A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter VIII." 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. 123-135.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom



TOWARDS the close of the year 1810, Mr. Taylor resigned his ministerial charge at Colchester; and about the same time of the following year, removed with his family to Ongar, having accepted the invitation of the dissenting congregration in that town to become their pastor. During the time in which the place whither her father might remove was uncertain, Jane writes thus to a friend.–

"It is a strange sensation to survey the map of England without an idea of what part of it we are to occupy. Yet perhaps we feel less anxiety about it than you may suppose. Not to be further removed from London than we are now, is our chief solicitude; and to be nearer would be very desirable; more especially on account of being able to see our dear brothers more frequently. For my own part, might I choose a situation, it [Page 124]  should be a very retired one among plain good people, whom we could love:–a village, not a town. My love of quiet and retirement daily increases; and I wish to cultivate this taste:–it suits me, and does me good. To part with our house here–the high woods, and the springs, will cost me a struggle; and more especially my dear quiet attic. Might I hope to find such another in our next encampment, I should be less uneasy."

Allusions to the expected change of abode occur in other letters written during the same year, and the commencement of the next.


Colchester, August 10, 1810.

I doubt not, my dear L., that you will agree with me in regarding it as one of the severest lessons we have to learn in the world's school, that our dearest friendships are liable to painful drawbacks;–that in those whom we are most disposed to love and revere there is usually something also to forgive. We can survey the world at large, and contemplate its faults and follies with comparative indifference; but with what painful reluctance are we too often compelled to confess, with regard to our nearest connexions and our dearest friends, "I have seen an end of all perfection." You will think this, my dear L., rather a strange sort of salutation after our recent intercourse, and conclude perhaps that it is by [Page 125]  way of exordium to a letter of censure, or at least of friendly reproof. But that, I confess, is not my present design:–I was going to add, if you had not interrupted me, that if such unwelcome discoveries are so distressing, it must be proportionably delightful and consolatory when, in some rare instances, increasing intimacy produces increased esteem, and gives a greater solidity to affection. And such, my dear L., has been the happy result of my late visit with you: I may venture to tell you so, because I believe we understand each other, and should equally disdain to give or receive flattery. In you, dear L. and S., I have friends whom I think it an honor and a privilege to love; and their returned affection I value as one of my greatest blessings. It would indeed be childish and romantic folly to speak or think thus of new-made friendships; but I think ten years' happy experience will justify it. Our friendship has indeed been of slow growth, and has been reared with some difficulty; but I think it is on that account the more vigorous and healthful. Now I hope it may defy blights and storms; and that it will continue to thrive till placed beyond the reach of either. I have much to thank you for, my dear L.,–much for your active kindness; but still more for the silent eloquence of your example.–You have done me more good undesignedly, than you could intentionally; but as this subject would carry me pleasantly on to the end of my paper, I must check myself; and I [Page 126]  am sure you have been inclined to check me before. However, what I have said is only honest simple truth; and I felt too much to be quite silent on the subject.

I should be rejoiced to think that the circumstances of our future lives would be more favorable than heretofore, to the cultivation of our friendship. Present prospects indeed seem to render this improbable. Yet we know not how, or where our lot may be ordered; and I do hope, however, remotely we may eventually be situated, we shall never cease to cherish a lively affection for each other.

I regret that I have never answered your last truly kind and excellent letter. I little thought then, that an interview would take place before I could reply. I wish, dear L., that it were in my power to answer it in the way that would afford you the most pleasure.–A cloud overshadows my mind; should it ever be dispelled, with what pleasure should I commune with you, and all my friends, on the subject that ought to be most interesting to us. I am ready to think that I should then be able to conquer that reluctance which too often seals the lips, even of sincere Christians, and rejoice in free, unreserved communication. Yet I dread falling into the unfelt technicality of religious conversation. But do not let me discourage you, my dear friend, from making this the principal subject of your letters. If I am at all more in earnest in the pursuit of the best [Page 127]  things than in the days of my vanity, I may chiefly attribute the change, under the Divine blessing, to the example and precepts of my pious friends. I think I may venture to say, that I never receive one of their letters that does not make some desirable impression–transient indeed, yet beneficial. In this number I am sure I may place your last, which has frequently been reperused in my hours of retirement, with pleasure and advantage.

I am looking forward with the greatest pleasure to your promised visit. Nor will I allow, dearest L., that even if it were to happen at the time of our expected family meeting, you would be thought an intruder. Indeed I must say, that if ever we regarded any friends with that kind of confidence and affection which is current in one's own family, you and S. may claim that distinction. Perhaps you may be the last visiter we may receive at Colchester:–it does seem at last as if some important changes must take place in our family. Our dear brother's leaving us was the first signal, though we did not then perceive it; from that hour we might have bid adieu to the many uninterrupted years of quiet family happiness with which we had been indulged. Yet I am well persuaded it is all for our good. * * *


Colchester, March 14, 1811.

My dear L.

Not to be behindhand with you in generosity, I take this whole sheet, although I have so re- [Page 128]  cently despatched one. But I will not promise to fill it; or if I do, it must be with mere chat. Yet as I feel disposed to say a little more than a note ought to contain, I do not see why I should not follow the impulse. How melancholy would be our banishment from friends, if it were not for this delightful substitute for personal intercourse; it is indeed a privilege which, though so common, ought to be regarded with thankfulness. I often think, when enjoying it, of what I used to repeat when I was a good child–

"Then thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding,
Who taught me betimes to love writing and reading."

There are indeed many times when letter-writing appears a very slow and insufficient means of communication: I have felt it so often since you left us, when I have longed for such a kind of tete-a-tete as tete alone, cannot enjoy. But whether or not I shall ever be indulged with more of your much loved society than heretofore, I hope this channel of communication will never be cut off. * * * * * * * *

* * * It is vain to wish there were no alloy in the pleasures of friendship; yet I cannot help wishing that, however the weeds of the field may carry on hostilities, the lovely flowers of the garden would never raise a hostile thorn. But, dear L., we know this world would be far too pleasant if we met rebuffs and crosses only from foreigners: we can all say with David, "If it had been mine enemy, I could have borne [Page 129]  it." What smooth, pleasant afflictions we should have, if we chose them for ourselves! and what temples of idolatry would our hearts then become! God knows where to strike, and how severe soever the chastisement may seem, we are well assured that–

"Crosses in his sovereign hand,
Are blessings in disguise."

TO MR. J. C.

Colchester, April, 1811.

* * * In the present unsettled and uncertain state of our family affairs, you may perhaps imagine that I am able to think and write of little else; but I am indeed surprised to find so little perturbation occasioned by them. There was a time when such events would have excited strong emotions of interest and anxiety, and when I could not have believed that I should ever contemplate such changes with composure. But now I have lived long enough to feel assured that life is life, every where, and that no material augmentation of happiness is to be expected from any external sources. Care, I know, will both follow and meet me, wherever I may go–even should I be transplanted from this cheerless desert, into the bosom of my dearest friends. Friendship, so far from its availing to shield us from the shafts of care, does but render us vulnerable in a thousand points. Yet, notwithstanding many anticipated troubles, there are times when I regard the [Page 130]  possibility of a reunion with my dear brothers, and of joining the beloved circle from which we have hitherto been banished, with feelings of real delight. But our future destination is still so uncertain, that we have no distinct feeling, or very decided wish on the subject. When the idea of our leaving Colchester was first started, I desired nothing so much as a still more retired situation–I longed for the seclusion and tranquillity of an insulated village. A few months, however, have produced a great change in my views, if not in my wishes. Yet I believe it would be but too easy, even now, to persuade me to relinquish other projects, fraught as they are with anxiety and danger, to take refuge in some "holy shade," where I might welcome that "silence, peace, and quiet," for which I feel my heart and soul are made.

Though the harassing circumstances of the last year have driven poetry and its smiling train far from my thoughts, yet I am not forgetful of the kindness which prompted you to speak a word of cheer to a fainting muse. I know I cannot better thank you for your excellent, but long neglected letter, than by saying it has fully answered the kind intention of the writer. What do you say then to my being quite convinced:–shall I tell you that I am thoroughly satisfied with my talents and attainments, and feel an agreeable confidence in my own powers; and that, however injured by envious contemporaries, I am convinced that [Page 131]  posterity will do me justice? Do not you believe it? Well then, shall I tell a more probable story, and say, that in this respect at least, I have learned to be content with such things as I have; and that I have in some degree subdued that unworthy ambition which exposes one to mortification and discontent? Fatiguing and sickening is the struggle of competition. I desire to withdraw from the lists. But if this be all, you may still think your friendly endeavors were unavailing. You did not, I am sure, expect that your letter would make any material alteration in my opinions and feelings; yet it was cheering and encouraging:–I assure you I felt it so, and therefore you will not think your pains unrewarded. As a source of harmless, perhaps even salutary pleasure to myself, I would not totally despise or check the poetical talent, such as it is; but it would be difficult to convince me that the world would have been any loser had I never written verses (such I mean as were composed solely for my own pleasure.) I do, however, set a much higher value on that poetical taste, or rather feeling, so far as I have it, which is quite distinct from the capability of writing verse; and also from what is generally understood when people say they are very fond of poetry. But while I desire ever to cherish the poetic taste, I own it appears to me to be as little my duty as my interest, to cultivate the talent for poetry. With different sentiments I am compelled to regard my own share in what we [Page 132]  have published for children;–the possibility of their fulfilling, in any degree, the end desired, gives them importance, and renders future attempts of a similar kind, a matter more of duty than of choice. I dare not admit all the encouraging considerations you have suggested; nor can I fully explain what I feel on this subject. That "such reflections are not of a nature to inspire vanity," is true indeed.–No; I desire to be humbled by the thought; a consciousness of unworthiness makes it hard for me to indulge the hope of being rendered instrumental of the smallest good. * * *


Colchester, June 28, 1811.

* * * What a pity it is that language should be so much abused, that what is really meant requires to be printed in italics! Of this the poet has most to complain. He feels, and perhaps his whole soul is filled with a passage which ninety-nine of his hundred readers, at least, will peruse without emotion. This struck me in reading the first line of Thalaba–"How beautiful is night," which may be read without leaving the smallest impression. I read it so at first; but returning to it, and endeavoring to enter into the feeling with which it was written, I found it to be–"How beautiful is night!" and I discovered in these simple words all those inexpressible emotions with which I so often contemplate the dark [Page 133]  blue depths, and of which, even Southey could say nothing more striking than–"How beautiful is night!" * * *


Colchester, August 20, 1811.

Having a leisure evening, the last probably before our removal, I devote it to fulfilling my promise to write to you once more from Colchester. Yes, we are really going; and in a few days the place that so long has known us, shall know us no more. Before I quit this scene of the varied interests of my childhood and youth, I ought to give my mind a long leave of absence, and send it back leisurely to revisit the past–to "recall the years in exile driven, and break their long captivity;"–but in the hurry of the moment, the feeling of it is lost; and even if I could afford to send my thoughts on this retrograde excursion, and "up the streams of time could turn my sail, to view the fairy haunts of long-lost hours," I ought not to ask you to accompany them; for they would stay to contemplate scenes and gaze on faces unknown and uninteresting to you. I can invite my friends to sympathize in my present interests, and to survey with me my future prospects; but of that fairy land they could only discern a line of blue distance; while to me, "Here a cot, and there a spire, still glitter in the sun." But a melancholy and sentimental retrospection is an unprofitable indulgence–a kind of luxury which, perhaps, I have no right to allow to my- [Page 134]  self. Let me rather, if I have time for contemplation, take a more humbling and painful survey; and, reviewing the sins and follies of childhood and youth, resolutely say, "The time past of my life shall suffice to have wrought them." But I want energy to commence a new career. Whether my mind will recover vigor under new circumstances, or will faint under the exertion I have in prospect, remains to be seen: it is a fearful experiment.

Here I sit in my little room: it looks just as it always did; but in a few days all will be changed: and this consecrated attic will be occupied (how shall I tell it you!) by an exciseman; for his wife observed to me, when surveying the house–"Ah, this room will do nicely for my husband to keep his books in:"–well, I shall take with me all that has rendered it most interesting; and as to the moonshine and the sunbeams that will continue to irradiate its walls, I would not withhold them from this son of traffic, although they will never kindle a spark of poetry in his eye.

* * * My good friend, be not too confident in your scholarship: you may be master of all the learned languages, and yet a very dunce when you endeavor to decipher the hieroglyphics inscribed on a female heart. If you have a taste for puzzling studies, there are the Babylonish bricks for you, which have hitherto defied so much erudition:–but there would be a chance of success in attempting to decipher them. * * * [Page 135]  * * If I were qualified to offer the most judicious counsel on subjects where, in fact, I can but reason from distant analogies, I should still doubt whether, recalling the attention of a too interesting object, might not be productive of, at least, a counterbalancing evil. But indeed it is not my part to admonish you: were I to attempt it, I could adopt no better plan than that of making large quotations from your own letters; and then exhorting you "to mind what the gentleman says." If I feel a kind of confidence that your hope will not be blasted, it is by no means founded upon any outward appearances, which indeed at present afford no clue to conjecture; but rather on that cheerful dependance on the Divine guidance, and humble submission to the Divine will, which characterize your feelings on this subject. That promise seems to justify such expectations, "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass:–He shall give thee the desires of thine heart." Yet it may be dangerous to refer too often to such a ground of hope, lest our very submission should become interested. * * * *


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom