Elias Nason.

A memoir of Mrs. Susanna Rowson, with elegant and illustrative extracts from her writings in prose and poetry. [Microform] online

. (page 4 of 12)
Online LibraryElias NasonA memoir of Mrs. Susanna Rowson, with elegant and illustrative extracts from her writings in prose and poetry. [Microform] → online text (page 4 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


nicer shades, the innocent foibles and amiable weaknesses of wo-
men, are given with a truth which discovers a careful study of
female manners, and a thorough acquaintance with the human
heart."



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MRS. SUSANNA BOWSON. 67

The affair at the Boston lighthouse, and the death
and burial of the marine, are thus graphically de-
scribed :

" The terrified inhabitants of Nantasket left the
village and took refuge in the interior parts of the
country, all but Mr. Abthorpe's [Haswell's] family,
who still remained, though deserted by all their
servants; for the colonel had too high a regard
for his royal master to join the cause of his ene-
mies, and it was impossible to join the British
troops without relinquishing all his property; he
therefore hoped the storm would soon pass over;
that some method would be proposed and accepted
to conciliate matters, and in the meantime he wished
to remain neutral.

" It was a still morning about the latter end of
July, when Rebecca, being disturbed by some
little rustling at her window, raised her head, and
by the faint dawn that just glimmered from the
east, discovered armed men placed around the
house. Alarmed, she started from her bed and
awoke Miss Abthorpe ; they threw a few clothes
over them and flew to the colonel's apartments.
They were met by Mrs, Abthorpe who caught her
daughter in her arms and pointed to the room
where they usually slept, crying : ' Look, Sophia,

your poor father.*

8



Digitized by VjOOQIC



58 A MEMOIR OF

" Miss Abthorpe looked and beheld two soldiers
with firelocks, who, placed at the door of the apart-
ment, held her father prisoner.

" ' Ah, my dear mother,' said she, * who are these
and what are they going to do? Surely, they will
not murder us ! '

" ' Don't frighten yourselves,' said one of the men,
'we don't usually murder such pretty girls.'

" ' But my father,' cried she eagerly, ' what do
you intend to do with him ? '

" * Set him at liberty again when our expedition
is over.'

" Rebecca now learnt that these were a part of
the American army who had come to Nantasket
in whale boats with a design of dragging their
boats across the beach before mentioned, and pro-
ceeding to the lighthouse at the entrance of the
harbor, intending to destroy it in order to mislead
the expected relief that was coming to Boston, which
was at the time besieged by the American army
and in possession of the British. They had before
made an unsuccessful attempt to demolish this
lighthouse, and were now come resolved not to
leave their work unfinished. Accordingly they
proceeded as quietly as possible to the beach, almost
carried their boats over, and arrived totally unex-
pected at the little island on which the lighthouse



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MRS. 8U8ANNA B0W80N, 59

stood and which was guarded by a party of mariues.
A smart skirmish ensued ; but the Americans were
too numerous to be withstood by so small a party,
the whole of which were either killed or taken pri-
soners, and having completed their design returned
to Nantasket victorious, though in the utmost conster-
nation for fear of being pursued by boats from the
Lively frigate and other ships that lay in the harbor.

" Rebecca was standing at a window as they re-
ianded, the tears streaming down her pale face, and
so entirely absorbed in terror that she was inatten-
tive to the surrounding objects. From this state
of torpor she was aroused by a deep groan, and
raising her eyes saw two Americans entering the
house, bearing between them a wounded marine
whom they laid on the floor, and were preparing
to depart when Mrs. Abthorpe rushed out of the
adjoining apartment.

" * What are you doing ? ' said she, ' you will not
surely leave him here.'

" ' He is in our way,' cried a watch ; ' if he don't
die quickly, we will kill him.'

" ' Oh, do not kill me ; ' cried the almost expiring
soldier, * I am not fit to die.'

" At this moment Major Tupper entered. Mrs.
Abthorpe addressed him in a supplicating accent :
' we can procure the poor soul no assistance,' said



Digitized by VjOOQIC



60 A MEMOIR OF

she, *' he will perish for want of proper applica-
tions to staunch the blood/

" * My dear madam/ said the major, * what can
we do ? we fear pursuit and must retreat as fast as
possible ; and should we take him with us, in our
hurry and confusion, he would perhaps be precipi-
tated into eternity. If we make a safe retreat, I
will send for him to-morrow.'

" He then departed, and Col. Abthorpe being now
at liberty turned his thoughts towards the wounded
soldier.

" He had fainted ; a mattrass was laid on the floor,
and as they all united in endea^^oring to lift him
upon it, the motion increased the anguish of his
wounds and recalled his languid senses.

" * Oh spare me, do not kill me ! ' said he, looking
around with a terrified aspect.

"'Be comforted,' said the colonel; *you are
among friends who will do all in their power to
save your life.'

" * God will reward you,' said he, faintly. They
now examined the wound and found from its depth
and situation that a few hours would terminate the
existence of the poor suflerer; however they made
long bandages of linen, and with pledgets dipped in
spirits endeavored to staunch the bleeding, but in
vain.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MRS. 8U8ANNA BOWSON, 61

" * I am very faint,' said he»

*' Kebecca knelt and supported him in her arms,
assisted by the weeping Sophia.

" ' Can I live, think you, sir ? ' said he, looking in
the colonel's face.

*' * I fear not,' was the reply.

" ' God's will be done,' said he, ' but I have a
long account to settle, and but a short time to do it
in. Dear good Christians pray with me — pray for
me. Alas, it is dreadful to die and with the weight
of murder on my conscience.'

" Here he grew faint again and ceased to speak.

'* A cordial was administered — he revived.

" * Tou see before you, my friends,' said he,
* a most unhappy man, the victim of his own
folly. My father is a clergyman in the north of
England ; I am his only child, and have received
from him an education suitable to the station in
which he meant to have placed me, which was the
church; but alas! I despised his precepts and
joined myself to a set of the most dissolute com-
panions, with whom I ran into every species of
vice and debauchery. By repeated extravagance,
I involved my poor father, who, no longer able to
supply my exorbitant demands, remonstrated against
my way of life ; but I was too much attached to
vice to resolve to quit it, and in a fit of desperation.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



62 ^ MEMOIR OF

having lost more money than I could pay, I enlisted
in a regiment bound to this place. Oh, sir, I have
reason to think my conduct shortened my dear
mother's existence, and I have embittered the last
hours of a father whom it was my duty to comfort
and support. These are heavy clogs upon my
departing soul, but he who witnesseth the sincerity
of my repentance, I trust will compassionate and
pardon me.'

" ' No doubt of it,' cried Rebecca, whose heart
was almost bursting as she listened to the expiring
penitent.

" He looked around, and fixing his eyes on
Rebecca and Sophia, * poor girls,' said he, ' you are
but young ; take the advice of a dying sinner and
treasure it in your memories. Obey your parents;
never forsake them, and shun vicious company;
for had I done this it would have been well for me
in this evil day.'

" Rebecca's susceptible heart smote her ; she hid
her face with her handkerchief, and sighed deeply.

" ' God forever bless you my friends,' said he, ' I
am going ; a few pangs more and all will be over.
Oh may he whose fatal aim took my life have it
not remembered against him; may the father of
mercy forgive him as freely as I do.'



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MRS. 8U8ANNA ROWSON. 63

" He then commenced the Lord's prayer, but ex-
pired before he could finish it.

" * Peace be to his repentant spirit/ said the
colonel, as he raised his weeping daughter from her
knees.

*' ' His poor father,' said she, * what would he feel
did he know this ! '

" ' He felt more,' replied the colonel, * when the
misguided youth forsook the paths of virtue, than
he would, could he even behold him now.'

" The heat at this season of the year is intense,
and the colonel knew the body of the unhappy
soldier must that day be consigned to the earth,
yet how to make the grave, or how to convey the
corpse to it when made, were difficulties which he
could hardly think it possible to surmount; but sad
necessity enforced the attempt. He fixed on a re-
tired spot just by the side of his garden, and began
the melancholy task. Eebecca and Sophid, with
their delicate hands, attempted to assist, and by
evening they had completed it.

" The faint rays of the setting sun just tinged
the summit of the highest hill ; the sky was serene,
and scarce a breeze was heard to move the leaves
or ruffle the smooth surface of the water. Awfully
impressive was the silence that reigned through this
once cheerful village.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



64 ^ MEMOIR OF

^^ As the colonel aat pensively considering his situ-
ation, and thinking how in the decentest manner
possible he coald render the last sad duties to the
deceased, he saw a small fishing boat with one man
in it, drawing near the shore. He ran hastily down,
entreated him to land, and assist him in his mourn-
ful office.

" The body was carefully wrapped in a sheet, it
was impossible to obtain a coffin.

" * We have no clergyman,' said the colonel,
*but the prayers of innocence shall consecrate his
grave.'

" He gave the prayer book to Sophia; she opened
it, and with her mother and Rebecca, followed the
body. She began the service, but her voice fel-
tered, the tears burst forth, she sobbed, and could
no longer articulate. The colonel took it from
her ; he was a man of undaunted courage in the
day of battle, but even here his heart sank and his
voice was tremulous; but he recalled his forti-
tude, and finished the solemn rite in a becoming
manner." ^

** This was a day," says Mrs. Rowsou, in a foot
note to this passage, " never to be obliterated from
the mind of the author, who partook of all its hor-



^Bebecca, p. 164.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MBS. SUSANNA BOWSON 65

rors, though but just emerging from a state of
childhood.'^

The journey of the Haswell family from Hing-
ham to Abington, about nine miles distant, in the
autumn of 1777, and the hardships then experienced
are thus vividly recounted :

" • And must we leave this place my dear father/
said Sophia, coming from a small adjoining apart-
ment, whither she had retired to indulge the tears
she was no longer able to restrain; must we be
separated from those friends whose generous atten-
tions have lightened all our afflictions ? '

" ' We must, Sophia,' said her father, rather
sternly, * to-morrow morning.*

" ' Ah ! me,' said the weeping girl, turning to
Eebecca and resting her head on her shoulder.

" * Do not grieve thus, my dear Sophia,' said our
heroine, ' for though separated from your friends,
you will still live in their remembrance and they in
yours.'

" ' Yes,' cried Sophia, with a look of grateful

rapture, ' ever while the vital tide nourishes my

heart. Dear worthy inhabitants of Hingham, when

' I forget the friendship that alleviated my parents'

sorrow, may that heart cease to beat.'

" The next morning, just as the gray dawn began

to enliven the east, Mr. Abthorpe's family were
9



Digitized by VjOOQIC



66 ^ MEMOIR OF

called to begin their journey, An open chaise,
drawn by a miserable horse, was all the conveyance
provided for Mrs. Abthorpe, Sophia and Rebecca ;
the colonel himself was expected to walk. About
nine o'clock in the morning they set out; but the
road was so heavy, and the horse so old and lame,
that though they had only a journey of fifteen miles
to make, they had not completed it at four in the
afternoon. The darkness of the night began to
envelop every object, when the chaise stopped at
a hut that could scarcely be called habitable.
Eebecca and Sophia assisted Mrs. Abthorpe to
alight. Gloomy as was the outward appearance of
their destined habitation, the inside served only to
increase their horror. It consisted of three rooms ;
the windows had once been glazed, but were now,
some parts open, and others mended with wood.
One room indeed was boarded ; the others had only
the ground for a floor.

" There were two chimneys, large and dreary, in
which no trace of fire appeared ; all was desolate
and gloomy,

" It was now quite dark and the colonel had not
yet arrived. Rebecca and Sophia felt around the
damp, solitary rooms for something on which Mrs.
Abthorpe might sit down ; for she was faint and
weary from taking no refreshment during their



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MRS. aUSANWA B0W80N. 67

tedious journey, and having been exposed to the
intense eold so many hours ; but their search was
in vain; no seat could be found; they took off
their own cloaks and laid them on the floor ; on
these she sank weak and exhausted, and in spite of
her accustomed fortitude, suffering nature wrung
from her a few complaints. Rebecca and Sophia
knelt beside her and supported her ; the voice of
comfort no longer issued from their lips; their
sighs responsive answered hers ; their tears mingled
as they fell ; but all remained silent.

"They heard footsteps approach; the colonel's
well known voice saluted their ears.

*' * Dry your eyes, my dear girls/ said Mrs. Ab-
thorpe, let us not increase his sorrows, whose every
pang is doubled by our sufferings/

"The colonel entered— some one accompanied
him, for they could hear more than one footstep.

" ' We shall have a fire soon/ said the colonel,
^ it is a very cold evening.'

" * But I am well wrapped up and do not feel it,'
said Mrs. Abthorpe.

" His heart thanked her, though it refused to
believe her assertion.

" Just then a third person entered and threw down
an armful of wood, when the person, who had
accompanied the colonel, produced a tinder box,



Digitized by VjOOQIC



68 ^ MEMOIR OF

and striking a light discovered to the astonished
females the sons of two of their best friends,^

" ' Mr. Lane ! ' * Mr. Barker/ ^ involuntarily burst
from all their lips ; but the generous young men
would not hear a word of praise or thanks. They
soon cheered the solitary mansion with a comfort-
able fire, and in the meantime a small cart arrived
with two beds, a few chairs and some kitchen
utensils. From* a basket in this cart the young
men produced a couple of fowls, some butter,
bread, and two bottles of wine, so that in less than
two hours from their first melancholy entrance,
our distressed family were sitting in homely wise
around an old wainscot table -before a large fire
partaking of a plentiful supper, while their hearts
expanded with gratitude to that good Providence
who had thus raised them up friends when least
expected.

" The next morning the young men exerted them-
selves to repair the breaches in the windows and
to stop the large crevices in the doors of the house.
Having to the utmost of their power lessened the
troubles of the family and rendered it tolerably

^ Mr. David Andrews drove the team which carried Lieutenant
Haswell's goods from Hingham to Abington.* They passed
through Weymouth, and the house in Abington to which they
came stood about one half mile from the church.

' Gen. John Barker and Capt. Peter Lane, of Hingham.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MB8. SUSANNA BOWSON, 69

comfortable, they departed, leaving behind them
some meat, bread, butter, cheese, and a small parcel
of tea and sugar; but as the last named articles
were at that time extremely scarce they could not be
so liberal as their expanded hearts led them to wish.

" Oh ! with what rapture must the parents of such
young men have received them after such a journey,
to which they had been excited by motives of purest
benevolence.

" Blest spirits of philanthropy, the hearts of whom
ere discord shook her baneful wings and shed her
influence over your happy plains, felt not a pang
but for another's woe, and whose first pleasure was
to alleviate the sorrow of a suftering fellow creature !
May the arrows of affliction with which she has
since wounded you, be drawn forth by the hand of
sympathizing friendship; and the anguish oblite-
rated by the remembrance of your own good deeds !

But to return. The habitation to which Colonel
Abthorpe had been thus suddenly removed was
sitUiited on the skirts of an extensive wood. The
face of the country was rocky and dreary, to which
unpromising appearance the snow and ice not a
little contributed. There was but one habitation
within two miles of them and that was occupied by
people, if possible more wretched than themselves.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



70 ^ MEMOIR OF

In this dismal situation, with no amusement but
what sprang from themselves, for they had not
even the consolation of books, did the colonel and
his family pass four wearisome months, during which
time thev had often no food but coarse Indian
bread and potatoes, nor any firing but what Sophia
and Bebecca assisted each other to bring in their
delicate arms from the adjacent woods, for the
colonel was a great part of that time confined to
the house by the gout, and in their daily excursion
to procure this necessary appendage to the support
of life in so cold a climate, they had no covering to
their feet, which often bled from the intenseness of
the cold, or from incisions made by the rugged path
over which they were obliged to pass." ^

The following easy and graceful song in Rebecca^
seems worthy of transcription :

I.
Aurora, lovely, blooming, fair !

Unbarred the eastern skies ]
While many a soft pelucid tear

Ran trickling from her eyes.

II.
Onward she came with heartfelt glee,

Leading the dancing hours ;
For though she wept, she smiled to see

Her tears refresh the flowers.



^Rebecca, p. 180, et seq.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MRS. 8U8ANNA B0W80N. * JX

III.
Phoebus, who long her charms admired

With bright, refulgent ray
Came forth, and as the maid retired

He kissed her tears away.

IV.

So youth advances, mild, serene ;

Our childish sorrows cease ;
While hope's gay sunshine gilds the scene.

And all is joy and peace.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



72 A. MEMOIR OF



CHAPTER IX.

May I come forward ? Do I friende behold ?

Mrs. AmeHa Opie's Epilogue to the Curfew.

While Mrs. Rowsoq was engaged in these de-
lightful literary pursuits, having, as she says, few
duties to perform, and many leisure hours, her
husband, through the mismanagement of his Ame-
rican partner, became a bankrupt. In her generous
eftbrts to aid her father's family, she herself had
exhausted her patrimonial estate, and although the
sale of her works had already become quite exten-
sive, she realized but limited returns for them.

Now what was to be done? How could the
ruined fortunes be retrieved ? How and where in-
deed could bread and raiment for the day be found ?
was the sharp question. Writing for the press
in London would not give it ; teaching had been
tried; but then no place for it could be com-
manded; there was no capital for recommencing
trade. The hour was dark ; but Mrs. Rowson had
already taken lessons in adversity, and her cou-
rageous heart was not to be dismayed. What are
the talents of the family ? Mr. Rowson was a
musician, the master of a band; his voice was
good, and he could sing a merry song eftectively.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MBS. SUSANNA EOWSON 73

He had a sister Charlotte, then about fourteen
years old, whom Mrs. Eowson had adopted, and
who had a sprightly manner and a pleasant voice ;
Mrs. Eowson herself had a face beaming with ex-
pression, an easy and polite manner, and retentive
memory. She read, or sang, or played the harpsi-
chord, or guitar, or improvised a song or speech
with equal skill and beauty.

It was, therefore, finally resolved, though not
without misgivings, to attempt to gain a livelihood
on the stage. To this end they entered into an

engagement with Mrs. , and made their first

appearance on the boards at Edinburgh, in the
winter of 1792-3 ; they also performed that season
in several of the larger towns in England. Mrs.
, however, proved to be a worthless cha-
racter, failed to fulfill her contract with the Eowson
family, and thus plunged them into straits and
difiiculties still more serious.

But the laconic motto of the Haswell family is
Tant que je puis, as much as I can; and in ac-
cordance with it, an engagement was soon eflfected
with Mr. Thomas Wignell, who had leased the
Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, and who
was spending the summer of 1793 in England,

gathering his celebrated company for America.
10



Digitized by VjOOQIC



47 ^ MEMOIR OF

On arriving with his troupe of performers at
Philadelphia, in September,^ of the same year, and
finding that the yellow fever was driving the people
from the city, he repaired immediately to Anna-
polis, Md., where Mr. Rowson, his wife and sister
Charlotte, first appeared upon the American boards.
They were quite successful in light comedy, vaude-
ville and opera; and returning to Philadelphia on
the abatement of the fever, performed occasionally
in that city and in Baltimore, the two following
seasons. Although fulfilling the exhausting duties
of an actress, Mrs. Rowson did not allow her pen
to remain unemployed. She wrote at this period
the Slaves in Algiers^ an opera, which drew forth a
severe critique from Peter Porcupine, the cele-
brated William Cobbett, and in 1794, the Vbftm-
teers^ a farce founded on the famous whiskey
insurrection which occurred in western Pennsyl-
vania that year ; and still another play called the
Female Patrioiy^ altered from one of Philip Massen-



* " In 1793, Mr. Wignell, who formerly belonged to the old
company, arrived with a number of excellent performers, from
England, who commenced their career the following winter, in the
new theatre in Chestnut street, which had been recently built
by a company, upon a tontine principle." — The Picture of Phila-
delphia, by James Mease, M.D., p. 329.

' Performed at the new theatre, Philadelphia, 1795. See James-
Ree's Dramatic Authors of America, p. 114.

Mrs. Rowson performed before Washington, who attended the



Digitized by VjOOQIC



MBS. 8U8ANNA R0W80N. 76

ger's, together with several odes, epilogues and
songs, which appeared in the periodicals of that
day.

One of her pieces written at this time was set to
music by Mr. Carr, and extensively sung. It was
published by 8. G. Willig, Philadelphia.*

In Vain is the Verdure of Spring.

I.

Restrained from the sight of my dear,

No object with pleasure I see;
Though thousands around me appear,

The world's but a desert to me.

II.

In vain is the verdure of spring,
The trees look so blooming and gay ;

The birds as they whistle and sing
Delight not when William's away.

III.
Reclined by a soft murmuring stream,

I weeping disburthen my care ;
I tell to the rocks my sad theme

Whose echo soothes not my despair.



theatre five or six times during the season, 1794. His favorite
plays were the School for Scandal, Bkery one has his Fault, the
Poor Soldier, and Wignell's Darby.— LosHng's Recollections of
Washington.

* The music by Mr. Carr : Printed by Q. Willig, Philadelphia,
before 1799.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



76 A MEMOIR OF

IV.

Ye streams that soft murmuriDg flow,

Convey to my love every tear )
Ye rocks that resound with my woe,

Kepeat my complaints in his ear.

While residing in Baltimore in 1795, she wrote
a spirited poetical address to the army of the
United States, entitled the Standard of Liberty^
which was admirably spoken on the stage by the
celebrated Mrs. Whitlock, in presence of the mili-
tary companies of the city. She published, also,
this year at Philadelphia, her largest and most
elaborate, though perhaps least popular work, which
she named the Triab-x^ ihe Human Heart} It was
printed in four volumes, by subscription, and dedi-
cated to Mrs. Bingham, April 19, 1795. Among
the names of the subscribers are those of Franklin,
Mrs. Washington, Matthew Carey, Gen. Jeremiah



^Trials of the Human Heart, a novel in four volumes, by Mrs.
Rowson, of the new theatre, Philadelphia, author of Gharhttey
FiUe de Chambre, Inquisitor, etc., etc. :

If there's a power above us —

And that there is all nature cries aloud
Through all her works, he must delight in virtue.


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryElias NasonA memoir of Mrs. Susanna Rowson, with elegant and illustrative extracts from her writings in prose and poetry. [Microform] → online text (page 4 of 12)