A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter XIII." 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. 200-213.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 200] 

CHAPTER XIII.

VISITS–RESIDENCE AT ONGAR, AND AT HASTINGS.

THE consequences of the great and long sustained excitement occasioned by writing the Essays in Rhyme, upon my sister's health and spirits, were such as seemed to render change of scene, and complete relaxation, necessary. She therefore determined to spend some part of the ensuing summer in Yorkshire. We left Marazion in the month of June, 1816; and after an agreeable journey of a week, reached Masbro' near Rotherham, where Mr. Gilbert then resided. This visit afforded the most delightful and beneficial relaxation to her mind, by yielding her both the lively enjoyments of a renewed intercourse with those most dear to her; and the pleasures of an introduction to the very intelligent and agreeable society of that neighborhood.

Six weeks were thus pleasantly passed in Yorkshire: in August we returned to Ongar, after an absence from home of nearly three years. In this interval my father had left the Castle House, and removed to a farm-house a short distance from the town: with this house, and its garden, my sister was delighted, and felt the highest pleasure–a pleasure altogether congenial with her character, in being once again in seclusion, with those [Page 201]  she most loved. Her feelings in this return home are described in a letter of this date:–


TO MISS A. M.

Ongar, Aug. 28, 1816.

* * * Your welcome letter found me at Sheffield, and arrived when I was in a party of agreeable friends; but I gladly stole away for a short time to give it a hasty perusal, reserving for the first leisure hour a more careful one. It was indeed welcome, and truly gratifying to me, my dear friend; and for all the kindness it breathes, I thank you sincerely. But why have you neglected to fulfil your promise of telling me something of yourself–body and mind? I can only gather from one expression, that you have been unwell; but to what extent, I am left to conjecture. Do not fail in this respect again; but remember what I have often told you, that the surest way of making your letters interesting, is to let them contain particulars respecting yourself. I shall be severely punished indeed for having made "Egotism" the subject of one of my "Rhymes," if it should influence any of my friends to refrain from those communications, on which the interest of a friendly correspondence entirely depends. In truth, I have found it one of the inconveniences attendant upon making one's opinions public (and I assure you these inconveniences are not few) that others are apt to suppose one is always on the watch for those failings that have been cen- [Page 202]  sured; or that the censure or raillery was directed against some individual. I assure you it is much more from a knowledge of my own heart, than from observation on the failings of others, that I have been impelled to write on the subjects I have chosen.

I wish this fine morning I could take a turn with you in your pleasant garden, and talk instead of write; or rather, if wishing were of any avail, I would wish that you could take a turn with me in mine, which I think you would enjoy. I must however, tell you something of our movements. We staid a fortnight longer with Ann than we proposed; the time passed pleasantly, and we were unwilling to part. I think, however, you, who know my taste for retirement, and my dislike of general company, would have pitied me if you had seen the continued bustle of visiting with which my time was occupied. The contrast with our mode of life at Marazion was as great as it could be: perhaps the total change of scene was what I needed.

On the 13th of August we left Rotherham, and in a few days reached our dear paternal home, after an absence of three years. It was indeed a joyful meeting; and when, that evening, we once more knelt around the family altar, I believe our hearts glowed with gratitude to Him who had permitted us thus to assemble in peace and comfort, and had disappointed all our fears. Here we are again in complete retirement; and a [Page 203]  sweeter retreat I do not wish for. We are nearly a mile from the town, and surrounded with the green fields. The house is an old fashioned place, with a pretty garden, which it is the delight of my father and mother to cultivate; at the door is a rural porch, covered with a vine. Here we are rarely interrupted by any one; and although only twenty miles from the great world, we enjoy the most delightful seclusion. The rooms are large and pleasant, and the whole has exactly that rural air which we all so much admire. * * *

During this visit at home, Jane and her mother projected a work to be executed conjointly, in the form of a correspondence between a mother and her daughter, at school. These letters were commenced at Ongar, and completed at Hastings, where we passed the whole of the following winter. The composition of her part of these letters, together with her stated contributions to the Youth's Magazine, furnished her with just so much literary employment at Hastings, as was consistent with her health, which had materially suffered by the too great exertion she had made the preceding winter. She now devoted a much larger proportion of her time to reading, than at any former period. The usual consequence of much reading she soon felt and regretted; namely, a great indisposition to the exertion necessary for writing. And, indeed, after this time, she never again surrendered herself fully to the excitement necessary for productive efforts of the mind. [Page 204] 

The months passed at Hastings, were passed in complete seclusion from society:–it was, however, to my sister an agreeable winter; for though she could relish the pleasures of general society, when they came in her way; they were what she never sought or wished for, when deprived of them: and, of the society of her dearest friends, she had long been accustomed to be deprived. With the pleasures of regular employment, books and fire-side comforts, she was ever satisfied and delighted. Writing to her sister from Hastings, she says:–

"We have had a peaceful, comfortable winter: all I have wanted to make it as comfortable to me as formerly, was the same interesting employment. In the prospect of returning to Ongar, I feel keenly the pleasantness of the situation, and the affection of my family. The former is much more to me than you would imagine from what you saw of me in a much finer country. There is a composure of mind, and freedom from excitement, which is essential to my enjoyment of the country; and its being then the time of the Essays coming out, together with all the bustle and variety, totally destroyed that composure; but I can truly say–

'I would not for a world of gold,
That nature's lovely face should tire.'
And though the time of romance is over, I rejoice to feel in myself an increasing capability of intellectual pleasure. Excuse me, dear Ann, [Page 205]  for this pure egotism, and for reflections which, to you, surrounded by so many pressing realities, must seem trivial. But to none of my married friends, except you, can I write of my own interests, without feeling that I am intruding upon theirs. I feel, in writing to them, that they are married. But I except you, dear Ann, not only because you are a kind sister; but because you retain the enthusiasm of other days:–you are not hardened and blunted by the world."


The leisure enjoyed by my sister at Hastings was employed in maintaining intercourse with her friends.


TO MISS M. H-E.

Hastings, December 10, 1816.

If you knew the glow of pleasure and affection with which I take up my long-neglected pen, every suspicion of neglect which my silence may have occasioned would be dispelled. I know of few things that would give me greater pleasure than your taking a place at our new fire-side; and as the best substitute for that unattainable pleasure, I do hope you will, as soon as compatible with your engagements, let me receive another of your interesting, and ever-welcome epistles. * *

* * * Here we are enjoying as much comfort as I expect in this world. Our lodgings are pleasanter than those we occupied at Marazion. We are close to the sea; and all the [Page 206]  rooms command a full view of it. Hastings, however, affords by no means the quiet seclusion which we there enjoyed. In summer, of course, it is crammed with Londoners; and even through the winter many families remain; so that the walks, though very picturesque, are continually invaded. * * *

I think my last was written from Sheffield. We soon after took a painful leave of our dear sister; and returned, after three years' absence, to Ongar. Oh, what a pleasure it was to be welcomed by kind parents to a home! Nothing could exceed their kindness and indulgence all the time we were there; and after so long an interval, we knew how to value this affection. They thought me not looking well; and it has been my dear mother's constant business to nurse me up again during my stay. Our house stands alone in a pretty country: it is an old farm house–more picturesque than splendid, and therefore it suits both our tastes and our fortunes. I enjoyed exceedingly the three quiet months we spent there: all my love of nature returned in a scene so well adapted to excite it; and it was delightful to see our dear father and mother enjoying, in their declining years, so peaceful a retreat, and wishing for no other pleasures than their house and garden, and their mutual affection afford.

Although I have dwelt so long upon our affairs and adventures, I must a little longer continue the same strain, to thank you for the generous and [Page 207]  candid praise you have bestowed upon my last volume. I do assure you that the sensible and sincerely expressed approbation of the friends I love is far more gratifying to me than that of a world of strangers: and from you I feel especially pleased to receive this approbation; because the book contains some lines with which you must be so far from pleased, that nothing but genuine liberality could enable you to judge favorably of the remainder. I would that my spirit were as catholic as yours! * * *


TO MISS E. M.

Hastings, March 7, 1817.

* * * As I feel obliged to my friends for remembering me ever, I do not complain, though I may regret a long silence. Of all things I dread having to do with affrontable people; and therefore have always endeavored to avoid this disposition myself. Besides, as, in the present instance, I am chargeable with a long silence, I have no right to find fault with you. That feeling of self-importance which leads one to make a large demand upon the recollections and attentions of friends is gradually cured by time and experience, if not by good sense and reflection: and altogether it is, I hope, pretty well damped in me. For a few weeks during the last summer, I felt much pleasure in the thought of being once more within reach of you; but that plan was abandoned, and I have now little expectation of [Page 208]  seeing North Devon again. It is a country I shall always remember with interest, both on account of the friends I found there, and because it was the first romantic country I had ever seen; and that first vivid impression is such as will never be effaced. I am glad however that my North Devon friends are not fixtures, like its hills. * * *

I am sorry to hear of the unpleasant circumstances at —. People will never understand that it is not religion, but irreligion that causes these mischiefs. If "the children of God are peace-makers," surely the breakers of peace cannot claim him for their Father. I remember Miss —, and she was what you describe. I knew one in still humbler life at — of the same sort. She was a servant in the house we occupied there for a few months;–a methodist, and of such slender abilities that she could rarely understand a common order, till it had been repeated once or twice: yet she was indeed "wise unto salvation." Her conversation (perfectly unaffected and unassuming) was, on religious subjects, enlightened and edifying. Her plain face beamed till it was beautiful with christian love and peace. I remember her with affection and respect. How strange it seems that in christian societies so few should be found who thus "adorn the doctrine they profess in all things." Nothing is more discouraging than such a state of things. But, in one sense, we have nothing to do except with our- [Page 209]  selves. If our own lamps be not burning, we might find better employment than to lament the lukewarmness of others.

How strange that those who know they must die, should ever feel indifferent about the future world! It is one of the strongest marks of a depraved nature–one of the greatest wonders of the present state. I have sometimes thought that more might be done than is commonly attempted in education, to familiarize the idea of death to the minds of children, by representing it as the grand event for which they are born; and thus making a future state the object of their chief interest and ambition: perhaps something more might be done;–but after all, we know and feel, that nothing but the mighty power of God can overcome the earthliness of the mind, and give it the discernment of things spiritual. * * *


TO MISS A. M.

Hastings, March 18, 1817.

* * * This fine weather reminds me strongly of Marazion. I look at the sea, and sometimes fancy I am on the shores of Mount's Bay; and sometimes wish myself on board one of the vessels we see passing down channel, which might in a few hours convey me to those from whose society I am separated. But though this may not be, the time is fast coming when there will be only a dark river to pass, in order to unite us. The indistinct ideas we have of the unseen world, [Page 210]  render it difficult to derive so much pleasure from such thoughts as they are fitted to yield. Yet when we recollect how soon this fearful stream must be forded, it is surprising that we can feel deep interest in any thing beside. But alas! our eyes are beclouded, and not so much by the fears of death, as by the cares and interests of life; at least it is thus with me. The longer we live, the more we see of the weakness, deceitfulness, and vanity of our hearts, and of the inefficiency of outward circumstances to rectify these inward, deep-rooted evils. I used to think, when I was more exposed to the common snares of the world than I have lately been, that if I were but completely secluded from it, I should find it comparatively easy to make progress in the divine life. But I have had the most humbling proofs that the evil lies within. * * *


TO MISS M. H-E.

Hastings, March 18, 1817.

* * * Since I have been here I have looked back with more regret than ever to the short season of my intimacy with you. Until within a few days, I have not conversed with a human being since I came to Hastings, except my brother and the people of the house. The dissenting minister of the chapel died very soon after we came here; since that time there has been no minister settled at the place. We have generally attended at church. Mr. —, whom I mention- [Page 211]  ed to you, has preached, during the winter, in both churches: they have been unusually crowded, and much attention has been excited, at least among the common people; the higher classes complain of his Methodism: he preaches with much earnestness and faithfulness; and it is to be hoped will do good. * * *

I was sure, my dear friend, before your last letter convinced me of it, that, in your present solitude and banishment from external excitements, your mind would grow, and your graces brighten. So that when you are restored to the pleasures of society, you will be prepared to meet its dangers. Ah! it is easier to "keep the heart with all diligence" amongst common, than amongst interesting people, is it not? That the seat of the evil, however, is not in the world without, but in the heart, I have the fullest conviction. It may be wise, indeed, to fly from outward temptations; but if this is all, we do much too little. The experience I have had of life, and of my own heart, renders me (at least in times of sober reflection,) increasingly indifferent with respect to future events. There is certainly this great advantage in having tried several different modes of life, that one can ascertain in what degree circumstances tend to influence the character, and affect the happiness. I have been placed in situations, such as I should have imagined, some years ago, would have made me extremely happy; and now I know that nothing external can do this. And [Page 212]  though there are enjoyments that I have not tried, yet I see others in the possession of them, and I observe in them the appearances of dissatisfaction. Thus I endeavor to check the inquiry which we are all so ready to make–"Who will show me any good?" It is easier even to repress this inquiry, than to conclude the verse with sincerity–"Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon me, and that shall put more joy in my heart."

Have you ever met with any of Madame de Staël's writings? I have just been reading Corinne ou l'Italie, and have been so deeply interested that it seems as though I had gained a new friend. It gives a striking description of Italy:–as a novel, though of deep interest, it is in some respects faulty. But the profound reflections with which it abounds–displaying the most intimate acquaintance with the human heart, and the most just and elevated taste for nature, and the fine arts, form its distinguishing merit. She is said to be, and I can believe it to be just, the first female writer in Europe. You may judge how much the book interested me when I tell you that, lazy as I am, I made many pages of extracts from it. I have however, had forbearance enough not to read another novel of hers which is in the library here; for indeed, I have felt the enervating effects upon the mind of reading in succession several works of the lighter class. I have, however, with the one exception mentioned, abstained from novels: but too much poetry produces [Page 213]  an effect of the same kind, and I have lately been taking tonics; that is, reading Robertson's histories of Scotland, and of Charles V. I am now reading the life of Mrs. Carter, in which, though there is much literary trifling, which is to me extremely disagreeable, yet I find what repays one for the perusal. I think you would be pleased with it, as her taste and talents were so much of your order.

Do not be discouraged with regard to your qualifications for teaching, because you find the work laborious, and your pupils sometimes incorrigible. I believe it is your fort. But your being "apt to teach," cannot always make your scholars apt to learn.

It was mere forgetfulness at the time, that I did not give you the history of the Lascars, and of the interesting wreck which happened a few days after you left us. I fully intended to do so, but forgot it when I next wrote, and now it is too much out of date. Poor Andrew, the sick stranger, remained three months under the care of Miss M. She was entirely the means of restoring him to life; and she sent him away completely equipped by her own hand. * * *

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom