet the only shred of conversation that clings to my memory was the simple remark of Montgomery, when I mistook distant thunder for artillery (that of Woolwich sometimes shook our windows), "Yes, the artillery of Heaven." What whimsical tricks does memory play with us! Sometimes it hangs up a piece of nonsense where we cannot help seeing it, and at others obliterates words to be set in silver!
But shadows were rising over our pleasant home and pleasant plans. Isaac and Martin were both in London. The former, occupied in various artistic work, had just now an engagement of some length for a set of anatomical drawings in the dissecting room. Under London atmosphere, and not the best of it, and pursuing his profession without stint of time or labour, his health gave way, and he came down to Ongar to recruit. We [Page 204] were all eye and ear, and there were in his constant cough and other symptoms, what my dear sensitive mother regarded as unquestionable omens of decline. We had seen so much of it! Happily the Isaac Taylor who has lived so long in the public eye was not to fulfill these anxious auguries. During the previous summer he had been invited to Devonshire to take several miniatures amongst our friends who had removed thither, and their connections, and he had, in consequence, become acquainted with many families there. As soon, therefore, as a change to the milder climate was recommended, it was obvious that he need not, in undertaking it, abandon his profession; and as Jane and I could carry our pens with us as easily as he his pencil, it was determined that we should both accompany him. But my dear mother! Her eldest son, whose conduct and character had never given her a pang, was to leave his father's house, as she fully believed, never to return,–to be nursed far away from her hourly watchfulness, and to lie in a distant grave! Those only who knew my mother, could know what all this meant to her.
Our anxious journey commenced, as far as London, on Monday, September 28th, 1812, and at a quarter past two on Wednesday, the 30th, we set out by one of the "long stages," from the Castle and Falcon, Aldersgate Street, under promise of reaching Ilfracombe on the Saturday afternoon following. What a banishment it seemed! What a tedious journey! I remember the forlorn feelings with which, a party of nineteen altogether, we paced down one of the long Devon hills, for everybody had left the coach in order to relieve the descent; strangers indeed we felt, [Page 205] almost three hundred miles from the "Castle House" and its dear inmates. We got a few hours' rest on Thursday night at Taunton, setting off at five o'clock on Friday morning, for a twelve hours' journey to Barnstaple. Here a welcome tea at the inn, and a call from a gentleman already known to my brother, the Rev. Mr Gardiner, concluded the weary day. On Saturday, after breakfasting with him, we started in a postchaise for our final destination, and final it seemed likely to be, for on some of the round knolls of the road, we seemed to be driving down straight into the sea. At length, under the brow of the precipitous hill, the roofs of the houses became visible. Yet we did not reach it without risk; at a narrow part of the road, a wheel came off, but the narrowness served us in stead, and we only fell against the bank. Our adroit postilion, accustomed perhaps, to such accidents, contrived to refix the wheel and we descended to Ilfracombe in safety:
Isaac's friend, Mr Gunn, had engaged apartments for us on the quay, a first floor; two windows in front looked over the basin, so full of shipping that, on the further side of the room, nothing but masts were visible. There, in employment, in recreation, in society quite to our taste, and altogether interesting, we spent the entire winter.
1866.*–Long intervals have occurred in my successive memoranda, and now, late in the day as it is, I cannot expect to complete this Memorial. Indeed, it was never [Page 206] my intention to do so. From the period of my marriage, dear children, in 1813, you are almost as well acquainted with the important steps in my history as I am myself, and as to minuter details, it might be scarcely so well to speak of them as of the bygone tints of a finished century.
Ann and Jane compared–The domestic character of Ann's Poetry–Specimens of its Arch Drollery–The Tragic Element and Sara Coleridge's Criticism–Observations upon Ann's Hymns–The Poem "My Mother" and its history–Scott, Southey, and Edgworth–Ann Taylor's Prose.
THE Autobiography which has hitherto left to the editor but the easy task of selection and condensation, closes abruptly. It now remains to supply from correspondence, and some other sources, the records of a life extending over more than half-a-century beyond the period reached in the preceding pages.
But at this halting place, and when the brief literary career of Ann Taylor was drawing to a close, a few remarks may be offered upon its character, especially as some of her poems have more than once been the subject of criticism.
As she has herself intimated, her share in the early series of poems for children has scarcely been recognised, in consequence of Jane Taylor continuing to write and concentrating public attention upon herself, after her sister had resigned the pen. Yet, it is remarkable that, almost without exception, the most popular pieces in the joint works, were by the elder sister. This may be accounted for from the circumstance that, generally speaking, Ann Taylor dealt with the facts of life, and Jane with those of nature, [Page 210] and the former was, consequently, more dramatic in style, and more given to depict motive and character. Of many that have become "Household Words," two little poems–"My Mother," and "Twinkle, twinkle, little Star," are perhaps, more frequently quoted than any; the first, a lyric of life, was by Ann, the second, of nature, by Jane; and they illustrate this difference between the sisters.
The elder was eminently practical, and always entered with keen relish into the social circle and the business of life. A walk through a crowded market place, such as that of Nottingham, so familiar in after years, was to her refreshing and inspiring, as a poem to be given in its place will show; while the "Song of the tea-kettle" exhibits her delight in progress and invention. Her first venture in print, she tells us, was an Election song; it may quite be doubted whether it could ever have been Jane's; the sensitive and shy disposition of the latter (though she could sparkle on occasion) disqualified her for society, and nature with its peace, its pathos, and its infinite suggestiveness, was her chosen refuge. Ann was fond of nature, but it was chiefly in relation to domestic incidents–she dwelt upon the cottage, the stile, the footpath, the garden and domestic animals–while Jane looked upon the larger landscapes, and her mind floated into dreamy reveries over the expanse of sea and sky, partaking more of the contemplative, and curiously inquiring character of her brother Isaac.
Yet, in some instances, the elder sister showed a sympathy with nature, and a delicate touch in adapting its lessons, quite equal to the younger. Two or three verses in the Nursery Rhyme–"A Pretty Thing" may [Page 211] take rank with any of the kind in poetic beauty and simple diction–
When the sun is gone, I rise
In the very silent skies;
And a cloud or two doth skim
Round about my silver rim.
All the little stars do seem
Hidden by my brighter beam;
And among them I do ride
Like a queen in all her pride.
Then the reaper goes along,
Singing forth a merry song;
While I light the shaking leaves,
And the yellow harvest sheaves.
Or, again, on the Michaelmas Daisy–
I am very pale and dim,
With my faint and bluish rim;
Standing on my narrow stalk,
By the litter'd gravel walk,
And the wither'd leaves, aloft,
Fall upon me very oft.
But I show my lonely head,
When the other flowers are dead,
And you're even glad to spy
Such a homely thing as I;
For I seem to smile and say–
"Summer is not quite away."
And as a fair pendant to the "Twinkling Star" of Jane, take the following by Ann–
I saw the glorious sun arise,
From yonder mountain grey; [Page 212]
And as he travelled through the skies,
The darkness went away;
And all around me was so bright,
I wished it would be always light.
But when his shining course was done,
The gentle moon drew nigh,
And stars came twinkling, one by one,
Upon the shady sky:–
Who made the sun to shine so far,
The moon, and every twinkling star? *
These instances may suffice to show that the writer was possessed of a true poetic gift in the observation of nature; and they illustrate, too, that rare quality, simplicity, which, while a necessary condition for success in the task attempted, has been seldom reached. In these poems it is attained without feebleness, or baldness of diction, and the result, in some instances, falls little short of the sublime, as in the picture of the moon, rising–
"In the very silent skies."while, again, in the simple plaint of the "Michaelmas Daisy" there is a touching pathos–
"And the wither'd leaves, aloft,
Fall upon me very oft."
But, as has been said, the popularity of Ann Taylor's [Page 213] poems in the collection–one test of which is the frequency with which they have been set to music–must be attributed less to their poetical merits, or pellucid diction, for in these her sister equalled, if not excelled her, than to their concernment chiefly with home life, and their lively dialogue. It is she who takes for her subject the
. . . . Pretty cow that madethough she does not forget the more poetic aspect of the affair–
Pleasant milk to soak my bread.
Where the purple violet grows,
Where the bubbling water flows,
Where the grass is fresh and fine
Pretty cow go there and dine.
Animals are almost always introduced in this practical relation with the young folks, and with the constant eye to rousing a kindly sympathy for them, as in the "Last Dying Speech of Poor Puss," "The True History of a Poor Little Mouse," "The Epitaph upon a Poor Donkey," and others,–all from the pen of Ann. The poem which an eminent writer has styled "the finest lyric of the kind in the English language," "My Mother," has been already referred to as a specimen of this domestic tendency; but what is more perfectly a song of the nursery than–
Dance, little baby, dance up high,
Never mind, baby–mother is by;
Crow and caper, caper and crow,
There, little baby, there you go; [Page 214]
Up to the ceiling, down to the ground,
Backwards and forwards, round and round;
Then dance, little baby, and mother shall sing,
With the merry gay coral, ding, ding-a-ding
Or this, of graver tone–
Come, love, sit upon my knee,–
And give me kisses one, two, three,
And tell me whether you love me–
My baby !
Of the same realistic class are "Meddlesome Matty," "I do not like to go to Bed;" and of another sort, but vividly dramatic, the "Little Ann and her Mother," describing an actual incident in the childhood of the writer's mother, and which has raised a curious interest in "Cavendish Square" in many a young breast. To Ann also was due that touching picture of great significance at the time when the "slave" was still a doleful fact,–
Ah! the poor little blackamore, see there he goes, .
And the blood gushes out from his half-frozen toes,
And his legs are so thin you may almost see the bones,
As he goes shiver, shiver, all along on the stones.
Miss Yonge, in her papers upon Children's Literature of the last century (in which she attributes, as usual, the sole authorship to Jane), speaks of "the astonishing simplicity without puerility, the pathos, and arch drollery of the secular poems." This arch drollery was certainly a characteristic of Jane Taylor, yet the instances adduced by Miss Yonge are all from the contributions of Ann. Among them is the story of the "Notorious Glutton," [Page 215] which readers who have forgotten their early lore may not be sorry to see again. It illustrates the vein of sarcastic fun in which the writer excelled, and belongs also to a class of subjects which have been since objected to.
A duck, who had got such a habit of stuffing,
That all the day long she was panting and puffing,
And by every creature that did her great crop see,
Was thought to be galloping fast for a dropsy;
One day, after eating a plentiful dinner,
With full twice as much as there should have been in her,
While up to her forehead still greedily roking,
Was greatly alarmed by the symptoms of choking.
Now there was an old fellow much famed for discerning,
(A drake, who had taken a liking for learning),
And high in repute with his feathery friends,
Was called Dr Drake: for this doctor she sends.
In a hole of the dunghill was Dr Drake's shop,
Where he kept a few simples for curing the crop,
Small pebbles, and two or three different gravels,
With certain famed plants he had found on his travels.
So, taking a handful of suitable things,
And brushing his topple and pluming his wings,
And putting his feathers in apple-pie order,
He went to prescribe for the lady's disorder.
"Dear Sir," said the Duck, with a delicate quack,
Just turning a little way round on her back,
And leaning her head on a stone in the yard,
" My case, Dr Drake, is exceedingly hard ! "
"I feel so distended with wind, and opprest,
So squeamish and faint, such a load on my chest; [Page 216]
And, day after day, I assure you it is hard
To suffer with patience these pains in my gizzard."
"Give me leave," said the doctor, with medical look,
As her cold flabby paw in his fingers he took;
"By the feel of your pulse, your complaint, I've been thinking,
Must surely be owing to eating and drinking."
"Oh ! no, Sir, believe me," the lady replied,
(Alarmed for her stomach as well as her pride),
"I'm sure it arises from nothing I eat,
But I rather suspect I got wet in my feet.
I've only been raking a bit in the gutter,
Where the cook had been pouring some cold melted butter,
And a slice of green cabbage, and scraps of cold meat:
Just a trifle or two, that I thought I could eat "
The doctor was just to his business proceeding,
By gentle emetics,–a blister, and bleeding,
When all of a sudden, she rolled on her side,
Gave a terrible quack, and a struggle, and died !
Her remains were interred in a neighbouring swamp,
By her friends with a great deal of funeral pomp;
But I've heard this inscription her tombstone was put on
"Here lies Mrs Duck, the notorious glutton;"
And all the young ducklings are brought by their friends,
There to learn the disgrace in which gluttony ends.
Better still, perhaps, for its terse simplicity, is the story of the little fish that would not do as it was bid.
"Dear mother," said a little fish,
"Pray, is not that a fly ?
I'm very hungry, and I wish
You'd let me go and try." [Page 217]
"Sweet Innocent," the mother cried,
And started from her nook
"That horrid fly is made to hide
The sharpness of the hook ! "
Now, as I've heard, this little trout
Was young and foolish too,
And so he thought he'd venture out,
To see if it were true.
And round about the hook he played,
With many a longing look,
And–"Dear me," to himself he said,
"I'm sure that's not a hook."
"I can but give a little pluck:
Let's see, and so I will."
So on he went, and lo ! it stuck
Quite through his little gill !
And as he faint and fainter grew,
With hollow voice he cried,
"Dear mother, had I minded you,
I need not now have died !
The reader will remember Goldsmith's brilliant repartee to Dr Johnson–"The skill," said he, "consists in making little fishes talk like little fishes." Whereupon, observing Johnson shaking his sides with laughter, he smartly added, "Why, Dr Johnson, this is not so easy as you seem to think, for if you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like WHALES.–(Boswell's Life, Ap. 27, 1793).
The tragic element in the "Original Poems," instances of which occur in those above quoted, has of late been strongly objected to. An American writer, who exclaims against [Page 218] the horrors of "Little Red Riding Hood," and especially the dreadful scene between the wolf and the grandmother, as "enough to make a child's flesh creep with terror," holds Ann and Jane Taylor to be the "chief sinners in that respect." And a much higher authority, Sara Coleridge, speaking of Mary Howitt's charming poems for children, while ranking them below the "Original Poems" in simplicity, thinks them thus far preferable, "that they represent scarcely anything but what is bright and joyous." Children, she adds, "should dwell apart from the hard and ugly realities of life as long as possible. The 'Original Poems' give too many revolting pictures of mental depravity, bodily torture, and of adult sorrow; and I think the sentiments–the tirades, for instance, against hunting, fishing, shooting, are morbid, and partially false."
Now, surely the experience of most people will incline them to think that children get little harm from such dramatic representations, whether in the grotesque of the older legend, or in the homely treatment of the newer poem. If a giant cuts somebody's head off, the spectacle is only realised as a striking and effective denouement; and the man without his head is regarded as something funny rather than horrible. Childhood is by its nature and unacquaintance with suffering, sheltered from horror. Death itself is more curious than dreadful. The child's mind demands strong lines and colours in the picture presented to it, while its moral sense is not satisfied short of the extremest sentence of the law. For them retribution needs to be absolutely decisive and emphatic; and Ann and Jane Taylor, so far as they depicted such retributions [Page 219] (for to their associate in this first work, Miss O'Keefe, most of them are due), simply acted from an intuitive perception of child-nature. Really, according to these critics, Punch and Judy should never be permitted to come near a nursery window!
But is it true that "nothing but what is bright and joyous" should be presented to children ? They do not actually live in a fairy world; they are not really little angels. It is part of their education for the world as it is, that spectacles of all sorts should pass before their eyes, and that thus, while to a great extent shielded by their imaginative natures and light-heartedness, from what is hard, and ugly, and sorrowful, they should be gradually prepared for dealing with such things, when the inevitable time comes. And is it not well that sympathies should be early awakened ? Is a "sad story" never to be told to a child ? Is not the word, "poor man" natural and sweet from its lips ? Should the hard necessities of poverty be hidden from it, and not rather used to awaken the compassion which every little heart is ready to bestow ? Was it not better that the "ugly" little blackamoor should be used to draw forth pity, instead of being allowed to generate dislike because he was ugly and black ? And who can say how far this little rill of pity went, in swelling the great flood of philanthropy which long afterwards swept away slavery altogether ? The mother of Ann and Jane was always very careful to prevent her children from showing or feeling dislike towards any bodily infirmity, and her influence upon the young authors of the Poems may no doubt be traced in many of the subjects chosen; where, if those miseries were vividly painted, it was that [Page 220] the drama of life should really move the heart, and be used for instruction, and warning, as well as for the delight of story. There is danger lest in the modern ideas to which Mrs Coleridge has given expression, children should be brought up in a sort of fool's paradise, out of which they have to be rudely thrust at last into a very different scene. *
A letter of Mrs Gilbert to her brother Isaac, some thirty years after the poems were written, and when they were under revision, bears upon another part of this question:–
"Respecting the objectionable words specified in your letter, I have had some thought, both before and since, and feel a little at a loss how to proceed. It appears to me that, so long as scolding, fighting, pouting, quarrelling, and sulking occur in the best nurseries, more or less, (require testimonials from your nursemaid that they never occur in yours)–that is, so long as infant human nature exhibits itself in this way, and requires correction, it is necessary to advert to the things, and to call them by some name understood by the parties. I would not willingly employ an offensive or inelegant word, in preference to one which expressed the same idea in a nicer manner, but in the cases above, I scarcely know what to substitute that would not lessen the applicability to the conscience, or appear to soften down the offence. . . . In the 'Notorious Glutton,' and perhaps in 'Meddlesome Matty,' the subject in both cases is inelegant, and the former might have been expunged. I considered it, but as it has obtained a degree of favour as it is, and could not be altered altogether, I decided to let it stand." [Page 221]
That this admirable piece of "arch drollery" should have so narrowly escaped suppression under her brother's influence, is remarkable. The alterations in several instances were unfortunate, they were many years later still, pointed out in an article in the Spectator, and attributed to the blundering of some incompetent editor. The author of them, who had herself then forgotten the circumstances of the revision, quite agreed with the critic, and was confounded to discover how, and when, they had been made.
Sara Coleridge's remarks upon "the tirades against hunting, fishing, and shooting" are scarcely justified by the poems themselves. What they say can hardly be termed "tirades;" and the sentiments were in accordance with much accredited literature of that day.* In this case the aim was evidently to check that propensity to cruelty to animals, so common in children simply through want of thought, by an argumentum ad puerum; and the application of the rule, "Do unto others, as ye would they should do unto you." In this way not only might much unnecessary suffering be saved to animals, but a commencement might be made of that moral discipline in the careless little ones, which is the deepest need of every soul.
This brings us to the poems by the two sisters, which have a distinctly religious purpose–the "Hymns for Infant Minds," "Sunday School Hymns," &c. Miss Yonge, while [Page 222] naming Jane Taylor (?) as one of three who alone have been successful hymn writers for children, yet considers her hymns inferior to the secular poems. In this opinion we do not concur. In these hymns, as in the other poems, it is Ann Taylor whose contributions have secured the widest popularity, and the simplicity without puerility, and pathos without sentimentality, which distinguish the secular, seem to us to belong, in a still higher degree, to the sacred poetry. So to treat the great topics of religion must also be a more difficult task.
The estimate of two such men as the late Dr Arnold and Archbishop Whately, may be adduced in support of this opinion. The former, in one of his sermons at Rugby, says,–"The knowledge and love of Christ can nowhere be more readily gained by young children, than from the hymns of this most admirable woman." And the latter, in his "Essays on Christian Faith," remarks:–"A well-known little book, entitled 'Hymns for Infant Minds,' contains, Nos. 14, 15, a better practical description of Christian humility, and its opposite, than I ever met with in so small a compass. Though very intelligible and touching to a mere child, a man of the most mature understanding, if not quite destitute of the virtue in question, may be the wiser and better for it." The poems here referred to are those entitled "How to Find Out Pride," and "How to Cure Pride," and were written by Ann Taylor. They exhibit a close analysis of motive, which was common to both Ann and Jane; but which the former expressed with more homely force. The first of these poems, after setting forth a searching catechism, ends with,– [Page 220]
Put all these questions to your heart,
And make it act an honest part;
And, when they've each been fairly tried,
I think you'll own that you have pride.
Some one will suit you, as you go,
And force your heart to tell you so:
But if they all should be denied,
Then you're too proud to own your pride.
The second, after enumerating various means for the cure of pride, closes with,–
And, when all other means are tried,
Be humble, that you've so much pride.
It was Ann, too, who wrote–
Great God, and wilt thou condescend
To be my Father and my friend ?
I a poor child, and Thou so high,
The Lord of earth, and air, and sky ?
Art Thou my Father ? Canst Thou bear
To hear my poor imperfect prayer ?
Or wilt Thou listen to the praise
That such a little one can raise ?
Art Thou my Father ? Let me be
A meek, obedient child to Thee;
And try, in word, and deed, and thought,
To serve and please Thee as I ought.
Art Thou my Father ? I'll depend
Upon the care of such a friend;
And only wish to do and be,
Whatever seemeth good to Thee. [Page 224]
Art Thou my Father ? Then at last,
When all my days on earth are past,
Send down and take me in thy love,
To be thy better child above.
It may not be too much to say that the manner of the Divine Teacher has been seldom more nearly approached. Such might have been the little child whom "he set in the midst." In such words might the most mature Christian address his Father in heaven.
The hymn beginning–
Jesus who lived above the sky,has been found, in dealing with the poor, one of the best, because one of the most simple expositions of the gospel mystery. Another of the same kind is a sermon in itself–
Came down to be a man and die,
And in the Bible we may see
How very good he used to be.–
Lo, at noon 'tis sudden night!
Darkness covers all the sky!
Rocks are rending at the sight !–
Children, can you tell me why ?
What can all these wonders be ?–
Jesus dies at Calvary!
The moral impressiveness of the following, may be acknowledged by others than children. It is mentioned in one of her letters as receiving the highest praise from Montgomery.
Among the deepest shades of night,
Can there be one who sees my way ?
Yes; God is like a shining light,
That turns the darkness into day. [Page 225]
When every eye around me sleeps,
May I not sin without control ?
No; for a constant watch he keeps
On every thought of every soul.
. . . . . .
One of the less known poems was added at a later period.
A captain forth to battle went,
With soldiers brave and trim;
The captain by a king was sent,
To take a town for him.
It returned to the writer in bread of consolation after many days. In her old age she learnt that one who, still young, had distinguished himself before the deadly earth-mounds of Sebastopol, and so won his captain's commission, was greeted by his little sister on his return home with this hymn, learnt for the occasion, and deftly repeated. He listened how one had been,–
Taught by his mother to repeatand how thereafter–
What Solomon had said,
That he who ruleth well his heart,
And keeps his temper down,
Is greater,–acts a wiser part,
Than he who takes a town.
From day to day, from year to year,
He kept the watchful strife,
Till passion seemed to disappear
From that young Christian life:
In love he passed his pleasant days,
And dying, won a crown !–
The crown of life !–O better praise
Than theirs who took the town ! [Page 226]
He listened, and the words sank into his heart. Not long after, from the midst of barrack life, he wrote that he had not forgotten the little hymn, and asked to have it sent to him. Within a month or two, fever carried him away, when the words that seemed to have awakened spiritual life in his soul, became messengers of peace to his sorrowing parents.
With all the cheerfulness of Ann Taylor's nature, there was associated a strong vein of melancholy, which led her too often into the neighbourhood of death and the grave. The fearfulness of that under-world, the loss from the living circle, the awful problem of the future, haunted her imagination; while the belief that such inevitable facts in human destiny should not be hidden from the thoughts of children, but that they should early learn the lessons they are intended to teach, induced her, perhaps more often than her sister, and more often than was healthy, to turn her pen in that direction. It was she who wrote,–
Yes, it must moulder in the grave,
This moving heart, this breathing breast,
And flowers shall grow, and grass shall wave,
Where these cold limbs are laid to rest;
And so it was, when she addressed her youngest sister on her birthday she fell into this solemn strain,–
He knows the point, the very spot,
Where each of us shall fall,
And whose shall be the earliest lot,
And whose the last of all. [Page 227]
Dear cherished child! if you should have
To travel far alone,
And weep by turns at many a grave,
Before you reach your own;
May He who bade you weep, be nigh
To wipe away your tears,
And point you to a world on high,
Beyond these mournful years!
Yet, if it be His holy will,
I pray that hand in hand,
We all may travel many a hill
Of this the pilgrim's land:
With Zion's shining gate in view
Through every danger rise,
And form a family anew,
Unbroken, in the skies.
The thought of a family broken, and perhaps for ever, was one of the tortures of her heart, and this prayer that hers and all dear to her should meet "unbroken in the skies" was the oftenest upon her lips.
Her nature was compounded of great tenderness, a strenuously realizing imagination, and profound convictions, and these when carried to excess may have unduly coloured her view of things. They compelled her to dwell occasionally on subjects still darker than the grave. She believed in sin, she believed in the future punishment of sin, and she could not hide her belief away in the presence of little ones, in whom she saw the germs of evil, and whose steps might be turning towards the broad road that leads to death. Yet neither she nor her sister ever brought the doom of the wicked into prominence. [Page 228] The references to it are infrequent It is never elaborated as a picture. No line by either sister deals with the subject as Dr Watts, their venerated predecessor, ventured to do.
Some sixty years after the publication of the poems, a writer in the "Athenæum" (understood to be Professor de Morgan), ignorant that the author still survived, wrote as follows:–
"One of the most beautiful lyrics in the English language, or in any other language, is spoiled by the introduction of what was not uncommon in the little songs formerly written for children, a bit of religion, no matter what, thrust in, no matter how, something good as a piece of form and propriety. After that description of a mother's care and kindness which, as written for a child, is absolutely unequalled, the song ends with the reason why the child is never to despise its mother, and that reason is the fear of God's vengeance. . . .
"The last verse would suit admirably if those which precede had described indifferent or harsh treatment, for the fifth commandment makes no distinction of mothers, which is all that could be said about the duty of attention to a bad one. But, placed as they are, these lines spoil the whole, and are perhaps the reason why the poem is by no means so common among the children of this day, as it deserves to be. We propose that it should be remitted to the Laureate in the name of all the children of England to supply a closing verse which shall give a motive drawn from the verses which precede, and in accordance with the one immediately preceding. It will not be easy, even for [Page 229] for Mr Tennyson, to satisfy reasonable expectation, but we hope he will try."
The verse animadverted upon is as follows
For God, who lives above the skies,
Would look with vengeance in his eyes,
If ever I should dare despise
The succeeding number of the "Athenaeum" contained this reply:–
"Allow me to thank your correspondent for both his praise and blame. I am grateful for one, and confess to the other, in his notice of a little poem, 'My Mother,' of which I was the author, it may be something more than sixty years ago. I see now so much as he does, though not in all its implications, that should another edition pass through the press I will take care that the offending verse shall be omitted; or, as I may hope (without troubling the Laureate) replaced. I have regarded our good old theologian, Dr Watts, as nearly our only predecessor in verses for children, and his name, a name I revere, I may perhaps plead in part, though not so far as to accept now what did not strike me as objectionable then. There has been an illustrated edition of our "Original poems" recently published. I am sorry to see it retained there, but, as the still living author, I have sufficient right to expunge it. Possibly you may have heard the names of Ann and Jane Taylor, of whom I am the Ann, and remain yours, &c." [Page 230]
She sent the following alteration of the verse:–
For could our Father in the skies
Look down with pleased or loving eyes,
If ever I could dare despise
A correspondent of "Notes and Queries," July 14, 1866, again took up the subject, and, after criticising both the critic and the author, objected to the emendation of the latter. "There is still the abrupt and unnatural transition from the extreme of fondness to its very opposite, and the fear of our Heavenly Father is still put forward as the only motive to the exclusion of his love. . . ."
Two verses were suggested by this writer, to whom the author, within six months of her death, rejoined.
"Again I have to thank, and in part agree with, my critics, confessing that at my age it is a favour to have any critic at all ! With some of their views I may not fully agree, but in the concluding verses just received, I concur so nearly, that were they simply my own I might be glad to employ them. Yet I would rather be honestly myself, than cleverly any one else. Excuse me, therefore, for retaining what I have already sent, should another edition allow it.
"Young as I was when the original verse was written, I did not see, as I do now, its incongruity in tone with those preceding it. Still, I believe that all moral evil is sin; that all sin incurs the divine displeasure; but 'vengeance' is a word I would not now employ."
To this curious little discussion, so long after the publi- [Page 231] cation of the poem, in which several besides those quoted took part, the present editor would add what he believes to have been the true explanation of the objectionable phrase. In the earlier editions, "anger," not vengeance, was the word employed, the expression was intensified at a later period; but it had a purely biographical, and not a theological, reference. At page 61, allusion is made to a painful piece of far back family history, the ill treatment of her great-grandfather on the mother's side, by a son who had been the spoiled pet of his parents. Her mother, when a child, had been a witness of this conduct. Perhaps her passionate affection for the grandfather, whose house at Kensington had been the happy refuge of her earliest years, may have coloured her recollections; but as she used to tell of her secretly taking the old man's head upon her bosom, and feeding him with soft biscuits, while the tears rolled silently down his cheeks, and he indicated in dumb show what he suffered; the indignation she expressed was deep. In the "Reciprocal Duties of Parents and Children," Mrs Taylor told the story under feigned names; and her daughter Ann repeated it in one of the "Nursery Rhymes," beginning–
"I'll tell you a story, come sit on my knee,
"A true and a pitiful one it shall be,
"About an old man, and a poor man was he."
To the end of her life she could never refer to it without tears, and it is not surprising that, with this story in mind, the possibility of filial ingratitude should occur to her when writing the poem in question, and that she should denounce upon it the severest judgment of heaven! [Page 232] nor that she should even intensify the expression, when it came before her for revision. The knowledge of an actual fact hid from her the incongruity, both as a matter of art and morals, of such an idea with the rest of the poem; and when it eventually became the subject of criticism, the author, at the age of eighty-four, had forgotten the natural history of the verse, the introduction of which she evidently had difficulty in explaining. Any way it would be quite contrary to her nature to insert " a bit of religion no matter what, thrust in no matter how–something good as a piece of form and propriety."
One other modern criticism may be noticed, again referring to one of Ann Taylor's hymns:–
"I thank the goodness and the grace,
That on my birth have smiled,
And made me in these Christian days,
A happy English child."
This has been found fault with, by an eminent preacher, as a piece of pharisaism resembling the "I thank thee, I am not as other men," of the parable. It surely hardly needs to be pointed out that thankfulness for all the blessings of this life, and sometimes for special ones, forms part of every public prayer; and is totally different from an expression of thankfulness for the possession of moral excellence, in which the Pharisee's proud heart indulged. The concluding verse shows that the moral intended is the responsibility of privilege,–
My God, I thank Thee, who has planned
A better lot for me,
And placed me in this happy land,
Where I may hear of Thee. [Page 233]
It is remarkable that even this simple hymn should have been honoured as an instrument for good far beyond its intention. She was told long afterwards, that a very gay, thoughtless family ascribed to it their conversion to spiritual religion.
That so many years after these little poems given to the world they should receive the commendations of such men as Arnold and Whately, is higher testimony to their enduring merit, than any contemporary judgments; but it may be interesting to quote a few passages from letters received at the time from some whose names are still of note in literature.
Sir Walter Scott, writing to Josiah Conder, says, "My young people are busy with the 'Rhymes for the Nursery,' and it is perhaps the highest proof of their being admirably adapted for their benevolent purpose, that the little students have most of them by heart already."
Southey, writing to the same, on receipt of the volume entitled "Associate Minstrels," makes some general remarks, which may be worth transcribing:–
"There was a time when poets of this country, like those of every other country, trod one after another in the same sheep-tracks of imbecility. We have got out of this,–yet not so much in reality as in appearance; for the modern art of imitation consists in borrowing or stealing from many, instead of honestly copying one. The first thing I look for in a volume of verses is to see whether the author be [Page 234] a mocking bird, or if he has a note of his own. You certainly have; it is a sweet one, and I have little doubt that it may be made a powerful one, if you choose to cultivate its powers. . . . The title of your book, though you have abundant precedents for it, offends against my sense of costume. We injure and impoverish our language when we reduce a word which has a peculiar meaning of its own to be a mere synonym. I perceive as much impropriety in using 'Minstrel' for Poet, as there is in applying the terms of chivalry to modern warfare."
"The 'Original Poems' of your friends and associates have long been in my children's library, and equally favourites with them and with me. There is a cast of feeling in them which made me suppose the authors to be Quakers, a society with which I am almost, yet not wholly in communion. Whoever these ladies are, they have well and wisely employed their talents, and I am glad to have this opportunity of conveying my thanks to them through you, for the good which they are doing, and will long continue to do."
Miss Edgeworth, acknowledging some communication from Ann Taylor, says:–
"Whenever I have an opportunity of adding to 'Parents' Assistant,' or to 'Early Lessons,' I will avail myself of your suggestions, and endeavour, as you judiciously recommend, to ridicule the garrulity, without checking the open-heartedness of childhood. My 'Little Rosamond,' who perhaps has not the honour of being known to you, is sufficiently garrulous, but she is rather what the French call 'une petite Raisonneuse ' than what you call a 'chatterbox.' Miss Larolles [Page 235] in 'Cecilia,' is a perfect picture of a chatterbox arrived at years of discretion. I wish I could draw Miss Larolles in her childhood."
"In a book called 'Original Poems for Children,' there is a pretty little poem, 'The Chatterbox,' which one of my little sisters, on hearing your letter, recollected. It is signed Ann T–. Perhaps, madam, it may be written by you; and it will give you pleasure to hear that it is a favourite with four good talkers of nine, six, five, and four years old."
Coming to works of more pretension than the Poems for Children, we may note that the "Associate Minstrels" contained eleven poems by Ann Taylor. Montgomery writes of it– "A– is to my mind the Queen of the Assembly. She is a poet of a high order, the first, unquestionably, among those who write for children, and not the last, by hundreds, of those who write for men. The 'Maniac's Song' has not only the melancholy of madness, but the inspiration of poetry; also the simile, p. 97, is wonderfully fine, and perfectly original. The two stanzas that contain it are as lovely as the stars they celebrate."
The simile referred to is from one of the longest poems in the volume, entitled, "Remonstrance,' and deals with the question, now much more loudly propounded, the true relations between man and woman. Enlarging upon a motto taken from Hannah More–"Women in their course of action describe a smaller circle than men, but the perfection of a circle consists not in its dimensions, but in its correctness," she says– [Page 236]
Thus Venus round a narrow sphere
Conducts her silver car,
Nor aims, nor seems to interfere
With Jove's imperial star.
Athwart the dark and deepening gloom
Their blending rays unite,
And with commingled beams illume
The drear expanse of night.
It was not till mid-life that she composed hymns to any extent, for congregational use, and then perhaps not very successfully. They will be referred to at the period to which they belong, but it was at the age of eighteen only, that she wrote a hymn in three parts, which has been included in some collections. It begins–
Thou who didst for Peter's faith
Kindly condescend to pray.
With the removal to Ongar, Ann Taylor's pen took a new direction, in which it seemed likely to achieve considerable success. Her first article for the " Eclectic Review" led the way for others, of which one upon Hannah More's "Christian Morals" attracted much attention. That accomplished authoress was then at the zenith of her fame, and, quite unused to so fearless and caustic a style of criticism, upon discovery of the writer, expressed her displeasure in a manner unworthy of her genius. Isaac Taylor always held that his sister's chief talent lay in this branch of literature, and Montgomery once referred to her as a rare instance of one whose prose style was perspicuous and beautiful, without, as far as [Page 237] he knew, having had the assistance of a classical education. Some quotations from her reviews may be given, not only as illustrating the character of her prose, but as expressing opinions which she held strongly through life–the result of a homely realism, which cut through the outward seeming of things. Mrs More's work is thus criticised.–
. . . "Various detached thoughts, in Mrs More's usual style of thinking and writing, are thrown into chapters–some more, and some less connected with their immediate neighbours–and look like the gleanings of a portfolio, which are too good to be thrown away, and too desultory to be well arranged. In many places the subjects are too much generalised to admit of that correct touch, in which the observation and skill of Mrs More are displayed to advantage. The reflections are just, and precisely such as most reflecting people have made already–such as many reflecting people could write, and, perhaps, not sufficiently unlike what has been written. Peculiarities of style, which, while they were new and infrequent, might strike as beauties, adding point, force, or richness, are here so numerous and unrestricted, that the ear anticipates and is fatigued with their recurrence. If we may venture on such an allusion, Mrs More, after lighting her candle, puts it under a bushel–and, not seldom, by unmeaning tautology, under half-a-dozen bushels successively, for many of her illustrations are so nearly synonymous that they rather exercise the reader in discovering, or inventing, distinctions, than assist him in attaining a complete idea. This, instead of indicating [Page 238] mental exuberance, is usually the resort of conscious failure, labouring to express what it cannot condense; or of indecisive judgment, which is unable to select."
"Genius feels and decides with prompt correctness, places its idea in the most striking attitude, in the broad daylight of expression, and presents to a glance–'The fairest, loftiest countenance of things.'Industry walks carefully round its subject, holding a light, now on this side, now on that, in every direction, till, notwithstanding the general obscurity, every part has been successively discerned. This fatiguing endeavour is perceived, upon many occasions, in the style of Mrs More. We should call it, if allowed the expression, 'much ado about'–something."
More important, and strongly marked by the writer's opinions, is the following–
. . . "She frequently writes as if the two classes which divide society–'the children of the kingdom,' and 'the men of this world'–were amalgamated in a third–natives of some country midway of those distant regions–Christians who are not Christian. We admit that there are many who present such an appearance to the eye of man–many whom charity would fain regard as brethren, although they do not 'come out' and 'separate' with such entire consistency as to render their character indubitable. But this uncertainty exists, not in the subject, but in the observer, to whom the heart is inscrutable; and while it suspends his judgment, it must not confuse [Page 239] his language. Amidst endless diversities of situation, temper, and knowledge, every individual is, or is not, a Christian; and he that is not must not be flattered with the name." . . . .
"Upon what ground, therefore, does Mrs More bestow the name of Christians upon such as are destitute, according to her own account, of the 'vital spirit of Christianity ?' 'The good sort of people' she is exhibiting are well described as 'contractors for heaven, who bring their merit as their purchase-money, who intend to be saved at their own expense,' and 'do not always take care to be provided with a very exorbitant sum, though they expect so large a return in exchange for it.' . . .
"These characters, who have descended without interruption from a numerous family in the days of our Saviour, are here so accurately delineated–the very cut of the phylactery is so well observed–that we should reckon it one of the most useful parts of the present work, were it not for the strange concession which is made to them in the same breath. Is it credible that persons so described should be complimented by Mrs More with the title of 'unconfirmed Christians,' and often with that of 'Christians,' without any qualifying epithet? That such Christians are called Christians by the world, we do not deny; but it seems to us that for that very reason Mrs More ought not to call them so. In what respect does the title belong to them ? In what respect can it belong to them, if they are distinct from the character? We have heard of young, of unlearned, of weak, and even of inconsistent Christians–persons who have much to learn and to mourn, and long [Page 240] to struggle–but they are not such as could be characterized by the foregoing marks. . . .
"In some writers we should either attribute this negligent bestowment of the Christian name to a dubious view of the subject, or consider it as a cowardly compliment to polite readers. In Mrs More we can do neither. We regard it as an unhappy relic of the language which becomes popular wherever religion is established and national. In the eye of a national religion birth and baptism confer Christianity. The 'Young Christian' is an expression not uncommon among 'good sort of people,' as soon as the baptismal office has done its wonder. Upon the uninformed, upon the majority, we may therefore conclude, in every nation thus situated, the effect of such a superstition is a complete mistake as to the grounds of safety; . . . Even among the more enlightened, we perceive the evil effect of such a system in the instance before us. It is a compliment so universal, under an established Christianity, to be called a Christian; it is reckoned so barbarous, so uncharitable, so heathenish a thing, to deny the title to any but the unbaptised; that even Mrs More adopts the popular phraseology, and upon persons addressed by the Saviour as 'Pharisees, hypocrites,' (and whom it is evident she views in the same light) bestows the distinguishing name of his true disciples."
The following remarks have received striking illustration in our own day when the extreme Ritualist and the extreme Rationalist are found joining in the same form of words. [Page 241]
"And here, without wishing to detract one particle from the excellence of the liturgy, we must be allowed to express our surprise at seeing so weak a plea, as that it 'secures from the fluctuations of human opinion,' advanced in its behalf by writers, who, if they had thought, must have seen its fallacy; who ought not to have written without thinking; and who if they had thought, and did see its fallacy, should have been ashamed of employing it. It is not only bad as a principle, but erroneous as a fact. Human opinion continues, and it will continue to fluctuate, notwithstanding. Mrs More frankly acknowledges the 'incurable diversity' of it; and she must know that people, as well as ministers, are liable to 'degenerate.' We are astonished, therefore, to hear her plead for uniformity of language, while she allows that uniformity of sentiment is unattainable. This surely, could be no other than 'bodily exercise which profiteth little;' and it converts the forms of the Church into worse than mockery, to exact them from men, by whom their doctrines, Scriptural as they may be, are not embraced. 'All things may be pure, but they are evil to that man who eateth with offence.' To persevere in a form which the mind rejects, is only adding hypocrisy to unbelief; and if in the sight of God hypocrisy were not an abominable thing, yet, what is gained by compelling an infidel, whether a systematic, or a thoughtless one, to say 'I believe ?'"
A review of Miss Edgeworth's Tales was one of those contributed by Ann Taylor to the "Eclectic;" the last of them, soon after she became Mrs Gilbert, had for its subject, Miss Hamilton's 'Popular Essays.' From this, a last [Page 242] quotation may be allowed, from its bearing upon a question still under discussion–the true sphere of women.
"But we feel inclined to explain and to qualify, before we proceed, an epithet which has just escaped us. It is that of inferior duties, for we doubt whether in such a connection, it ought to be employed. It appears, indeed, that to the term duty, the qualifications, great, and small, can never with strict propriety be applied. The due occupation of the passing hour is the uniform demand which the Giver of that hour makes upon the receiver of it, and in his sight, the nature of that occupation neither elevates nor degrades the servant to whom it is given. To all within the sound of his word, the injunction is addressed, 'Be ye holy; for I am holy!' but to none, not to the most intelligent of his creatures, does he say, 'Be ye great, for I am great.' In the scale of intellect, we take the place assigned to us by presiding Wisdom, and are only enjoined to improve the few, or the many talents, without repining, and without sloth. In the scale of morality we are, if the expression may be allowed, to find our own place, and never to rest satisfied with an inferior station. The woman, therefore, who feels herself confined, by the appointments of Providence, to a narrow mental range, and who is permitted to expatiate in those humble regions only, which comprise, perhaps, little more than the nursery and the kitchen, has no need to be ashamed of the rank she holds, or to repine at the limits by which her walk in life is circumscribed. She is an agent in the hand of God, and should be estimated, not according to the place she occupies, but the skill and industry with which her particular part is [Page 243] performed. In the sight of God, the moral appears to be far more valuable than the intellectual principle. It is that mode of approach by which finite beings are encouraged to advance towards infinite perfection. Amazing intellect cannot elevate a Satan; and, though gifted only with the humblest portion of mind, a Christian is not degraded. He rises, in the dignity of the moral principle, into esteem and consideration even with the Most High.
. . . It appears, therefore, to be a false view of things–a view taken not in the light of Scripture, but by the flashing of human pride, that regards the performance of any duty as degrading, or even as inferior. Ascertain only that it is duty, and it is that the right discharge of which God will honour. The Christian woman who can reflect upon a laborious life of domestic duty, looks back upon a scene of true virtue; and if, in order to perform the whole of her allotted task, she was obliged to repress a taste for pursuits more intellectual, the character of magnanimity is inscribed upon her conduct, however retired, or in human estimation insignificant, may have been the daily exercises to which she was appointed."
The last paragraph may fitly close our consideration of that portion of the life we are delineating, which was devoted to art and literature. After her marriage, Ann Gilbert gave herself with all the sedulousness of her nature to the occupations of that more contracted sphere, in which she yet recognised a true moral greatness; striving therein, as far as in her lay, to live a life of "duty, praise and prayer." [Page 244]
Ongar scenery–The Winter at Ilfracombe–A Visitor and an offer of Marriage–Mr Gunn and his Sailors–Return to Ongar–Engagement to Mr Gilbert–Marriage; and Letter from her Mother.
. . . . –"How wilt thy virginhood
"So this match was concluded, and in process of time they were married, but more of this hereafter."
ONGAR, a name very dear to my mother's heart, had in reality little to do with her life, except through the repeated and happy visits she paid there, so long as her father and mother lived. These, however, were among the brightest gifts of the years, while the impression of the first arrival, and the first summer spent in the picturesque "Castle House," never wore off, and Ongar always was to her the chosen home of rural happiness. The old house has since then been much altered; the two turrets, in one of which was her writing closet, have been pulled down, and the whole has been re-fronted. Yet some vestiges of its former condition remain, as in the staples for the chains that supported the drawbridge over the moat, for the house was originally the gateway to the castle yard, enlarged into a mansion about the Elizabethan era. "The Mount," upon which stood the [Page 248] ancient keep, and "the moats" are still there. The widest and deepest of the latter was once at least navigated by Martin, Jefferys, and Jane, in a brewing tub, when they unluckily lost one of the fire shovels, used for oars.
Ongar itself, * a straggling, red-roofed little town of a single street, has not sustained much alteration or enlargement; but the changes have all tended to diminish its picturesqueness. The most notable disfigurement has been the cutting down of the tall poplars and other trees around the churchyard, and the gradual obliteration of the ancient lines of foss and earthwork covered with trees and bushes, surrounding the town on three sides, that marked its early adoption as a place of strength.
The country round would now hardly answer to the loving eulogies of the Autobiographist. Like most English landscapes, it has been smoothed and pared away till its peculiar charm is almost gone. What with the removal of timber, and of thatched cottages, the enclosure of the commons, the disappearance of the elm-shaded strips of green along the roads, the straightening of hedges, the pulling down, or renewal in bald ugly style, of the farm houses that formerly boasted grey carved porches and columned chimneys,–the character of the scenery has grievously deteriorated, in any but the farmer's point of view. My own recollections of it are not inconsistent with my mother's description.
It was, however, at Ilfracombe, far away from this loved [Facing Page]
THE CASTLE HOUSE, ONGAR.
From a drawing by Jane Taylor.
VOL. I, p. 248.
[Page 249] spot, that the Autobiography left us. The charm of its romantic scenery, and that of other parts of Devon and Somerset, seems to have been more appreciated by her brother and sister than by herself, who, ever a home bird, enjoyed especially the more simple features of a home landscape. It was the dear friends she found or made in Devonshire that gave warmth to her recollections. Her bosom friend, Anna Forbes, now Mrs Laurie, lived at Budleigh Salterton; Luck Conder, as Mrs Whitty, at Axminster; the Gunns, and others, were now for the first time amongst her intimates.
A happy six months was spent at Ilfracombe, then a very retired village. The winter storms thundered at their back door, and sometimes "tons of water broke against the chamber window." But they clambered over the rocks, and explored the dales in almost all weathers, and within doors "a jewel of a landlady," and "our Peggy, the civilest, obligingest, curtseyingest little Devonshire maid that can be," made them very comfortable at a fireside cheerful enough from their own resources, but which choice friends contributed to enliven.
It was not all holiday, however, Jane, indeed, seems to have spent her time more in gathering impressions for after use than in actual work; but Ann and Isaac were fully occupied. Ann was chiefly engaged upon reviews for the "Eclectic," stimulated by finding that an article by Dr Olinthus Gregory had been displaced to make room for one of hers upon Miss Edgeworth. It was here she wrote that pungent review of Hannah More's "Christian Morals," from which some quotations have been given. Isaac, besides some miniature painting, was busy [Page 250] with his designs for Boydell's Bible, the striking originality of which drew the admiration of Haydon, and of late years have been referred to by Gilchrist and Rosetti as resembling those of Blake in conceptive power. But his versatile genius was not confined to art. An invention for engraving by mechanism was shaping itself in his mind, and here subjected to tentative experiments; while at the same time his thoughts were pursuing the problems of early Church History, to which the accidental purchase of a Latin Father had given the impulse. It was a singular illustration of this versatility also, that he should have been offered the appointment of draughtsman to Mr Salt's expedition to Abyssinia, and solicited to become the pastor of the small Dissenting Church at Ilfracombe.*
That small community had been accustomed to the ministrations of a very able man–Mr Gunn, afterwards of Christchurch, Hampshire, and noted for organising there the largest and most successful Sunday school then in the kingdom. He had just introduced the use of Ann and Jane's Hymns in his school at Ilfracombe, and with him the three visitors in the small house on the Quay formed the closest intimacy. Ann's diary shows that scarcely an evening passed that he did not take a seat at their tea table. All three wrote, and Isaac subsequently published, the highest encomiums upon the charm of his manner, and the power of his mind. Ann writes to her mother,– [Page 251]
"Mr Gunn, the noble Highlander" (he was from Caithness), "adds greatly to the pleasure we here enjoy. He spends his evenings with us more frequently than not, and by the animation, the philosophical cast, and perspicuous style of his conversation, renders our fireside most delightful. His person, air, and manners are those of a military man of rank; but the graceful ease and candid frankness of his conversation remove any embarrassment in his company, although Jane and I had mutually determined to say nothing in his presence but 'Yes, if you please, sir,' or 'No, thank you, sir.' Father will be pleased to hear he is making us Dissenters to the backbone."
To this, a very permanent result with the two sisters, the injudicious denunciations of a Cambridge dignitary, whose sister occasionally attended upon Mr Gunn's ministry on week days may have contributed. Ann writes again,–
"Miss W–'s brother, in writing of Mr Gunn, always calls him 'the man.' I only wish he could once see and converse with him, and he would perceive how emphatically he is 'the man,'–in person, in manner, in character, and in principles."
With this opinion of him, it is not surprising to find that the sisters and their brother were his hearers three times every Sunday, and that their attendance at the lecture on Wednesday, and the prayer-meeting on Friday evening, was unfailing. They had, however, been brought up in the strict observance of "ordinances."
But the chief event of the winter at Ilfracombe, was the arrival of a visitor on a peculiar errand. A minister, for a short time resident in Essex, but now associated with Dr [Page 252] Williams as classical tutor in Rotherham Theological College, had been so impressed with Ann Taylor's writtings, and had heard from those acquainted with her so much eulogium upon her personal merits, that he took the singular step, without having seen her, of writing to inquire, whether "any peremptory reasons existed which might lead him to conclude that a journey, undertaken with the purpose of soliciting her heart and hand, could not possibly be successful."
"To this extraordinary letter," as she terms it, in writing to her mother, she returned a brief and most distant answer, but was somewhat conciliated by the reply, and especially as inquiries instituted by her father brought forth the warm praises of many friends. It was speedily intimated that the writer was coming to Ilfracombe, and Ann's letters to her one confidante, her mother, are full of the oddity and embarrassment of the situation.
"I can scarcely believe that such a negotiation is actually on foot, and yet that I have not the slightest idea of the party! Whatever his present feelings may be, and I believe them to be sincere,–however permanent might be the affection he entertains for an unknown character, in case he were never personally introduced, that affection will scarcely come into service when the ideal object is displaced by the real. He will feel like a man whose love has slipped through a trap door. Yet I think it proper to allow an interview, because it is the only way to effect a speedy cure,–if cure is to be effected."
At the same time she combated the hot objections of one of her brothers, and thinks she detects in the letters–and it was a wonderfully true prevision–"an elevation, but simplicity of nature; that kind of manliness which results from integrity of principle, and singleness of design. . . . As to M–, I cannot but recollect that tastes differ, and that even a quick sight may sometimes be too quick to be true." *
The unknown suitor first visited Ongar, and the impression produced upon so keen and severe a judge of character as the mother, fully supports that which the daughter had gathered from his letters. It is evident that he took the further journey with the good wishes of both parents, and a letter from her mother is clearly intended to prepare the way to her daughter's heart.
"We had had the sweeps, and were in the back parlour, which was also in the usual litter preceding Christmas. Your father was out, and we, in great deshabille, had just sat down to tea, when Jemima exclaimed with a look of dismay, 'there's a fourble knock at the door!' Immediately I decamped into the storeroom, and was speedily followed by a ludicrous procession. . . . However, I determined to carry it off with address, so having slipt upstairs, and hastily adjusted myself, I returned and I believe received him with tolerable ease. I just said slightly that we had had the sweeps, &c., but I soon perceived he was [Page 254] not the man to be impressed with unfavourable ideas from such trifling circumstances. He was one of the favoured few with whom I could immediately assimilate, and could freely converse. We presently commenced an animated conversation, chiefly on literary subjects,–Montgomery, 'Edinburgh Review,' &c., &c., but I could see he was constantly verging towards the main subject, which at length we entered upon very fully and frankly. I blamed him for the step he had taken, and asked how it was that he did not first try to get an introduction to you ?" . . . (After explanations) "He said he had acted in the most direct opposition to his own theory. I replied he had to mine; and that I had known many who, though appearing unexceptionable in the eyes of the world, had to me some trait that would have been an insuperable bar to such a union. He replied that what I saw was, though I might not then be aware of it, a certain indication of some defect of mind, and that he was convinced, from long acquaintance with yours, there could be nothing of the kind in you." . . .
"But as to the man it would be vain and fruitless for me to say–'like or dislike him.' Your own observations, your own eyes, your own heart, must be your directors. But I may say, I like him, and that he grows upon me most rapidly. I soon discovered a vivacity, a gracefulness, and even a fascination in his manner, which I thought might in due time render him acceptable. Poor fellow! There was no place inside, and he had to travel on the roof this bitter weather, and was so absorbed in love and learning, that he had left behind his warm travelling cap, and, but for your father, would have gone away again without his overalls !"
"Your father says, that had he been so fortunate as to have been one of the workroom loungers at Colchester, he is the very man soon to have become a high favourite. Now, my dear Ann, I have but one request to make, which, after all, I daresay [Page 255] is needless. It is not that you would marry, or even like him; but simply that, after having travelled so far on your account, you should show every hospitality, and he will the more deserve it if you reject him."
Her father adds his word also–
"I met him once at an association of ministers, and was so struck by his countenance as to inquire who he was, for his look was penetrating and superior. I received for answer that it was Gilbert of Southend, a deep thinker, very clever, and not at all suited to such a place. The next thing I heard of him was his being appointed assistant tutor at Rotherham."
On the 31st of December 1812, she describes the result of this singular visit.
"The first time he introduced the subject, which was the first morning, I declined entering upon it entirely, as a total stranger. The second, I settled preliminaries; that is, explained to him that he must consider himself as under no kind of engagement to proceed a single step, but that all he now said or did must be without any reference to the past. And certainly my suspicions in this respect appear to have been groundless; he does not seem to have made the transfer with so much difficulty as I expected. In the course of his subsequent communications, I have had the opportunity of observing the complete furniture of his mind. He is both intellectual and cultivated, and in conversations with Isaac and Mr Gunn, discovered himself to be competent both as a philosopher and a scholar. In freer conversation he appeared an agreeable, intelligent companion, and really enlivened our fireside. But all the while I quite forgot his errand, [Page 256] and only felt towards him as to any agreeable visitor. Even his affection, which is much more than it is probable I should ever excite in any other instance, made less impression upon me than I could have believed possible; and to my own surprise inspired neither like nor dislike, for either of which I should have been most equally thankful. "
A letter to Mrs Laurie explains a little later the position of affairs:–
"Lest you should first hear a piece of my private history by means of public report, which a friend should never do, I have determined to communicate it myself. Yet as I am informed, to my surprise and regret, that some busy newsmongers have already put it in circulation, I may perhaps conclude that you know to what I refer,–proposals which have lately been made to me by a gentleman of whom, till the moment in which they were made, I scarcely knew the name–I need not conceal it–the Rev. Joseph Gilbert, classical tutor at Rotherham College, a widower of thirty-three, without family, and recommended in such terms as left nothing but the question of individual taste to be decided. . . . That he has strong feelings I have sufficient evidence, but, notwithstanding all (so wayward and uncontrollable is the heart), I have felt it utterly impossible to give him the answer he desires. I sustained the attack upon my affections with a degree of insensibility such as I should not have given myself credit for before; but, in consequence of the warmth of his attachment, and the wishes of my family, I have consented to postpone a determination, absolutely final, till the summer, when he will visit Essex. . . . . . You are therefore authorised and requested, my dear Anna, to inform the world that it is mistaken about 'Miss Taylor's being going to be married,' for that it is no [Page 257] such thing. This is necessary, you will see, or else it may have to conclude in process of time that something has happened 'to break it off,' an observation I do not covet to have made upon me."
The enjoyment of Ilfracombe was evidently somewhat disturbed by this state of things, and a correspondence to which she had reluctantly consented she felt to be "the most embarrassing part of the business." The death in March of his revered friend and colleague, Dr Williams, whose mind, those who knew him and his works, regarded as of the highest order, occasioned such acute grief to Mr Gilbert that her sympathies could not fail to be touched; while the unanimous petition of the students that he should succeed the Doctor as Principal and Theological Tutor, was strong proof of the estimation in which he was held. She writes again to her friend:–
"I do not like making courtship a defensive war, or treating one whom you are shortly to promise to love, honour, and obey, as if he possessed none of your love, and were unworthy of your honour and obedience. It is, indeed, so easy for the sins of love to be visited by the vengeance of marriage that I should always tremble to lay up for myself such a retribution. As far as possible I would wave punctilios that have no foundation in natural feeling and delicacy, and would endeavour in a word to show (were I, I mean, in the circumstances which it is possible I never may be), that I respected both him and myself.
"You, my dear Anna, have your hands and your heart full, but of this I am persuaded, that it is more for our happiness to have them full of anything, even of toil and sorrow, than to have them empty." [Page 258]
Perhaps at that moment Mr Gunn was too much of an ideal hero to admit easily of a competitor. This admired friend, whose settlement at Ilfracombe had been somewhat accidental, removed to another charge on account of his wife's health, shortly before the Taylor party left it. The following portions of a letter home contain a vivid portrait of a remarkable man, and describe the close of their Ilfracombe visit:–
April 13, 1813.–"Mr Gunn sends word that he would rather be preaching to his sailors at Ilfracombe, than to all the grandees of Bishops Hull. You never saw such a scene of desolation as his going occasioned! There were huge sailors so overwhelmed with crying, that they could not sit upright in the pews. One says, 'I quite unmanned myself,' Another, 'I love him like an only sister.' One of the young women said, 'I have seen very few gentlemen myself, but I daresay the Miss Taylors have seen a great many, and I will ask them whether they ever saw any one like him ?' We said no, indeed, we never did. You are perfectly right in supposing that he has natural gifts enabling him to command. His beauty, his gracefulness, his unfailing, never slumbering politeness, his independence of character, and of circumstances, compel obedience from every eye and every heart. You would be surprised to see how entirely his politeness is his weapon of defence against the low and ill-mannered. It preserves in all circumstances the attraction of repulsion. He repeats a saying of Dr Bogue, when one of his students complained that some low hearers had treated him disrespectfully,–'Indeed ! that is your own fault; why do you not fight them with your hat ?' Yet, with all this command, this independence, and depth of observation that looks fathomless,–with a dark view of human nature, and systematic study of character, motive, [Page 259] and conduct, Mr Gunn is a very child in simplicity, always cheerful, often gay and sportive. He is, in a word, such an one as we never saw before, and do not expect ever to meet again.
"They are learning here that they must not rest in means, nor in men; that they must not mistake the delight of hearing Mr Gunn for the pleasures of religion. On Saturday arrived Mr Davies, his probationary successor; but what shall he do who cometh after the king ? Poor man ! we so well understand his feelings, his anxieties, and hopes, that we sincerely sympathise with him under his disadvantages. He is a little, mean, plain, meek-looking Welshman, with his hair combed good on his fore head, coarse, light worsted stockings, and the Welsh pronunciation almost to spluttering. He preaches right down gospel, though not in a way I should ever expect to be strikingly useful; and I believe is thoroughly worthy and well-meaning. He has a wife and six children, and seems to feel–exactly as we know how. We had him to tea on Saturday.
"I believe our departure is now fixed for Tuesday, the 27th. O dear ! O dear ! We propose to reach Linton that day, and continue till Thursday morning, exploring its beauties, at the pretty little inn on the mountain top. If we have fine weather I hope we shall enjoy ourselves; but dear Ilfracombe ! it will cost us a good deal to bid it good-bye, though the animating spirit is gone already. We shall send the large box home by waggon. It seems but yesterday that I saw it on a fine autumn morning trundling down the chase-way from the Castle-house, and now it is trundling back again ! So life goes on !
"How we should enjoy introducing Mr Gunn to Mr W– and giving him his cue! It would be a fine sight–the Royal Tiger and the King of the Crocodiles! Mr Gunn insists much upon a minister being a gentleman, as a means of usefulness. Sometime ago he gave six months' education to a young shoemaker preparatory to his going to the Hoxton College. And [Page 260] then, he said, 'you might have seen us marching backwards and forwards in my study, handing the chairs from one side to the other, and opening the door and entering forty times in a morning, in order to give him a little ease and propriety.' Yet there was never anyone less finikin, or a ladies' man. A few years back Ilfracombe was so retired a place, and a carriage such a rarity, that when Sir Bouchier Wray was known to be driving in, half the town used to go three or four miles on the road to meet him,–'Ah Sir !' said an old woman to Mr Gunn when he went, 'I am sure if you ever come here again you will be like Sir Bouchier's coach.' You would have smiled to hear an old man, the pew opener, talk to him,–'Yes, your Reverend; no, your Reverend.'"
An ordinary mortal (who, however, by his friends was considered by no means ordinary even in gifts of person) would plainly be at much disadvantage beside this paragon. A change of venue would give him a better chance. They left Ilfracombe, April 27,1813, and spending a day or two at Linton, went on by Minehead to Taunton, posting for the most part, except where, from the steepness of the hills, their luggage was put in panniers, and they climbed on foot. At Taunton a day was spent with the Gunns; then by way of Chard they reached the Whittys at Axminster. Budleigh Salterton, where, at "Eden Cottage," Mrs Laurie was living, was their next resting-place; and the Golding's (Eliza Forbes) at Bridport their last. From Axminster, Ann writes to her father that the abundance of literary work before her when she gets home, "renders the thought of the Castle-house, and my own room, and dear little study, delightful, without requiring any foreign aid to make it interesting; indeed, there seems so [Page 261] much 'fash' in any arrangement which may interrupt these quiet regular home occupations, that I look at it (if ever I do look that way) rather with regret than anything else. But I do not forecast in general."
Time passed away among these dear friends, for long distances and slow coaches implied long visits in those days; and it was the 20th of July before they took the Cornish mail for London. On the 23d, after ten months' absence, they were once more under their father's roof at Ongar.
There, on the 2d of August, Mr Gilbert arrived for the momentous final answer that had been promised him; and three weeks afterwards an entry in her pocket-book records it,–"walked in the afternoon, oui." It was a "yes" in which all her family and friends rejoiced, and which brought to herself nearly forty years of happy married life. Lest her long hesitation should suggest that the cause of it lay in the suitor, it may be well to add to her mother's opinion of him the testimony of Isaac Taylor, published long afterwards:–"A man of the warmest benevolence, of extraordinary intelligence, extensive acquirements, excellent judgment in common affairs, and withal, of deep and elevated piety."
To Mrs Laurie, she writes in the autumn–
"I am learning with tolerable facility to believe what you told me when you said, 'Oh, this delightful, mutual love.' The day is fast approaching which is to rend me from home and parents, and everything I have loved hitherto, but it is only to unite me to a heart that I love, and a mind that I venerate."
To Mrs Whitty–
"I have not leisure now to say much of the progressive [Page 262] alteration of my feelings, from the indifference which you witnessed at Axminster, to the happy glow of confident affection. I can only say that I begin to understand that sunshine of the heart of which you have told me, and a little to excuse Rebekah for consenting to accompany a stranger to a distant land. The distance is indeed the only circumstance of alloy, and it renders the separation from home exceedingly painful. Rotherham is four days' post from Ongar."
Two extracts from the correspondence with her future husband are subjoined:–
(Nov.12, 1813.)– . . . "The anxiety you express as to your ability to render me happy is little more than a transcript of my own feelings. The fear of disappointing you has ever hung heavily upon my mind. . . . I hope I stand where the providence of God has placed me; and I wish to cast the burden of these anxieties upon that arm which has conducted me. You know too well the defection of the human heart to rest your hopes of domestic happiness upon the expansion of its meagre virtues. It is only as I may hope for assistance from above, that I can entertain the thought of taking the precious happiness of another into my unworthy care. The prayer of my inmost heart for this assistance is the only light that shines upon my fears. I cannot make you happy, but God can; and may I indulge the hope that He will employ me as the means of blessing you ? You know my fears as to my filial interest in His favour. These are at the foundation of every other anxiety, and chill the confidence with which otherwise I should seek His aid, and anticipate His benediction. Could I feel myself a child of God; I would shrink from no inferior relation. I could do all things through Christ strengthening me. But I seem to be cast upon my own weakness, and then do not be surprised if I [Page 263] tremble. Upon these subjects I confide in you to feel and speak as a Christian minister, and then you will not compliment. Indeed, if you knew how painful to me is the sound of commendation which I do not deserve, you would not distress me with it. It falls upon me like the bitterest reproach."
(Nov. 25, 1813.)–"I feel this evening as if I could not enter upon the principal subject of your letter; but I cannot help saying that while the ingenuity with which you administered reproof made me smile, the confidence with which you ventured to console me, made me tremble. I will give weight to your persuasions, but to your assurances I dare not. It is not, indeed, that I wait for the whisper of God in my heart. I could almost say that I would be content never to hear the consolations of His voice, if I could but distinguish the operations of His hand. It is to consistent regulation, internal and external, that I look as an evidence of the presence, aid, and favour of God; and it is the want of this which overwhelms me with doubts, which, as you justly observe, weaken the moral power, and depress my comfort. Sometimes I suspect that I do not cast myself upon the Saviour with sufficient confidence, but then I am afraid of becoming easy, and attaining cheerfulness under imperfections (if they deserve so tender a name), which at present bar my approach to Him. Progress seems to me indispensable as an evidence of being led by the Spirit of God. I need no assurance of the certainty of the promises. I know that a good work begun shall be carried on; but this is no consolation till I feel that it is begun.
"Perhaps you will attribute all this to humility; it is the construction which indulgent friends are too apt to put upon the mere decisions of a well-educated conscience, but I dare not ascribe them to such a principle. It is possible, I fear, to have dark views of ourselves without humility. Among many [Page 264] anxieties which have harrassed me in giving myself to you, I assure you the fear of being an unchristian companion, a hindrance to you in your journey heavenward, has not been the least; but I hope you will take me by the hand, and lead me to Him in whom your own confidence is placed, from whom your supreme happiness is derived. Should I feel myself travelling thus by your side, I would not be solicitous for inferior sources of enjoyment; it will be sufficient, whatever may be the path, if we enter Heaven together."
The wedding was fixed for the 24th of December; but, in the meantime, threatening symptoms had again compelled her brother Isaac to proceed to Ilfracombe, and he was accompanied by his sister Jane, a separation very painful under the circumstances. It was then the fashion for ladies to travel in a riding-habit; a friend had undertaken to purchase the cloth for that required by the bride at a wholesale warehouse in London, and she was not a little gratified to learn, that when the proprietor heard for whom the purchase was intended, though he only knew Ann Taylor from her works, he begged her acceptance of the four guineas worth of cloth as a token of respect.
She signed herself "Ann Taylor" for the last time on the morning of her marriage.
December 24, 1813.–"Dear Jane and Isaac,–It is just eight o'clock, and we are about to assemble for family worship; before I go down, I devote a minute to the recollection of you, my dear brother and sister. Forgive every instance in which I have been other than a sister should be, and if 'hand in hand' * we travel on no longer, believe me, dear Jane and Isaac, your most affectionate sister, ANN TAYLOR."
Although the church was close by, they went in two chaises to it, down the old chase-way, and all the party accompanied the married pair the first stage on their way to Cambridge; but from a long letter to Mrs Laurie, we may give this close of the Ongar life, and the beginning of that at Rotherham:–
"The next morning, between twelve and one, we reached the [Page 265] sacred banks of the Cam, and being Christmas-day, had the advantage of hearing the fine service in King's College Chapel by 'taper's light.' On the Sabbath we heard three different preachers. On Monday, we saw as much as we could, set off at twelve, and reached Ongar again to tea. . . . On Friday afternoon, it being a beautiful day, we all took a farewell walk on one of our favourite roads,–where we all went the day before Jane and Isaac left us, and where we had often conversed, both of Ilfracombe and Rotherham. The next morning, Saturday, January 1, 1814, at a quarter after ten, I took leave of my dear family. It was a bright winter's day, and I shall not soon forget the dearest group in all the world to me, left at the garden gate to watch the chaise out of sight! I had a last look as we ascended the hill. It was one of those bitter pains which we sometimes have to pay for pleasures of an earthly kind. * . . .
"On Monday evening I waited at a friend's warehouse in Coleman Street, to be taken up by the Leeds mail. The horn blew, and at a quarter to eight I was seated with my husband and off for Yorkshire. It was moonlight, and the frost so hard that the roads were excellent. At Kettering we breakfasted, dined at Nottingham at four, and entered Sheffield at ten; where the approach, as far as I could see, gave all the indications of a flourishing metropolis. We had tea, refitted a little, and at eleven took chaise for Rotherham. It was an interesting time [Page 267] and scene, and I could have felt much if I had given way to it. As soon as we left Sheffield, two great furnaces appeared before us, which were, Mr Gilbert said, in a line with our house, about a mile beyond. These lighted us all the way, blazing like volcanoes, or streaming like the northern aurora along the sky. The country rose into fine hills on each side, and after a short drive the old spire of Rotherham appeared under the moonlight. We wound through the town, which is of some extent, and entered Masbro. * A great many thoughts and feelings crowded upon me as we stopped at length at my own door. Salome came out to receive us. We entered our house at ten minutes before twelve, it is a very pretty one, and in everything comfortable, though small."
The young lady here mentioned was the neice of Mr. Gilbert's first wife, and who, having lost her parents, resided with him. She was just eighteen, lively, spirited, sarcastic, and the new wife felt some anxiety as to their future relations.
A long farewell letter from her mother had been put into her hands on leaving home, which may be given nearly entire. It may well conclude that portion of her life, which was more or less an education under her parents' eyes.
"MY DEAR CHILD,– The time is now probably at hand when you and I must separate, and the nearer its approach, ye more precious every remaining moment becomes. My feelings would be soothed by spending the residue of it in your society; but as that cannot be the case, I frequently indulge them by retracing ye years that are past. Happy days, to us, were those of your [Page 268] infancy! 'Nancy and Jenny' beguiled many a heavy hour, and cheered our spirits under many a severe trial. It was to the promotion of their ultimate happiness that ye chief of our youthful exertions were directed. In schemes to this end a great proportion of our retired hours were spent. If those schemes were not always wisely laid, our own disadvantages must plead our excuse, for we had little to assist us but a very small stock of experience, and a great deal of affection . . .
"Now you are about to enter a state which must determine the future happiness of your life; and I feel urged to avail myself of the relation in which I stand, to suggest a few hints, which, by a wise application of them, may prove of more intrinsic value than a marriage portion, which, alas! we have not to give.
"That the man on whom you are going to bestow yourself possesses all ye amiable qualities which his friends have ascribed to him, I readily believe; but I will never believe that he is perfect; in whatever respect he is otherwise, must be deeply interesting to the being who is to become a part of himself, nor ought it to be deemed an unnecessary anticipation of evil so to expect some imperfections, as to be in a degree prepared to meet them.
"Those little eccentricities which mark families are rarely visible to the parties themselves. This may account for their proving so obstinate and incurable in many, who possess good sense sufficient to put much more formidable enemies than these to flight. Such family traits are often so undefinable that no title or name can be applied to them but that of the family to which they belong. Accordingly when we say Watkinsonish or Taylorish, we are in general sufficiently understood. Now, from the little I have observed of Mr Gilbert (and I have made the most of my opportunities), I should imagine that his disposition would not at all assimilate with some peculiarities of the sort to which I have [Page 269] alluded. That he is of a frank and open temper little doubt can be entertained, and, if a man of strong and ardent feelings, he will naturally demand much sympathy; and here, my dear Ann, I think that you are sometimes under a mistake when you maintain that it does no good to talk about certain evils. To those who are in ye habit of talking about them, assuredly it does do good. It is true that every day brings its troubles, but an indulgent providence does not every day exercise us with what may be termed calamities. It is but seldom, therefore, that ye sympathy which is such an embellishment to human nature, and which is essential to ye Christian as the gentleman, could be brought into action, were it not called upon by those petty ills which annoy us every hour, and which, if they do annoy, establish our claim upon those around us for an attention proportioned, not, perhaps, to the circumstances, but to ye pain which they excite. There are few who are disposed to brood over their ills in silence. I should say it does no good so to do. The opposite conduct is a principle so engrafted in human nature that philosophy in vain endeavours to extinguish it, and Christianity does not attempt it. The crew of a sinking ship could do no good by all their clamours and vociferation, and they might just as well sit quiet in the cabin and ride composedly to ye bottom. Yet such circumstances, I presume, would put even the self-command of the Watkinsons to flight. When complaint is extorted, from the scratch of a pin to ye wound of a broadsword, it is in ye power of sympathy to mitigate ye one and make us forget the other.
"I will add another caution, which it would be well if every couple would take into consideration. I refer to that spirit of disputation which, for aught I see, pervades almost every family. It is a matter of no moment what weapon they choose whereby to put to flight their domestic peace. They will maintain endless arguments about a pin or a straw, till they have rendered [Page 270] those desperate for whom they would sacrifice their lives. My dear girl, remember your mother's parting injunction,–Beware of the first dispute.
"I will now give you my thoughts upon a subject, which perhaps there would have been no occasion for, might we have had the ordering of your lot–I allude to Salome. It has contributed to enhance Mr Gilbert's character in my estimation that he has manifested such an affection for ye memory of his deceased wife. His fatherly care and protection to her niece is the result of this. If he should find you co-operate with him in his benevolent attentions towards her, I should anticipate a very happy result to yourself. Yet, with ye best intentions on all sides, we see daily at what minute aperatures discord will enter. . . . In the present instance I cannot think of better counsel than that you determine Salome shall love you . . . It is probable that, since the death of her aunt, some power must have been vested in her hands; let not the transfer be abrupt, but gradual, and, as much as possible, imperceptible. Let her rather perceive than feel that you are come to supersede her. Make her rather approve than submit to it. All this I say, my dear Ann, that altercation and disputation may not mar ye happiness of your fireside. Could I know that it did, it would almost annihilate ye felicity of my own . . . Yet, while I am so anxious for you, let me say that, as an orphan, I cannot help a certain interest in her. Those who, like her, by repeated deaths, are transferred from one to another, and find themselves in the wide world obliged to strangers for protection, I have frequently contemplated with a good deal of compassion. As I have mentioned your predecessor, I would just suggest to you that if he is disposed to speak of her, you will avoid appearing as though ye subject were either unpleasant or uninteresting to you, but rather appear willing to allow her a corner in his [Page 271] heart to cherish her beloved memory. But your knowledge of human nature will dictate this.
"This epistle is ye result of my anxiety, and a duty which my conscience will not suffer me to dispense with. What benefit you may derive from it I know not; I only know how highly prized, how very salutary such a proof of 'maternal solicitude' would have been to me. Oh, at what price would I not have purchased some sage admonitions to guide my steps when first I commenced my perilous journey through life with your father? For want of such aid, I have groped my way as I could. No wonder if in my thorny path I have stumbled, and thereby interrupted those who have happened to stand near me. Could you know the torture which a daily contemplation of my own imperfect character occasions me, you would be disposed to believe that I had done all I could.
"My dear, dear child! 'my first-born, and ye beginning of my strength!' may I not add, 'ye excellence of dignity, and ye excellence of power!' Never, my beloved Ann, have I willingly inflicted one pang on you. Whatever you may have occasionally suffered from ye imperfection of my temper, has invariably recoiled on myself, and inflicted a yet deeper wound. And, now that we are about to part, can I utter a word that is not fraught with maternal affection? Three times have I penned this epistle, so careful have I been not to utter a word inadvertently, and three times have I sprinkled the paper with my tears.
"Finally, my dear child, farewell. 'Be perfect, be of one mind, and the God of peace shall be with you.' To Him you were dedicated in baptism. To Him I make a fresh surrender of you, now you are about to leave ye paternal roof. You will find an alter already raised to His praise under that you are going to; there you will often be joined in spirit by your
"Affectionate Mother,"Dec. 12th, 1813."
Yorkshire Life–Salome–The Cookery Book–The Allied Sovereigns in London–Visit to the New Home at Ongar–"Eclectic" Articles–Her Mother's Authorship–Prospect for the Autumn–Birth of a Son–Illness of her Father–Nursery Delights.
"And life's uncertain scope
–"a babe, by intercourse of touch,
THE life at Rotherham was novel in all respects. It was Yorkshire all over in warmth of welcome, and warmth of fires, the banked-up mass of which mitigated within doors the rigour of that noted winter of frost and snow. Mr Gilbert had not succeeded Dr. Williams in his chair. He remained the Classical professor, and worked in cordial relations with Dr. Bennett who was appointed to the theological department, and Principle of the college. The Essex lady, whose pen had preceded her, was eagerly awaited by the students who, it was reported, filled all available windows on the night of her arrival, and accustomed to the larger Yorkshire type, exclaimed to one another, "how little she is!" The next morning a hearty greeting from them lay on the breakfast table. [Page 276]
At six every morning, except Monday, Mr Gilbert met his students in the library of the college, and some who have become eminent in after life, among them one who for many years filled a chair at the London University, have spoken of those early prelections–the blazing fire, the surrounding tomes, the enthusiasm of their tutor, to whom Greek was ever a passion–as delightful memories. At eight he returned to breakfast, and was with his classes again from half-past nine till one. After dinner, at two, the rest of the day was given to literary work, of which he had much in hand, and in which his wife rendered willing aid. In these months, however, she had plenty of occupation of the same kind. "I am now getting on, " she says, "with Miss Hamilton's 'Popular Essays,' though I cannot apply as I used to do, and I have in the house for reviewing, Miss Edgeworth's 'Patronage,'–and two or three other things."
Yet, characteristically, it was the special duties of her new position that began to absorb her attention. In letters to her mother she enters into details of household economy, requesting advice from that first-rate authority upon "ironing and 'getting-up,' the composition of those mince-pies with which you have sometimes contrived to finish a piece of boiling beef; and the history and mystery of your delicate little bread puddings for the sick." But to both literary and household duties the interruptions were frequent. The abundant hospitality accorded to her and her husband on all sides, including stately dinners among the Iron Magnates, in a style to which the modest circles, in which Ann Taylor had previously visited were unaccustomed, occupied evening after evening. Her husband, too, held at this [Page 277] time a pastorate at Sheffield, going thither generally on Saturday afternoon, and remaining till Monday evening. At first she often accompanied him, and as spring came on they not seldom walked together on a Sunday morning, and before breakfast, the six miles between the towns, by what were then pleasant fields and woods. This seems to have been at her own suggestion, and however delightful in the peace and freshness of the hour, must have been no slight tax upon the strength of both husband and wife.
At Sheffield, another and a large circle of friends surrounded them, amongst whom Montgomery, the poet of her young enthusiasm, gave her the warmest welcome. Upon an early Sunday, they stayed at his house, when she "witnessed the phenomenon of a poet smoking two pipes after supper." With the strong affection that distinguished the members of the now widely separated Taylor family, they had agreed, on the night of every full moon at nine o'clock, weather permitting, to look at it alone, and meet in thought. To Ann, the first occasion was on the night of their visit to Montgomery's, when she says she was "permitted to retire behind the curtain to think her own thoughts, but could do nothing else, since the moon was invisible."
With his usual thoroughness her Father had provided his children with a list of the full-moon nights for the year, and, contriving time for everything, had accompanied it with an ode to the moon, thirty-two stanzas long, and consecrating the appointed hour. Opening with–
"Empress of the noon of night,[Page 278] it contains several fine lines, and closes with the solemn yet happy thought, as he surveys the band of loving ones–
Pour thine urn of silver light;"–
–"Who first dies
Is first to live!"–
How faithfully he kept the tryst himself, is shown by one of his letters from the "Moated Grange" at Ongar:–
"Castle House. –It is nine o'clock, the full moon shines delightfully into my study, and the duty (for so we have agreed, and therefore it is a duty)–the pleasing duty calls me to think of my absent children; not that there would be any danger of my forgetting them, but I love to look at the bright moon, and to recollect what dear eyes are looking at the same object, what precious bosoms are beating, at thoughts of their father, their mother, their home!"
From the same strong family feeling, each of the absent ones had to furnish the circle at Ongar with the most exact particulars of their different homes, even to plans of rooms, and gardens; and in a letter to her father, Ann gives these with such detail that everybody's accustomed chair is indicated, as well as the colours and pattern of carpet and wall. There is promise, too, of a sketch from the window, when the snow is gone.
"It has been extraordinarily cold even for Yorkshire," she adds, "and the snow which set in the day after we arrived renders many roads impassable, yet our house is so substantial, and our fires so excellent, that I never remember to have suffered so little winter cold in my life. I scarcely know what it is even to feel chilly, though our situation is high, solitary, and exposed directly to the east. No one here thinks of putting on [Page 279] a shovel of coals; some thrice a day the bell is rung, and in comes Mary with a full scuttle, hearth-broom, dust-pan, and duster; the mass of cinders is removed, the entire contents of the scuttle discharged, the hearth swept up, fire-irons dusted, and the duster run over all the furniture; by this means we preserve a fine Arabian temperature, and, as Mr Hunt observed,* 'have all that fun for ninepence!'"
The fires outside struck her still more. To Jane she writes:–
"Three times have I been with Mr Gilbert to Sheffield; the first time struck me exceedingly; it was dark when we arrived, and we had to climb a very high hill about a mile beyond the town. It was moonlight, and the sky shone with polar brightness; the ground was covered with snow, and behind the hill we were ascending were three tremendous furnaces, which waved an irregular light over our heads, like the aurora borealis. Indeed, I cannot describe the wonderful effect of these furnaces in every direction. There is one about a mile from us, which clearly illuminates our garden, and, seen through the intervening trees, presents the finest sight imaginable."
As Mrs Gilbert's family were well aware of her anxiety to establish happy relations with her husband's niece, her letters soon make reference to this young lady:–
"Salome must certainly have exerted herself beyond what most girls of her age would have been equal to, to get everything into perfect order. She must have worked both hard and cleverly. She is altogether an interesting character, and often amuses and delights me with her gay simplicity. She is nearly eighteen, pretty, and genteel in ideas and dress, though in the [Page 280] latter entirely unornamented. She has an unceasing propensity to laugh heartily, possessing a keen taste for the ridiculous, tempered with a good notion of propriety in conduct and manners. Her vivacity is equally simple, and arch, if you can understand that; and her spirits are entirely uncontrolled by sorrow or contradiction. She does not recollect ever being punished or checked in any way; so that she is strongly disposed to do nothing that she does not like; it happens fortunately that in general she does like what is proper. I might call her a little artful, but then it is only from her own frank relations of the tricks she has played, and the scrapes she has got out of, that I should say so. She is no bad housekeeper, and not a little observant; so that it is not so easy to try experiments in that line as it would be without her. But with all her gaiety she is quite respectful and obliging, and an enthusiast in poetry, of which she can repeat volumes, all well selected, for her taste is good as her feelings are quick. I often look at her with interest and admiration for the simple youthful happiness which she displays; not that she is in the slightest degree childish in her manners."
Later she has learnt a little more, and writes–
"She is full of human nature, speaking her mind without reserve on all occasions, and often makes remarks both close and curious. She is quite indifferent to the opinion of people in general, whose faults and follies she is by no means dull in discovering, or scrupulous in exposing; and her indifference will make her enemies among those she does not care for."
It will not be surprising that the two thus brought into close relation, soon conquered, each the other, with the true conquest of affection. Several years afterwards, [Page 281] their mutual position was in a singular manner rendered especially difficult; but the wisdom and love of both surmounted the difficulty. Salome, however, will frequently cross the path of this narrative, and we need not anticipate.
"March 28, 1814.–"My dear Jane and Isaac,–I have been taking such a pleasant walk on this fine spring day, that my spirits seem in right cheerful mood for writing to you; and yet, sit down as I will, when I begin to read your letters, and address you in reply, I involuntarily fall into the pensive, and could with little difficulty commence with tears! When I am reminded of times that have been, and are not; of successive periods over and gone; of a compact domestic circle finally broken and scattered; and of the progress which all this implies towards the dissolution of every earthly tie, I cannot repress the feeling which succeeds, and do not wonder that you fancy a strain of melancholy in my letters. Yet believe me, it is only when thus reminded of distant things, that my mind assumes this colour. At other times I am happy; and even this should not be considered a defect of happiness, it only casts upon it a twilight shade.
"You wish for amore exact description of my mode of life. At present I am hardly settled enough to tell you, but after breakfast I generally spend a quarter of an hour in my own room, safe and sound, over the cookery book, which is my guardian angel, oracle, and bosom friend. The first week I came I experienced a sick qualm by a present of a wild duck, before the cookery-book had arrived! Mary had never dressed one, and I was looked to for the entire orders. All that I could remember was put into requisition, and I did right in all respects,–did not stuff it, did not cook the giblets, did truss it right,–did rejoice when it was all over! I was told, too, that [Page 282] when the students came to tea there must be a plum-cake–cookery-book a month on the road! was obliged to postpone the visit till it arrived,–managed extremely well when it did. Professedly Yorkshire customs, I do not mind learning; and Mary has so provincial a pronunciation, that it often gives me time to frame an answer to a question for which I was not entirely prepared. Altogether I manage very tolerably, and what with my 'bosom friend,' some recollection, and a spice of ingenuity, can give my directions I assure you in good style. Whenever I can,–but there is always 'some bed or some border to mend, or something to tie or to stick,'–I endeavour to get to writing about eleven, and write during the morning, more or less, as I am able. "
But of her writing she was very jealous. She says in another letter–
"I am persuaded that many here are expecting to find me a dawdle. Mr G. says that people have been continually fishing for information on this head, 'Is Mrs Gilbert always writing?' I wish, therefore, to be as cautious as I can. Mr G. is very desirous that 'Mrs Gilbert' should be as well known as 'Miss Taylor;' but he has invested me with other characters, and he does not feel, perhaps, that to be well known at the expense of these, would be disgrace, rather than fame. I hope, by prudence and activity, to be able in time to unite the different occupations and characters, so as not greatly to injure any, but if one must suffer, it should certainly be the literary."
During the spring, the family at Ongar were obliged to leave the Castle House, which, painful enough, would have been more so had they not succeeded in obtaining a large old house in the neighbourhood, about a mile from [Page 283] Ongar, suiting their tastes nearly as well; especially as it owned a larger garden, which, under her father's skilful eye and hand, soon became a charming spot, with shrubbery walks, and terrace paths, and rustic seats, and flint-paved grottoes. Of the house itself, more anon. In June, the remove having been completed, and Mr Gilbert obliged to go on an ordination tour into Cumberland and elsewhere, his delighted wife was indulged with a visit to the new home.
On Monday afternoon, June 13, 1814, at half-past three, her husband put her into the "Highflyer," Edinbro' coach, at Retford. Giving him an account of her journey she says,–
"Your fears for my safety were quite groundless, and those for my comfort were nearly so. It is true that the German passenger did not turn out to be Count Altenberg, the English one Colonel Hungerford, * nor the Scotchman a Wallace; but, to the best of their ability, they all behaved very well, or intended to do so. I confess that the German smoked his cigar during the fine warm night, and, when by far too weary to prefer conversation, the Scotchman tormented me with incessant enquiries, as minute as they would have been impertinent if he had not put them, as I really believe he did, in simplicity, and without any idea of giving offence. As there was no appearance of intentional rudeness, I put up with it pretty well, though, 'of course, it was the first time I had ever travelled by the stage.' At Newark a very pleasant young woman got in, and we were great comforts to one another. She was very pretty, had never been in London before, and wishing to surprise her friends, had not informed them of her coming–as foolish a thing, methinks, as [Page 284] could have been done. So I saw her safe to their house–a service which I rendered most cheerfully, and she most gratefully received. During the night I had, as the Scotchman told me, a long and comfortable 'snoozing;' but Tuesday was so intensely hot that it required positive effort to keep myself tranquil. If I had once begun to fidget, I should soon have been reduced to either a calx or a gas. . . .
Friday evening I spent at Miss –, and slept there. I think Miss C– is like me, as I have been told; and I soon recollected what Salome once said of her inexhaustible 'unsqueeze-in-betweenable conversational habits.' Saturday was devoted to the only business which is just now carried on in London,–attendance upon the noble and lovely strangers from the Continent; and verily they are so noble and so lovely that it is no wonder all London is sadly bad about them. On Friday I was shopping in Ludgate Hill when I quite unexpectedly saw the Emperor * in an open barouche, and a single glance did for me. His face seems to beam with the happiness of an empire. Believe all the papers tell you of him and his lovely sister, the Duchess of Oldenburgh, for they cannot exaggerate. She is twenty-eight and he thirty-seven. On Saturday he was to dine with the Prince Regent, the Royal Dukes, and 'all the rest of the gentlemen,' at Guildhall; and the same preparations were made as for a coronation procession. The whole line of streets was gravelled, and filled with company. One thousand sat down to table, and four or five thousand ladies in full dress were there as spectators. I, and a houseful besides, were at 18 St Paul's Churchyard, which commands a noble sweep of the line. Many rooms on the route were let for forty or fifty guineas; houses, leads, and ledges were all crowded, and [Page 285] I only wished for you to partake the general delight. A beautiful sight it was. The Prince Regent, with whom the King of Prussia rode, was received with cheers and hisses as he passed, an insufferable mortification, surely, before his royal friends, and in his own capital!
"On Monday, uncle offered Martin to take me to a grand review in Hyde Park before their majesties, and, not liking to refuse, I accepted it. It was a fine sight, and Martin was very good in keeping me out of danger; but the crowd was immense, and once an unexpected movement of a corps of flying artillery compelled us to a rather rapid retreat across the enemy's line. We did, in fact, run for it as fast as we could, along with a great deal of good company. I reached Holborn at two, where was your welcome letter, and, by expert generalship among hackney coaches and porters, contrived to collect my baggage, and reach Aldgate at three, where my place was taken for Ongar, but as the Proclamation of Peace was taking place in the city at the time, I thought I should never get through, the press of carriages was so great.
"Near Ongar, at the turn of the Inglestone road, Jefferys was waiting for me, and I got out of the coach. Father met me on the way, and mother and Jemima were planted at their pleasant window to watch my approach. The house, newly whitewashed, looked exceedingly pretty among the trees, covered with vine, which clings round the porch, and surrounded by a large countrified garden, laid out, by father's unconquerable contrivance, in the prettiest rural style. There is an arched gateway of yew over the wicket entrance, a fine row of poplars on one side, and fruit and flowers in abundance. On the ground floor are a large parlour and a very comfortable library, also a commodious 'work-room,' and what father calls his cabinet, containing prints, pictures, and everything of the kind; kitchen, dairy, store-room, and out-places of all sorts. Above, are mother's room, large, [Page 286] and very pleasant, opening into a little study, which is her delight, over the porch, furnished with all the family pictures; the spare room, a nice green country room, with Jemima's closet adjoining; Jefferys' very quaint, and several others that could be fitted up if necessary."
An extract or two from succeeding letters during this happy visit depict the daughter and the wife:–
"Ongar, June 29, 1814.–Again, my dear husband, you have been better than my hopes. You know that I do calculate well, and I knew it was possible for me to hear on Tuesday, but situated as you were I would not expect you to write so soon. Yet, it is certain that I cast many an inquisitive look from the breakfast-table this morning for the return of our little post woman across the field; but it was with a feeling much more like a wish than a hope; and even when a letter was announced for me, I would not believe it was from Rotherham. My love, it is very kind of you thus to remember me, pressed as you are by business, but believe me the effort is appreciated. I feel the value and enjoy to the utmost the pleasure of it. I want to know every particular of your movements. If, on Saturday evening, you should be walking to Sheffield remember the full moon will have a message for you; and if you are in some northern mail contrive to sit next her, that at nine o'clock she may drop the wonted whisper, and make sign of love in the name of one upon whom she will be gazing beyond many a blue hill. Your absence is, I was going to say, the only drawback upon the happiness of my visit to a happy home, but I must not forget the exiles of Cornwall, and you would not wish me to forget them. . . .
"I am witnessing the weather-beaten happiness of my dear father and mother. 'They clamb the hill thegither; and [Page 287] mony a canty day, love, have had wi' ane anither.' Now, 'though they totter down, love, still hand in hand they go'–and derive an endearing satisfaction from the remembrance of the toil and the struggles of early years. Providence has abundantly smiled upon them. It has continued them to each other in the enjoyment of constantly increasing affection; and it is delightful (especially to one who is entering the same path with a companion as dear and estimable) to witness the sun of happy love that lights their declining years. They wander together about the new house and garden, and fancy themselves in Eden."
July 11, 1814.– . . . "Have you seen the 'Eclectic'? The new editor, if I may judge from certain minute alterations, is less a wit than a scholar. This perhaps, it will be thought is just what an editor should be; but one does not like to see point beaten flat, and sentences weakened down to rule, til they are ready to die. I have not much to complain of, yet it is not gratifying to see, if it is but a single word displaced for a worse. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the wording of yours to discern the variations, if any are made. It appears to me an excellent article. I have read it attentively as a whole, and like it exceedingly. * There is a short review of Horsley's Speeches in Parliament, which also pleases me very much; it is Foster's, and is written with all the force of his vigorous pen. The character starts to the eye as he proceeds, and there is that kind of fine, bold expression in his language which makes one feel as if breathing mountain air–'not like the balmy south upon a bank of violets'–but clear, healthful, and invigorating. It is very short, but to me delightful. Mrs Hinton, who has just left us, says that his mind is in a state of much and increasing per- [Page 288] plexity. Persons oppressed with theological difficulties, frequently apply to a mind of such depth and compass for assistance; but return more confused than they went, and are rather distressed by his eccentricities both of thought and conduct, than enlightened by his wisdom. Are we to receive another lesson, that God seeth not as a man seeth, but chooses the weak to confound the wise, and pours contempt upon that which we are apt to worship?"
Of this first of many happy visits to Ongar she wrote to her parents–
"It was a six weeks of uninterrupted enjoyment; and for the tenderness, the trouble, and solicitude which made it so, my heart and my tears thank you–they are the first I have shed, but sitting down to write has opened the flood-gates."
At this time her mother had unexpectedly become an author, whose works were not only frequently issuing from the press, but running into several editions. Of "Maternal Solicitude" alone, four editions were sold almost immediately. Mother and daughter correspond, therefore, as well upon literary as domestic matters, though the latter far predominate. Ann writes:–
"I truly rejoice in what you are doing, and hope, my dear mother, that you will go on with ardour while the sun shines. I would wait just long enough to enjoy the interval as relaxation, but no longer. Your next plan ('Correspondence between a Mother and Daughter at School') is so good, and Jane's name will be so advantageous an addition, that you have no need to wait for the public opinion upon this; even if it should prove unfavourable, it ought not to be discouraging. Set to work, therefore, immediately, with expectation and spirit. But do not [Page 289] suppose that I augur ill of this. It must not be wondered at, or even regretted, if a work is not equally acceptable to all. It is designed for a certain class principally, and it is no fault if to that class it is in some degree confined. I should like to see the preface, for if something of this kind could be just neatly indicated, it would be an advantage, but it should be delicately done–short, neat, terse, and explanatory; such as I could not write, or exactly imagine, but only wish for. As to its implying the author to be a Dissenter, I should not care for that in the least. A writer in very few circumstances can, or should, so completely conceal himself as to have his sentiments entirely unknown–I mean, if the subject upon which he writes relates in any degree to sentiment. There is a sense in which he should be content to say, 'if it is not liked, it may be lumped,' though if this manner be adopted too indiscriminately, instead of lumping it, the public may lump him, which is quite another thing."
This preface received its final shape from her ready pen.
"I shall be glad (she writes), my dear mother, if this meets with your approbation, and can only say that at any time to render you this or any kind of assistance in my power, is a real pleasure which much more than pays for its board."
After a visit to Ongar in the summer, she writes, Sept. 15th, to her "dear family," as her letters home are almost always addressed–
"I do not wish anything fit only for my private eye to be in the next letter, as I may not be in a situation, perhaps, to read it myself, but do not write under restraint on this account; Mr G– is no critic. I have given peremptory orders for your hearing immediately and honestly whatever may be the news. I need not say I hope it will be good, but I wish I could think [Page 290] of you without pain supposing it should be otherwise; do not, my dear family, be over anxious. I shall think of you on the 27th, and hope the weather will be favourable. I had a fine coze with you last full moon, it was a beautiful evening, and being the first time since I left Ongar, I allowed myself an extra pocket handkerchief. The next will be, I hope, the last till I can hold up the baby to look at it too. What do people think of my portrait? and does it hang up yet? and where? * Oh, I wish I could take a peep at the pretty study! I often think of if, and of every cranny in the house. It is pretty. My dear father and mother, and Jefferys, and Jemima, most affectionately farewell; perhaps I may not write again till you and I have new honours; but till then, believe me with affection and gratitude, your child and sister–ANN GILBERT."
A little more than a week from the event she sends her final corrections for the preface of her mother's forthcoming work, and in reference to an evening which her mother proposed to devote to special prayer in her behalf, she says,
"I have strong confidence in the prayer of faith, but in asking for temporal mercies, we have no absolute promise, and can only ask with submission. The possibility of danger just stands between me and the thought of the future, but I do not look at it."
Thus bravely, but not blindly, she prepared for her trial, and on the 7th of October, became the joyful mother of her first-born son. Her husband, sending the happy news to Jane at Marazion, says–
"She has presented me with a boy, and the little rascal soon [Page 291] let us know that he had arrived amongst us, for as usual, he came crying into the world. They really say he is a very fine boy, and notwithstanding I am aware that it is a common compliment of nurses, I am much inclined to believe it. He certainly does look engaging, as he lies in the arms of his mother, and reflects back from his lively happy countenance the beams of her eyes, all glistening with joy. She says it is as she had been told, a heaven upon earth to find herself safe in bed, and a baby on the pillow."
In a week, that the sight of her own handwriting might give assurance of safety, she was writing to both Ongar and Marazion, and telling her sister,
"I cannot describe to you the flood of tenderness which the dear little boy has opened in my heart, but surely of the pleasures attending this time of peril the one-half was not told me. As we both for the first time looked at the child together, every one left the room, aware that they were happy moments, and for about a minute my husband returned our joint and fervent thanks to the kind Hand which had dealt with us in peculiar favour. Nothing delights me more than to witness the spring of fatherly affection, and the solicitude which it occasions. He has discovered that it is a good thing and a pleasant, for a man to be a father. Dear Jane and Isaac what cause have we for gratitude! You cannot think how much I have enjoyed the happy result on your account, and for dear Ongar. "
It was, indeed, a flood of tenderness opened in her heart, a motherly tenderness that never ceased to flow, and that swept away for many years all desire and opportunity for literary work. To remonstrances about the idleness of her pen she replied, "never mind, the dear little child is [Page 2902] worth volumes of fame." As her letters are full of this one topic, the reader must pardon its constant recurrence in the few extracts which depict her life at this time.
"On Friday evening last I thought of you, my dear mother, and perhaps you might think of me. It was that day of trial, of which I have heard you speak, when nurse was to go. She had been indefatigable in cleaning up for a day or two, and when Friday night came, she kept pottering about as if she could hardly find it in her heart to leave me; at last, however, after doing and saying everything she could think of, she bade me good-bye. I went to my window and watched her lantern down the garden, and then burst into tears. On Saturday I dressed my dear little boy for the first time, and a fine thing I found it for opening the pores; better than whey-wine or treacle posset, or anything of the kind; for he is a most naughty and riotous fellow at being washed, and used to put even nurse into a fume. I wish you could have heard her talk to him; it amused me many an hour in bed, for she speaks the broadest Yorkshire I have heard, except from a coal miner. 'Wale, wale, ma little lud, whad'ye mack sic a din, an croy soa? O, for shaam! I mun whip ye, happen ye wornt loyke that. Coom, coom, I mun hap ye oop, and lig ye int bed for a soop a bottle. Hoosh, hoosh, thenna, an dunna croye soa ma little piggin, and dunna foight soa, an tear ya screed.' "
Two months afterwards anxious tidings reached her from Ongar.
"Dec. 5.–My dear mother.–This morning came the news of my dear father's illness. I had greatly enjoyed the account of your present ease and comfort, and rejoiced, when feeling myself busy, with the idea of your being at rest after the heat and burden of the day; but at this distance, we know not when it is safe to [Page 293] rejoice; while I was thinking this my dear father was laid upon a sick bed! It is the Lord, and our only repose is in a confiding submission to His will. I am satisfied that you have told me the worst, and will continue to do so; do not spare the expression of your feelings, and the moment you have a wish intimate it. Do not spare advice, and pray do not spare assistance; your health and strength must not be expended, and as to other expense, neither your mind nor my dear father's will be disturbed on that account; you have had experience enough of the kindness of Providence in far greater exigencies. Your manna has always been to be gathered afresh every morning, but there has been no day in which it has not fallen. Tell me if you wish it, and I will come. I am much better able to stir than Jane, for I could send my little boy to the nurse, and feel confident of his safety."
"Dec. 15.–I had waited with some anxiety for your letter, for though I depended upon you that while you were silent my dear father was not materially worse, yet I was sure he was not much better, or you would have had both time and spirits to tell me so. I feel, indeed, that were you to write every day I could never know how he is, but only how he was, and this is the great trial of being at such a distance. The mind is left to any surmises it may choose to indulge. . . . The dear little boy thrives finely. He seems sometimes as if he would laugh loud, he smiles so beautifully, and I cannot describe the delight those pretty looks give me. I am ready to think he takes more notice than ever a child did before, and I forgive his father for laying down his learned Greek author upon the table to chirrup to him. The indications of intelligence interest him very much, and awaken all those feelings which, from long disuse, it was at first difficult to bring into play. Miss Hamilton says it is seldom that an infant interests a father greatly, till it gives signs of intelligence. " [Page 294]
"Jan. 20, 1815.–You last letter was welcome news, and I hope I was not mistaken in following my dear father down stairs on the Sabbath. I guessed that he would come down a little before dinner, and sit in one of his great old arm-chairs by the fire, well blanketted on the side next the door; and I fancied how cheerful and happy you would all look when he was once more seated amongst you. . . . It has struck us all that as soon as the weather is a little more favourable, and it would be safe for him to travel, it would be just the thing for him to come to Rotherham. Now, my dear father and mother, do think seriously of it, . . . and I need not say with what delight I should receive you, and present my dear little boy to his and my parents. Mother's dreams shall then be proved libellous, and scandalous defamation, for certainly he could not be accused by his worst enemy of being as 'broad as he is long,' he is a slender, delicate child; I often think we shall not rear him. He is a pretty, pretty, olive bud, and should he be taken would leave a sweet and long fragrance. . . . Lydia says we 'mun baptise him, and then he will be better happen.' "
"Feb. 1815.– . . . The dear child looks a poor pale little thing in the afternoons, but in the morning he looks by no means ill, nay, even well. Though small, his limbs are firm, and he is strong and active; apparently all mind, just cased in delicate flesh to keep it from sailing away. I only wish I were a less interested observer, and then I should be able to tell whether he really is the most enquiring and intelligent baby that ever was; but to me he seems like a very sensible foreigner, whose only disadvantage is that he does not understand, or rather cannot speak the English tongue. And certainly everybody says–'Well, to be sure! well, to be sure! what notice the child takes!' On Thursday, the 9th, we had him baptised. The dear child was extraordinarily good, though laughing at every word Mr Ben- [Page 295] nett said. He is a great laugher. Christiana, my little nurse-girl, commonly called Amy, really believes that he understood what Mr Bennett was saying, and said 'aye, aye,' to all his remarks–(but then he ought not to have laughed)."
"Feb. 1815.–Dear Jane and Isaac. . . . I had, indeed, no previous idea of either the pains or pleasures of having an infant. The pleasures are inexpressibly great. They seem to have given me a new sense of which infants are the objects, for I love all I see, and feel the liveliest interest in them. And all this is necessary to compensate for the degree of fatigue such as no one can imagine without trying. Often at tea I can scarcely lift the teapot, my arms ache so with several hours nursing. In the afternoon, when he is fretful, my little nurse-girl is not competent to manage him, and I dare not suffer him to be nursed badly. Mr G–, indeed, is an excellent nurse, often succeeding when we fail, and willing to assist at any time, but he is so pressed with business that I don't like to let him. Salome often relieves me for a time, but she sustains none of the burden. When he is cross, and requires all the strength of arm and voice, with the assistance of poker and tongs, and every sonorous moveable on the premises, it is I who am always leader of the band–singer and dancing-master in general. . . . As to 'Miss Edgeworth,' I feel in despair, for I cannot seclude myself, and nurse up my mind as I have always found necessary to composition. I devoted two or three days to it last week, but always before I could get into it, was called off to the child. "
"Mr G– is very desirous that we should produce a volume of hymns for Sunday Schools, adapted to singing, and containing 150 or 200, which with our names would render it superior to any other. He says, that if you, and I, and he, and Isaac, were to write equal parts, it might soon be done (he can write a very pretty simple hymn upon occasion, you are to understand). What [Page 296] do you say to it after the child is weaned and runs alone? Dear Jane, I do from my heart congratulate you on having accomplished your work. From the ease of your style I have no doubt it will require very little correction. What is its name? * With regard to the subjunctive, the rules are so many and delicate that it is not great disgrace occasionally to fail; but there are many cases in which it ought not to be employed when at first sight you would suppose it ought. . . . But you have Murray and gumption, and Isaac. I do not recollect the instances in Mother to which you refer."
"March 14.–In compliance with the wishes of my friends I have consented to wean the dear child. At five yesterday morning we both, I mean he and I, had a cry about it, but upon the whole he does very well. I hope it will be less a trial to him than to me. . . . There is one of the students very ill, and in his countenance so like Isaac, that I can hardly bear it to look at him. I almost fancy it is he; and yet, there is a touch of absurdity in some parts of his face that prevents my saying much about it to others. But you cannot think how like he is!"
"April 18.–The dear child is much better in going to strangers than he was, and you would have been pleased to see him last Saturday when there was a large dinner party here; he passed from one gentleman to another like a shuttlecock, and quite as quiet. Mr Montgomery was of the party, and after most had taken him, I went and requested that he would consecrate the child to Poetry by just taking him in his arms; but he shrunk terrified from the touch of a baby as a totally ignorant bachelor, and Mr George Bennett ran in and out with the child, pursuing him through the whole party, to the great amusement [Page 297] of us all, Montgomery scampering around the room as if from a spectre. O, I do want you to see him, and I do wish it were practicable to take him to Ongar! But I am afraid that, much as I know you would enjoy gathering every spray of the family into one nosegay, you would find it too cumbersome for your bough-pot. Do not let feeling overcome your sober judgement, but tell me exactly what you think. I hope dear Jane and Isaac would decide upon coming too, and that we should once more enjoy the happiness of seeing our circle complete.
"I have seen lately two of our manufactories at Rotherham, which pleased me exceedingly. One was the great iron founry belonging to the Walkers, and they were casting pieces for the New Strand Bridge. It was a most magnificent sight. The sheets of iron are twenty-four feet long, six wide, and two thick. The glowing metal issued at the same instant from three burning fiery furnaces, and travelling through numerous channels in the floor, covered the mould in the space of a minute, and nothing could be more beautiful. One of these sheets is cast every day. The whole is to cost three hundred thousand pounds, and it will take three years. "
"May 18, 1815.–You would have enjoyed a scene we witnessed last Monday. The Sunday schools of Sheffield, containing six thousand children and thirteen hundred teachers, assembled in an open space in the outskirts of the town, where they formed into a hollow square, sang the "Old Hundredth," and then marched in procession through the principal streets to a very large chapel, where a sermon was preached to them. Our hymns were sung, and the first, which was the first in the 'Infant Minds,' * had a beautiful effect from so many little English voices. Large hustings were erected round the pulpit, where the principal ladies and gentlemen of the town were placed, [Page 298] and in front a gentleman beat time with one of our books. Montgomery told the committee in choosing the hymns that the middle one–'Among the deepest shades of night,'–was the finest hymn of the sort in the English language. The last in the volume concluded. * Mr Gilbert enjoys such incidents."
"June 20, 1815.– . . . You see I have no room for anything but just business, nor time either, for my journey makes me very busy. I hope, my dear family, that nothing will happen to prevent or embitter it, for I long for it indescribably, and can hardly bear to realise your nursing the dear child. I am such a poor judge myself, and am so strongly disposed to think highly of him, that I feel 'I must to the wise man go, to learn whether he's a witch or no,' and quite long for your unprejudiced opinion of his beauty, sweetness, sprightliness, talents, and acquirements! I hope dear father will furnish himself with a bib and apron, for I can promise him as much nursing as ever he likes. The child is so exceedingly fond of male nurses that though he goes very reluctantly to strange ladies, he will dance and caper to go even from me to a gentleman–man or boy, known or unknown, clean or dirty, squire or sweep–and he cannot even hear his father's voice without crying to go to him. I am almost afraid you will find the novel sound of a young child troublesome; and though I know you agree with certain excellent writers that they should not scramble on sofas, break crockery, and pull work-baskets to pieces, yet I assure you we can hardly help thinking it exceedingly interesting when he breaks a plate, pulls over the tea cups, and drags the green cloth, with everything upon it, off the table."
Another Ongar visit–Her Little Boy's Accomplishments–Criticism upon her Sister's Poems–Change of Residence–A Welcome to a Birthday–Visit from Jane and Isaac–Excursions to York and Stockport–The Break up from Rotherham and Removal to Hull.
–"arch looks and laughing eyes;
ON the 4th of July, Mrs Gilbert, with her husband and child, set off, by way of Doncaster, for London. Stopping a day at Huntingdon and another in London, they reached the "Peaked Farm," at Ongar, on the 7th, when she placed her grandchild in her parents' arms. If the far off brother and sister, to whom at Marazion, it took thirteen days to send a parcel by waggoon, could have joined the circle, the happiness would have been complete. As it was, the group that strolled along the lanes and field-paths in the evening was sufficiently happy. During the latter part of the stay her husband left to visit relations in Hampshire, and the absence gave occasion for a few letters, from which some extracts follow.
"Very often since I married I have thought of an expression, which I never entirely understood before, 'Thy desire shall be unto thy husband.' It is so expressive of that waiting, and [Page 302] watching and solicitous dependence for happiness which a wife must feel towards one who is appointed to rule both over and in her. In him, most emphatically, her desires centre. The whole fabric of her happiness is at his disposal, and a breath from him can either confirm or shatter it. She cannot enjoy an independent pleasure, for the very thought of its independence prevents it being pleasure. The curse in this instance, as in that bestowed upon her guilty associate, 'in the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,' is indeed turned into a blessing, for it imparts a certain refinement and tenderness to her enjoyments, which they could not have possessed, if they had not descended to her from a hand she loves."
Her husband had sent her some verses written in memory of his first wife, to which, in her next letter, she refers:–
"There is something most touchingly, solemnly beautiful in the lines, and never need you fear, my love, your 'Anna should complain' of the pure flame of such a friendship. No–'They are holy tears we shed"and it always affords me a melancholy pleasure to hear you referring with tenderness to past times. The only painful feeling occasioned by it, is the fear that I should deserve a lower place in your affection and esteem.
Upon the bosom of the dead.''Then let the tears of mournful love descend,
I, too, would claim them–were I such a friend.
I, too, my love, if parted from thy side,
Would claim an hour to lighter thoughts denied.
Oft as December led his revels by,
Would ask the tribute of one faithful sigh,
And watch with fond inquiry to perceive,
If still thou couldst remember Christmas eve? " [Page 303]
Returning to Masbro', she resumed her ordinary busy and happy life there. The removal to a new and more commodious house, then in pretty fields, now in the midst of smoke and cinders, was accomplished just before Christmas.
"October 15, 1815.–To Mrs Laurie,–Do you never, in the midst of present joys and duties, revert to those ancient times? I do; and with all its smoke, and dust, and disorder, and confinement, that old workroom supplies one of the most agreeable and tender of the recollections of my youth. Many a day of happiness was passed there, many an interesting face was familiar there, and among them some who shall be known no more for ever. How little did you think of Reading?–or I of Rotherham?–or dear Jane of Cornwall, then? I had a map of England pinned up against the screen at my left hand, and often in idle moments read the uninteresting names, but never felt one prescient thrill as these important letters caught my eye; perhaps there are still some spots which are to become equally interesting! how glad I am we do not know them! "
The 23d of September was her sister Jane's birthday.
"On the 23d four important domestic occurrences took place in our family, exclusive of the interest which has long attached to that day. We lighted our first fire in the parlour, added a pretty puss to our establishment, dear little J– left off his caps, and for the first time took six or eight steps alone, for which feat you cannot think how heartily I admired, praised, and kissed him. Ever since he has fairly run alone without assistance, and is as busy a little body as ever you saw, and as pretty a one. Besides all this he has the following accomplishments: he says what the cow says, and what the sheep says,–nay, a few days since, he heard a donkey bray, very loud and [Page 304] long: he listened attentively, and the next morning in bed began a very good imitation of his own accord, from which time he has continued to bray to the admiration of enraptured auditors, whenever required. Besides these versatile accomplishments, his friend Lucy Bennett has taught him to make a very funny face, and though, as in duty bound, I never encourage this, yet, between friends, it really is very funny, and even when in consequence of the same tuition, he spit at Mrs – and Mrs – (two great ladies in the neighbourhood), I could not help thinking it very entertaining, though certainly 'terrible awful, and horrible shocking.' Pray how long should elder wine continue to hiss, supposing you give it no extraordinary provocation? My mind is almost hurt at the continued insolence of mine, and I am determined not to give it a drop of brandy till it has done." . . . .
To her sister she writes, Nov. 14–
"I have lately sent to the 'Eclectic' a short review of the life of Mrs Newell, an American Missionary. I wish you could see the work, it interested me exceedingly. The time for 'Patronage' is gone by, but I have partly engaged to review a new volume of 'Pious Women,' and to say a few words on the 'Legend of Stutchbury,' a little tract, but I do not know when it can be, and every hour I devote in this way now, is almost against my conscience, as I have not the time to spare. My mind is never in that composed careful state which I have always found necessary for writing; my ear is waking perpetually to the voice or cry of the dear child, and continually I am obliged to break off at a moment's notice to attend to him. What I write now, therefore, is to please Mr G–, who likes to see and hear of me in that character, so that sometimes, dear Jane, I feel almost pained at your progress, because I know he always wishes [Page 305] that I could do the same; but mind you never say the less about yourself on this account; I could not forgive you if you withheld a single word."
Jane Taylor was at this date preparing for the press her volume of "Essays in Rhyme," the point and beauty of which were much appreciated in their day; and might have secured a more permanent place in literature, had the author lived to become more generally known. Some of the poems were from time to time forwarded in MS. to her sister, who in reply, along with warm admiration, sent a good deal of verbal criticism; the result of her husband's refined taste, of Salome's keen perception, of Montgomery's experienced ear, and not least, of her own intuitive judgement.
The "World in the house," and the "World in the heart," and a poem entitled the "Pair," were among the first submitted to this coterie of critics; upon the former she says–
"I think you lose a good opportunity in not describing the wife, whose rotund self-indulgence forms almost a distinct species, and might be well introduced. It is quite different from the father and daughters, it is a more sensual lazy worldliness than either. *
"The apostrophe–'Hence let us rise'– is so elevated and [Page 306] beautiful, that however just and expressive, I would omit the two concluding lines; they reduce the feeling too suddenly–a feeling which is too poetical to be sacrificed even to the point and constrast those two lines afford. *
" . . . But I shall not leave room for Montgomery's remarks. 'Pilgrims sojourning,' why this accent?"In all they do, and say, and look, and wearput share. This I don't agree with, but he hates alliteration. He thought that 'bairns' means boys, and therefore objects to it, but I do not think so, I like it. 'Nay, say they,'–Cacophony.
Aping the rank they were not born to bear,'
He made no comments on the last poem 'The Pair,' but particularly admired the sunrise at the conclusion; also–'France rages now, and Spain, and now the Turkwhich he thought more striking than a man's sailing round the world and returning to–
Now victory sounds, but there he sits at work!'–'Find him on the same square foot of floor
On which he left him twenty years before.'
I confess, for my own part, I thought it savoured a little of'–St Serle,
The uncle of the banished Earl.' † [Page 307]
"Mr Gilbert and and Salome made a huge outcry at the rhyming of 'fire with Messiah,' and say it must be altered. This is one of our most inveterate southernisms, and I cannot yet tutor my ear to be affronted at it, but I have endured so much the trial of 'cruel mockings,' on account of it, that I beg you will extricate yourself at any rate."
Inheriting so much of her mother's painful sensibility, a "removal" under any circumstances was no small thing; and she describes to her sister how, on the evening of Dec. 21, after tea at a neighbour's–
"We all took a most melancholy turn over the dear old house, Salome and I crying bitterly; we then locked the doors and padded through the snow to our new habitation, crying all the way we went; but my sorrow was turned into joy when the door opened, and we were shown into the pleasant parlour, with a cheerful fire, and put nicely to rights."
It was only just in time, for on the 3rd of January her second child, a daughter, was born. "I wish, she writes to her mother, you could see and kiss the dear little 'Anne Taylor,' who is come to supply the place of one you lost."
To her friend Mrs Whitty she writes–
"Jan. 1816.–This day three weeks we slept in our new habitation for the first time, and a most agreeable and comfortable one it is. I have, in particular, a very nice store-room fitted up under my own direction. The view in front is extremely pleasant over gardens and meadows, with the river winding through them to a distant wood. We have a lease for fourteen years, but I do not like to look through that long period. O, the mournful changes, my dear Luck, which it is likely to produce [Page 308] in the beloved circles in which we are centred. * Ah! here is not our rest! We must not fancy for a moment that we have found one. We may have a long lease of the house, but it has not a moment's lease of us. Should our lives be spared, my dear J– will then be just deciding his views for life–O, what will they be? May that God who has given us children, and some sense of the value of the trust, give us also wisdom to bring them up for Him, and to pursue that most difficult path–the path of unwavering, consistent, universal discipline–never relaxing, never turning aside. . . . Do not fail to remember us to our interesting friend Mr Gunn. What a pretty little bit of our history, framed and glazed, was the year we spent at Ilfracombe! It seems scarcely like a reality, so different was it from anything that went before, or that has followed after it. Mr G– and I, often say how much we should like to visit Ilfracombe together, and endeavour to retrace those strange ominous days; but while Ongar is Ongar, I feel as if every other spot in England were under an interdict, for when I have time to go anywhere I cannot think of going elsewhere. I have, however, a very dim prospect of seeing dear Ongar again at present; two children, and one so young, prevent my thinking of it this summer, for I feel more every day, how desirable it is that mothers should be keepers at home."
On the 20th of March, his birthday, her husband, on coming in from his early morning duties at the college, was received by his little boy with the following lines:–
Papa, papa, your little boy
Is come to-day to wish you joy,
And waits to give a pretty kiss
For little Joe and little "sis." [Page 309]
There's nothing yet that he can do
To give you joy, but calling "Poo,"
Or hushing "sis," or saying "pray,"
Or telling what the donkeys say.
Or he can shut the parlour door,
Or pick up letters from the floor,
Or stroke poor puss and give her toast,
Or walk with letters to the post.
But by and bye, when he shall grow
A great and clever boy you know,
He hopes that he and little "sis"
Will give you greater joy than this.
Yes, and a joyful day 'twill be
To see them what we hope to see,
And feel our sorrows, pains, and cares,
Sustained by tenderness of theirs.
But if God should not please to spare
These pretty buds that look so fair,
But rend them early from the bough
That yields them sap and shelter now,
E'en then, though all bereaved and torn,
We hand in hand should live to mourn,
Still might we keep that land in view
Where blighted buds are raised anew.
"You enquire," she says to her mother enclosing these verses, "if he does not begin to talk, and here I feel a little at a loss, for Mr G– fell upon a passage in Quintillian the other day, which says that early speaking is not an indication of genius, so that we are rather uncertain whether to boast of him as remarkably forward, or [Page 310] remarkably backward. I will therefore give you his vocabulary, and leave you to judge." . . .
For the wedding day of her father and mother she writes:–
"April 12, 1816.–I wrote so lately that you will probably wonder at hearing from me now, unless you happen to recollect that Thursday (the day on which I hope this will reach you) is the 18th of April. I feel a pleasure in joining, as far as I am able, in the festivities, or at least in the feelings of these red-letter days, and contributing my mite towards the satisfaction they inspire. Very little is now in my power; many, many opportunities in which I might have contributed to the happiness of my dear parents have passed away, misimproved; and all I can now do is to beg they will forgive the times which will occur to their remembrance, when I have given them pain, and ill requited their care. I am now often reminded by my own feelings, hopes, and fears, of what theirs have been; and very frequently, when looking forward on my children, look back upon myself. I rejoice, my dear parents, that as years pass on you are losing most of the toils of a family, and enjoying many of its comforts, in the increasing sense which all your children entertain of their obligations to your anxiety, your unremitting labour, your much enduring affection.
"This time five and thirty years many were wishing you joy, and notwithstanding all your trials I do think their prayers have been heard. Whenever I read my dear father's touching addresses to my dear mother on these occasions, I cannot but say, 'Yes, they have been happy indeed. . . . In laying out our little garden here I am trying to make one corner like that which held the white seat at Colchester. A man who came to work at it said he was sure he had seen me [Page 311] before, and recollected at last that it was at Colchester, where he used to garden for Mr Patmore, twelve years ago!"
Giving up the prospect of a visit to Ongar this year, she began early to entertain the idea of seeing her brother and sister at Rotherham in the summer. She thought of it with unbounded delight, and several letters are filled with suggestions and plans for the long journey from Cornwall to Yorkshire. She urges that "travelling is now cheaper than it has been for a long time, or than it is likely to continue to be, for if the farmers rise, corn and horses must rise too." The project ripened. Land routes and sea routes were discussed,–the choice lying chiefly between sea to Milford Haven, and thence by coaches, via Liverpool and Manchester,–or by the coaches through Bristol and Birmingham. It is curious to read, that "between Liverpool and Manchester, the fares are extremely low, as there is much opposition; but great attention is paid by the magistrates of these two towns, to prevent racing, so that it is safe travelling notwithstanding."
The Birmingham route was preferred, and at length, on the evening of the 29th of June, at twenty minutes after ten, the brother and sister arrived in a post-chaise from Sheffield. They had not met since the autumn of 1813, when Isaac and Jane left Ongar for Ilfracombe. A very busy six weeks succeeded. Isaac had, as yet, made no sign in the literary world; but Jane Taylor's reputation, as a writer, was considerable, especially from the recent publication of "Essays in Rhyme," and in the large circle that surrounded her sister in Yorkshire, and where the hearty admiration of Montgomery was well-known, she was naturally much sought after. [Page 312]
Rather chary of speech, she was not easily drawn out in conversation. "What do you consider the principal defect in the Quaker system," was rather formally demanded of her, in a large company, at Sheffield. "Expecting women to speak in public, sir," was the prompt reply. But she was fluent with the pen, and had occasion to use it. In her poem, entitled–"Poetry and Reality," were these lines;–
"Indeed, the Gospel would have been his scoff,
If man's devices had not set it off;
For that which turns poor nonconformists sick,
Touches poetic feeling to the quick."–
And on her present visit to the neighbourhood, the following comment appeared in the Sheffield Iris;–
"If trappings to religion nought impart,
They're not the things that most defile the heart;
In Jewish temple, where they stood so thick,
The Saviour taught, and never once was 'sick.'
These outward things can ne'er defile with sin,
The temple of the spirit is within,
If that be simple, pure, and cleans'd by grace,
We then may worship God in any place."
Her rejoinder came with the next number:
The fact is granted, courteous friend,
Nor did my playful verse intend
The inference to bear;
That proud St Peter's painted dome,
Nor like devices nearer home,
Could stain a sinner's prayer.
That Jesus ne'er that building scorned
With goodly stones and gifts adorned
Is true,–it was divine.
That "worldly sanctuary" stood–
Its gold, its brass, its costly wood–
As God's, not man's, design.
But Jesus came to make it void,
And now, demolished and destroyed
The splendid forms decay;
Then why revive, and why allow,
Those "carnal ordinances" now,
Which He has done away?
And why appeal to ages gone–
To Moses and to Solomon
If Christian rules would do?
One deems all other reasons spent,
When such a shadowy argument
Is borrowed from the Jew.
A succession of visits in the neighbourhood of Sheffield and Rotherham, and excursions to the beautiful scenery of that part of Yorkshire, filled up the time, till, all too soon–one August morning, they drove away from the door, to return, after three years absence, to their father's house at Ongar. * [Page 314]
Writing to Jane afterwards her sister says:–
"I shall not forget watching the coach up the hill towards Doncaster. I plunged deep into business as soon as I got home, and could not indulge myself till Friday evening, when, the wash being done, Mr Gilbert and I walked exactly the same walk we took the last evening, and then he let me have my cry out, and say just what I pleased, which was a great pleasure. You cannot think how much he felt the loss when you went; he often complained that even his study seemed dull to him. But I enjoyed more than I can describe your account of your arrival at Ongar. I only wished to have known the exact time. I always want these little points of circumstance which may enable me to realise with all possible precision. I so enjoy your enjoyment of the sweet spot of which I have said so often–'Oh, it is delightful!' for now I can believe in your entire sympathy when I say again–'Isn't it?'
"Dear father and mother! it is a constant satisfaction to think of them in such a retirement, so exactly all they wish and want. I hope mother will not quite give up writing to me while you are there. What I should like would be foolscape sheets jointly filled, and then I should hear what each thought of the other. Little J. puts his finger to his nose when I ask what uncle used to do when J. was naughty. He still points to Salome's room when I enquire where aunt was, and to the study window when asked where uncle got in when J. bolted the door."
In October of this year she relates to her family an excursion very interesting to her. It may be remembered (see p. 12) that her grandmother, Mrs Martin, came from York, leaving it, a girl of eighteen, alone on the top of the coach for London. [Page 315]
"October 8, 1816.–I have had two extremely pleasant holidays lately, in one of which I thought of dear mother incessantly. Mr Gilbert was called to preach at York, and by invitation I accompanied him. We went on Saturday, returned on Tuesday, and saw as much as possible in the time. It is a most interesting city, and the remembrance of our poor grandmother rendered it all the more so to me. Almost every old-fashioned house I saw, I thought, 'perhaps she was born there;' and I looked with peculiar interest at such parts of the buildings as had evidently undergone no repair, thinking 'she has certainly looked at this.' Our quarters were within a few doors of Micklegate Bar, the great southern gate of the city, through which she must have passed on her road to London; and when at seven o'clock on a fine morning we set off to return on the top of the coach, I thought very much of her solitary journey, and of the way in which Providence protected and directed her till she became two bands. Almost every old tree we passed I thought, 'seventy years ago she saw this, perhaps, and saw it flourishing in its prime.' We went all over the Minster, which exceeds everything of the kind I ever saw. It is undergoing complete repair, and from one of the external ornaments, almost effaced by time, which was taken down, I severed a fragment of decaying stone, and have this morning made it up into a small parcel for you; when it arrives, therefore, pray do not expect anything important, for it contains nothing but the aforesaid stone for mother.
"As we were returning, the coachman said, 'You don't know who it is on the coach with you. Jack Ketch of London! He went down to Carlisle to hang a few, a week ago, and is now going back again.' We looked at him with terrible curiosity, and surely a viler face was never worn right-side-out–a cool, merry demon! At York Castle the curiosities were:–'Here is the pickaxe with which such a one murdered a woman and two [Page 316] girls; this is the penknife with which so-and-so cut the throat of her baby; this is the great club,' &c.–instruments the most varied and horrible, with which, during a number of years, most of the great murders in the county have been committed."
The other holiday was at Stockport in Cheshire.
"The country is beautiful, and the friends I visited most hospitable, but the grand inducement was to hear Angell James preach the annual sermon for the Stockport Sunday schools. Three thousand children are there educated in the most noble building for the purpose. The room for preaching is only a part of it, and on this occasion the congregation assembled was nearly six thousand, the orchestra containing six or seven hundred more; there was a noble organ, a full band of instruments, together with Braham and other London singers. The collection was nearly four hundred pounds, and the sermon the most wonderful piece of eloquence I ever heard. Oh, how I wished for you all!"
By the end of the year, when scarcely a twelvemonth of "the fourteen years' lease" had expired, all the dreams of prolonged residence in the pretty house were disturbed, and a time of distressing perplexity ensued. Mr Gilbert's health had begun to suffer under the combined strain of his college duties and those of his ministry at Sheffield; and just when this anxiety arose, he received from two churches of some importance, one at Worcester and the other at Hull, almost simultaneous invitations to their pastorates. The following extracts explain the difficulties of decision under these circumstances. After describing the nature of the work at Hull, where it was proposed that he should have the assistance of an excellent young friend, who had been one of his own students, she says:–
"All this took place last week; the present week has involved us in still greater anxiety. On Thursday we received a letter from Mr J. Angell James, engaged, he said, as special pleader in behalf of Worcester, 'the church there being determined to think of no other man upon earth till the last hope of having Mr Gilbert was extinguished.' And the same afternoon arrived two gentlemen, deputed by the Church to deliver their unanimous call, and to press it with all possible earnestness. They stayed with us till last night, urging their cause with great solicitude. You cannot think how distressed we feel. My husband said he was in danger of bursting into tears all day, he felt so much harassed, and the affection he bears to Sheffield is so great."
To her husband, absent at Hull, she writes about this time:–
"God, I think, seems to be trying the purity of our motives. It is easy to speak, and even to feel, as if we were willing to follow the guidance of Providence, when each alternative is agreeable and profitable; the only way to be sure of a disinterested acquiescence is that which it appears probable will be proposed to us. It seems not unlikely that a station of usefulness may be opened to you under some secular disadvantages. I dread nothing so much as uncertainty. Indeed, I dread nothing but this. . . . I do not entirely rely upon your own account of your services, but whether they were vigorous or otherwise, we must regard it as one among the number of things which are to decide for or against; and though I could not but wish you, my love, an abundant [Page 318] enjoyment of Divine support, and great acceptableness wherever you preach, yet I desire to feel a moderated anxiety, and hope you can do the same: whatever strength is necessary for you I know you will have."
In this perplexity they requested Mr James to leave the bar of the advocate, and take his seat as a judge in the matter, when, after expressing his personal loss in the rejection of Worcester, he gave a decided opinion in favour of Hull, "which presents a situation of first-rate importance in the church of God."
Writing to her father, she says:–
"With regard to leaving Rotherham, comfortable as we are, most surely we should not have sought a removal; but now that the occasion offers, and so pressingly, it becomes necessary to consider the situation in all its bearings. Mr Gilbert's strength cannot be said to fail yet, though his exhaustion after his mornings at the college is frequently very great, and his long walks to Sheffield in wind, and rain, and dirt are often very trying; while, if he goes by coach, he must really rise earlier, and has some distance to walk to meet it. It is such an expenditure of strength as he could not stand for any number of years. But, besides this, he feels it very desirable now to spend his Sabbaths at home. You cannot think how desolate I feel it for him to be always out on that day. He will soon have children to whom the eye and instruction of a father will be necessary, and I shrink from the prospect of bearing the weight alone. We are now become a family, and I do not like our long Sabbath evenings without something more of family worship than my just reading a prayer! This is a trial I have long felt, and never see a father taking his station on a Sabbath evening in his family without poignant regrets. Again, he is desirous of exchanging a life of [Page 319] cold classical study, which is extremely unfavourable to the growth of personal piety, for the edifying duties of a pastor, which are perhaps, of all others, conducive to its prosperity and increase. . . .
"Consider these things, my dear parents. Do not, I beseech you, suppose we are anxious to go; on the contrary, we are torn and worn by cutting regrets. Yesterday we received a letter signed by all the students. They say: 'We may call another "tutor," and as a tutor may value him, though surely not so highly as yourself, but where shall we find the friend? Permit us, then, with one pen and one heart to entreat that you will relinquish your design, so that we may be able still to associate with the college as one of its valuable distinctions, the name of "Gilbert." ' . . .
I have sometimes wondered if we are about to remove, that we were permitted to come and fit up this house as we have done; but one advantage has accrued from it, which, in case of removing into the midst of a large congregation, would be worth to me all it has cost. At the other house I had no poor neighbours, here I am placed near a great many, and have been called to visit the sick among them very frequently. This I have found a great benefit; it has even taught me to pray with them when necessary, and I cannot express how much service that is to me."
"Rotherham, Jan. 20, 1817.– . . . When I wrote last, Mr Gilbert had just written to Hull, objecting to their exclusion of female votes. The next day, being Sunday, we both went to Sheffield, and there met with so many expressions of sorrow, that our hearts sank within us, and we felt almost overwhelmed with grief and uncertainty. After the evening service, being much depressed, we retired together, and poured out our hearts in prayer that such direction might be afforded as would render the path clear, whether pleasant or [Page 320] otherwise. I hope we sincerely laid aside every wish but for determinate guidance, and endeavoured to divest ourselves of every personal feeling in submission to the will of God. At our return home we found a letter from Hull awaiting us. It said, 'I am just returned from the fullest church-meeting I ever attended; your excellent letter was read, and no sooner was the question put, than the whole church, male and female, arose and held up the right hand; the spirit of love and peace seemed eminently to be with us.' A few days afterwards came the official reply signed by the whole church."
And so, presently, the die was cast, and notwithstanding the most generous offers on the part of his people at Sheffield, and of the students,–indeed for the very sake of both students and people, Mr Gilbert was compelled to accept the call that had been addressed to him. What this implied to the sensitive heart of his wife can well be understood. "We hardly know how to bear it," she says, "and yet you will easily perceive that with such proposals Mr Gilbert could not have complied; he would have felt doing but half his duty."
The indulgence of feeling, however, was soon checked. The children were seized with scarlet fever; and presently the whole household, husband, niece, and a young man recently received into the family to complete his education, all, excepting herself and the servant, were prostrated, and passed through more or less dangerous crises. The energy of her character, and the innate strength of her constitution, were severely tested during these trying weeks, but at the end she was able to write–
"I feel it an unspeakable and undeserved mercy to be resuming [Page 321] our former comfort with no breach in our circle. . . . By-the-bye, when you send, we should be very thankful for a few odd proofs, for J. has no greater delight than to look at 'pickeys,' and the cuts in 'City Scenes' are almost threadbare. I regret the many 'pretty pickeys' I have burnt, and should be very glad of any you can scrape together, especially of small subjects he can understand. He can tell already that Balaam beat the poor donkey; that Samson carried the great doors; that poor little Moses cried in the basket; and that little Samuel went to chapel to hear Eli preach, and was very good,–only from looking over our little Bible during his illness." *
March 20, 1817.–To her sister–
. . . "Almost every letter you send, dear Jane, I cannot help saying what different lives we lead! There are some things I regret, but I feel daily that mine is the lot for me, and yours for you, and we must take them as they are. If your fame, and leisure for the improvement of your mind, could be combined with the comfort and pleasures of a larger domestic circle; and if, with a husband and children, I could share a glimmer of your fame, and a portion of your reading, we should both perhaps be happier than it is the usual lot of life to be, and at least happier than it seems good for us to be. Mr Gilbert expresses his conviction that such a course of reading as you have lately indulged in must injure the mind for exertion of its own. He says he feels it impossible to be at once a reading and a writing man; and that had he read less, he should have written with much greater facility. He does not mean to condemn so much reading as is necessary to furnish the mind, [Page 322] but only to say that habitual reading places the mind in such a different state from that required for writing, that it must recover from one before it will feel at ease in the other. Do not therefore feel discouraged, dear Jane, at the natural effect of your late pursuits, and suppose a decay of power, but wait patiently and cheerfully, and you will gradually recover tone."
In a letter home, dated April 17, 1817, there is a glimpse of the severe distress prevailing,–the collapse after the great war which made peace for a time more trying–
"The distress at Sheffield is very great; the poor live upon little else than oatmeal, but if the cheapest, it seems the most nourishing of food, for it is observed that the children look wealthier than usual. Everybody is turning away servants workmen, and clerks; that last resort, a 'clerk's place,' is hardly to be obtained by any interest, however great, and the cases of distress we hear of continually, are heartrending. We have a pleasing young couple close by who have wrung our hearts by their sufferings, which, till just now, were quite unsuspected. They have lived well; the wife a delicate little creature only twenty, just confined with her second child; and about six weeks ago, before he had communicated his distress to Mr Bennett, they were literally starving; had sent out their last penny the night before to buy a candle, thinking it would betray their condition to their landlady if they sat in the dark. They used to have the cloth laid as if to dine, but have nothing! You cannot think the pleasure with which I packed a basket for her of such things as I had in the house which I thought would be most needed, and go fastest during her lying-in. I can think of but one little hamper which I ever filled with so much pleasure, and that was the one we sent to dear Martin in London when he came of age.
"Have you seen a little threepenny book by Mr Harris of Cambridge called 'Conversations on Prayer,' intended to render it a 'reasonable service' for young children? I think it comes nearer to a perfect book for children than I ever saw. It is completely childlike, without being childish–a distinction most difficult to preserve."
In April she paid a visit with her husband to Hull, and describes it to her parents.
"You will believe that I felt no little interest in taking the first view of Hull, of our new home, and of the chapel where Mr Gilbert is to enter upon so large a sphere of labour, as well as in the introduction to strange faces which have taken place during the week; and I believe I may say that in all, my expectations have been more than fulfilled. Hull is a fine, open, lively town, with the constant interest of a seaport, without being close and disagreeable as many are; and even the country, though not to compare with our beautiful Rotherham, is in many respects better than I had expected. In a house we have been peculiarly favoured. It stands in a small, genteel row at the extremity of the town, so that we can walk either by the Humber, or in the country, without taking a step through the town. Exactly opposite to our windows is an enclosure, as in the squares of London, with a grass plot, gravel walk, and plantation, the use of which we can have, and the view behind is extremely pleasant over a number of gardens to the Humber, a fine river three or four miles broad, with vessels constantly passing, and the coast of Lincolnshire rising beyond. . . . The chapel is a large, good building, which now lets eleven hundred sittings, and has not a single seat to dispose of, so that they are obliged to refuse several applications. It is beautiful to see merchants and men of business, young and old, leaving [Page 324] their counting-houses at all hours, if any plan is to be considered for doing good; and such a throng of respectable or venerable heads as is seen following their minister to the vestry is most encouraging. "
In prospect of the approaching trial which leaving Rotherham would prove, she writes–
"Tell Jane I do not intend to take her advice; I am not subject to dangerous excesses of such feelings, and I like, therefore to enjoy them to the full, especially as at these times there is always sober business enough to do and arrange, and a sufficiency of common-place about chairs and china, and bread and beer, and cheese, and string, and straw, to reduce the fine edge of romantic suffering to a very endurable degree of bluntness. The very simple but supposable circumstance of being qualmy in a coach is quite antidote sufficient for enervating grief. The few parting looks I may be able to take without interruption, I shall not, I think, be afraid to indulge."
On the evening of Thursday, July 3, these "parting looks" were taken,–"It was, I assure you, a bitter ride down Masbro, and, till we lost sight of our dear pleasant house, which we could see for a mile on the Sheffield road." They went to friends at Sheffield, and spent two days in farewells to the large circle there. On the Sunday they "had a sharp trial under the last sermon at Nether Chapel, the place as full as it could hold, aisles and all." On the Monday they posted forty miles to Booth Ferry, where "at 'the commodious and solitary inn,' they spent the night."
"It was an evening always memorable to him (her husband). After tea, he went out alone, taking his path down a secluded country road, and there he received, as from the hand of his Master, the charge, the true bishopric of souls, about to welcome him as their guide, or to be allured to the fold by his ministry. His spirit bowed, almost bent beneath the pressure, but he went to the Strong for strength. He knew in whose service he was engaged, whose command it was, as he fully believed, he had obeyed, and then and there consecrated his life, as by sacramental engagement, to the solemn work."
The following day they reached the hospitable roof of a friend at Hull, close by their new residence. The goods had arrived by water, unpacking began, and the true daughter of her father writes home,–
"I enjoy exceedingly every step we take towards order once more. It will be a nice house when it is done, lightsome, agreeable, convenient. I shall only want some of you here to give me the complete enjoyment of it. It is in Nile Street; you could not have made a more unfortunate mistake than to suppose it Hill Street, there is not a hill to be seen for love or money."
END OF VOL. I.
Turnbull & Spears, Printers, Edinburgh.
* Another expedient dwells in family tradition which probably succeeded the above, to the horrid clatter of which there may have been domestic objections. He placed his watch under the weight of the alarum in such a position as to require energetic action, on the part of the awakened sleeper, to save it from utter destruction as the weight descended. The habit once formed, these extreme measures were discarded. –[ED.]
* A hymn sung aloud accompanied this private morning worship, and the editor remembers when the voice was cracked with age, hearing the cheerful though quaking notes–cheerful, whether heard through the open window of the study in summer time, or in the darkness and chill of winter mornings.
* The plates for Rees' Cyclopædia were executed under his superintendence at his father's establishment, and he always considered that these, and his frequent interviews with Dr Rees during the progress of them, were a great means of awakening his desire for knowledge in all its branches.–[ED.]
* Investments were not so easily met with then as in these days. Mr Smirke, R.A., was commissioned to paint four small circular subjects, representing morning, noon, evening, and night, for the £100, which the young Isaac Taylor then engraved and published. There was a considerable foreign sale for English prints at that time, and the editor has seen prints signed "Isaac Taylor, Junr.," in some of the remotest spots on the Continent.
* It was here that she picked up several anecdotes of George the Second's residence in the palace, which, with more stirring stories of the Gordon riots, she sometimes repeated to her grandchildren on winter evenings. Among the former she related how the old king once spent an hour on his knees searching for a sixpence that had rolled on the floor, handing it when found to an attendant with stately gravity, and the remark, "I do not want the sixpence, but I did not wish it to be lost." How, walking one day with the Duchess of Yarmouth, and observing some people laughing at a window overlooking the gardens, he had a high wall built immediately, which shut out their view for ever after. And how George III. kissed his bride on her arrival at Buckingham House, the Duke of York waving his hat to the crowd outside the gardens and shouting–"he's got her, he's got her." The Gordon riots had made a deep impression on her memory. Her mother's house was near Meux's brewery, having fields then close behind it. Preparations had been made at the brewery to play hot water upon the rioters, and the mob were advancing to the attack when the trumpets of the dragoons and the discharge of firearms created an awful pause. Sometime afterwards she saw swinging the corpse of a neighbour's son on a gallows at the end of the street. He was condemned and executed for participation in the disturbances, of which it was believed he had been only an accidental spectator.–[ED.]
* Belonging to an older school was William Gurnal, Rector of Lavenham, author of "The Christian in Complete Armour."–[ED.]
* It is curious to note how frequently in many a provincial town the pro- [Page 22] prietor of just such an omnium gatherum shop afterwards developed into the substantial banker of the district, and how generally, too, such, as in the present case, were nonconformists.–[ED.]
* It is related in her memoirs that she used to be placed on the kneading-board in the shop, in order to recite, preach, or narrate, to the great entertainment of the many visitors.–[ED.]
* At that time wool was combed by hand, given out about the country to be spun, sent to Holland to be woven, and brought back to England to be sold. A direct ancestor of Mr Watkinson fought under Cromwell.–[ED.]
* In some old fashioned rural congregations of Nonconformists this separation extends to the whole congregation. The custom is common among the Protestant congregations on the Continent, and universal among the Friends.
† In a paper entitled "Sixty Years Ago," contributed to the Sunday School Magazine in 1848, by Mrs Gilbert, she says, "I am old enough to remember that in a little country town, about 200 miles I should think from Gloucester, there was a Sunday School very nearly sixty years ago, and one in which my dear father used to labour with all the activity of a warm Christian heart. I was a very little girl, and perhaps for that reason I do not forget the grand gala days, in which long tables were set in Mr Watkinson's barn, and well covered with roast beef and plum puddings, for which the young people of his family (there were twelve in all, sons and daughters) had been merrily busy in stoning raisins. Yes, I remember them! And there came the schools, winding up the quiet street, for it was very quiet generally, though then of course, the neighbours would stand at their cottage doors to gaze at the procession, and the young gentlemen at Mr Blower's school would look over the blinds to wonder about it; and people, perhaps, who had not yet sent their children might wish they had. There have been many Sunday School treats and dinners given since that time, but I just mention this, to prove that at the remote little town of Lavenham, in Suffolk, there was at least as early as the year 1790, a happy, well regulated Sunday School; so that if Gloucester should ever think of erecting a monument to the founder, it might do well to inquire whether or not the first thought were really there?"
* A similar aged worthy occupied a seat, at the top of the pulpit stairs, at Ongar, during my grandfather's pastorate there. Leaning against the pulpit door, he looked like the minister's henchman. His venerable and rheumy countenance, his drab knee breeches gaping above his corded grey stockings, are deeply graven on my memory, and not less so, a certain occasion, when his huge tin snuff-box slipped from his pottering fingers, and rolled bump, bump, down the uncarpeted stairs with portentous noise. John Day, [Page 32] no whit disconcerted, watched its course, and then, with his heavy highlows, descended after it, one stair at a time, returning in like manner. The whole operation took nearly a quarter of an hour; yet the sermon halted not, nor did devout attention fail. In those days, if any one suffered from drowsiness under the subdivided discourse, he would rise and stand in his place. Several grave elders, in an afternoon, might be seen thus upon their legs, and it is recorded that my mother's great grandfather, Martin, leaning, unluckily, upon his pew door in Kensington Church, it opened suddenly, compelling him to follow its semi-circular movement at a smart trot, till brought up sharp against the pew side. Then the grave figure in snuff-coloured suit and proturbant wig, took it in hand and walked back into his place, with probably no visible disturbance of the congregation. –[ED.]
* She would have expressed the same fresh delight at eighty-five.–[ED.]
* Lycium Barbarum, Willow-Leaved Box Thorn.
* It will be observed that the intention of all these toys was the healthy excitement of the imagination, and to stimulate a taste for rural objects and the picturesque in nature.–[ED.]
* Jefferys Taylor afterwards versified this incident for his "Æsop in Rhyme," ending with–"At last he broke the bottom out
Of this disastrous jug,
But still the dog was not without
The remnant of the mug.
With this the trophy of the day
In haste forth trotted he,
And if 'twas ever knocked away
They have not told it me."
* Along with this picturesqueness should not be forgotten the occasional horrors of a bull-baiting through these streets, when, "after due notice from the bellman, and with a hideous hubbub of yells, screams, and the barking of dogs, came the bull at a rolling trot, with a pertinacious cur or two swinging from his lip and nostril, a dozen at his heels, his scarlet eye-balls ogleing from side to side as he goes–no help or mercy for him–for it is his doom's-day! torment to the death is the rule and reason of all this hubbub." See Isaac Taylor's "Personal Recollections," Good Words for 1864. It is singular that his sister's recollections make no reference to what, even in my own remembrance, was a constant source of terror in certain neighbourhoods.–[ED.]
* It may be objected to this severe condemnation of day dreams, that in the writer's case they were evidently the result of a lively imagination, innocently working out pictures and fictions for itself, as such a faculty would be sure to do, and in preparation for a legitimate and useful exercise of it; while, again, it did not prevent her becoming an eminently practical and active person in after life. Still, many indulge in such dreams whose imaginative powers are not of the quality which would render them in any way serviceable; and few, indeed, possess the sensitive conscience, the indomitable energy, and strength of will, which compelled and enabled her to take up the nearest duty so soon as it was plainly before her. Jane Taylor confessed and lamented the tendency. "I know," she said, "that I have sometimes lived so much in a castle as almost to forget that I lived in a house."–[ED.]
* Writing now, so late as 1865, I may point you to the graphic and grateful notice of "Nanny Keble," by your uncle Isaac in Good Words for 1864. In a late visit to Lavenham, I had the pleasure of seeing again this poor woman, then nearly ninety, but she started up almost wildly at the name of Isaac Taylor, and said, "Yes, and there was Martin, too."–[NOTE BY MRS GILBERT.]
* In the sixth chapter, further reference is made to this painful matter, in explanation of certain passages in the "Nursery Rhymes."–[ED.]
* The picture from which this engraving was made was exhibited in 1862 at the great South Kensington Exposition of that year. Though considered one of the best of Opie's works it looked poor beside the engraving, which is marked by great vigour. To Isaac Taylor, who was a little boy at the time it was executed, the picture, which was of large size, recalled his favourite amusement of creeping behind the great canvas, and using it as a portentous drum.[ED.]
* It should be remarked that, although unusual, the selection of a minister from among the members of a church is legitimate according to the principles of the Independent Body. They believe the ministry to receive appointment and authority directly from the Church; and by the Church –they understand, according as they think to Scriptural precedent, and primitive Catholic tradition– "a body of believing men and women who enter into open recognised relation with each other for the purposes of common worship, mutual [Page 85] edification, and combined Christian service; and who under a freely constituted government, in submission to the law of Christ, maintain the ordinances, and sacraments, and discipline enjoined by his law. " Such a Church (distinct from the congregation of hearers only), they hold, must be a local and limited body, but bound to associate with other churches similarly constituted, so as to form the Catholic Church of Christ, and to exhibit to the world its true unity.
Ordination is the solemn recognition and sanction of the choice of the particular church, by the ministers of churches of the same order, and is frequently accompanied by the laying on of hands. But the selection of a minister in the manner proposed to the church at Lavenham is exceptional, since special education for the office is in most cases desirable. A young man wishing to devote himself to the ministry is recommended by the Church, of which as an essential condition he must be a member, to one of the colleges instituted for ministerial training. The course of instruction varies from four to six years, and the candidate is then eligible for the pastorate over any church which may call him to the charge.–[ED.]
* The "bay" and "say" manufacture was brought into Colchester in 1570 by eleven Dutch families flying from the Alva persecution. "Say" was a kind of serge, all wool, much used abroad by the "religious" for shirts, and by the English Quakers for aprons. The word is said to be derived from sagum, a soldier's coarse cloak, or a kind of blanket.
† The remarkable consanguinity mentioned was, no doubt, due to the Huguenot immigration, as also to some extent were the Nonconformist communities.–[ED.]
* A relic of those trying times remains in a scrap headed–
"THE ACCURATE DATE.""'When, you say, did it happen ?' 'I'll tell you, my dear,
'Twas about–let me see–that unfortunate year,
When the bread was so high and the meat, as you know,
And our cash on the contrary, ran very low;
That year you were ill–you remember it, wife ?'
'Yes, indeed ! for this suits every year of our life.'"
In happier times my grandfather, pointing on one occasion to his fine work, the Ann Boleyn, said, with a tear in his eye, "Yes, and the hand that did that was once glad to engrave a dog collar."–[ED]
* The self-depreciation of the writer, and her characteristic reticence upon certain points, might suggest that as a girl she possessed few outward attractions. From the circumstance, however, not recorded in these memorials, that while at Colchester she received several offers of marriage, some of them very eligible, that inference would not seem to be correct; and the attentions of which she was the subject may account in part for the very sunny memories which, as she tells us, Colchester left upon her mind.–[ED.]
* "Ah ! but Ann was always such a dog trot !" exclaimed her only surviving sister on reading this passage.–[ED.]
* It should be understood that in a line engraving, portions only of the subject are etched, and that the most skilled and distinctive part of the process follows in the use of the cutting-tool–the "graver."–[ED.]
* Isaac Taylor records that it was Mr Watkinson, "in his patters full three inches high, that carried him, bright shoe buckles and all, clear of the mud," who, at Lavenham, first availed himself, "on Sunday, at least, of a happy novelty of that age of marvels–an umbrella ! And what sort of a thing was this? . . . a handle it had like the mast of a yacht, and a covering of oil-skin tarpauling, and whalebone ribs. The weight must have exceeded that of a soldier's musket."
* The study of fortification might be reckoned (as indeed a reviewer of the present day has so reckoned it) another instance of ill-bestowed labour, especially for girls. But the father of this family desired that all his children should be able to take an intelligent interest in what was going on in the world, its present history included, and it was then an era of great wars. In order to facilitate the reading of voyages and travels he had strained a large Mercator's chart, round a revolving cylinder, upon which, with pith-headed pins, representing the Pacific voyager or African traveller, his pupils could follow the wanderings of each. He adapted this method to the illustration of the campaigns then in progress from Moscow to Oporto. The pith-balls coloured to represent the different armies in the field, followed their movements over the face of Europe, according to the news of the day, and it is not surprising that some knowledge of the elements of fortification, exemplified by diagrams, the construction of which exercised hand and eye, was considered helpful to such a circle. During the stress of the Crimean war, the editor happened to encounter some young ladies diligently reading their "Rollin," but having only the faintest notion of the history that was thundering on its course almost within earshot. If they had received the instruction to which this Colchester family was accustomed, the morning telegrams might not have proved so puzzling and therefore uninteresting.–[ED.]
* "My Ann, you had taken the lyre;
And I, from the pattern you set,
Attempted the art to acquire;
And often we play a duet.
But those who in grateful return,
Have said they were pleased with the lay,
The discord could always discern;
And yet I continued to play."–JANE TAYLOR.
* It is right to add that she soon abandoned these early eccentricities.–[ED.]
* By night as well as by day her little window was a boon to her. She wrote–"I used to roam and revel 'mid the stars:
When in my attic, with untold delight,
I watched the changing splendours of the night."–[ED.]
* The Taylor house is that on the right, with four upper windows. It is now made into two.–[ED.]
* The scene of this visit, Flatford Mill, is one of Constable's subjects. It is a picturesque spot in the meadows of the valley of the Stour, just at the foot of the East Bergholt Hills.–[ED.]
* He became Sir Charles Forbes, and was selected by Lord Winchelsea to accompany him in his duel with the Duke of Wellington.–[ED.]
* "Odious ! in woollen ! 'twould a saint provoke,"
Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke.
POPE, Ethic Epistles.
* Crabbe Robinson in his diary describes Mr Strutt at some length, having been evidently impressed not only with his singularity but with his intellectual power and versatile talent. He quotes some his shrewd but cynical sayings; among others,–"Young man, whatever you be through life, always be of the Act of Parliament faith."–[ED.]
* Mr Strutt indulged in favourite cats. He was convinced upon one occasion that a fine "Tom" was suffering from toothache, and that the tooth should be extracted. But how "bell the cat?" His ingenuity was equal to the emergency; inserting pussy, claws and all, into a top-boot, leaving the head alone exposed, he was able to operate with safety and satisfaction to himself.–[ED.]
* "Joining the Church" is with the Independents a serious and individual profession of faith in Christ, differing in this respect from the somewhat analogous form of Confirmation in the Church of England.–[ED.]
* There is reason to believe that this prayer was answered, and that at eventide it was again light with this conscientious, self-distrusting, and deeply humble spirit. Those who witnessed her constant cheerfulness, and youthful enjoyment of simple pleasures, little suspected this anxiety of soul, especially as she was always reserved in conversation upon personal experience. It is undeniable that some of the most eminent saints have passed through similar spiritual trials, notably Madame Guyon, who for a series of years endured, what she calls, her "state of probation and desolation." But it is happily exceptional in the records of Christian life.–[ED.]
* The "Artist Scholar," as his nephew, Isaac Taylor has called him, in a paper in Good Words (1864), was well acquainted with art, having early studied from the Duke of Richmond's collection of marbles, and in Paris, which he visited in his twenty-first year (1777), the French at that time being reckoned to excel in engraving. He wrote thence letters to the British Mirror, and engraved some works, but his abler brother in this line, Isaac, speaks of him as "having artistic feeling, but no delicacy of tool." He afterwards edited and published several art works, among them, the "Artist's Repository," in five volumes, and the "Oval Plates to Shakespeare." He was burnt out of his house in Dyers' Buildings by the fire at Langdale's Distillery, at the Gordon riots. He afterwards became librarian to the London Library, the books being in his own house in Hatton Garden. At seventeen [Page 154] he saw on the top row of his father's books, Calmet's "Dictionnaire Historique et Critique de la Bible," and "began to talk about it, how he admired it, and how he should like to republish it." This was the great work of his life; he was translator, commentator, and illustrator, but never acknowledged it, always speaking of the editor as a third person. It has been well termed "a stupendous monument of literary industry." His memory was admirable; whatever he had once read, he never lost. "I have heard him," (writes his brother) "repeat the circumstances of a naval engagement, read in the papers years before, with all the commanders' names, number of guns, &c." The above particulars I have chiefly taken from notes on the family history by my grandfather.–[ED.]
* "The superstitions of the heart also were respected among us." ISAAC TAYLOR.
* Their brother Isaac records that the rough copies of "these world-wide compositions were first written on the margins of those engraved plans of fortified towns," which, as explained in a former note, their father had constructed to convey a notion of military engineering to his children. The poems were quickly reprinted in America, and afterwards translated into the German, Dutch, and Russian languages.–[ED.]
* The chairs were a present from Mr Cecil, the mother only being in the secret.–[ED.]
* One evening Colchester was alarmed by a violent explosion in the "Kings Meadows." It was not generally known, but certain of these young experimenters were the cause of it.–[ED]
* A letter from Mr Taylor to a friend illustrates the nature of the evil he had to contend with, a leaven of Antinomianism which seems to have troubled several of the small Essex churches at that time, and which could not brook his earnest exhortations to personal holiness, nor the strict church discipline he enforced. . . . "You shall judge for yourself as to their sentiments and conduct. One of them, when speaking of low frames and worldliness of mind, instead of being humbled and ashamed, took his comfort thus:–'If God don't choose to give me grace for better living, how can I help it?' They commonly held that a believer ought not to pray for the pardon of sins, because they are already pardoned; and when reminded of the practice of the apostles, had the insolence to reply that if the apostles did not understand their own doctrines better, that was no rule for us ! Now, as they held also, that it was of no use for a sinner to pray at all, because unable to any spiritual exertion, they shut out prayer for pardon entirely."
In another letter he defends his large understanding of the gospel.
"An attempt has been made to narrow the term 'gospel' to a few peculiar points. But the Scriptures are everywhere against it. Christ went forth preaching the gospel of the kingdom, but neither did his Sermon on the Mount, nor in general his other discourses, refer to these peculiar points, though now and then he enlightened his friends, or astounded his adversaries, [Page 189] by deeper doctrines, and foundation truths, relating to. the system of saving grace. Nay, Paul was not a gospel preacher if this false principle is to be a rule. . . . The 'gospel ' is a large word. It is a glorious system of doctrines, and precepts, and threatenings, and promises. The term 'gospel' is applied to all these. I am as much preaching the gospel when I am exhorting to holiness, as when pointing to the blood of Jesus; as surely so when handling a duty, as when exhibiting the promise of the Spirit to fulfill it. If their rule were a sound one, it would shut out from pulpit exercises the greatest part of the Bible. Many important stories are suited to our edification in the historical parts, but they do not involve the points which some think should always appear. The treasure of pious experience in the Psalms will be shut out, as only a few of them are prophetic of Christ. How small a portion of the four Gospels refer to these specific truths ! Nay, three quarters of every Epistle must be neglected. Far be it from me to slight the Word of God in this manner. There are also many things relating to Providence, to the Word, to affliction, to the world to come, which would not satisfy such people. Nay, many points of the saint's deepest experience will be destitute of this main material, if in so narrow a form the 'Gospel' is to be regarded."–[ED.]
* The same friend at whose house they had been entertained on their first arrival at Colchester sixteen years before.
* The Review was supported at that time by several able writers, amongst whom may be named Robert Hall, John Foster, and Olinthus Gregory. It was in its pages that the merits of Washington Irving were first recognised in England through an article upon "Geoffrey Crayon," contributed by Isaac Taylor, jun.
* The year of her death, in the eighty-fifth of her age.
* Perhaps these lines, learnt in childhood, suggested to Heber the motive of his noble hymn,I praised the sun, whose chariot rolled
On wheels of amber and of gold;
I praised the moon, whose softer eye
Gleamed sweetly through the summer sky–&c.
* John Stuart Mill remarks that the new system of education seems to be, "training up a race of men who will be incapable of doing anything which is disagreeable to them."
* "Sandford and Merton," and Mrs Trimmer's "History of the Robins," dedicated to the Princess Sophia, are full of the same feeling, and were in the highest repute.
* Spelt in Doomsday Book, Angra. From the castle, once a place of considerable note, it appears sometimes as "Ongar de Castrum."
* The whole party had made themselves so useful and so beloved that when they left they were presented with an address, expressive of the affection, the gratitude, and good wishes of the members.
* The circumstances recall the manner in which Colonel Hutchinson's affections were attracted towards the unseen lady who afterwards became his wife. In her own charming narrative, Lucy Hutchinson tells how "he grew to love to hear mention of her," and "began to wonder at himself that his heart, which had ever entertained so much indifference for the most excellent of womankind, should have such strong impulses towards a stranger he never saw. And certainly it was of the Lord (though he perceived it not), who had ordained him, through so many providences, to be yoked with her in whom he found so much satisfaction."–"Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson," p. 57.
* The expression "hand in hand," had a double reference,–first, to a picture painted by their father of the two girls at the ages of nine and eight, standing together in the garden at Lavenham; and next, to a poem suggested [Page 265] by the picture, which Ann had addressed to her sister in 1806, commencing with the following stanzas;–Spring, summer, autumn wind their dance,
Old winter hobbles near,
And verging round the blue expanse
Declining suns appear;
The seasons vary,–but we stand
Dear girl, as ever, hand in hand.
The violet blossoms but to fade,
The virgin green of spring
Soon deadens to a deeper shade,
The birds forget to sing;
All nature varies,–all but we,
And here, still hand in hand we be.
And hand in hand we travel on,
The lovely change to trace;
To mark when one sweet flower is gone,
Another fill its place;
And with a rapt delight pursue
Each simple line that nature drew.
. . . .
The two heads engraved for this work are taken from the picture.–[ED.]
* Her mother describes the parting to the brother and sister at Ilfracombe. "The grand, the harrowing scene is over, and we have parted with our dear Ann ! The separation was so agonizing to me that the poor man was viewed rather as a depredator than as the kind guardian to whom I was going to commit my child. When she was seated in the chaise, her eye roved from window to window of the house, and rested with unspeakable expression on that of her own room. As it drove along the chase-way she stood up, and we saw her dear hand waving to us till she disappeared."
* A suburb of Rotherham, in which the College was situated.
* The "Orator Hunt" of that day.
* Characters in Miss Edgeworth's tale, "Patronage."
* The Emperor Alexander of Russia, at the time of the visit of the Allied Sovereigns to England.
* Her own article was a review of Miss Hamilton's "Popular Essays;" the subject of her husband's, "Faber on the Holy Spirit." He, like Foster, greatly admired Bp. Horsley.
* Drawn by her brother Isaac during her visit to Ongar.
* It was the tale eventually published under the title of "Display," and which went through three editions in six months.
* "I thank the goodness and the grace."
* "Come let us now forget our mirth."–The two first named humns were her own.
* Her brother Isaac Taylor once remarked in reference to the comparative piety of the two sexes, that nothing was more rare than a conversion to God of women who had reached maturity without that great change; whereas, with men, thoughtfulness and consequent piety were frequently of late growth. If in early years the feminine affections had not been drawn heavenwards, he considered the case all but hopeless, and that the supposed preponderance of piety among women was therefore doubtful.
* The passage referred to was the following–
Regions of intellect, serenely fair,The suggestion of the elder sister was not, it seems, adopted by the younger.
Hence let us rise, and breathe your purer air.
There shine the stars! one intellectual glance
At that bright host,–on yon sublime expanse,
Might prove a cure;–'Well,' say they, 'let them shine,
With all our hearts,–but let us dress and dine.'
† Lady of the Lake, Cant. V., 19.
* During that period her father, mother, and her sister Jane, were all removed to another world.
* Writing of this visit in the Memoirs of his sister, many years afterwards, Isaac Taylor remarked of the dissenting congregations he then became acquainted with–"There was intelligence–there were habits of reading–there was the listening to noted preachers–Robert Hall, the prince of them, which altogether raised some of these societies to a level, as to thought, taste, and knowledge, which no other religious communions of the time had reached."
* Baskets full of proofs might be collected from the "workroom." The small book referred to was a little square volume of Bible illustrations and letterpress, the joint work of father and daughters.
Due to the age and condition of the book, many of the leaves of which are broken, it was possible to lift out individual leaves which contained illustrations, for scanning. The title page is an example of the damage found throughout the book. The page was broken off, so that the initial letters of two lines were missing. These have been added to the scanned image, based on the title page information described in The Taylors of Ongar: An Analytical Bio-Bibliography by Christina Duff Stewart, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York & London, 1975.