A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter III." 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. 36-50.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom



EVERY means of habitual instruction, and occasional admonition, were employed by our parents to affect the hearts of their children with religious principles: and there is reason to believe that Jane, very early, received strong impressions of this kind. But being reserved and timid by disposition, and peculiarly distrustful of herself, little was known of the state of her mind. Her imagination, susceptible as it was in the highest degree of impressions of fear, rendered her liable, at times, to those deep and painful emotions which belong to a conscience that is enlightened, but not fully pacified. And these feelings, when blended with the pensiveness of her tender heart, gave a character of mournfulness and distress to her religious feelings during several years. Re- [Page 37]  ligious principles, if thus clouded, must always be less influential than when the mind is in a happier state; for the heart cannot be favorably ruled by fear: yet they were not destitute of influence upon her conduct; and I find, dated in her fourteenth year, records of pious resolutions, and emphatic expressions of the sense she had of the supreme importance of the objects of christian faith. Some unfinished verses, written about this time, were evidently composed under the influence of feelings too strong to allow of the exercise of her poetic talent:–they are interesting as records of deep and genuine religious feeling; but are too rude for publication.

A religious education, meeting with feelings so highly excitable, and at the same time exposed to many fascinations, is likely to produce frequent and painful conflicts between opposing principles, before that peace is obtained which makes religion the source of all that is happy and excellent in the character. Such was, for a length of time, the state of my sister's mind. But I believe that though often perplexed and distressed by seeming difficulties, her conviction of the truth of revealed religion was never materially shaken; and her habitual belief in its reality was full and firm: and in the latter years of her life, I think I may say, it was never disturbed. Every word on the subject of religion, contained, either in her letters to her friends, or in her published writings, was the genuine expression of an unfeigned faith. [Page 38] 

In a letter to a friend, Jane says, "Our early friendships, though they must ever be remembered with interest and fond affection, were little adapted to promote our truest welfare; though to them, indeed, we are indebted for many benefits of a less valuable nature."

With our parents, the only choice at this time was, either to seclude their children from all society; or to allow them such as was within their reach, though not altogether of the kind they would have wished. The first alternative was hardly practicable; and, in admitting the latter, many advantages of a secondary kind were enjoyed. But the effect, upon the minds of young persons, of frequenting the society of those in whose conversation and manners religious principle or feeling does not appear, will almost inevitably be to render what they know of religion the source of uneasiness, and of fruitless conflicts between conscience and inclination: and if, at the same time, much of hollow religionism is witnessed by them, the probable result will be either immovable indifference, or confirmed infidelity. Happily neither of these effects were produced upon the mind of my sister; but instead of them, her religious comfort was impaired long afterwards, by the habit of feeling then formed.

That religion was the subject of her habitual regard, will appear by the following passages from letters of early date:–

"O it is hard fighting in our own strength [Page 39]  against the evil bias of the heart, and external enemies. Their united forces are, I am daily more convinced, far too much for anything but grace to overcome. No good resolutions, no efforts of reason, no desire to please, can alone succeed:–they may varnish the character; but O! how insufficient are such motives for the trying occasions of common life. I would shine most at home; yet I would not be good for the sake of shining; but for its own sake; and when thus I trace the subject to first principles, I find a change of heart can alone effect what I desire; that 'new heart and right spirit' which is the gift of God."

To the same friend, soon after, she writes–

"I am grieved, my dear E., to hear from you so melancholy an account of the state of your mind; I wish I were a more able counsellor; or rather, I wish you would overcome your feelings, and apply to those whose consolations and advice might be useful to you. I can sincerely sympathize with you in all your griefs. I rejoice in having obtained your confidence; and I cannot make a better use of it than to urge you to seek some abler adviser. I speak from experience when I say, how much benefit you might derive from an open communication of your feelings to your dear mother. Well do I know how difficult it is; yet the good to be gained is worthy the effort. You say she is so total a stranger to your feelings, that she even supposes you to be an enemy to re- [Page 40]  ligious principles. If then you consider the pleasure it would afford her to find you seriously inquiring on such subjects, I think you will feel it to be an additional argument for the disclosure. Two or three years ago, my mind was in a state of extreme depression:–for months I had been conflicting with the most distressing fears, and longing to disburden myself to my father: at last I could no longer support myself, and breaking through, what I had thought unsurmountable difficulties, I opened my mind to him completely. It was a struggle; but the immediate relief I experienced fully repaid me; and the unspeakable benefit I have derived from the conversations I have since, from time to time, held with him encourages me to persevere."

"Mr. — was very urgent with me not to give way to that unhappy reluctance to converse on religious subjects, so common to young persons: he says we do not know how much we are our own enemies by this reserve. If I understand you aright, you are giving way to discontent as to your outward circumstances. 'The heart knoweth its own bitterness,' and it is not for me to say you are happy; yet from all I know of you–your friends, circumstances, and prospects, you are one of the last persons whose situation would excite my commiseration. When I feel disposed to indulge discontent or fretfulness, which, alas! is sometimes the case–I always find it a good way to compare myself with the thousands of my fel- [Page 41]  low creatures who are exposed to the miseries of poverty and want;–miseries which I never knew, and in the absence of which, I invent calamities, which the smallest exposure to those real ones would presently put to flight. But these reflections, consolatory as they may be, will not always avail to restore our comfort. Discontent, no doubt much oftener springs from internal causes, than immediately from those that are external: with affectionate friends, affluent circumstances, and while in the possession of all the world calls good, one may be very miserable. Happiness is very much in our own power; for it depends much more upon what we are than upon what we have. But now I cannot help laughing at myself; for at this instant while recommending contentedness to you, I am indulging an internal murmur, and vexing at what I ought to account a trifle; so much easier is it to talk, or to write, than to act!"

The tendency of the education bestowed upon his children by their father, as I have already said, was to give them a taste for every branch of knowledge that can well be made the subject of early instruction. This general taste was greatly promoted among them about this time–that is, when Jane was in her sixteenth year,–by Mr. Taylor's delivering philosophical lectures to a number of young persons who were, in part, his pupils; and which were frequented by many of their friends. The lectures were rendered inter- [Page 42]  esting by numerous graphic illustrations of every subject; and in the preparation of these diagrams, my father was assisted by his children, who were thus familiarized, in the readiest way, with the topics of the lecture. Though Jane's peculiar taste was of a different kind, she entered with the fullest zest into these pursuits; and ever retained a relish for matters of science. Especially for the general and more interesting facts of astronomy, she possessed a genuine taste. Her eye was never indifferent to the revelations of night;–she describes her own feelings in saying–

"I used to roam and revel 'mid the stars:
* * * *
When in my attic, with untold delight,
I watched the changing splendours of the night."

Their father determined to qualify his daughters to provide for themselves the means of independence, in some ways suited to their tastes and capacities, and to his own circumstances. With this view, no plan seemed more eligible than to instruct them in that branch of the arts which he himself practised;–being a line in which several females have succeeded in gaining, not only independence, but distinction as artists. This plan, moreover, offered at the same time the advantage–so highly prized by our parents, of retaining their entire family under the paternal roof; and of carrying on a home education, while provision was made for their future comfort. [Page 43] 

The actual consequences of this plan were not indeed precisely what their father had intended–that of making his daughters artists by profession; for after practising engraving during a few years, engagements and duties of a different kind were opened to them. But the indirect effects of it very plainly conduced to fit them for those engagements; while it secured other important advantages to the family. At the time when four of his children were thus placed under their father's eye, to acquire the knowledge and practice of the arts, they were already imbued with a relish for literary and scientific pursuits; and conversation, which was freely allowed, was often of a kind to promote these tastes, and to keep intellect in activity. During a part of the day some one of the pupils who were under Mr. Taylor's care read aloud; so that the double object was almost constantly pursued–of acquiring the means of independence, and of carrying on intellectual cultivation; nor, at any time did the pressing engagements connected with the first object, wholly interrupt the pursuit of the second.

In this scene of united employment, and of mutual education, was formed that close and endeared family friendship, which was the source of their best enjoyments during the years that the sisters and brothers remained undivided at home; and which continued to be their solace after they were separated. Many passages occurring in the subjoined selection from her correspondence, evince [Page 44]  how fully and how warmly Jane participated in the pleasures of this home friendship. In truth her feelings of this kind were so strong as to form a leading feature of her character; and to require therefore distinct mention.

Lest her engagements with her father should produce a distaste or inaptness for domestic duties, Jane gave her assistance in the family, alternately with her sister: and her mother's solicitude that she should be thoroughly conversant with these employments, was not disappointed; for not even the excitement of her subsequent literary pursuits, ever impaired the domestic tastes and habits she acquired under her mother's care. Jane–far from being the mere literary lady, averse to household concerns,–was not only happy to be occupied with them; but became really a proficient in employments of this sort.

My sister's taste for the arts was such as to make her excel in the lighter branches; and many of her drawings, still in possession of her family, display a true feeling of the beautiful in nature, and a peculiar niceness and elegance of execution: but the business of engraving was not altogether suited to her talent, or taste, and it was relinquished without regret, when other paths of exertion opened before her. In a letter of an early date, she says–"The more I see of myself, and of the performances of others, the more I am convinced that nature never intended me [Page 45]  for an artist: * * * no one can tell how my feelings are excruciated, when I am referred to, or my opinion asked, as an artist.–I look at the girls in the milliners' shops, with envy; because their business and their genius are on a level. I think it is what I shall come to at last."

All the intervals of time between the stated hours of employment in engraving, were carefully husbanded. Early rising was the custom of the family; and the morning and evening hours, during the winter, were employed, either in literary pursuits, or in the maintenance of friendly correspondences;–so that as few moments as can be imagined were lost from the day.

In mentioning family arrangements, and in detailing the lesser circumstances which gave their coloring to my sister's mind, or which may be necessary to be understood, to explain the allusions occurring in her correspondence, it is almost impossible to avoid what I would fain avoid–giving the history of a family along with that of one of its members. In this difficulty I can only throw myself upon the candor of that class of readers whom I would most wish to please–I mean those who, feeling an interest in these minor incidents and descriptions, will not be disposed to impute an absurd egotism to the writer, who must either enter into such particulars, or confine himself to a narrative, too meagre to be either interesting or instructive.

Our pleasures were always of a social kind:– [Page 46]  at intervals, during the winter months, we were accustomed to spend the whole evening together, while my mother read aloud; and each was occupied with some lighter work of the pencil. Simple and easily procured as were these pleasures, they have been remembered with more delight than, perhaps, often follows the most exciting amusements.

In a letter to her earliest friend, Jane W., my sister says–"We continue to pursue our employments with regularity:–seldom or never encroaching on the usual hours. And though we sometimes wish our confinement was less; I believe we enjoy a greater proportion of real happiness than many who live a life of apparent ease and pleasure. We find it is employment that gives recreation its greatest charm; and we enjoy, with a double relish, little pleasures which, to those who are already fatigued with doing nothing, appear tiresome, or uninteresting. When I see people perpetually tormented with ennui –satiated with amusements–indifferent to every object of interest, I indeed congratulate myself that I have not one spare moment, in which these demons can assail me. You, my dear Jane, know the pleasures of industry; and you know that it is essential to our happiness."

To another friend she writes–"I feel with you the approach of winter; and though I have not to apprehend from it the distressing effects which you experience, yet the loss of our delight- [Page 47]  ful evening walks–the desolated garden–the decaying vegetation–the shortening days–all tend rather to depress than to enliven. Yet I have much to love in winter: and I can truly say, I enjoy the hours of quiet industry it always introduces. Ann and I often remark to each other that, whatever agreeable recreations we may occasionally indulge in, and much as we really enjoy them, we are never so happy as when steadily engaged in the room where we engrave: that is our paradise:–you may smile at the comparison; and we know the inconveniences connected with our engagements there; but use reconciles us to them; and experience teaches us that comfort and happiness are compatible with these apparent inconveniences:–we have every inducement to industry; and we are thankful that that which is necessary, is also agreeable to us. We want nothing but a little more society;–one congenial family within our reach would be a treasure: for though we do love each other, and enjoy each other's society greatly; yet there are times when we long to recreate our wearied spirits with an intelligent friend."

During the summer our family parties were carried to some little distance in the country; and indeed, whenever weather permitted, the sisters and their brothers walked together. Jane records in many of her letters the happiness she tasted in these summer evening rambles. They served not merely the purpose of recruiting health and [Page 48]  spirits; but tended greatly to cement the friendship to which the brothers, especially, have thought themselves indebted for the most important advantages. At the same time a taste for the beauties of nature was roused and cherished, by the interchanged expression of delight in these ever-new sources of enjoyment. The superstitions of the heart were respected among us; and birth days were generally given up to social pleasures. Our family, at this time, was much secluded from extraneous society. The circle of my sister's early friends had been broken up, by the death of several of those who formed it, and the removal of others; and an interval of three or four years elapsed, before those friendships were formed of which the letters soon to be introduced were the fruits. During this interval, the family learned to look, almost entirely, within itself for its pleasures. This, while it tended, as has been mentioned, to cherish family affection, must be confessed to have produced a rather exclusive feeling, which was afterwards not easily broken up; and when, subsequently, distant friendships were formed, that were in the highest degree gratifying and exciting, an unfavorable feeling towards less congenial society nearer home, was perhaps increased. In Jane's mind this seclusive feeling was augmented by an extreme diffidence, and by a thousand nice sensibilities, which neither a wider intercourse with the world, nor the measure of public favor she obtained, ever entirely [Page 49]  conquered. To the last, she would always gladly retreat from general society to the bosom of her family; or to the circle of those friends whom she intimately knew and loved. Yet, whatever feelings of reserve might belong to my sister's character, I think it will not be said by any who knew her, that her behavior ever indicated intellectual arrogance, or supercilious indifference towards persons whose worth might want the embellishments of education. Her distaste for vulgarity of sentiment and manners was strong; but virtue never suffered in her esteem from the mere deficiency of mental adornments. In explaining her conduct, on some particular occasion, in a letter to her mother, she says–"At any rate, my dear mother, do not accuse me of a vanity and arrogance which I, from my very heart, disclaim. If, in comparison with some of my friends, others of them may appear less pleasing, or less intelligent, believe me, whenever I compare any with myself, the result is always humiliating. And perhaps nothing is less likely to raise any one highly in my esteem than their 'writing at the rate I do:'–my dear mother, do me the justice to believe that, at whatever crevice my vanity may endeavor to peep out, it will ever fly from the literary corner of my character. I am not indifferent to the opinion of any one; though I never expect to acquire that sort of philosophic serenity which shall enable me to regard the whole [Page 50]  circle of my acquaintance with the same glow of affection, or smile of complacency."

Whenever the health or the interests of those dear to her were at stake, the vigor of Jane's mind was roused;–her diffidence, her reserve, disappeared; and she exhibited not only disinterestedness, but a high degree of spirit and courage. In times of family affliction, the keenness of her sympathy made her actually a sufferer with those who suffered; especially if life seemed threatened, she endured the tortures of tender apprehension, in a degree that always impaired her own health. These dispositions were exercised during the autumn of the year 1801. At that time the scarlet fever prevailed very generally; and was, in many instances, fatal. It entered our family, Jane's elder sister, and three of her brothers being affected by it. DECIMUS, the youngest of them, then about six years old, received the infection at school, and after less than a week's illness became its victim.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom