A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter V." 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. 64-80.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

CHAPTER V.

EXTRACTS FROM CORRESPONDENCE.

ABOUT this time commenced that series of deaths among her earlier young friends, to which frequent allusion is made in Jane's letters. The death of the four lovely sisters, of whom mention has already been made, was succeeded by that of several other endeared companions. But while early intimacies were thus dissolved, the more important and more lasting friendships that had now been formed, were strengthened, and became every year the sources of more pleasure and advantage. The summer months were always enlivened by visits from some of our young friends; and the records which I find, among my sister's papers, of these social enjoyments, show that she derived from them both the liveliest delight, and the most important benefits. The interruption occasioned by these visits to ordinary occupation, was not much greater than was need- [Page 65]  ed to recruit the spirits, and to prepare the mind for the unremitting application of the winter months; for as soon as evening walks were no longer practicable, the labors of the pen were eagerly resumed; and, till the returning summer, rarely suspended.

Her letters to her young friends will best exhibit her feelings, and describe her employments at this period.


TO MISS S. L. C.

Colchester, December 20, 1805.

My dear L.

IF four or five years ago you had suffered so long a chasm to be made in our correspondence, I should doubtless have indulged in some such painful soliloquy as you have prepared for me; or perhaps in a yet more touching and plaintive strain. But now, enjoying all the sober rationality of mature age–now, having happily past that wild and fanciful season, by some denominated the "silly age "–or, at least, being a degree or two more rational than I was then, I feel far more disposed to attribute the long intervals to which every correspondence is liable, to some of those thousand nameless hindrances which every day presents, and to that inconvenient spirit of procrastination of which most of us more or less partake, than to declining affection, to fickleness, or to affront. Perhaps it may have occurred to you in the course of this long period, which I fear has nearly put you out of breath, that I have been [Page 66]  speaking one word for you, and two for myself:–it would be very unfair for you to suppose so; but even should your supposition be just, you will allow that to afford another person one-third of a good thing, that might have been all one's own, is no mean proportion. But now it will be making a poor return for all this generosity, if you should become more than ever remiss in your communications; and then make yourself easy by thinking that Jane will only impute it to "some nameless hindrance, or an inconvenient spirit of procrastination."

But now for your grave and appropriate question, namely–"What do you think of this famous victory?" To which, after due consideration, I reply–Why pray what do you think of it? for I make little doubt that we have thought much alike on the subject. Should you however question this, and suppose that my humbler ideas have not stretched to the same height as yours, I will convince you of the contrary, by endeavoring to recall some of the reflections that were inspired by this "famous victory." And first, I thought that–it was a very "famous victory;" did not you?–and besides this, and much more, I thought a great many things that the newspapers had very obligingly thought, ready for me. Well, but to speak in a graver strain; and if you are disposed to hear what I have really thought about our late glorious victories;–why, read on:–

Now, impressed with the idea that my private [Page 67]  opinion could in no way affect the public weal, I have allowed myself to form one, without restraint; well knowing that I might vainly endeavor to pluck one leaf from the hero's laurel, even if I were disposed to do so, which I assure you I am not. For every one who performs his part with zeal and success, claims respect:–and who can deny that Nelson has nobly performed his? But tell me, is the character of the warrior in itself to be admired? or rather can it be loved? From what motives does a man at first devote himself to the trade of war? Do you not think it is more often from a desire of glory, than from patriotism? And now, though I have often endeavored to discover what there is either amiable or generous in the love of glory, I have never yet been able to discern it. I cannot tell how or why it is a less selfish principle than the love of riches. Is not he in reality the truest patriot who fills up his station in private life well–he who loves and promotes peace, both in public and private, who knowing that his country's prosperity depends much more on its virtue than its arms, resolves that his individual endeavors shall not be wanting to promote this desirable end? And is not he the greatest hero who is able to despise public honors for the sake of private usefulness–he who has learned to subdue his own inclinations, to deny himself every gratification inconsistent with virtue and piety, who has conquered his passions, and subdued his own spirit? surely [Page 68]  he is "greater than he that taketh a city," or a squadron. If the great men of the earth did but act on these principles, our heroes would be sadly at a loss for want of employment; I fear they would be obliged to turn to making ploughshares and pruninghooks.

Now, perhaps, you will call me an ungrateful creature; but really I think I am not so. Though, certainly, I have not joined without some secret misgivings of heart in the unqualified plaudits that have sounded from all quarters. If so many brave men must be sacrificed, I heartily rejoice that the dearbought victory was ours. But how is it possible, while we regard them not merely as the machines of war, but as immortal beings, to rejoice without sorrow and dismay in the result of the rencontre? * * *


TO THE SAME.

Colchester, February 12, 1806.

* * * IN truth Jane Taylor of the morning, and Jane Taylor of the evening, are as different people, in their feelings and sentiments, as two such intimate friends can possibly be. The former is an active handy little body, who can make beds or do plain work, and now and then takes a fancy for drawing, &c. But the last mentioned lady never troubles her head with these menial affairs;–nothing will suit her but the pen; and though she does nothing very extraordinary in this way, yet she so far surpasses the first-named gentlewoman, [Page 69]  that any one who had ever received a letter from both, would immediately distinguish between the two, by the difference of the style. But to drop this ingenious allegory, I assure you it represents the truth, and I am pretty well determined not again to attempt letter-writing before breakfast. For really I am a mere machine–the most stupid and dronish creature you can imagine, at this time. The unsentimental realities of breakfast may claim some merit in restoring my mental faculties; but its effects are far surpassed by the evening's tea:–after that comfortable, social, invigorating meal, I am myself, and begin to think the world a pleasanter place, and my friends more agreeable people, and (entre nous) myself a much more respectable personage, than they have seemed during the day; so that by eight o'clock, I am just worked up to a proper state of mind for writing. If you are liable to these changing frames, you will not only excuse and feel for me, but heartily acquiesce in my resolution of now putting down the pen until the evening.

"It is now indeed, evening, and several days have passed since I wrote the foregoing; and I do assure you that nothing but the fear of being unable to fill another sheet in time for my father's departure, should prevail with me to send you so much nonsense. I often reproach myself for writing such trifling letters; but it is so easy to trifle, and so hard to write what may be worth reading, that it is a sad temptation not to attempt it. * * * [Page 70] 


TO THE SAME.

Colchester, May 8, 1806.

My dear L.

I have just been taking a solitary turn round our pretty garden, on this most lovely evening; and glad should I have been to have enjoyed it in company with my dear L. But as this was a fruitless wish, I thought I could do nothing better than return to my desk, and spend an hour with you in this way. Ann and a young friend who is come to stay with us while father and mother are absent, are going to enjoy this serene sky abroad; but I have determined to forbear that pleasure, for the sake of enjoying even this imperfect intercourse with you.

My dear L., much as I love London for the friends it contains, I think my delight in country scenery increases every year; and while I occasionally cast a wistful look towards places where I feel a heart interest–feeling as if imprisoned in this uncongenial spot, yet, when I contrast smoke, and noise, and darkness, with the smiling landscape, and the clear sky, and all the beauties of a country walk, which is here always within reach, I forget my privations of other kinds, and acknowledge that "the lines are fallen to me in pleasant places." I doubt not that, if I live, the time will come when I shall look back to our social evening walks here with rapture–or perhaps with agony! I am sure I shall never know happier days than these, though now indeed I am [Page 71]  not without my anxieties; but oh! how much deeper anxieties may I have to encounter! When I look without, and observe the portion of affliction which is distributed to others, and more especially when I look within, and see the mass of vanity and world-mindedness which perhaps can be dispelled only by affliction, I assure you I tremble; and while I look around on my many, many comforts–not, I hope, without an emotion of thankfulness–I feel the wisdom of enjoying them now: one link broken in the dear family chain, and the happiness I now enjoy could, I think, never be entirely restored–and oh, how soon may it be snapped! What a wide field for anxiety and distress is a large family, to every member of which one's happiness seems to cling. Yet we know they are but "short comforts borrowed now, to be repaid anon." In this light I would ever desire to regard them with a feeling of grateful pleasure as to the present, and of cheerful resignation for the future.

I feel much gratified, my dear L., by the many expressions of affection contained in your last letter; this is the sweetest music I can listen to. The voice of affection is distinct from that of flattery; and I hope the former will ever be more delightful to me than the latter. To merit the esteem of the few individuals whose esteem I believe myself to enjoy, is my constant wish, and almost my highest ambition. I do not know why I have said almost, for I know nothing more de- [Page 72]  sirable–nothing which could make me more truly happy.


TO THE SAME.

Colchester, Sept. 24, 1806.

Good morning to you, my dear L. But if you are, as I conjecture, enjoying the last grateful slumber, believe me, I intend not to disturb you; though I own it seems a little hard that I should be employed so early (for it is only half-past seven,) for your amusement and instruction. And moreover, that I may have all the praise that belongs to me, permit me to assure you, that I have been up this hour, or more, and have done a great deal of business; while you, perhaps, have only been struggling with an obstinate dream, that at last has left you, with all its delusions, to awaken no wiser or happier than you were yesterday. If this has been your case, I heartily sympathize with you, for often has my evil genius thus tormented me; though, in truth, I have no great right to complain of him, since I must allow that, in my waking dreams, I have not unfrequently practised the same species of torture upon myself.

But to be serious, my dear L., I do believe that this habit of castle-building is 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; and while I have been carefully arranging aerial matters there, have left all my solid business in disorder here. To be perpetually fancying what might be, makes us forget what we really [Page 73]  are; and while conjuring up what we might have, we are negligent of what we really possess. You will perceive I am recollecting youthful follies–do not suppose, I beseech you, that I now indulge in these childish reveries. At my age, you know, I go soberly on, doing my proper business in its regular routine.–Will you believe that I ever suffer my thoughts to wander from the employment of my hands? If, for example, I am making tea–I think about the tea, the tea-pot, the water, the sugar, the cream, the bread, the butter, and the plate, all in regular succession; then of the company, when it is proper to make the customary inquiries–and think you, at any other times? In short, I am now a discreet personage, having left all the follies of sixteen far in the back-ground.

If you remembered Eliza S. in health, you were, I dare say, much shocked by the alteration. Poor L. is also on her journey; whether she will ever reach Exeter is doubtful; if she do, I fear she will survive her arrival a very short time. You are now witnessing the progress of this complaint in your cousin. Let us hear continually, when you write, how she is. E. and L. make six of our immediate friends whom we have attended in this disorder! besides many others not so near to us, who have gone in the same way. That I, who am certainly delicate, have stood so long, and under many disadvantages, is more than might have been expected; and I hope excites [Page 74]  thankfulness. I have for some time felt as if waiting for my turn. To hear only that one of my friends has a cough, alarms me now; and I look round upon them all with an anxious eye–which of them am I next to lose? * * *


TO MISS E. F.

Colchester, December 6, 1806.

* * And now will you allow me to call in question the accuracy and justice of some of your opinions, though formed, as you assure me, on the accumulated experience of "three score years and ten."–I will not accuse you of doing the world injustice, for even the peep I have had at it convinces me it is, as you say, "deceit and wickedness;" but surely there are some honest souls–some who are disinterested, open-hearted, and affectionate;–at least if it is not so–if those whom I have long thought it my greatest happiness to love, and whom my unbiassed judgment has taught me to respect and venerate–I ought rather to suspect and fear–I do not wish to be undeceived; I would rather be imposed upon ever so often, than endure the torture of a constant state of suspicion and jealousy.–Yes, my dear E., you must not deprive me of the pleasure of believing I have a real share in your affections; you must still allow me to think of you as a friend, without indulging a fear that you will violate the sacred title. The best use, I think, that we can make of the many instances of dupli- [Page 75]  city and insincerity which every day brings before our view, is to learn thereby to suspect ourselves;–here, indeed, we cannot be too watchful, or too accurate in our examinations; but, alas! how much easier is it to decide upon the conduct and motives of others, than to weigh and analyze our own! and what abundant cause have we for deep humiliation, when we arrive at the springs of most of our best performances.

The result of such reflections as these I have found very satisfactory and decisive: I find that it is quite in vain to attempt to perform any action, to think any thought, or to cultivate any amiable sentiment aright, unless it be done with a view to the glory of God, and with a humble dependance on his supporting hand; this important truth every day brings with fresh conviction to my mind. I have long mourned over my temper, naturally irritable and impatient: I have read of, and I have witnessed examples of uniform sweetness and meekness of temper, which have at once made me blush at my own deficiencies, and stimulated me to those exertions which others have successfully made in conquering their evil propensities; I have therefore resolved to make a noble stand against the risings of my temper, whatever provocations might occur:–but, alas! how feeble were these resolutions!–perhaps they yielded to the very first attack, and the work was all to be done anew. What then [Page 76]  was to be done: must I give all over; and suffer my ungoverned temper to prevail? No;–but I must first seek assistance from one whose "strength is made perfect in our weakness," who is as able to still the storms of passion, as to say to the raging waves, "Peace, be still;"–I must not hope to be able to resist the temptations to anger or fretfulness of one short day, if I have not in the morning of that day, prayed to be enabled to overcome evil. One had better forget to say, "Give us this day our daily bread," than to put up the fervent petition, "Lead me not into temptation."

But this is not all:–He who searches the heart will not afford me strength to overcome my temper, unless he sees a right motive urging me to attempt it: if I wish to be amiable for the same reason that I might wish to be accomplished, or beautiful; that is, that I may be admired, or beloved, or respected; can I hope for success? Oh no:–If I be not actuated by a humble desire to obey the commands of God, to follow the bright example of Jesus Christ, by a hatred of all that is sinful, and an ardent desire to be "holy as he is holy," I must still strive and pray in vain. How does this increase the difficulty of the work, and show the absolute necessity of divine assistance! not that I think a modest wish to please can be sinful; indeed, without it, how can we ever expect to please; but this must [Page 77]  not be the grand spring of action, unless we would prefer the approbation of our fellow creatures to the favor of God. * * *


TO MISS S. L. C.

Colchester, October 12, 1807.

* * * In the conversation we had together at Nayland, you may remember we lamented the trifling style into which we too often fall in our correspondence. It is undoubtedly a real evil, though a very common one: as in conversation, so in writing, it is easier to chat than to converse: it is easier to be witty than wise. One can fill all sides of a sheet without stopping a moment, in such a way that one is quite ashamed to peruse it when done. If the mind is fatigued or in an uncomfortable frame, what a labor it is to think! and at such a time one is under a strong temptation to give the pen a full license–curbing it neither by reason nor conscience; and what a range will it take when thus left to itself! But my dear L., is not this making that useless, or at best a mere diversion, which might be highly beneficial? And is not a similar fault often chargeable upon personal intercourse? So seldom as we meet, and so short as are our interviews, what a pity that they should be trifled away! Whenever we have had a friend with us, I sigh to think that so few of the hours in which we have had their company have been occupied by any thing like im- [Page 78]  proving conversation. For our own parts, I think the fault may, in great measure, be traced to our taste for drollery. I have frequently regarded this propensity as a misfortune: especially as it is so rarely overcome. I am sure, my dear L., you have seen enough of it, and of its consequences, to make you think very much as I do on this subject. Does not a jest frequently put a stop to an interesting conversation, or dissipate a train of useful reflections! And do not droll turns of expression, or humorous associations, occasionally interfere even with our most serious engagements? Have not these ideas frequently occurred to you? But to what does all this tend? Why I hope to an endeavor towards reformation:–at any rate I will try this time to write a letter without trifling.

In your last letter you just introduced the subject which ought to be more interesting to us than any other. It is strange indeed that those who are united in the bonds of friendship–as I hope, my dear L. we are, and ever shall be–and who profess to be journeying together on the same pilgrimage, towards the same happy home, should so rarely exchange a word relative to the difficulties and dangers of the way, and to the hope of future rest. It is strange; yet it is what we see every day. That unfortunate reserve which closes the lips of so many people on the subject of religion–Whence does it proceed? What [Page 79]  other subject is there, however delicate, but what is sometimes introduced? But here our lips are sealed. I believe we do ourselves a great injury by indulging this temper. For my own part, though I believe few people feel this reluctance more powerfully than I have done, it has not been the cause of my silence so often as the discouraging or uncomfortable state of my mind. Oh could we but feel as much as we know of the importance and excellency of religion–could we but retain a just impression of the vanity of even the most important of our earthly pursuits, how different would be our manners and our conduct! But seeing things, as we do, only through the medium of our beclouded senses, every object is distorted or reversed.

I have lately been reading Dr. Watts's discourses on the happiness of separate spirits; it is impossible to peruse them without feeling an elevation of mind, above the trifles of earth–without being inspired by the desire "to see and taste the bliss:"–but oh, how soon is the mind sensualized again–even before one fleeting hour is passed! How does the world flow in upon it again, after it has been for awhile abstracted! * * * *

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom