A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter I." by Isaac Taylor, Jr., of Stanford Rivers
Publication: Taylor, Isaac. The Writings of Jane Taylor, In Five Volumes: Volume I, Memoirs and Poetical Remains.. Boston: Perkins & Marvin, 1832. pp. 13-27.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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MEMOIRS
&c.


CHAPTER I.

INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD AT LAVENHAM.

JANE, their second daughter, was born September 23, 1783, while her parents resided in London. From her birth, and during the first two years of infancy, her constitution seemed so delicate, and her health so precarious, that it was hardly expected she would survive that critical period. But happily, before she had completed her third year, Mr. Taylor removed with his family into the country, and from that time she appeared to take a new possession of life; and soon acquired the bloom and vivacity of perfect health.

His engagements as an artist being such as allowed him to reside at a distance from London, Mr. Taylor gladly availed himself of this liberty to establish his fast-increasing family where the same means would procure a much larger amount [Page 14]  of comfort than in London; and where health, and all the best enjoyments of life are much more likely to be secured. It was in the summer of the year 1786, that my father and mother, with their two little girls, removed to Lavenham in Suffolk. Ann, the eldest, was then in the fifth, and Jane in the third year of her age; and were therefore able to enjoy with their parents the simple pleasures and extended comforts of their new habitation. Accustomed as she had been to the narrow bounds, and to the many restraints of a London house, Jane's spirits broke forth with unusual emotions of pleasure amid the ample space, and the agreeable objects that now surrounded her.

Very soon after her removal to the country, Jane displayed, not merely a healthy vivacity and child-like eagerness in the amusements provided for her by her fond parents, but an uncommon fertility of invention in creating pleasures for herself.–It was evident to those who observed her, that, even from her third or fourth year, the little girl inhabited a fairy land, and was perpetually occupied with the imaginary interests of her teeming fancy. "I can remember," says her sister, "that Jane was always the saucy, lively entertaining little thing–the amusement and the favorite of all that knew her. At the baker's shop she used to be placed on the kneading-board, in order to recite, preach, narrate, &c. to the great entertainment of his many visiters. And at Mr. [Page 15]  Blackadder's she was the life and fun of the farmer's hearth. Her plays, from the earliest that I can recollect, were deeply imaginative; and I think that in 'Moll and Bet'–'The Miss Parks'–'The Miss Sisters'–'The Miss Bandboxes,' and 'Aunt and Niece,' which I believe is the entire catalogue of them, she lived in a world wholly of her own creation, with as deep a feeling of reality as life itself could afford. These lasted from the age of three or four, till ten or twelve. About the latter time her favorite employment, in play time, was whipping a top; during the successful spinning of which she composed tales and dramas, some of which she afterwards committed to paper. She would spend hours in this kind of revery, in the large unfurnished parlor, at our own house at Lavenham. But I think I may say that the retiring character of her mind–a morbid sensibility towards things and persons without, as well as much refined feeling, operated to prevent a due estimate being formed of her talent, till much later in life. I need not tell you, that they were never made a show of to any body. But timid as she was in and about herself, she had the courage of enterprise in the service of those she loved;–she was, you know, the presenter of every petition for holydays and special favors, and the spirited foremost in every youthful plan."

This early and unusual activity of the imagination Jane afterwards lamented. "I do believe," she says, "that this habit of castle-building is [Page 16]  very injurious to the mind. I know I have sometimes lived so much in a castle, as almost to forget that I lived in a house." Had she continued in London it is probable that, with the dim impressions of a sickly frame, and the sombre dulness of surrounding objects, the imagination would have continued in its germ till it had been quickened by the feverish excitements of riper years. But surely there is a better hope for the character when this faculty expands during the innocence of infancy, and amid the fair scenes of nature; for these first pure impressions tend to preoccupy the fancy, and to give a lasting direction to the tastes.

The house occupied by Mr. Taylor at Lavenham was situated in a street of detached dwellings, of a humbler class than itself, at the outskirts of the town. These cottages were inhabited chiefly by the poor employed in the woollen manufacture, which, at that time still lingered in this neighborhood, where it had formerly greatly flourished, The scene which this street exhibited on a summer's day, forty years ago, is now hardly anywhere to be observed. The spinning wheel was planted on the foot-way before every door, and the females of each family wrought in groups of young and old together. Perhaps it ought not to be much regretted that industry has ceased to be picturesque; but surely the common enjoyments of life were less incompatible with the severities of labor then than they are now, among those who [Page 17]  spend their long days in close ranks, around the steam engine.

My father's house was sufficiently spacious to afford apartments in which the children might be left to their amusements without restraint. A pleasant, and rather large garden adjoined the house: it was open towards the country, and a long and wide grass walk, reaching its whole length, was terminated at the upper end by an arbour, in the oldfashioned style, and at the other by a haw-haw; beyond which were pastures, a rugged common, and more distant corn-fields. In this garden the sisters were very early companions in song: and they were wont, before the eldest was six years old, to pace up and down the green walks, hand in hand, lisping a simple couplet of their joint composition.

From the time of their removal to Lavenham, Jane and her sister were indulged with a small room, not used as a nursery, but given up to them as their exclusive domain, and furnished with all their little apparatus of amusement. And either abroad, or in this apartment, they learned to depend upon their own invention for their diversions; for it was always a part of their parents' plan of education to afford to their children both space and materials for furnishing entertainment to themselves. And so much were they all accustomed to exercise invention, for filling up agreeably the hours of liberty, that I doubt if ever their [Page 18]  father or mother was applied to with the listless inquiry–"What shall I play at?"

Jane became, at this time, so much known among neighbors and friends, as "a most diverting little thing," that her company was courted, and herself flattered in a degree that would have injured the disposition of most children; and it is not affirmed that she was wholly unhurt by it; but with all her spirit and vivacity, such was her timidity, that no feeling of vanity or obtrusiveness seemed to be produced by these attentions.–She received the plaudits of her audience at the baker's shop, or in the farmer's Christmas party, much in the same way that she afterwards heard the expression of public favor:–both might give a momentary stimulus to the exertion of her talent; but neither the one nor the other impaired or disturbed her native and habitual diffidence. This early celebrity did not fail to excite the watchful fears of her parents; and so far as it was possible to prevent it, Jane was restrained from thus furnishing amusement to the neighborhood, at so great a hazard to her simplicity. But a fast-increasing family unavoidably left her at times under the care of servants, who were gratified at having so much talent to exhibit.

At what age precisely, Jane began to write verses and tales, I have not been able to ascertain. But some pieces have been preserved which, there is reason to believe, were written in her [Page 19]  eighth year. Even a year or two earlier, it is remembered, that she had furnished her memory with histories, which she used to recite with such variations as the inspiration of the moment might suggest. And though, of course, no idea of the kind had ever been given her by her parents (and no other persons had access to her who would have thought of any such thing), yet it seems that, as soon as she began to write at all, she cherished the ambition of writing a book. Most of her childish scribblings have the form of something prepared for the public: I have before me, of this early date, prefaces, title-pages, introductions and dedications: among these the following is so characteristic that I shall venture to produce it. It appears to have been written in her tenth year.–

PREFACE.


To be a poetess I don't aspire.
From such a title humbly I retire;
But now and then a line I try to write;
Though bad they are–not worthy human sight.

Sometimes into my hand I take a pen,
Without the hope of aught but mere chagrin
I scribble, then leave off in sad despair,
And make a blot in spite of all my care.

I laugh and talk, and preach a sermon well;
Go about begging, and your fortune tell:
As to my poetry, indeed 't is all
As good and worse by far than none at all.

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Have patience yet I pray, peruse my book;
Although you smile when on it you do look:
I know that in 't there's many a shocking failure;
But that forgive–the author is Jane Taylor.

It was perhaps a year later that she addressed to her father the following

PETITION.

Ah dear papa! did you but know
  The trouble of your Jane,
I'm sure you would relieve me now
  And ease me of my pain.

Although your garden is but small,
  And more indeed you crave,
There's one small bit, not used at all,
  And this I wish to have.

A pretty garden I would make,
  That you would like, I know;
Then pray, papa, for pity's sake,
  This bit of ground bestow.

For whether now I plant or sow,
  The chickens eat it all;
I'd fain my sorrows let you know
  But for the tears that fall.

My garden then should be your lot;
  I've often heard you say,
There useful trees you wish to put,
  But mine were in the way.

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But for the most part, Jane confided her productions to no one except her sister; and the extent to which she indulged the propensity to write, at this early age, was unknown to her parents. Indeed the habit of scribbling was purely spontaneous; and never cherished by encouragement from her father or mother. The whole intention of their plan of education was to fit their children for the discharge of the ordinary duties of life, and to elicit or to display talent was far from being their ambition. A home education having been early determined upon, was systematically pursued, through a course of years. Jane and her sister spent a part of every day with their father, receiving from him the rudiments of that education of the nature of which I shall have occasion hereafter to speak; and a considerable part with their mother, who, from the first, made her daughters her companions, treating them, and conversing with them as reasonable beings. They were accustomed to attend and to assist her in every domestic engagement, learning at once the reason and the practice of all that was done. In the afternoon and evening, while employed by their mother's side, subjects of all kinds, within the range of their comprehension, were discussed. These conversations were at intervals relieved by singing hymns–a practice which tends, insensibly, to blend all the best and happiest emotions of the infant heart with the language of piety.

It was especially the practice of their mother in [Page 22]  her treatment of her children, to avoid every thing like manoeuvering or mystery, as well as all unnecessary concealment of the reasons of her conduct towards them. She confided in them as friends; and at the earliest time at which such ideas could enter their minds, they were acquainted with their father's affairs; so far at least as was necessary to qualify them to sympathize in every care, and to induce them to adapt their own feelings and expectations to their parents' means. This plan, moreover, preserved them, as far as children can be preserved, from the temptation to practice those petty artifices which debase the mind, and benumb the conscience.

As it formed a material part of Jane's intellectual education, I may here mention a custom adopted by her mother a year or two before the time of which I am now speaking–that of reading aloud at every meal. Her hearing being so far defective as to prevent her from freely taking part in conversation, she had recourse to a book that the social hours might not be hours of silence. By constant use she acquired the habit of taking her food with little interruption to the reading; and only on occasions of extreme ill health was it ever wholly suspended. This practice, while it was a solace and delight to herself, and in some degree enabled her to forget her misfortune in being shut out from free intercourse with her family–to them proved, directly and indirectly, highly beneficial, especially in preventing unprofit- [Page 23]  able conversation, in cherishing a literary taste, and in imparting, without labor or cost of time, a great mass of information:–and the choice of books was always made with a view to the pleasure and advantage of the younger members of the family.

No part of Jane's character was more prominent and distinguishing than her susceptibility of feelings of tender, generous, and constant friendship; this disposition displayed itself as early as her propensity to write; and seemed, indeed, to awaken her talent.

Her affection for her sister was of the liveliest kind; but besides this intimacy, she early found a companion who became the object of a more than child-like regard. Ann and Jane W. were respectively about the same age as Ann and Jane Taylor: their parents were distinguished in their circle by good sense, superior education, and excellence of character. Their large family, of which Ann and Jane were the youngest members, was remarkably well-ordered and intelligent. The four girls, with the full acquiescence of their parents, became very constant companions; and continued to be so till the removal of this family from Lavenham.

My sister always thought herself peculiarly happy in her friendships; and this early intimacy, though soon to be dissolved, prepared her for the enjoyment of some that were more lasting and important in after-life. [Page 24] 

It was with a much more lively sorrow than most children of ten years old would have felt on such an occasion that Jane parted forever with her friend Jane W. Mr. W., though a man of grave manners, settled habits, and remarkable sobriety of judgment, and though bound to his country, if not by other feelings, at least by extensive connexions, and large mercantile concerns, broke away from all to establish himself with his family in New England. And in this instance the voluntary banishment proved more fortunate than many that took place at the same time. An occasional correspondence was continued between my sisters and their young friends for upwards of twenty years. I will here introduce a monument of Jane's warm attachment to her first friend, written in her eleventh year: it breathes the spirit, that has always distinguished her.

TO MISS JANE W.
ON HER LEAVING ENGLAND.

Alas! it must be,
  My ever dear Jane,
You must part with me:
  We must not meet again.

Accept then, my dear,
  These verses from me,
Although I do fear
  Far too mean they be.

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I love you, believe,
  My Jane and my friend!
How much should I grieve
  If our friendship should end.

But this cannot be,
  Believe me sincere,
Though th' Atlantic sea
  Should part us, my dear.

Remember your Jane,
  When alone in the grove:
Forget not her name;–
  She will ever you love.

You soon sure will find
  A friend that is new:
Don't push Jane behind,
  But remember her too.

Adieu, then, my friend;
  The thought gives me pain;
My love shall not end;
  So remember your Jane.

In the winter of the year 1792, the comfort of the family and the education of the children were, for a long time, interrupted by the dangerous illness of their father. Throughout the season of affliction their mother's thoughts and cares were almost entirely confined to the chamber of sickness. For, during many weeks, her husband's recovery seemed to herself, and to his medical attendants, very improbable; and long after the [Page 26]  immediate danger had passed away, he required not less the incessant attention of his anxious partner, who never willingly left him for an instant to the care of hirelings. In these months of sorrow and fear, the children, now five in number, were therefore unavoidably abandoned to the neglects and the improper treatment of servants. And not only was the course of their education interrupted, but their mother was tortured by knowing that their minds and manners were exposed to those evil influences from which, hitherto, her vigilance had, in so great a degree, preserved them. Nevertheless, she had then, as she has ever had, this comforting reflection, that it was not by their mother's fondness for dissipating pleasures that her children were ever exposed for a day–nor an hour, to the society of servants.

Soon after Mr. Taylor's recovery from this illness, being obliged to leave the house he had hitherto rented, he purchased, and nearly rebuilt one adjoining to it. In this new abode family order and comfort were soon restored. The house was commodious, and the garden promised to become all that could be wished; and being in part newly retrieved from the waste, afforded the pleasures of formation and improvement. The storm of affliction having passed away, a fair sky seemed to smile upon the distant future. But this agreeable prospect was soon changed; and a sphere of new duties was opened, by the indications of Divine Providence, to my father's [Page 27]  christian zeal. The particular circumstances which lead to this change belong not to my subject;–they were, however, such as made him think it his duty to abandon the comforts with which he had just surrounded himself, and to comply with the wishes of a dissenting congregation at Colchester, to become their minister. Early in the year 1796, he removed to that town, with his family, and assumed the pastoral care of the society assembling in the meeting-house in Bucklersbury-lane.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom