George L. Prentiss.

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[Transcriber's Note: Footnotes have been numbered and relocated to the
end of the chapter in which they occur. They are marked by [1], [2],
etc.]






THE LIFE AND LETTERS

OF

ELIZABETH PRENTISS

AUTHOR OF _STEPPING HEAVENWARD_

BY GEORGE L. PRENTISS




This memoir was undertaken at the request of many of Mrs. Prentiss' old
and most trusted friends, who felt that the story of her life should be
given to the public. Much of it is in the nature of an autobiography.
Her letters, which with extracts from her journals form the larger
portion of its contents, begin when she was in her twentieth year, and
continue almost to her last hour. They are full of details respecting
herself, her home, her friends, and the books she wrote. A simple
narrative, interspersed with personal reminiscences, and varied by a
sketch of her father, and passing notices of others, who exerted a
moulding influence upon her character, completes the story. A picture is
thus presented of the life she lived and its changing scenes, both on
the natural and the spiritual side. While the work may fail to interest
some readers, the hope is cherished that, like STEPPING HEAVENWARD,
it will be welcomed into Christian homes and prove a blessing to many
hearts; thus realising the desire expressed in one of her last letters:
_Much of my experience of life has cost me a great price and I wish to
use it for strengthening and comforting other souls._

G. L. P.

KAUINFELS, September 11, 1882.




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I.

THE CHILD AND THE GIRL.

1818-1839.

I.

Birth-place and Ancestry. The Payson Family. Seth Payson. Edward Payson.
His Mother. A Sketch of his Life and Character. The Fervor of his Piety.
Despondent Moods, and their Causes. His bright, natural Traits. How he
prayed and preached. Conversational Gift. Love to Christ. Triumphant
Death.

II.

Birth and Childhood of Elizabeth Payson. Early Traits. Devotion to her
Father. His Influence upon her. Letters to her Sister. Removal to New
York. Reminiscences of the Payson Family.

III.

Recollections of Elizabeth's Girlhood by an early Friend and Schoolmate.
Her own Picture of herself before her Father's Death. Favorite Resorts.
Why God permits so much Suffering. Literary Tastes. Letters. "What are
Little Babies For?" Opens a School. Religious Interest.

IV.

The dominant Type of Religious Life and Thought in New England in the
First Half of this Century. Literary Influences. Letter of Cyrus Hamlin.
A strange Coincidence.


CHAPTER II.

THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST.

1840-1841.

I.

A memorable Experience. Letters to her Cousin. Goes to Richmond as a
Teacher. Mr. Persico's School. Letters.

II.

Her Character as a Teacher. Letters. Incidents of School Life. Religious
Struggles, Aims, and Hope. Oppressive Heat and Weariness.

III.

Extracts from her Richmond Journal.


CHAPTER III.

PASSING FROM GIRLHOOD INTO WOMANHOOD.

1841-1845.

I.

At Home Again. Marriage of her Sister. Ill-health. Letters. Spiritual
Aspiration and Conflict. Perfectionism. "Very, Very Happy." Work for
Christ what makes Life attractive. Passages from her Journal. A Point of
Difficulty.

II.

Returns to Richmond. Trials There. Letters. Illness. School Experiences.
"To the Year 1843." Glimpses of her daily Life. Why her Scholars
love her So. Homesick. A Black Wedding. What a Wife should be. "A
Presentiment." Notes from her Diary.

III.

Her Views of Love and Courtship. Visit of her Sister and Child. Letters.
Sickness and Death of Friends. Ill-health. Undergoes a surgical
Operation. Her Fortitude. Study of German. Fenelon.


CHAPTER IV.

THE YOUNG WIFE AND MOTHER.

1845-1850.

I.

Marriage and Settlement in New Bedford. Reminiscences. Letters. Birth of
her First Child. Death of her Mother-in-Law. Letters.

II.

Birth of a Son. Death of her Mother. Her Grief. Letters. Eddy's Illness
and her own Cares. A Family Gathering at Newburyport. Extracts from
Eddy's Journal.

III.

Further Extracts from Eddy's Journal. Ill-Health. Visit to Newark. Death
of her Brother-in-Law, S. S. Prentiss. His Character. Removal to Newark.
Letters.


CHAPTER V.

IN THE SCHOOL OF SUFFERING.

1851-1858.

I.

Removal to New York, and first Summer there. Letters. Loss of Sleep and
Anxiety about Eddy. Extracts from Eddy's Journal, Describing his last
Illness and Death. Lines entitled, "To My Dying Eddy.".

II.

Birth of her Third Child. Reminiscences of a Sabbath Evening Talk. Story
of the Baby's Sudden Illness and Death. Summer of 1852. Lines entitled,
"My Nursery."

III.

Summer at White Lake. Sudden Death of her Cousin, Miss Shipman.
Quarantined. _Little Susy's Six Birthdays_. How she wrote it. _The
Flower of the Family_. Her Motive in Writing it. Letter of Sympathy to a
bereaved Mother. A Summer at the Seaside. _Henry and Bessie._


IV.

A memorable Year. Lines on the Anniversary of Eddy's Death. Extracts
from her Journal. _Little Susy's Six Teachers_. The Teachers' Meeting.
A New York Waif. Summer in the Country. Letters. _Little Susy's Little
Servants_. Extracts from her Journal. "Alone with God."

V.

Ready for new Trials. Dangerous Illness. Extracts from her Journal.
Visit to Greenwood. Sabbath Meditations. Birth of another Son. Her
Husband resigns his Pastoral Charge. Voyage to Europe.


CHAPTER VI.

IN RETREAT AMONG THE ALPS.

1858-1860.

I.

Life Abroad. Letters about the Voyage, and the Journey from Havre to
Switzerland. Chateau d'Oex. Letters from there. The Châlet Rosat. The
Free Church of the Canton de Vaud. Pastor Panchàud.

II.

Montreux. The Swiss Autumn. Castle of Chillon. Death and Sorrow of
Friends at Home. Twilight Talks. Spring Flowers.

III.

The Campagne Genevrier. Vevay. Beauty of the Region. Birth of a Son.
Visit from Professor Smith. Excursion to Chamouni. Whooping-cough and
Scarlet-fever among the Children. Doctor Curchod. Letters.

IV.

Paris. Sight-seeing. A sick Friend. London and its Environs. The Queen
and Prince Albert. The Isle of Wight. Homeward.


CHAPTER VII.

THE STRUGGLE WITH ILL-HEALTH.

1861-1865.

I.

At Home again in New York. The Church of the Covenant. Increasing
Ill-health. The Summer of 1861. Death of Louisa Payson Hopkins. Extracts
from her Journal. Summer of 1862. Letters. Despondency.

II.

Another care-worn Summer. Letters from Williamstown and Rockaway. Hymn
on Laying the Corner-stone of the Church of the Covenant.

III.

Happiness in her Children. The Summer of 1864. Letters from Hunter.
Affliction among Friends.

IV.

Death of President Lincoln. Dedication of the Church of the Covenant.
Growing Insomnia. Resolves to try the Water-cure. Its beneficial
Effects. Summer at Newburgh. Reminiscences of an Excursion to Palz
Point. Death of her Husband's Mother. Funeral of her Nephew, Edward
Payson Hopkins.


CHAPTER VIII.

THE PASTOR'S WIFE AND DAUGHTER OF CONSOLATION.

1866-1868.

I.

Happiness as a Pastor's Wife. Visits to Newport and Williamstown.
Letters. The Great Portland Fire. First Summer at Dorset. The new
Parsonage occupied. Second Summer at Dorset. _Little Lou's Sayings and
Doings_. Project of a Cottage. Letters. _The Little Preacher_. Illness
and Death of Mrs. Edward Payson and of Little Francis.

II.

Last Visit from Mrs. Stearns. Visits to old Friends at Newport and
Rochester. Letters. Goes to Dorset. _Fred and Maria and Me_. Letters.

III.

Return to Town. Death of an old Friend. Letters and Notes of Love and
Sympathy. An Old Ladies' Party. Scenes of Trouble and Dying Beds. Fifty
Years Old. Letters.


CHAPTER IX.

STEPPING HEAVENWARD.

1869.

I.

Death of Mrs. Stearns. Her Character. Dangerous Illness of Prof. Smith.
Death at the Parsonage. Letters. A Visit to Vassar College. Letters.
Getting ready for the General Assembly. "Gates Ajar".

II.

How she earned her Sleep. Writing for young Converts about speaking the
Truth. Meeting of the General Assembly in the Church of the Covenant.
Reunion, D.D.'s, and Strawberry Short-cake. "Enacting the Tiger."
Getting Ready for Dorset. Letters.

III.

The new Home in Dorset. What it became to her. Letters from there.

IV.

Return to Town. Domestic Changes. Letters. "My Heart sides with God in
everything." Visiting among the Poor. "Conflict isn't Sin." Publication
of _Stepping Heavenward_. Her Misgivings about it. How it was received.
Reminiscences by Miss E. A. Warner. Letters. The Rev. Wheelock Craig.

V.

Recollections by Mrs. Henry B. Smith


CHAPTER X.

ON THE MOUNT.

1870.

I.

A happy Year. Madame Guyon. What sweetens the Cup of earthly Trials and
the Cup of earthly Joy. Death of Mrs. Julia B. Cady. Her Usefulness.
Sickness and Death of other Friends. "My Cup runneth over." Letters.
"More Love to Thee, O Christ".

II.

Her Silver Wedding. "_I have lived, I have loved_." No Joy can put her
out of Sympathy with the Trials of Friends. A Glance backward. Last
Interview with a dying Friend. More Love and more Likeness to Christ.
Funeral of a little Baby. Letters to Christian Friends.

III.

Lines on going to Dorset. A Cloud over her. Faber's Life. Loving Friends
for one's own sake and loving them for Christ's sake. The Bible and the
Christian Life. Dorset Society and Occupations. Counsels to a young
Friend in Trouble. "Don't stop praying for your Life!" Cure for the
Heart-sickness caused by the Sight of human Imperfections. Fenelon's
Teaching about Humiliation and being patient with Ourselves.

IV.

_The Story Lizzie Told_. Country and City. The Law of Christian
Progress. Letters to a Friend bereft of three Children. Sudden Death of
another Friend. "Go on; step faster." Fenelon and his Influence upon her
religious Life. Lines on her Indebtedness to him.


CHAPTER XI.

IN HER HOME.

I.

Home-life in New York.

II.

Home-life in Dorset.

III.

Further Glimpses of her Dorset Life.


CHAPTER XII.

THE TRIAL OF FAITH.

1871-1872.

I.

Two Years of Suffering. Its Nature and Causes. Spiritual Conflicts.
Ill-health. Faith a Gift to be won by Prayer. Death-bed of Dr. Skinner.
Visit to Philadelphia. "Daily Food." How to read the Bible so as to love
it more. Letters of Sympathy and Counsel. "Prayer for Holiness brings
Suffering." Perils of human Friendship.

II.

Her Husband called to Chicago. Lines on going to Dorset. Letters to
young Friends on the Christian Life. Narrow Escape from Death. Feeling
on returning to Town. Her "Praying Circle." The Chicago Fire. The true
Art of Living. God our only safe Teacher. An easily-besetting Sin.
Counsels to young Friends. Letters.

III.

"Holiness and Usefulness go hand-in-hand." No two Souls dealt with
exactly alike. Visits to a stricken Home. Another Side of her Life.
Visit to a Hospital. Christian Friendship. Letters to a bereaved Mother.
Submission not inconsistent with Suffering. Thoughts at the Funeral of
a little "Wee Davie." Assurance of Faith. Funeral of Prof. Hopkins. His
Character.

IV.

Christian Parents to expect Piety in their Children. Perfection. "People
make too much Parade of their Troubles." "Higher Life" Doctrines. Letter
to Mrs. Washburn. Last Visit to Williamstown.


CHAPTER XIII.

PEACEABLE FRUIT.

1873-1874.

I.

Effect of spiritual Conflict upon her religious Life. Overflowing
Affections. Her Husband called to Union Theological Seminary. Baptism of
Suffering. The Character of her Friendships. No perfect Life. Prayer.
"Only God can satisfy a Woman." Why human Friendship is a Snare.
Letters.

II.

Goes to Dorset. Christian Example. At Work among her Flowers. Dangerous
Illness. Her Feeling about Dying. Death an "Invitation" from Christ.
"The Under-current bears _Home_." "More Love, more Love!" A Trait of
Character. Special Mercies. What makes a sweet Home. Letters.

III.

Change of Home and Life in New York. A Book about Robbie. Her Sympathy
with young People. "I have in me two different Natures." What Dr. De
Witt said at the Grave of his Wife. The Way to meet little Trials.
Faults in Prayer-meetings. How special Theories of the Christian Life
are formed. Sudden Illness of Prof. Smith. Publication of _Golden
Hours_. How it was received.

IV.

Incidents of the Year 1874. Starts a Bible-reading in Dorset. Begins
to take Lessons in Painting. A Letter from her Teacher. Publication of
_Urbane and His Friends_. Design of the Work. Her Views of the Christian
Life. The Mystics. The Indwelling Christ. An Allegory.


CHAPTER XIV.

WORK AND PLAY.

1875-1877.

I.

A Bible-reading in New York. Her Painting. "Grace for Grace." Death of
a young Friend. The Summer at Dorset. Bible-readings there. Encompassed
with Kindred. Typhoid Fever in the House. Watching and Waiting. The
Return to Town. A Day of Family Rejoicing. Life a "Battle-field."

II.

The Moody and Sankey Meetings. Her Interest in them. Mr. Moody.
Publication of _Griselda_. Goes to the Centennial. At Dorset again. Her
Bible-readings. A Moody-meeting Convert. Visit to Montreal. Publication
of _The Home at Greylock_. Her Theory of a happy Home. Marrying for
Love. Her Sympathy with young Mothers. Letters.

III.

The Year 1877. Death of her Cousin, the Rev. Charles H. Payson. Last
Illness and Death of Prof. Smith. "Let us take our Lot in Life just as
it comes." Adorning one's Home. How much Time shall be given to it?
God's Delight in His beautiful Creations. Death of Dr. Buck. Visiting
the sick and bereaved. An Ill-turn. Goes to Dorset. The Strangeness of
Life. Kauinfels. The Bible-reading. Letters.

IV.

Return to Town. Recollections of this Period. "Ordinary" Christians and
Spiritual Conflict. A tired Sunday Evening. "We may make an Idol of our
Joy." Publication of _Pemaquid_. Kezia Millet.


CHAPTER XV.

FOREVER WITH THE LORD.

1878.

I.

Enters upon her last Year on Earth. A Letter about The Home at Greylock.
Her Motive in writing Books. Visit to the Aquarium. About "Worry." Her
Painting. Saturday Afternoons with her. What she was to her Friends.
Resemblance to Madame de Broglie. Recollections of a Visit to East
River. A Picture of her by an old Friend. Goes to Dorset. Second Advent
Doctrine. Last Letters.

II.

Little Incidents and Details of her last Days on Earth. Last Visit to
the Woods. Sudden Illness. Last Bible-reading. Last Drive to Hager
Brook. Reminiscence of a last Interview. Closing Scenes. Death. The
Burial.


APPENDIX




CHAPTER I.

THE CHILD AND THE GIRL.

1818-1839.

I. Birth-place and Ancestry. Seth Payson. Edward Payson. His Mother. A
Sketch of his Life and Character. The Fervor of his Piety. Despondent
Moods and their Cause. Bright, natural Traits. How he prayed and
preached. Conversational Gift. Love to Christ. Triumphant Death.


Mrs. Prentiss was fortunate in the place of her birth. She first saw the
light at Portland, Maine. Maine was then a district of Massachusetts,
and Portland was its chief town and seaport, distinguished for beauty of
situation, enterprise, intelligence, social refinement and all the best
qualities of New England character. Not a few of the early settlers had
come from Cape Cod and other parts of the old Bay State, and the blood
of the Pilgrim Fathers ran in their veins. Among its leading citizens at
that time were such men as Stephen Longfellow, Simon Greenleaf, Prentiss
Mellen, Samuel Fessenden, Ichabod Nichols, Edward Payson, and Asa
Cummings; men eminent for private and public virtue, and some of whom
were destined to become still more widely known, by their own growing
influence, or by the genius of their children.

But while favored in the place of her birth, Mrs. Prentiss was more
highly favored still in her parentage. For more than half a century the
name of her father has been a household word among the churches not of
New England only, but throughout the land and even beyond the sea. It is
among the most beloved and honored in the annals of American piety. [1]
He belonged to a very old Puritan stock, and to a family noted during
two centuries for the number of ministers of the Gospel who have sprung
from it. The first in the line of his ancestry in this country was
Edward, who came over in the brig Hopewell, William Burdeck, Master, in
1635-6, and settled in the town of Roxbury. He was a native of Nasing,
Essex Co., England. Among his fellow-passengers in the Hopewell was Mary
Eliot, then a young girl, sister of John Eliot, the illustrious "Apostle
to the Indians." Some years later she became his wife. Their youngest
son, Samuel, was father of the Rev. Phillips Payson, who was born at
Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1705, and settled at Walpole, in the same
State, in 1730. He had four sons in the ministry, all, like himself,
graduates of Harvard College. The youngest of these, the Rev. Seth
Payson, D.D., Mrs. Prentiss' grandfather, was born September 30, 1758,
was ordained and settled at Rindge, New Hampshire, December 4, 1782, and
died there, after a pastorate of thirty-seven years, February 26, 1820.
His wife was Grata Payson, of Pomfret, Conn. He was a man widely known
in his day and of much weight in the community, not only in his own
profession but in civil life, also, having several times filled the
office of State senator. When in 1819 a plan was formed to remove
Williams College to a more central location, and several towns competed
for the honor, Dr. Payson was associated with Chancellor Kent of New
York, and Governor John Cotton Smith of Connecticut, as a committee to
decide upon the rival claims. He is described as possessing a sharp,
vigorous intellect, a lively imagination, a very retentive memory, and
was universally esteemed as an able and faithful minister of Christ. [2]

Edward, the eldest son of Seth and Grata Payson, was born at Rindge,
July 25, 1783. His mother was noted for her piety, her womanly
discretion, and her personal and mental graces. Edward was her
first-born, and from his infancy to the last year of his life she
lavished upon him her love and her prayers. The relation between them
was very beautiful. His letters to her are models of filial devotion,
and her letters to him are full of tenderness, good sense, and pious
wisdom. He inherited some of her most striking traits, and through him
they passed on to his youngest daughter, who often said that she owed
her passion for the use of the pen and her fondness for rhyming to her
grandmother Grata. [3]

Edward Payson was in all respects a highly-gifted man. His genius was as
marked as his piety. There is a charm about his name and the story of
his life, that is not likely soon to pass away. He belonged to a class
of men who seem to be chosen of Heaven to illustrate the sublime
possibilities of Christian attainment - men of seraphic fervor of
devotion, and whose one overmastering passion is to win souls for Christ
and to become wholly like Him themselves. Into this goodly fellowship
he was early initiated. There is something startling in the depth and
intensity of his religious emotions, as recorded in his journal and
letters. Nor is it to be denied that they are often marred by a very
morbid element. Like David Brainerd, the missionary saint of New
England, to whom in certain features of his character he bore no little
resemblance, Edward Payson was of a melancholy temperament and subject,
therefore, to sudden and sharp alternations of feeling. While he had
great capacity for enjoyment, his capacity for suffering was equally
great. Nor were these native traits suppressed, or always overruled, by
his religious faith; on the contrary, they affected and modified his
whole Christian life. In its earlier stages, he was apt to lay too much
stress by far upon fugitive "frames," and to mistake mere weariness,
torpor, and even diseased action of body or mind, for coldness toward
his Saviour. And almost to the end of his days he was, occasionally,
visited by seasons of spiritual gloom and depression, which, no doubt,
were chiefly, if not solely, the result of physical causes. It was
an error that grew readily out of the brooding introspection and
self-anatomy which marked the religious habit of the times. The close
connection between physical causes and morbid or abnormal conditions of
the spiritual life, was not as well understood then as it is now.
Many things were ascribed to Satanic influence which should have been
ascribed rather to unstrung nerves and loss of sleep, or to a violation
of the laws of health. [4] The disturbing influence of nervous and other
bodily or mental disorders upon religious experience deserves a fuller
discussion than it has yet received. It is a subject which both modern
science and modern thought, if guided by Christian wisdom, might help
greatly to elucidate.

The morbid and melancholy element, however, was only a painful incident
of his character. It tinged his life with a vein of deep sadness and led
to undue severity of self-discipline; but it did not seriously impair
the strength and beauty of his Christian manhood. It rather served to
bring them into fuller relief, and even to render more striking those
bright natural traits - the sportive humor, the ready mother wit, the
facetious pleasantry, the keen sense of the ridiculous, and the wondrous
story-telling gift - which made him a most delightful companion to young
and old, to the wise and the unlettered alike. It served, moreover, to
impart peculiar tenderness to his pastoral intercourse, especially with
members of his flock tried and tempted like as he was. He had learned
how to counsel and comfort them by the things which he also had
suffered. He may have been too exacting and harsh in dealing with
himself; but in dealing with other souls nothing could exceed the
gentleness, wisdom, and soothing influence of his ministrations.

As a preacher he was the impersonation of simple, earnest, and
impassioned utterance. Although not an orator in the ordinary sense of
the term, he touched the hearts of his hearers with a power beyond the
reach of any oratory. Some of his printed sermons are models in their
kind; that _e.g._ on "Sins estimated by the Light of Heaven," and that
addressed to Seamen. His theology was a mild type of the old New England
Calvinism, modified, on the one hand, by the influence of his favorite
authors - such as Thomas à Kempis, and Fenelon, the Puritan divines of
the seventeenth century, John Newton and Richard Cecil - and on the
other, by his own profound experience and seraphic love. Of his
theology, his preaching and his piety alike, Christ was the living
centre. His expressions of personal love to the Saviour are surpassed
by nothing in the writings of the old mystics. Here is a passage from a
letter to his mother, written while he was still a young pastor:

I have sometimes heard of spells and charms to excite love, and have
wished for them, when a boy, that I might cause others to love me. But
how much do I now wish for some charm which should lead men to love the
Saviour!... Could I paint a true likeness of Him, methinks I should
rejoice to hold it up to the view and admiration of all creation, and be
hid behind it forever. It would be heaven enough to hear Him praised and
adored. But I can not paint Him; I can not describe Him; I can not make
others love Him; nay, I can not love Him a thousandth part so much as
I ought myself. O, for an angel's tongue! O, for the tongues of ten
thousand angels, to sound His praises.

He had a remarkable familiarity with the word of God and his mind seemed
surcharged with its power. "You could not, in conversation, mention
a passage of Scripture to him but you found his soul in harmony with
it - the most apt illustrations would flow from his lips, the fire of
devotion would beam from his eye, and you saw at once that not only
could he deliver a sermon from it, but that the ordinary time allotted
to a sermon would be exhausted before he could pour out the fullness of
meaning which a sentence from the word of God presented to his mind."
[5]

He was wonderfully gifted in prayer. Here all his intellectual,
imaginative, and spiritual powers were fused into one and poured
themselves forth in an unbroken stream of penitential and adoring
affection. When he said, "Let us pray," a divine influence seemed to
rest upon all present. His prayers were not mere pious mental exercises,
they were devout inspirations.

No one can form an adequate conception of what Dr. Payson was from any
of the productions of his pen. Admirable as his written sermons are, his
extempore prayers and the gushings of his heart in familiar talk were



Online LibraryGeorge L. PrentissThe Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss → online text (page 1 of 57)