Elias Nason.

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

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Online LibraryElias NasonA memoir of Mrs. Susanna Rowson, with elegant and illustrative extracts from her writings in prose and poetry. [Microform] → online text (page 5 of 12)
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The soul secured in its existence, smiles
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.

Philadelphia: Printed for the author, by Wrigley & Berriman,
No. 149 Chestnut street, sold by Messrs. Carey, Rice, Campbell,
Ormrod, Young, and the author, corner of Seventh and Chestnut
streets, 1795.



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MR8. 8U8ANNA ROWSON. 77

Wadsworth, and of other well known characters.
The work consists for the most part of a series of
letters written in a discursive, often sentimental
style, from Meriel Howard to Celia Shelburne, in
which the author leads her heroine through many
trying and perplexing scenes, as a daughter, wife
and mother, " tempering the weakness of humanity
with the patience and fortitude of a Christian."
The scene is laid mostly in London and vicinity,
and the time of the action runs from April 20, 1775,
to September 29, 1791. The sorrows of Meriel
arise chiefly from infidelity, scandal and penury ;
trials which the author herself experienced. The
dramatis personce are by far too numerous ; the plot
is carelessly constructed, and the general drift of
thought and sentiment, is similar to that of the
leading female novelists of that period among whom
Mrs. Eowson mentions [vol. iv, 74], Mrs. Frances
Burney, Mrs. Bennet, and Misses Sophia and Harriet
Lee, as her especial favorites. The moral bearing
of the work, however, is healthful, as the following
brief extract in tone and keeping with the author's
main design may serve to indicate.

'' I will have my hours of peace and retirement :
for in my opinion, the life that is spent in a con-
tinued round of insipid pleasures, is not only
entirely useless to society, but in some measure



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78 ^ MEMOIU OF

guilty ; as we can have no time for the performance
of those duties which are incumbent on every pro-
fessor of Christianity; nor do I think, as many
do, that people of a certain rank in life may pass
their time in any way most agreeably to them-
selves, and that they are not accountable for it to
any one. We certainly are answerable to One
who will demand an account of our stewardship at
a time when no evasion whatever will serve our
turn, and the more elevated our station, the more
careful we should be to set examples worthy the
imitation of our inferiors : examples that may inspire
all who know us with the love of virtue." ^

We cannot forbear transcribing from thi^i work
a sacred lyric which does honor alike to the author's
head and heart. It is thus gracefully introduced :

" The moon shone through the windows full upon
an organ which was placed there for me to enter-
tain myself with, and as I am fond of solemn music,
the stillness of the evening and the serenity of every
surrounding object inspired me with a wish to
touch the instrument. I therefore sat down, and fol-
lowing the impulse of my soul, began the following :



* Vol. Ill, p. 54.



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MBS. 8U8ANNA B0W80N. 79



Hymn to Gratitude.

I.
Where'er I turn my raptured eyes,
New scenes of beauty round me rise,

My heart exulting glows ;
And while I view the wondrous whole.
To the Creative Power my soul,

With gratitude overflows.

II.
Yon burning orbs, that round the pole,
In solemn, grand succession roll,

Declare their Maker's power ;
Then while such glories deck the sky.
Can such a weak, frail worm as I

But worship and adore.

III.
Father of all, thou dost bestow
On us poor reptiles here below.

Each good we're taught to prize.;
And tho' sometimes we feel thy frown.
The truly grateful heart must own

Thy judgments just and wise.

IV.

Hail, Gratitude, celestial guest,
Come make thy mansion in my breast,

Thou spark of love divine ;
Inspired by Thee, though troubles rise.
My soul shall mount toward the skies.

And Heaven itself be mine."

[Trials of the Human Heart, vol. in, p. 107.]



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80 ^ MEMOIR OF

The stanzas to Hope, are as touching as they are
beautiful :



Oh ! cease, vain, busy Fancy, cease

To dwell on scenes long past.
When every hour was winged with peace ;

With joy too great to last.
But come, sweet Hope, celestial power,

Thy healing comfort bring ;
Oh, soothe my mind, and let me soar

Upon thine airy wing.

II.

When through the vaulted aisle I roam,

And breathe the sigh sincere ;
Or o'er my mother's hallowed tomb

Drop the sad, filial tear :
' Tis thou can'st cheer the solemn hour ;

Can'st peace and comfort bring ;
Elate my thoughts, and bid them soar

Upon thine airy wing :

III.
Methinks I hear thee, whispering say;

" Mortal thy tears give o'er,
Thy mother, thou, in realms of day,

Shalt meet to part no more."
Soothed by thy words, benignant power.

My soul exulting springs.
And toward the sky, with rapture soars

Upon thine airy wings.

[IHcUs of the Human Heart, p. 47.]



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MRS. SUSANNA ROWSON 81

In her introduction to the Trials of the Human
Hearty Mrs. Rowson diefends herself and writings
against the unjust and gross aspersions of William
Cobbett, who had accused her of writing in an
improper style in her novel of the Fille de Chambre;
and of expressing sentiments foreign to her heart —
sentiments favorable to America in her comedy of
Slaves of Algiers, After affirming that " both asser-
tions are equally false and scandalous," she pro-
ceeds to give an interesting resumi of the events
of her early life as a kind of explanation of the
political opinions which she entertained.

" Though many a leisure hour," she writes, " has
been anaused and many a sorrowful one beguiled
whilst, giving fancy the reins, I have applied my-
self to my pen, it has ever been my pride that I
never yet wrote a line that might tend to mislead
the untutored judgment, or corrupt the inexpe-
rienced heart, and heaven forbid that I should
suffer aught to escape me that might call a blush
to the cheek of innocence or deserve a glance
of displeasure from the eye of the most rigid
moralist.

" As to my opinion of the political concerns of

America, or my wishes in regard to her welfare,

I cannot better explain them than by giving a

slight sketch of my private history, with which I
II



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82 ^ MEMOIR OF

rather imagine the creature alluded to, is entirely
unacquainted.

"It was my fate, at a period when memory can
scarcely retain the smallest trace of the occurrence,
to accompany my father, Mr. William Haswell,
who is lieutenant in the British navy, to Boston in
New England, where he had married a second wife,
my mother having lost her life in giving me exist-
ence. Blest with a genteel competency, and placed
by his rank and education in that sphere of life,
where the polite and friendly attention of the most
respectable characters courted our acceptance and
enjoying a constant intercourse with the families
of the officers of the British army and navy, then
stationary there, eight years of my life glided
almost imperceptibly away.

" At that time the dissensions between England
and America increased to an alarming degree.
My father bore the king's commission, he had taken
the oath of allegiance ; certain I am that no one
who considers the nature of an oath voluntarily
taken, no one who reflects that previous to this
period, he had served thirty years under the British
government will blame him for a strict adherence
to principles which were interwoven as it were into
his existence. He did adhere to them, the attend-



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MRS. SUSANNA BOWSON 83

ant consequences may readily be supposed ; his
person was confined, his property confiscated.

" Then it was that the benevolence and philanthropy
which so eminently distinguish the sons and daugh-
ters of Columbia, made an indelible impression on
my heart; an impression which neither time nor
chance can obliterate; for while their political
principles obliged them to afflict, the humanity, the
Christian like benevolence of their souls, incited
them to wipe the tears of sorrow from the eyes of
my parents, to mitigate their sufterings and render
those afflictions in some measure supportable.

" Having been detained as a prisoner two years
and a half, part of which was spent in Hingham
and part in Abington, an exchange of prisoners
taking place between the British and Americans,
my father and his family were sent by cartel to
Halifax, from whence we embarked for England.
I will not attempt to describe the sorrow I expe-
rienced, in being thus separated from the com-
panions of my early years ; every wish of my heart
was for the welfare and prosperity of a country,
which contained such dear, such valuable friends,
and the only comfort of which my mind was capa-
ble was indulging in the delightful hope of being
at some future period permitted again to revisit a
land so beloved, companions so regretted.



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84 ^ MEMOIR OF

'^ Too young at that period to have formed any
political opinion of my own, I may naturally be
supposed to have adopted those of my father ; but
the truth is, that equally attached to either country,
the unhappy dissensions affected me in the same
manner as a person may be imagined to feel, who,
having a tender lover and an affectionate brother
who are equally dear to her heart and by whom she
is equally beloved, sees them engaged in a quarrel
with, and fighting against, each other, when let
whatsoever party conquer, she cannot be supposed
to be insensible to the fate of the vanquished.

During a period of twelve years a variety of painful
circumstances unnecessary here to recount, contri-
buted to deprive me of a decent independence
inherited from my paternal grandfather, and at
length to bring me back to America, in a very
different situation, I must confess, from that in
which I left it ; but with a heart still glowing with
the same affectionate sensations, and exulting in its
evident improvement: the arts are encouraged,
manufactures increase, and this happy land bids
fair to be in the course of a few years the most
flourishing nation in the universe.

" Is it then wonderful, that accustomed from the
days of childhood, to think of America and its
inhabitants with affection, linked to them by many



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MRS. SUSANNA ROWSON 85

near connections and sincerely attached to them
from principles of gratitude that I should offer the
most ardent prayers for a continuation of their
prosperity, or that feeling the benign influence of
the blessings of peace and liberty, here so eminently
enjoyed, I should wish that influence extended
throughout every nation under heaven."

In a paper entitled a Kick for a BitCy etc., pub-
lished in Philadelphia, 1796, Peter Porcupine
again rails at Mrs. Rowson's sudden conversion to
republicanism and says :

" A liquorish page from Fille de Oiambre serves
me by way of a philtre ; the Inquisitor is my opium,
and I have ever found the Slaves in Algiers a most
excellent emetic." It does not appear that Mrs.
Rowson took any farther notice of her ungenerous
fellow countryman. Her life was her reply.



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86 -4 MEMOIR OF



CHAPTER X.



Je vals oil 1e vent me mdne.

Sans me plaindre, ou m'ef&ayer.— A. V. Arnault.



Entering into an engagement with J. B. William-
son, manager of the Federal street theatre,^ Boston,
the Rowson family came to this town in 1796, and
made their <Ubut in the comic opera of the Farmer
by John O'Keefe, Esq., on the night of the 19th of
September. In speaking of the performance, the
Ceniinel of the 2l8t instant says : " Mr. Rowson in
the song of the Farmer united a good voice to a
happy execution, and Mrs. Rowson's Betty Blackberry
received many marks of public pleasure."

By reference to the play bills of that day, it
appears that Mrs. Rowson performed the part of
, Lady Sneerwell in Sheridan's School for Scandal,
on the 21st of September; and a part in the Fatal
Marriage, on the 10th of October. She appeared as
Margery in the Spoiled Child, by Hoare, November



* This theatre was opened under the management of Charles S.
Powell, February 3, 1794, with the play of Oustavas Vdsa, by
Henry Brooke, Esq. It went into the hands of Colonel J. Tyler
for a while and was then leased to J. B. Williamson, who failed in
1797. The building was destroyed by fire, February 2, 1798.—
Snow's History of Boston, p. 334.



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ME8. 8U8ANNA HOWSON, 87

2l8t; and as Mrs. Druggett, in Mr. Murphy's Three
Weeks after Marriage^ on the 25th of December.

On the evening of January 11, 1797, she per-
sonated Catalina, in the comic opera of the Castle
of Andalusia; on the sixteenth of the same month,
Lady Autumn in the Wedding Day ; on February
Ist, Mrs. Cheshire, in the Agreeable Surprise ; and
on February 13, Dame Quickly, in the Merry Wives
of Windsor. On the 27th of March, she took the
part of Mysis, in Kane O'Hara's operetta of Midas;
and on the Slst, that of Lady Torrendal. On the
3d of April, she appeared as Marcellina, in the
Follies of the Doy^ her husband taking the part of
Bounce ; and on the 12th of the same month, Mr.
and Mrs. Eowson enjoyed a benefit, when a new
comedy in three acts, entitled Americans in England^
or Lessons for Daughters^ written by the author of
Charlotte Temple^ etc., etc., was for the first time
presented. Mr. Rowson appeared as Snap ; Mrs.
Rowson as Mrs. Ormsby and Jemima Winthrop,
and Miss Charlotte Eowson,^ as Betty : Mrs. Row-



* Charlotte Rowson was born in or near London, about 1779 ; was
early left an orphan, and came to this country in Wignell's com-
pany, with her brother. She was for a while upon the stage, and
played in light characters, and sang with fine effect, such songs as
Auld Robin Gray, etc., which were then popular. She married
before she was eighteen years old, Mr. William P. Johnston, then
a bookkeei)er in the office of David Claypole, of Philadelphia, and



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88 A MEMOIR OF

son pronounced the epilogue. This play was again
performed on the 19th of April, and also for the
benefit of the author, on the 26th, when it was
received with great applause by the audience.
The Chronicle speaks enthusiastically of the fine
acting of Mrs. Rowson. This play is now extremely
rare ; the book hunters having offered as much as
fifty dollars for a single copy. On the 8d of May,
Mrs. Rowson's play of the Slaves in Algiers was
performed; and on the 17th of thi§ month her sea-
son in Boston closed with the popular play of the
Spoiled Childj in which, as Mrs. Pickle, she made
without the least regret, her final exit from the
stage. ^* As an actress," says the Boston Gazette
[1824], '^ she was distinguished for correct deport-
ment, clearness of enunciation, and good reading,"
^ She entered on the profession, not from inclination.



publisher of the first daily paper issued in this country. Their
. son, David Claypole Johnston, born in March, 1797, married Miss
Sarah Murphy, of Boston, in 1880, by whom he had eight children.
He was eminent as an artist and caricaturist, and died November
8, 1865. His son, Thomas Murphy Johnston, has inherited his
father's genius. Of the daughters. Miss Susan R. Johnston, in
connection with Miss Mills, continued Mrs. Rowson's school ; an-
other married Mr. John T. Tait, of Philadelphia. Mrs. Wm. P.
[Rowson] Johnston died in July, 1855, at the age of seventy-six
years. She was of medium size ; and her eyes and hair were
dark, and her temper genial. She was very much attached to Mrs.
Bowson, and regarded her more as a mother than a sister. — See
Genealogical Register, April, 1866, p. 170.



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MRS. -BUSANNA B0W80N. 89

but necessity; and though she met with a fair
measure of success in it, the failure of Mr. William-
son, together with the silent monitor within her
breast, persuaded her to relinquish it, and seek for
an employment more congenial with her feelings,
and more beneficial to society.



12



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90 ^ MEMOIR OF



CHAPTER XL

Delig^htfdl task I to rear the tender thought,
To teach the young idea how to shoot ;
To pour the fresh instmction o^er the mind.
To breathe the enlivening spirit, and to fix
The generous purpose in the glowing breast.

ThompwrCs Spring, p. 58.

On leaving the stage in the spring of 1797, Mrs.
Eowson, under the patronage of Mrs. Samuel
Smith, began a school in Federal street, and with
but a single pupil, Mrs. Smith's adopted daughter,
continued it for one whole term. She was known
in Boston only as a novel writer, as an actress —
how could children be confided to her care ?

But the light cannot be hid ; her motto was tant
queje puis, and persevering steadily, she came before
the close of the scholastic year to number one hun-
dred pupils on her daily roll ; and applications were
received for more than she could possibly accom-
modate. Her head, and heart and hand were given
to her school ; and yet redeeming rigidly her time,
she suffered not the ink to dry upon her graceful
pen. In 1798, the birthday of Washington, who
was then expected to assume again the command
of our armies, was celebrated with great iclat
throughout the country. The patriotic address



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MBS. 8U8ANNA R0W80N. 91

before the troops at Baltimore had given Mrs.
Rowson some renown as a poet, and she was in-
vited to prepare a song for the great festival in
Boston. She wrote the following, to the tune of
Anacreon in Heaven, since called the Star Spangled
Banner, which was sung and rapturously applauded
by the audience :

I.
When rising from ocean Columbia appeared,

Minerva to Jove, humbly kneeling, requested
That she, as its patroness, might be revered.

And the power to protect it in her be invested.
Jove nodded assent, pleasure glowed in her breast

As rising, the goddess her will thus expressed :
The sons of Columbia forever shall be

From oppression secure, and from anarchy free.

II.
Rapture flashed through the spheres as the mandate went forth

When Mars and Apollo together uniting,
Cried, " Sister, thy sons shall be famed for their work

Their wisdom in peace and their valor in fighting;
Besides from among them a Chief shall arise

As a soldier or statesman, undaunted and wise,
Who would shed his best blood, that Columbia might be

From oppression secure, and from anarchy free."

III.

Jove, pleased with the prospect, majestic arose

And said : " By ourself they shall not be neglected ;

But ever secure, though surrounded by foes,
By Washington bravely upheld and protected,



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92 A MEMOIR Olf

And while peace and plenty preside o'er the plains,
While memory exists or while gratitude reigns,

His name ever loved and rememhered shall be,

While Columbians remain Independent and Free'* ^



At this time Reuben and Rachel^ or Tales of Old
l^meSj was passing through the press. It is in two
volumes, 12mo, and was written with the design of
awakening a deeper interest in the study of history
which the author had pursued with great delight,
and of showing that not only evil itself, but the
very appearance of evil is to be avoided.

While this story presents many passages of vivid
description; and several scenes of touching pathos,
we nevertheless can claim but little merit for it as
a work of art. The writer made her plot sub-
servient to her desire of teaching history, and hence
it ranges over a period of quite two centuries.
The hero and heroine, Reuben and Rachel Dudley,
whose grandfather, William Dudley, had been taken
captive by the Indians in King Philip's war, and had
married Oberca, the daughter of a chieftain, are
not introduced to the attention of the reader until
the chapter closing the first volume. Through
many trying scenes and temptations both in Eng-
land and America, they are then conducted, still



^MisceUaneaua Poems, p. 178.



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MBS. 8U8ANNA B0W80N. 98

maintaining the honor of the name of Dadley, until
they finally come to settle in peace on the estate of
their beloved father at Mount Pleasant, Pennsyl-
vania. Mrs. Rowson has breathed so much of her
own generous emotion into this work, that in spite
of its want of unity and the improbable incident*
with which its pages abound, the interest of the
reader is enchained as by the spell of an enchanter,
to the last.*

The following extract in which the twin children
make inquiries of their Aunt Rachel respecting
a coronet of feathers which they had accidentally
found, displays alike the author's graceful style and
happy manner of imparting knowledge to the young.

" * It was my brother's,' said she in a mournful
tone, taking it from the child's head and laying it
on her knee; 'I have seen him wear it often.''

" ' He was a great man in Ameri<5a, aunt ? ' said
Reuben.

" * He was more than great, my love, he was good.'

" ' Pray, aunt,' said Rachel, ' do you remember
my grandmother ? *



' " She wrote a novel called Reuben and Rachel, which I re-
member to have read and admired when I was an apprentice." —
Personal Memoirs by Joseph T. Buckingham, vol. i, p. 84.

This work is now quite rare. A copy of it, however, is pre-
served in the Library of the American Antiquarian Society, Wor-
cester, Mass. Another copy lies before me.



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94 A MEMOIR OF

" ' Perfectly/

" ' Was she an Indian ? '

"'Yes.'

" ' What, quite a wild savage ? '

" * No, my dear ; she was what is in general
erroneously termed so ; but her heart was as gentle,
as compassionate, as full of virtue and piety as that
of the most enlightened Christian.'

" ' Was she black, aunt? '

" ' No, dark brown, or rather copper. But the
complexion of her face was like that of her mind.
Its charms and imperfections were discoverable at
one glance, and it was ever beautiful because
invariable.'

" ' But was my grandfather a sachem ? '

"'He was.'

" ' What is a sachem ? '

"'It is a title given to a chief amongst the
Indians, and is the same as a governor with us.*

" ' How came he to be a chief of the savages, aunt ? '

" ' I will tell you,' replied Aunt Rachel.

"It was a subject on which she delighted to
expatiate. She stirred up the fire, folded up her
work, and placing the attentive children on each
side of her began. But my readers already know
the whole story and repetitions are ever tedious.
Aunt Rachel was minute in her recital. At the



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MR8. SUSANNA BOWSON 95

account of her capture Rachel wept ; but Reuben
started from his seat, his countenance glowing with
resentment, and cried, ' I wish I had been there/

" ' And what would you have done, my love,' said
his aunt.

" ' Have rescued you or died,' replied our hero.

" ' Charming, undaunted spirit,' exclaimed his
aunt, and then continued her narrative.

"When she recounted the death of Otooganoo, and
the solemn manner in which he recommended their
father, (then an infant) to the care of the chiefs :
* Good old man,' said Rachel in the most expres-
sive accents of affection, 'what pity he should die.'

" ' Then my father is a sachem,' and the seeds of
ambition which nature had implanted, but which
till that moment had lain dormant in his bosom,
started into life. At the account of their grand-
father's death, the children both sobbed audibly.

" * I will, I am determined, I will go to America,'
said Reuben, first suppressing his emotions.

"'What, without me, brother,' asked Rachel in
a mournful voice.

" ' No, no ! ' he replied ; ' not without you, but
when I am a man we will go together ; we will find
out our grandfather's government and discover our-
selves to his people ; I dare say they would be glad
to see us since they loved him so well.'



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96 A MEMOIR OF

^^ ^ But what should we go there for, brother ? I
am sure we are very happy here ; and papa would
not be willing to part with us.'

" * Well, then I will go and leave you with them,
and when I have settled myself in my government,
I will send for you all ; oh what a fine house I will
have, and then what a number of servants, and
horses and coaches/

"Aunt Rachel smiled to hear how eagerly the
fancy of youth catches at the hope of future great-
ness, and how readily they connect the ideas of
grandeur, affluence and numerous attendants, to
the possession of a title. She gazed for a moment
with pleasure on his intelligent countenance which
the emotions of his little swelling heart had lighted
up with uncommon animation,, and paused, unwill-
ing to throw a dampness on those delightful sensa-
tions he appeared to enjoy. At length,


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Online LibraryElias NasonA memoir of Mrs. Susanna Rowson, with elegant and illustrative extracts from her writings in prose and poetry. [Microform] → online text (page 5 of 12)