A Celebration of Women Writers

"Margaret Gatty" (1809-1873) by .
From Parables From Nature, By Margaret Gatty, With a Memoir by her Daughter, Juliana Horatia Ewing. First series. By . London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, Covent Garden, 1885, pp. ix-xxi.


It has been suggested that a memoir of the writer of "Parables From Nature", would accompany a complete edition of the work by which she is most widely known. But, before her death, Mrs. Gatty begged that the partial affection of relatives and friends might never lead them to swell the voluminous list of modern biographies by a record of her life; and neither her judgment nor her wishes are likely to be flouted by those she has left behind. At the same time, her literary work was so essentially educational and domestic in its aim and its effects, and, as a matter of fact, her readers, both at home and abroad, did in such large numbers become her correspondents, disciples, and friends, that it might seem ungracious to withhold so much information about her own mental training and processes of work, as will interest those to whom "the Parables" are old friends, and may help another class whom she would have wished to help–"young readers" (to quote from a preface to one of her books), "among whom, be it observed, are sure to be found a few who aim at doing more than reading what is written,–namely, at writing what shall be read."

From the story-teller of the nursery fireside to the popular maker of many books, authors cannot be watched at their work to "see how they invent;" but those conditions of a writer's life which most moulded his mind, and those (often trifling) incidents which here and there gave the bent to its course, are keys to his art which it is often helpful as well as interesting to hold. And in early youth there is probably no stronger or more wholesome curiosity than to be curious to know how what we admire was done; and whether early, and by what ways, and through how much help or hindrance the doer learned to do it.

It would hardly be possible to speak of my mother's mental training without saying something of her parents. She inherited talent on both sides, and traditions of thought and culture whose influence was strongly marked upon her own.

Her father, the Rev. A. J. Scott, D.D., served as naval chaplain, and was (to quote Lord Nelson's words) "foreign secretary, and confidentially employed with business to foreign ministers" under Sir John Collins, Sir John Duckworth, Sir Hyde Parker, and Lord Nelson, in the memorable years of 1793 to 1805. Unusual talents for diplomacy, the rapidity with which he mastered languages, and a personal charm to which Nelson jokingly alludes in one of his letters as "those winning ways which he so well knows how to use," combined to gain for him from the eminent men under whom he served a degree of confidence and of personal kindness beyond the common.

One form which the kindness of his commanders took was indulgence of the young secretary's passion for amassing books and music–a somewhat inconvenient hobby to pursue when serving with His Majesty's fleet in times of actual or anticipated war. In 1798, when he was with Sir Hyde Parker at Jamaica, he wrote home: "I look upon my collection of books as my greatest hope of future comfort. I am constantly adding to it. I have here with me now nearly 650 volumes." This was independent of what he had already sent home, and of a "large black box" despatched some months before in the "Adventure," whose fate was sadly troubling him. "They were all old books," he says, pathetically; "I cannot think the Custom House has seized them." The chaplain's floating library and artistic tastes were a standing joke on board the ships in which he served. "You are always the same!" said Nelson one day to him at dinner, when the "Victory" with other ships was anchored in the Bay of Rosas. "You would be glad to have a run on shore at Barcelona, and ruin yourself in old Spanish books and curiosities as you have done before. . . . I'll try and indulge you."

A far colder temperament than that of his foreign secretary must have been attached by so sympathetic a nature as Nelson's, and the man "who was the man to love" had no more devoted servant than his bibliomaniac 1 young chaplain. "What will you think of me, who detest this victory?" he wrote to his uncle, Admiral Scott, after describing the battle of Trafalgar, and the price at which it had been won. "It has deprived me of my beloved and adored friend."

After Nelson's death, Dr. Scott's life was spent at home. He was happy in a marriage which was a rare union of sympathetic tastes, and his wife's culture and originality were the more remarkable from her youth. But it was happiness of short duration. She died on her twenty-sixth birthday, when her daughters Horatia and Margaret were only three and two years old. Her husband remained a widower till his death at the age of seventy-two.

In these long years of loneliness and retirement his "collection of books" became as consoling as he had promised himself that they would be. Nor did he cease collecting, though the fields of his explorations were changed from the cities of the Mediterranean to the old bookstalls of English towns. 2 Big cases followed him to his country parsonage, as they had followed him to "my sea-house 'Victory'," as he called her. They flooded the sitting-rooms, and crept up the stairs, and lined a long gallery, and overflowed into the bedrooms.

Such was the parent by whom Margaret Scott was brought up (for he never sent his daughters to school), and it will easily be seen how the qualities she inherited and the surroundings of her girlhood in that Yorkshire vicarage, with its strange book-furnishing, and occasional inroads of great men connected with the great past, explain the unusual breadth in some directions and the limit in others of what she knew and thought. To her father learning had always been a labour of love. He was at Charterhouse and at Cambridge, but in his special lines he owed little, as it happened, to a methodical education. As every book in his library had been bought because he wanted to read it, so his culture was the sum of what he had wished to acquire and had succeeded in acquiring. His general views on the subject of education were in advance of his age; 3 but as regarded his daughters he seems to have felt it not only natural but satisfactory when the little girls pursued their own studies among "the books," and taught their respective dolls according to their respective hobbies.

In one of Mrs. Gatty's stories, an autobiography of a doll ("Aunt Sally's Life"), there is a scene which was sketched from memory:–"The children," says the Doll, "had a table to themselves, in a corner of the drawing-room, and round this we used to be seated every evening to be taught. I am an old creature now, but I recollect a good many of those lessons yet. One of us learnt the geography of Spain, and placed the Duke of Wellington's battles on the map. Another took to Ireland; and I at one time learnt all the Greek declensions, and part of the first verb; but there, alas! I and my mistress stuck fast. My sallow-faced sister even worked the Hebrew characters on a sampler; for, you see, we did not confine ourselves to commonplaces, such as French, arithmetic, &c. but rushed boldly at all sorts of difficulties."

"The Dear Ones," as a well-beloved uncle called them, had another home in that which had been their mother's, and as far as this accomplished and rather eccentric young uncle was concerned it was a great home of hobbies. 4

My great uncle William was dead years before I was born, but I can bear witness to the influence of his memory, though it was not really very often, nor for very long, that my mother was with him. His ghost appears here and there in her tales for children.

"To muse, and brood, and live again, in memory,
  With those old faces of our infancy
  Heaped over with a mound of grass"

is often a temptation to story-tellers.

In one of the "Domestic Pictures and Tales" he appears as a sort of embodied answer to the opening sentence–

"Good, kind bachelor uncles, do you know your power?"

"Not that you are burdened with family responsibility. That falls where it ought to do, on the heads of the parents. Every great blessing brings with it a great duty to temper the impertinence of joy: and that of parents is to watch hourly over the wrong and right in their children, and act accordingly, at whatever cost to themselves. From this your soul is free. For reasons best known to yourselves,–in some cases so infinitely tender, in others as infinitely worldly,–you have denied yourselves the special joy, and having done so, may well claim exemption from the special care, and even congratulate yourselves on the freedom if you will. To a certain extent, indeed, every man is his brother's keeper–but you are not otherwise bound. It is no necessary business of yours to be schoolmastering the little ones who run to you so readily, because "Uncle William is so good-natured, and never scolds." And yet, Uncle William, great is your power! See that you use it well! You are so good-natured and never scold. I repeat it because I know it to be true. You are the same Uncle William now that you were half a century ago, and I take you for my typical man. Little did you dream, however, as you chatted to the baby child on your knee, that at the end of a lifetime the electric wires of an old heart would still vibrate to your influence! . . . It was easy enough to slip off any other knee and change one's mind twenty times in a minute, and be the restless eel-like being children so often are; but with Uncle William this was out of the question. He brought his tastes to bear on you instead of allowing yours to guide him; and if you wanted his companionship you must accommodate your will to his . . . Uncle William didn't like noise, and had certain other peculiar likes and dislikes; but the one thing he couldn't and wouldn't bear at all was family squabbling. In those young days one was sadly apt to contest even for trifles–to want one's own way, and fight one's neighbour to get it. But Uncle William's horror at this was a wonderful check. At the first sign of an outbreak he would cover up his face quite tight with both hands, kick with his feet, and call out to the offenders to stop, declaring he must run away and leave them if they did not. He said it made him ill. And somehow or other–partly because they knew they were wrong, partly because his distress distracted their thoughts from their own grievances–they generally found out they could leave off quarrelling if they chose. . . Soaring books are those he likes best–books the child feels beautiful, though the full comprehension of them may not be possible as yet. . . . Tutors and schools may do much or they may do little, but such an uncle's words and ways are as certain one day to return to the grown-up man as the sun to the eastern sky."

That Uncle William gave the first impetus to the love of drawing, which was an inherited taste from Mrs. Scott, seems probable from another passage. Some lady once asked my mother's advice as to how to inspire a "taste for art"–in children who had a good drawing mistress, but regarded drawing as a lesson, and would "never touch a pencil of their own accord."

"Perhaps a special taste is commonly an inheritance, and the lady had none in that direction. But I did not tell her this. There is no rule on the subject, and all candles want lighting before they can burn. Besides, it was impossible to advise seriously without knowing the individuals; so I answered, laughing, 'You must get them a bachelor uncle who loves drawing himself. The fire spreads fast enough then, and four years old is not too soon for the first passion for art.'"

Whether her "bachelor uncle" introduced my mother to "the paradise of London, the print-room at the British Museum," I don't know, but the substance of a good many of his lessons is incorporated in another of her tales, "My Childhood in Art," which begins: "I was a girl of ten years old when I first heard the print-room at the British Museum mentioned." The enthusiasm with which this charming national collection is spoken of in the tale was very genuine, and her studies there influenced her own style of drawing, and probably led her to what, at one part of her life, was a very favourite art–that of etching on copper. A set of her etchings has long been in the print-room collection. They show that her taste had a strong bent towards the German school of landscape artists, and this was probably confirmed by the fact that the only "drawing-master" she ever had was German.

But it was not in that art alone that her sympathies were very German. The influence of German literature on some of her writings is obvious, and probably had its beginning in an early fit of hero-worship for Miss Elizabeth Smith, whose precocious and unusual acquirements she was stirred to emulate, and whose enthusiasm for Klopstock she caught. The fly-leaf of her copy of "Smith's Remains" has (in her handwriting) the date 1820, with her name as Meta Scott; a form of her own Christian name which she probably adopted in honour of Margaretta–or Meta–Klopstock, and by which she was well known to friends of her youth.

Another accomplishment had its origin in hero-worship, but this time the influence was not German. She was an exquisite caligraphist, and long before illuminating was "fashionable," she illuminated on vellum; not by filling up printed texts or copying ornamental letters from handbooks of the art, but in valiant emulation of ancient MSS., designing initials, reproducing the ancient "strawberry" borders, and with the gold raised and burnished as in the old models. I do not know when she first saw specimens of the old monkish work, for which she had the deepest admiration; but it was in a Dante fever that she had resolved to write beautifully, because fine penmanship was among the accomplishments of the great Italian poet. To Dante she dedicated some of her first successful efforts in this line. When she was seventeen she began to translate the "Inferno" into English verse, and each canto was fair-copied in exquisite writing, and had an illuminated cover of appropriate design. But this and many other hobbies of head and hand belonged to, or at any rate were begun in, early youth. The two directions in which she laboured hardest, and perhaps found most happiness–literary work and natural history–were things of much later date.

In 1839 she married the Rev. Alfred Gatty, D.D., of Ecclesfield in Yorkshire, where the remainder of her life was spent.

Mrs. Gatty was, as she says of someone else, "an amateur in the proper old original meaning of the word," and threw too much love into her hobbies to have been likely, in any circumstances, to "drop them after she was married." But her marriage, like that of her parents, was founded upon congeniality of aims and pursuits, and her work met only with additional help and encouragement in her new home. All her books were published afterwards; indeed, it is useful to remind young aspirants towards literary fame that she, as well as some greater authors, began to learn early, but only began late to teach. She was but eleven (as the date in the book shows) when Elizabeth Smith's life and the translations from Klopstock roused her ambition, but she was forty-two years old before her own first book was published.

It was a collection of tales, each of which (after the fashion of her mind) was a slight story gathered round a strong idea. The one first written, "Joachim the Mimic," taught (with a directness worthy of Miss Edgeworth) the weak side of caricature. Joachim, who has long enjoyed a reputation founded upon being able to mimic the grotesque faces of one schoolfellow, the stutter of another, and so forth, is suddenly called upon by a wiser friend to show what the handsome boy looks like, and how the best speaker speaks, and in the chagrin of his failures to represent the admirable, awakes to a sense of the abuse of his powers of imitation and the cheapness of their fame. The tale which gave its name to the book–"The Fairy Godmothers"–was written to illustrate a theory on which she had certainly every right to speak–that a love of labour is one of the few reliable recipes for happiness. The plot was the old one of fairy godmothers who make experiments by various gifts to discover (what has puzzled fairies from time immemorial) how mortals can be made content. In this story, as in others, beauty, riches, and illimitable power fail, but the godchild who is happy whatever happens proves to have been dowered with the "Love of Employment."

This book was published in 1851, and was followed in 1855 by the first series of "Parables from Nature," with illustrations, by my mother herself. For some years she had been pursuing a special branch of natural history with a zest that grew with the growth of the fine collection of sea-weeds and zoophytes which she has left to the daughter who worked with her. Her "naturalist" friends were many. To Dr. Johnston, of Berwick-on-Tweed (author of "British Zoophytes," "British Sponges," &c. &c.), she dedicated the first volume of the "Parables," but their correspondence was by no means confined to the special branches of science in which it had originated. She was deeply interested in the comparatively recent introduction of chloroform, which was still looked upon with far greater suspicion in England than in Scotland, and was, even where it was used (so Dr. Johnston maintained), far less satisfactorily administered. Intense sympathy with human pain, almost unlimited hopes for the possibilities of science, and a quite unbounded faith in the "tender loving kindness" of GOD, made her mind equally impatient with the prejudices of scientific people in their slowness to welcome new discoveries to help the suffering, and with those of the unscientific people who regarded such help as an interference with the regular ways of Providence. In the teeth of opposition of both kinds, but firmly supported by my father, she converted and instructed our village doctor by means of letters from Dr. Johnston, and took chloroform from him herself as a first step to the introduction of its use into the neighbourhood. He died shortly afterwards, and was, through her efforts, succeeded by a favourite pupil of Sir James Simpson himself–now a well-known London physician–and the triumph of the new "boon for poor humanity" was complete.

But her friendship with Dr. Johnston was soon cut short by death. The second edition of the "Parables" was dedicated to his memory. A longer and more intimate friendship, which also arose out of her special branch of natural history, was that with Dr. Harvey (author of the "Phycologia Britannica," "Nereis Boreali Americana," "Phycologia Australica," &c. &c.) with whom she corresponded for ten years before they met. Like herself he combined a playful and poetic fancy with the scientific faculty, and they had sympathy together in the distinctive character of their religious belief and in the worship of GOD in His works. There were a few years of personal intercourse before he also died, in which he came to see my father and mother, and they went to see him; and perhaps it was a less loss that he had so long been only a friend by letter, than it would have been with many people, as he was very shy, and it was only when he put pen to paper that he seemed quite un- fettered, and was not too modest to display his learning in long letters overflowing with Irish wit and gracefulness.

It was to a physician who attended her during an illness at Hastings in 1848-49 that my mother owed the beginning of her study of sea-weeds, for he lent her the "Phycologia Britannica," a great deal of which she copied. Within the next three years she had taken up Zoophytes also. The class she specially studied in these were Polyzoa.

It was about this time, I think, that she first read Adam's "Allegories," and I remember her telling me, years later, of a slight share they had had in suggesting the "Parables." She was greatly struck by them, and was devoted to "the Old Man's Home" and "the King's Messengers," but she was very much distressed by the beautiful mosses and the "dear green lizards" being made emblems of sin in the story of "The Distant Hills," and thought it a very undesirable association of ideas for the minds of children. On the other hand, when Hans Andersen's fairy tales, with all their supposed sympathy for every corner of creation, took her fancy quite by storm, she complained that so many of them were only quaint and taught nothing; imperfect "devices"–the body without the soul! 5

And that, again, touches a note which vibrates far back into her childhood, where the tastes really began which found expression in the "Parables from Nature," which are in every way her most characteristic work. "We can hardly remember the time when Quarles was not dear to us," she says in the preface to "A Book of Emblems," which was the last published of her books. This refers to Quarles' "Emblems," of which there was an old copy with heavy-lined and grotesque woodcuts of mysterious import in my grandfather's library. Quarles had led to "Father Cats," also old and grotesquely illustrated, in squat volumes bound in white vellum, who required the Dutch dictionary and grammar to get even at the body of his devices! And between them they had led, as she says, to other emblem books, and to a taste for that double-edged teaching, which–with a body of meaning so plain that he who runs may read–enshrines also a soul, to learn of which demands of the disciple that he shall have ears that hear.

In 1856, "Worlds not Realized" was published, and in 1857 "Proverbs Illustrated," with illustrations by herself, "Legendary Tales," and a second series of the Parables, again illustrated by her own hand. In 1858 appeared the "Poor Incumbent," and then one of her most popular child-books, "Aunt Judy's Tales."

"Aunt Judy" was a family nickname for the one of Mrs. Gatty's daughters who held the post of nursery storyteller. It was given by "the boys;" why, nobody knew, but it lasted, as boys' nicknames are apt to last, and the familiar idea of one of a large family acting as Scheherazade to the other seven, afforded a string on which to thread a collection of tales. So much was "founded on fact," and Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, were unavoidably portraits; but the stories themselves were entirely my mother's, and are very characteristic of her style. From the origin of the title it has often been supposed that they were invented if not written by the original of "Aunt Judy," and a Danish translation was so credited, but I fear that the nursery tales (for which the audience seldom allowed more than from five to ten minutes to "think of a plot," and which were not very often tolerated twice over) had few merits in common with "The Little Victims"–"Vegetables out of Place"–"Cook Stories,"–"Rabbits' Tales"–"Out of the Way"–and "Nothing to Do."

"The Human Face Divine" (a very characteristic volume) was published in 1859. A third series of "Parables from Nature" in 1861, with her own illustrations. "Aunt Judy's Letters" appeared in 1862. This volume was a sequel to the "Tales." Like many sequels, it was not equal to the first work, and bears traces of the fact that Mrs. Gatty was overworked at the time the volume was arranged. "The Goose" and the "Gossip of a Blotting Book" are quaint and characteristic, and "Aunt Sally's Life" (the "fancy" biography of the real doll who was educated among my grandfather's books, and was beloved of two generations) was very popular, and was afterwards published separately with abundant illustrations. "The Smut," "The Crick," and "The Brothers," in "The Black Bag," my mother is not really responsible for, and they are such obvious imitations of Andersen that it should perhaps be understood that they made no pretensions to be anything else, and were not her doing. They were scribbled down to illustrate a saucy theory, put forward half in joke, that the recipe for "writing like" the great Danish storyteller she so deeply admired, was to keep your body quite still, to select the smallest object within the range of your vision, confine your sympathies to that, and then let your imagination go. As the writer was ill in bed, the limitations were easily observed, and being amused by the results, my mother gave them a niche in her tale.

During the years 1859 and 1860 my mother superintended (for we all by turns took up the part of amanuensis) the autobiography of the Rev. Dr. Wolff, whose strange career, Eastern travels, wide learning and odd humours are sufficiently well-known. He numbered great and good men among his staunchest friends, but probably no friend among them who recognized his rare qualities, and made light of his eccentricities, more fully than Mrs. Gatty. By her advice he dictated his life, which is proportionally quaint and fresh. It was his own doing that he did so in the third person, ending the strange record with the formula–"Wolff has done." He stayed a great deal with us, more than once keeping house with the young ones, when my father and mother were away. On such occasions we had Bible readings, and he gave us lessons in Hebrew. At his death he bequeathed to my father and mother the black gown in which he went alone to Bokhara to ascertain the fate of Col. Stoddart and Captain Conolly.

In 1862 Mrs. Gatty completed her book on "British Seaweeds," which had the advantage of Dr. Harvey's supervision. It was written out of fourteen years' experience, comprising the first struggles of a beginner, and no small amount of a scholar's learning. It was an attempt to combine scientific accuracy with the minimum of technicality, and this she carried so far as to compile an "Amateur's Synopsis," in which the genera are classified according to a simple system of her own; and to coin words "in the vulgar tongue" as substitutes for scientific terms. ("Branches, branchlets, and branchleteens," would please Alphonse Karr himself!) The work is illustrated with eighty coloured plates, containing 384 figures reduced from those in the "Phycologia Britannica." Of the style of the descrip- tions appended to the figures, the following may be given as a specimen:–


Colour, when young, pale olive; clear; in age, foxy; when dry, black.

Substance. Tough, leathery; when dry, brittle.

Character of Frond. Stems and branches. Stems angularly bent. Branching irregular, sometimes from a central point in all directions. Branches bearing distinct leaves. Leaves mid-ribbed, extremely narrow (linear-lanceolate ), toothed like a saw (serrated ) at the edges; without dots (pores ).

Measurement. Indefinite; as it is found in masses, without a root.

Air Vessels. Like tiny round balls, smaller than in S. vulgare; generally tipped with a spine-like point, sometimes short; sometimes long; occasionally without.

Fructification. Very rarely found. Like that of S. vulgare.

Habitat. Tropical and sub-tropical ocean, in both hemispheres; always floating.

This is the celebrated Gulf-weed which stayed the ships of Columbus. No root has ever been found on it. Its growth is by young branches sprouting from old broken ones, forming ridges (or banks, as they are called) in the sea from ten to twenty yards wide, and of indefinite length.

Not the least useful, and perhaps the most attractive parts of the book, are the "Introduction," and "Rules for Preserving and Laying out Sea-weeds," &c. The opening of the former is characteristic. "Even the happy people of whom the strange phrase is used that 'money is no object to them,' cannot command fate altogether. They are mortal in respect of their minds, and cannot, with all appliances, get away from the inexorable law which rules that whoever would find the world interesting must work out an interest in it for himself."

In 1863, the fourth series of "Parables" appeared, and in 1865 "Domestic Pictures and Tales."

In 1866 Mrs. Gatty established a monthly magazine for young people, which was named after "Aunt Judy's Tales," and called "Aunt Judy's Magazine." Many friends who were familiar with literary matters regretted that her already over-taxed strength should be spent on editorial business to the neglect of original work, especially as she did not (perhaps could not) be purely business-like over it. But if the extent to which contributors became private correspondents, and contributions that would not do as they stood were improved by hints and help till they could be accepted–involved an amount of labour that was grudged by her friends, it must be said that it was never grudged by her. The "magazine-work" was from the beginning to the end a labour of love, and the terms on which the editor lived with her contributors and child-correspondents, if not very business-like, were, perhaps, very well adapted to a periodical of so domestic a character and so educational in its aim.

In 1868 Mrs. Gatty pleaded with her young readers the cause of the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, and undertook to receive such small subscriptions as the supporters of "Aunt Judy's Magazine" could give towards the endowment and permanent maintenance of one bed (or "cot" as it is called, being the sick-bed of a child) in one of the wards. The "Cot List" was soon a prominent feature of the magazine. A very large proportion of the gifts are in very small sums, and are credited under very quaint titles–the dogs and cats of a family not unfrequently appearing as subscribers. In 1872 £1,000 had been collected, and "Aunt Judy's Cot," for Girls, was permanently endowed.

[Four years later, in 1876, "Aunt Judy's Cot" for Boys was also founded, by another sum of £1,000. After this the subscriptions given through the Magazine were devoted to the general fund for rebuilding the Hospital, and the amount of £434 6s. was collected by April, 1881, when it was decided to start the endowment of a Cot at the Convalescent Hospital, Cromwell House, Highgate, to the memory of Mrs. Gatty.

In May, 1885, £400 had been given towards this object, and then, as Mrs. Ewing had also entered into rest, the Editor appealed to the readers of the Magazine to raise the remaining sum of £600 which was still needed, and to rededicate the Cot to the joint memories of Mrs. Gatty and her daughter, Mrs. Ewing. This appeal was so liberally responded to that by August, 1885, the endowment of the Cot was completed.

Aunt Judy's Girls' Cot at the Children's Hospital was the first special one established there, and indeed the first in any English hospital. The idea was speedily adopted by other establishments, as well as by other friends of the hospital itself. In September, 1885, ten Cots had been permanently endowed there, including the two "Aunt Judy" ones; and twenty-nine more by life donations of £300 each; whilst thirteen were being annually supported by subscriptions of £40. The last class included the "Simla" Cot, which was started by friends of "Aunt Judy's Magazine" in India, and "Aunt Judy's St. Petersburg Cot," which was supported by Russian readers, who desired that it might be called by this name.

In October, 1885, the Magazine was brought to an end–having been edited since Mrs. Gatty's death by her daughter, H. K. F. Gatty.]

The fifth series of Parables was published in 1870, and in the same year, "Waifs and Strays of Natural History." "A Rambling Essay," in the latter, is probably a favourite with those who like the Parables. In 1871 Mrs. Gatty published a collection of poetry of a domestic character, under the title of the "Mother's Poetry Book." The long preface contains some very pithy advice to young writers.

In 1872 her two last books were published–"Sundials," and "A Book of Emblems"–memorials, curiously enough, of her earliest hobbies. As a girl she began a collection of the mottoes to be found on sundials, the collection being illustrated by drawings of the sundials themselves. Possessed, when they have mottoes as all sundials should have, 6 of both "body and soul," these primitive and picturesque registers of the "fleeting hours" of successive generations had a natural charm for her taste, which must have been increased by the attractions they offer to the sketcher's eye. At one place half buried in the rank grass of a neglected lawn, with unclipt yews threatening to part the dial from the sun; at another preaching tombstone morality from a moss grown grotto among equally forgotten graves; here a picturesque patch upon whitewash at the sunny corner of some street in France or Italy; there gleaming more with gold than sunshine, high up upon the weather-stained brickwork of a civic building in Old England: an ugly sundial or a senseless dial motto are alike rare. Perhaps the current of life's stream in this generation is too rapid for a taste which had a tender fascination for Charles Lamb; or perhaps dials are too didactic for our day; but one often feels it strange that among all the antiquities, oddities, "curios," restorations and revivals with which the amazingly advanced artistic culture of society now amuses and adorns itself, sundials should never have become the rage. They are not even necessarily large. A Chinese sundial will go into a gentleman's waistcoat pocket, and such an one as Shakespeare's "motley fool" looked at "with lack-lustre eye," would hang from a lady's chatelaine; whilst with domestic or ecclesiastical architecture, a big house or a cottage, they are equally in keeping.

"The Book of Sundials" was a collection made through a lifetime, and helped by many friends. 7 In its arrangement for publication she was largely helped by my father, as the dedication tenderly acknowledged. "To the dear husband to whom I am indebted for the best happiness of the hours of earthly life, and with whom I hope to share the existence in which Time shall be no more, I dedicate this volume, in the compilation of which he has taken so great a part and interest."

I cannot conclude this summary of her books–all of which, except Dr. Wolff's Life, are published by Mr. Bell–without saying something of what has been not only a business relation, but a family friendship through three generations. The grandfather of the younger members of the present publishing house of Bell and Sons was in the book trade, in Richmond in Yorkshire, when my grandfather was Vicar of Catterick, and a characteristic anecdote survives of their dealings together. My grandfather left home on one occasion with £30 in his pocket to buy a pony at Richmond; but before accomplishing the object of his journey he stopped to have a book-chaffer with Mr. Bell. As fate would have it, Mr. Bell had lately purchased the library of Dr. Hutchinson, the historian of Durham, and the books were just then being unpacked when Dr. Scott went in. The temptation of having the "first pick" was overwhelming. He spent the day selecting and bargaining for lot after lot, and finally returned home "from the fair" (one degree less out of countenance than Moses Primrose!) without the pony, but plus a considerable addition to his "greatest hope of future comfort."

Mrs. Gatty died on the 4th of October, 1873. Some ten years before, her health had begun to fail. Her right arm became disabled by aching and helplessness. This was dubbed rheumatism, neuralgia, "writer's cramp," &c. and meanwhile she taught herself to write with her left hand, and worked on. Then the left hand also lost its cunning, and she wrote by dictation, and pursued her literary and scientific labours chiefly by the help of the daughter who succeeded her in both. The disease which slowly robbed her of the use of limbs and speech, and which gave, for a long period, almost intolerable pain, was at last pronounced to be a form of paralysis, which eventually reduced her to utter and complete helplessness, but left the vigour of the brain untouched. How keenly she felt her fetters it is hardly necessary to say. How voluntary, how hardly fought, and how complete was her surrender of that source of happiness which in her first book she had set above all fairy gifts–the "love of employment"–GOD knows, to Whose will she bent her own, with the full vigour of soul and sense which never lost the love of life and life's labours. "Tell him he is not to pray that I may have a less pain, but more patience," was the message she sent to a friend who had promised her his prayers.

It is, of course, very difficult for me to express any opinion on the value of my mother's writings, and still more so to speak of her qualities; but of her most marked personal characteristic I may say, that I believe it is the key to what is most valuable to her works, and is what, if any of them do last, will make them lasting.

Everybody who knew her will probably agree that this was innate truthfulness of every kind: candour, about little things as well as great, that was sometimes almost comical; a fidelity, and an impossibility of social manoeuvring or affectation which now and again led to funny scenes, but which founded her friendships as upon a rock. And (perhaps the rarest kind of truthfulness, because it demands the power to think for oneself as well as the wish to be true), so absolute a genuineness of convictions, and of caring for things, that her studies and hobbies were entirely apart from fashion, and whatever it was that she worked at she could not help putting her heart into her work.

I find it difficult to state with needful brevily my intense conviction of the value of this quality in writers for the young, or rather, in those who teach at all–and when it is set down it seems a truism. But, if one comes to think of it, some of the worst effects of want of truth–truth in fact and truth in feeling–are not found as the immediate handiwork of the father of lies. The world would perhaps have less to unlearn and not be so chary of its reverence, if all books of devotion, pious tales, religious memoirs, missionary records, charity reports, tracts for the poor, teachings for children, and sermons for grownup people were based upon neither more nor less than strict fact and genuine feeling. Now, when to a conscience which can, for no aim or cause, exaggerate, warp, or withhold, is added that robustness of mental power which saves from self-deception, because it makes a person with strong convictions and enthusiasms to continually check these before his own soul by truth, and common sense, and sense of humour,–such an one's teaching is likely to be healthy, and to have originality, and to prove satisfying to the pertinacious thoroughness of children's desire to know; and when this conscientiousness extends to tastes and pursuits, so that they are works and not whims, the lessons of such a teacher are very valuable in an age when one is in much less danger of being veneered by a cultivation too skin-deep to give much happiness to oneself or result to others.

One result of her mental candour in my mother's child-books was that the "morals" of her tales were so rarely conventional, and the lessons never (what children particularly hate) could be felt to be "unfair." She saw things from the point of view of the young people, and also of their elders. "Aunt Judy's Tales," for instance, are one and all examples of this sympathy: such as "Cook Stories," in which Aunt Judy finds the children dressed up in finery with caps and fans, and "company voices" telling fancy stories of the misconduct of servants, like the grown-up ladies they had overheard in the drawing-room. Of course the moral of its being desirable to have some higher interests in common than domestic ups and downs is duly pointed, but besides this, just as the game is flagging, Aunt Judy appears in the kitchen cap and apron, and tells stories from the point of view of "Ladies and gentlemen and ladies and gentlemen's young ladies and gentlemen."

Another quality of Mrs. Gatty's mind and writings adds greatly, I think, to her usefulness as a teacher for young people and for young people of the present day–namely, that of contentment and courage with life; and I also think that it is wholesome as well as characteristic that of the large number of tales for children which came from her pen, not one of them depends for its pathos upon early death-beds or unavailing regrets.

By these moral qualities, and by the mental bent towards parabolic teaching, and towards the ideal rather than the actual, by sympathies and insight at least as strong for this life of nature as for the life of man, as well as by her love for animals and by a quality so finely described by Trench as–

"A child's pure delight in little things,"

Mrs. Gatty was eminently fitted to write within the limits which she chose. I do not think it the least to be regretted that she never attempted novel writing, for her fancy played with very delicate hues, and was deficient in chiaroscuro and colour; and when she did introduce "grown-up people" among her figures, they were very often as wooden and unattractive as her children and beasts and things were life-like and charming. No one was more conscious of this than she, and we often laughed over the priggishness that was apt to beset her characters the moment they arrived at years of discretion, especially if she attempted what, as she had a very romantic heart, she would really have liked to write–a love story.

Indeed, had she attempted works of fiction on a larger scale she must have found some disadvantage from the narrowness of the lines in which her lot in life was cast. She never travelled beyond the British Isles, and the holidays she took away from "home" and "the children" were only too rare. She and my father (they invariably went together) paid more than one visit to Scotland, besides their honeymoon; they went to Ireland to see Dr. Harvey, and had many pleasant English trips, including one to Devonshire and Cornwall, which was extended by a visit to the mesembryanthemum-starred Scilly Isles–the colouring of which never faded from her brain–but they never went abroad.

Remembering all she brought back in the way of sketches, "specimens," and delight from these holidays, and remembering how she longed at times for foreign travel, I wonder if any lesson she tried to teach could be more useful to her young readers than the consideration of how much she did and how happy she was with how few "advantages!"

That art of knowing how to be happy which she illustrated in a story I am very fond of, the "Dull Watering Place," was not the whole secret of her contentment, nor even her love of labour for labour's sake. She cherished (and it was a favourite theory with her father) a hope almost amounting to a faith, that every step of the mind's progress is so much gained, not for this life only, but for the life to come, that the thirst for wisdom, if unquenchable, 8 may be slaked at streams whose waters fail not, and that in the continuous study of the works of GOD is to be found happiness which shall not end here; and which might have solved the difficulty of the monk in the old legend, and made even eternity not seem too long.

She was very fond of Trench's fine sonnet:–

"To leave unseen so many a glorious sight,
To leave so many lands unvisited,
To leave so many books unread,
Unrealized so many visions bright;–
Oh! wretched yet inevitable spite
Of our short span, and we must yield our breath,
And wrap us in the unfeeling coil of death,
So much remaining of unproved delight.
But hush, my soul, and vain regrets be still'd;
Find rest in Him Who is the complement
Of whatso'er transcends our mortal doom
Of broken hope and frustrated intent;
In the clear vision and aspect of Whom
All wishes and all longings are fulfill'd."


[Page x]

1 A lady who met Scott often in society in Naples described him at this time as "pale, thin, and tall in person, very romantic and enthusiastic; and in ecstasies on discovering an edition of Tasso in the Neapolitan dialect."

2 I was interested, a few years ago, to come accidentally upon the following description of my grandfather in Mr. Mayhew's "London Labour and the London Poor" (vol. i, p. 296) Speaking of the street trade in books, he mentioned an elderly man who had formerly been engaged in it, and told him that "one of the best customers he ever had for anything old or curious, and in Italian, if he remembered rightly, as well as in English, was the late Rev. Mr. Scott, who was chaplain on board the 'Victory' at the time of Nelson's death at Trafalgar. He had a living in Yorkshire, I believe it was," said the man, " and used to come up every now and then to town . I was always glad to see his white head and rosy face, and to have a little talk with him about books and trade, though it wasn't always easy to catch what he said, for he spoke quick, and not very distinct. But he was a pleasant old gentleman, and talked to a poor man as politely as he might to an admiral. He was very well known in my trade, as I was then employed."

[Page xi]

3 In 1814 he triumphed over considerable local prejudice and opposition by the establishment of two schools–for boys and for girls–in the parish of Southminster, Essex. He entered vehemently into the controversies that raged on the then vexed question of the education of the poor. "I consider," he said, "that the intellectual power of a nation is opposed to the physical force of it, just as the spirit is opposed to the flesh, and that every means should be used to strengthen the one in order to control the other. I believe that so far from endangering the present gradations of society, it would render them more stable, and more worthy of being so."

4 The Rev. William Ryder. He was Vicar of Ecclesfield in Yorkshire, but resigned the living in favour of his youngest brother, the Rev. T. R. Ryder, who died in 1839, and was succeeded by the Rev. Alfred Gatty, D.D. William Ryder died in 1832.

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5 "By and by, as civilization progressed, devices took a more complicated character, and were adopted not only by families but by individuals. The French claim to have been the originators of these devices proper, but they admit that the Italians carried them to greater perfection. They were required to have both body and soul; that is to say, there was to be a bodily figure having two significations, a literal and an allegorical one."–Preface to "A Book of Emblems." Bell & Sons, 1872.

[Page xviii]

6 Readers of the "Parables" may be interested to know that the Sundial in "Active and Passive" was a character from real life! There is a picturesque sundial well placed in Ecclesfield churchyard which had no motto. My mother had this cleaned and repaired, and round one of the stone steps was cut–"Watch, for ye know not the hour."

[Page xix]

7 Of late years the collection was largely increased by continental "specimens" sketched and noted by Miss Eleanor Lloyd.

[Page xxi]

8 Ecclesiasticus xxiv, 24.