George L. Prentiss.

The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss online

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I have his nurse still, and ought to be in excellent health, but am
a nervous old thing, as skinny and bony as I can be. I can think of
nothing but birds' claws when I look at my hands. But I have so much to
be thankful for in my dear husband and my sweet little children, and
love all of you so dearly, that I believe I am as rich as if I had the
flesh and strength of a giant. I am going this week to hear Miss Arnold
read a manuscript novel. This will give spice to my life. Warmest love
to you all.

Again, May 10th, she writes:

It would be a great pleasure to me to keep a journal for you if I were
well enough, but I am not. I have my sick headache now once a week, and
it makes me really ill for about three days. Towards night of the third
day I begin to brighten up and to eat a morsel, but hardly recover my
strength before I have another pull-down, just as I had got to this
point the door-bell rang, and lo! a beautiful May-basket hanging on the
latch for "Annie," full of pretty and good things. I can hardly wait
till morning to see how her eyes will shine and her little feet fly when
she sees it. George has been greatly distressed about S. S., and has, I
think, very little, if any, hope that he will recover. Dr. Tappan [10]
spent Tuesday night here. We had a really delightful visit from him. He
spoke highly of your classmate, Craig, who is just going to be married.
He told us a number of pleasant anecdotes about father. Eddy has got big
enough to walk in the street. He looks like a little picture, with his
great forehead and bright eyes. He is in every way as large as most
children are at two years. His supreme delight is to tease A. by making
believe strike her or in some other real boy's hateful way. She and he
play together on the grass-plat, and I feel quite matronly as I sit
watching them with their balls and wheel-barrows and whatnots. This
little scamp has, I fear, broken my constitution to pieces. It makes me
crawl all over when I think of you three fagging all day at such dull
and unprofitable labor. But I am sure Providence will do what is really
best for you all. We think and talk of and pray for you every day and
more than once a day, and, in all my ill-health and sufferings, the
remembrance of you is pleasant and in great measure refreshing. I
depend more upon hearing from you all than I can describe. What an
unconquerable thing family affection is!

She thus writes, May 30th, to her old Portland friend, Miss Lord:

I have written very few letters and not a line of anything else the
past winter, owing to the confusion my mind is in most of the time from
distress in my head. Three days out of every seven I am as sick as I
well can be - the rest of the time languid, feeble, and exhausted by
frequent faint turns, so that I can't do the smallest thing in my
family. I hardly know what it is so much as to put a clean apron on to
one of my children. To me this is a constant pain and weariness; for
our expense in the way of servants is greater than we can afford and
everything is going to destruction under my face and eyes, while I dare
not lift a finger to remedy it. I live in constant alternations of hope
and despondency about my health. Whenever I feel a little better, as I
do to-day, I am sanguine and cheerful, but the next ill-turn depresses
me exceedingly. I don't think there is any special danger of my dying,
but there is a good deal of my getting run down beyond the power of
recovery, and of dragging out that useless existence of which I have a
perfect horror. But I would not have you think I am not happy; for I can
truly say that I _am_, most of the time, as happy as I believe one can
be in this world. All my trials and sufferings shut me up to the one
great Source of peace, and I know there has been need of every one of

I have not yet made my plans for the summer. Our doctor urges me to go
away from the children and from the salt water, but I do not believe it
would do me a bit of good. I want you to see my dear little boy. He is
now nineteen months old and as fat and well as can be. He is a beautiful
little fellow, we think, and very interesting. He is as gallant to A.
as you please, and runs to get a cushion for her when their supper is
carried in, and won't eat a morsel himself till he sees her nicely
fixed. George has gone to Boston, and I am lonely enough. I would write
another sheet if I dared, but I don't dare.

What she here says of her happiness, amidst the trials of the previous
winter, is repeated a little later in a letter to her husband:

I can truly say I have not spent a happier winter since our marriage, in
spite of all my sickness. It seems to me I can never recover my spirits
and be as I have been in my best days, but what I lose in one way
perhaps I shall gain in another. Just think how my ambition has been
crushed at every point by my ill-health, and even the ambition to be
useful and a comfort to those about me trampled underfoot, to teach me
what I could not have learned in any other school!

In the month of June she went on a visit to Newark, New Jersey, where
her husband's mother and sister now resided; Dr. Stearns having in the
fall of 1849 accepted a call to the First Presbyterian church in that
city. While she was in Newark news came of the dangerous illness, and,
soon after, of the death at Natchez of her brother-in-law, Mr. S. S.
Prentiss. The event was a great shock to her, and she knew that it would
be a crushing blow to her husband. Her letters to him, written at this
time, are full of the tender love and sympathy that infuse solace into
sorrow-stricken hearts. Here is an extract from one of them, dated July

I can't tell you how it grieves and distresses me to have had this
long-dreaded affliction come upon you when you were alone. Though I
could do so little to comfort you, it seems as if I _must_ be near
you.... But I know I am doing right in staying here - doing as you would
tell me to do, if I could have your direct wish, and you don't know how
thankful I am that it has pleased God to let me be with dear mother at a
time when she so needed constant affection and sympathy. Yes there are
wonderful mercies with this heavy affliction, and we all see and feel
them. Poor mother has borne all the dreadful suspense and then the
second blow of to-day far better than any of us dared to hope, but she
weeps incessantly. Anna is with her all she can possibly be, and Mr.
Stearns is an angel of mercy. I have prayed for you a great deal this
week, and I know God is with you, comforts you, and will enable you to
bear this great sorrow. And yet I can't help feeling that I want to
comfort you myself. Oh, may we all reap its blessed fruits as long as we
live! Let us withdraw a while from everything else, that we may press
nearer to God.

We were in a state of terrible suspense all day Tuesday, all day
Wednesday, and until noon to-day; starting at every footfall, expecting
telegraphic intelligence either from you or from the South, and
deplorably ignorant of Seargent's alarming condition, notwithstanding
all the warning we had had. With one consent we had put far off the evil
day.... And now I must bid you good-night, my dearest husband, praying
that you may be the beloved of the Lord and rest in safety by Him.

The early years of Mrs. Prentiss' married life were in various ways
closely connected with that of this lamented brother; so much so that he
may be said to have formed one of the most potent, as well as one of the
sunniest, influences in her own domestic history. Not only was he very
highly gifted, intellectually, and widely known as a great orator, but
he was also a man of extraordinary personal attractions, endeared to all
his friends by the sweetness of his disposition, by his winning ways,
his wit, his playful humor, his courage, his boundless generosity, his
fraternal and filial devotion, and by the charm of his conversation. His
death at the early age of forty-one called forth expressions of profound
sorrow and regret from the first men of the nation. After the lapse of
nearly a third of a century his memory is still fresh and bright in the
hearts of all, who once knew and loved him. [11]

Notwithstanding the shock of this great affliction, Mrs. Prentiss
returned to New Bedford much refreshed in body and mind. In a letter to
her friend Miss Lord, dated September 14th, she writes:

I spent six most profitable weeks at Newark; went out very little, saw
very few people, and had the quiet and retirement I had long hungered
and thirsted for. Since I have had children my life has been so
distracted with care and sickness that I have sometimes felt like giving
up in despair, but this six weeks' rest gave me fresh courage to start
anew. I have got some delightful books - Manning's Sermons. [12] They are
(letting the High-churchism go) most delightful; I think Susan would
have feasted on them. But she is feasting on angels' food and has need
of none of these things.

In October of this year Mrs. Prentiss bade adieu to New Bedford,
never to revisit it, and removed to Newark; her husband having become
associate pastor of the Second Presbyterian church in that place. In the
spring of the following year he accepted a call to the Mercer street
Presbyterian church in New York, and that city became her home the
rest of her days. Although she tarried so short a time in Newark, she
received much kindness and formed warm friendships while there. She
continued to suffer much, however, from ill-health and almost entirely
suspended her correspondence. A few letters to New Bedford friends
are all that relate to this period. In one to Mrs. J. P. Allen, dated
November 2d, she thus refers to an accident, which came near proving

Yesterday we went down to New York to hear Jenny Lind; a pleasure to
remember for the rest of one's life. If anything, she surpassed our
expectations. In coming home a slight accident to the cars obliged us to
walk about a mile, and I must needs fall into a hole in the bridge which
we were crossing, and bruise and scrape one knee quite badly. The wonder
is that I did not go into the river, as it was a large hole, and pitch
dark. I think if I had been walking with Mr. Prentiss I should not only
have gone in myself, but pulled him in too; but I had the arm of a
stronger man, who held me up till I could extricate myself. You can't
think how I miss you, nor how often I wish you could run in and sit with
me, as you used to do. I have always loved you, and shall remember you
and yours with the utmost interest. We had a pleasant call the other day
from Captain Gibbs. Seeing him made me homesick enough. I could hardly
keep from crying all the time he stayed. It seems to us both as if
we had been gone from New Bedford more months than we have days. Mr.
Prentiss said yesterday that he should expect if he went back directly,
to see the boys and girls grown up and married.

_To Mrs. Reuben Nye, Newark, Feb 12, 1851._

Mr. Prentiss and Mr. Poor have just taken Annie and Eddy out to walk,
and I have been moping over the fire and thinking of New Bedford
friends, and wishing one or more would "happen in." I am just now
getting over a severe attack of rheumatism, which on leaving my back
intrenched itself in Mr. P.'s shoulder. I dislike this climate and am
very suspicious of it. Everybody has a horrible cold, or the rheumatism,
or fever and ague. Mr. Prentiss says if I get the latter, he shall be
off for New England in a twinkling. I think he is as well as can be
expected while the death of his brother continues so fresh in his
remembrance. All the old cheerfulness, which used to sustain me amid
sickness and trouble, has gone from him. But God has ordered the iron to
enter his soul, and it is not for me to resist that will. Our children
are well. We have had much comfort in them both this winter. Mother
Prentiss is renewing her youth, it is so pleasant to her to have us all
near her. (Eddy and A. are hovering about me, making such a noise that I
can hardly write. Eddy says, "When I was tired, _Poor_ tarried me.") Mr.
Poor carries all before him. [13] He is _very_ popular throughout
the city, and I believe Mrs. P. is much admired by their people. Mr.
Prentiss is preaching every Sabbath evening, as Dr. Condit is able to
preach every morning now. I feel as much at home as I possibly could
anywhere in the same time, but instead of mourning less for my New
Bedford friends, I mourn more and more every day.

To Mrs. Allen she writes, Feb. 21:

I know all about those depressed moods, when it costs one as much to
smile, or to give a pleasant answer, as it would at other times to make
a world. What a change it will be to us poor sickly, feeble, discouraged
ones, when we find ourselves where there is neither pain or lassitude or
fatigue of the body, or sorrow or care or despondency of the mind!

I miss you more and more. People here are kind and excellent and
friendly, but I can not make them, as yet, fill the places of the
familiar faces I have left in New Bedford. I am all the time walking
through our neighborhood, dropping into Deacon Barker's or your house,
or welcoming some of you into our old house on the corner. Eddy is
pretty well. He is a sweet little boy, gentle and docile. He learns to
talk very fast, and is crazy to learn hymns. He says, "Tinkle, tinkle
_leetleeverybody_, and give 'tatoes to beggar boys." Mother Prentiss
seems to _thrive_ on having us all about her. She lives so far off that
I see her seldom, but Mr. P. goes every day, except Sundays, when
he can't go - rain or shine, tired or not tired, convenient or not
convenient. Since my mother's death he has felt that he must do quickly
whatever he has to do for his own.

[1] "I found dear Abby still alive and rejoiced beyond expression to see
me. She had had a very feeble night, but brightened up towards noon and
when I arrived seemed entirely like her old self, smiling sweetly and
exclaiming, "This is the last blessing I desired! Oh, how good the Lord
is, isn't He?" It was very delightful. The doctor has just been in and
he says she may go any instant, and yet may live a day or two. Mother is
wonderfully calm and happy, and the house seems like the very gate of
heaven.... I so wish you could have seen Abby's smile when I entered her
room. And then she inquired so affectionately for you and baby: "Now
tell me everything about them." She longs and prays to be gone. There
is something perfectly childlike about her expressions and feelings,
especially toward mother. She can't bear to have her leave the room and
holds her hand a good deal of the time. She sends ever so much love." -
_Extract from a letter, dated Portland, January 27, 1847._

[2] The late Rev. William T. Dwight, D.D., pastor of the Third Church in
Portland. He was a son of President Dwight, an accomplished man, a noble
Christian citizen, and one of the ablest preachers of his day. For many
years his house almost adjoined Mrs. Payson's, and both he and Mrs.
Dwight were among her most cherished friends.

[3] A devoted friend of her father's, one of his deacons, and a genial,
warm-hearted, good man.

[4] A niece of her husband, a lovely child, who died a few years later
in Georgia.

[5] Rev. James Lewis, a venerated elder and local preacher of the
Methodist Episcopal Church, then nearly eighty years of age. He died
in 1855, universally beloved and lamented. He entered upon his work in
1800. During most of those fifty-five years he was wont to preach every
Sabbath, often three times, rarely losing an appointment by sickness,
and still more rarely by storms in summer or winter. He lived in Gorham,
Maine, and his labors were pretty equally divided among all the towns
within fifteen miles round. His rides out and back, often over the
roughest roads or through heavy snows, averaged, probably, from fifteen
to twenty miles. It was estimated that he had officiated at not less
than 1,500 funerals, sometimes riding for the purpose forty miles. His
funeral and camp-meeting sermons included, he could not have preached
less than from 8,000 to 9,000 times. He never received a dollar of
compensation for his ministerial services. Though a hard-working farmer,
his hospitality to his itinerant brethren was unbounded. In several
towns of Cumberland and adjoining counties, he was the revered
patriarch, as half a century earlier he had been the youthful pioneer of
Methodism. When he departed to be with Christ, there was no better man
in all the State to follow after him.

[6] One of a number of old whaling captains in her husband's
congregation, in whom she was interested greatly. They belonged to
a class of men _sui generis_ - men who had traversed all oceans,
had visited many lands, and were as remarkable for their jovial
large-hearted, social qualities, when at home, as for their indomitable
energy, Yankee push, and adventurous seamanship, when hunting the
monsters of the deep on the other side of the globe.

[7] Two bright girls and a young mother, who had died not long before.

[8] Her sickness lasted six weeks, dating from the day of her being
entirely confined to bed. Her life was prolonged much beyond what her
physicians or any one else who saw her, had believed possible. During
the last week her sufferings were less, and she lay quiet part of the
time. Friday morning she had an attack of faintness, in the course of
which she remarked "I am dying." She recovered and before noon sank
into a somnolent state from which she never awoke. Her breathing became
softer and fainter till it ceased at half-past five in the afternoon.
Oh, what a transition was that! from pain and weariness and woe to the
world of light! to the presence of the Saviour! to unclouded bliss! I
felt, and so I believe did all assembled round her bed, that it was time
for exultation rather than grief. We could not think of ourselves, so
absorbed were we in contemplation of her happiness. She was able to say
scarcely anything during her sickness, and left not a single message
for the absent children, or directions to those who were present. Her
extreme weakness, and the distressing effect of every attempt to speak,
made her abandon all such attempts except in answer to questions. But
the tenor of her replies to all inquiries was uniform, expressing entire
acquiescence in the will of God, confidence in Him through Christ, and
a desire to depart as soon as He should permit. Tranquillity and peace,
unclouded by a single doubt or fear, seem to have filled her mind. There
were several reasons which led us to decide that the interment should
take place here; but on the following Saturday a gentleman arrived from
Portland, sent by the Second Parish to remove the remains to that place,
if we made no objection. As we made none, the body was disinterred and
taken to P., my brother G. accompanying it. So that her mortal remains
now rest with those of my dear father. - _Letter from Mrs. Hopkins to her
aunt in New Haven, dated Williamstown, Dec. 1, 1848._

[9] The wife of her brother, Mr. Henry M. Payson.

[10] The Rev. Benjamin Tappan, D.D., an old friend of her father's and
one of the patriarchs of the Maine churches.

[11] See appendix B, p. 534, for a brief sketch of his life.

[12] Sermons by Henry Edward Manning, Archdeacon of Chichester (now
Cardinal Manning), 1st, 2d, and 3d Series.

[13] The Rev. D. W. Poor, D.D., now of Philadelphia. He had been settled
at Fair Haven, near New Bedford, and was then a pastor in Newark.





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."

Mrs. Prentiss' removal to New York was an important link in the chain
of outward events which prepared her for her special life-work. It
introduced her at once into a circle unsurpassed, perhaps, by any other
in the country, for its intelligence, its domestic and social virtues,
and its earnest Christian spirit. The Mercer street Presbyterian church
contained at that time many members whose names were known and honored
the world over, in the spheres of business, professional life,
literature, philanthropy, and religion; and among its homes were some
that seemed to have attained almost the perfection of beauty. In these
homes the new pastor's wife soon became an object of tender love and
devotion. Here she found herself surrounded by all congenial influences.
Her mind and heart alike were refreshed and stimulated in the healthiest
manner. And to add to her joy, several dear old friends lived near her
and sat in adjoining pews on the Sabbath.

But happy as were the auspices that welcomed her to New York, the
experience of the past two years had taught her not to expect too much
from any outward conditions. She entered, therefore, upon this new
period of her life in a very sober mood. Nor had many months elapsed
before she began to hear premonitory murmurs of an incoming sea of
trouble. Most of the summer of 1851 she remained in town with the
children. An extract from a letter to her youngest brother, dated August
1, will show how she whiled away many a weary hour:

It has been very hot this summer; our house is large and cool, and above
all, I have a nice bathing-room opening out of my chamber, with hot and
cold water and a shower-bath, which is a world of comfort. We spent part
of last week at Rockaway, L. I., visiting a friend. [1] I nearly froze
to death, but George and the children were much benefited. I have
improved fast in health since we came here. Yesterday I walked two and a
half miles with George, and a year ago at this time I could not walk a
quarter of a mile without being sick after it for some days. When I
feel miserably I just put on my bonnet and get into an omnibus and go
rattlety-bang down town; the air and the shaking and the jolting and the
sight-seeing make me feel better and so I get along. If I could safely
leave my children I should go with George. He hates to go alone and
surely I hate to be left alone; in fact instead of liking each other's
society less and less, we every day get more and more dependent on each
other, and take separation harder and harder. Our children are well.

To her husband, who had gone to visit an old friend, at Harpswell, on
the coast of Maine, she writes a few days later:

On Saturday very early Professor Smith called with the House of Seven
Gables. I read about half of it in the evening. One sees the hand of the
_artist_ as clearly in such a work as in painting, and the hand of a
skilful one, too. I have read many books with more interest, but never
one in which I was so diverted from the story to a study of the author
himself. So far there is nothing exciting in it. I don't know who
supplied the pulpit on Sunday morning. The sermon was to young men,
which was not so appropriate as it might have been, considering there
were no young men present, unless I except our Eddy and other sprigs of
humanity of his age. I suppose you will wonder what in the world I let
Eddy go for. Well, I took a fancy to let Margaret try him, as nobody
would know him in the gallery and he coaxed so prettily to go. He was
highly excited at the permission, and as I was putting on his sacque, I
directed Margaret to take it off if he fell asleep. "Ho! I shan't go to
sleep," quoth he; "Christ doesn't have rocking-chairs in His house." He
set off in high spirits, and during the long prayer I heard him laugh
loud; soon after I heard a rattling as of a parasol and Eddy saying,
"There it is!" by which time Margaret, finding he was going to begin a
regular frolic, sagely took him out.

_August 7th_ - The five girls from Brooklyn all spent yesterday here.
They had a regular frolic towards night, bathing and shower-bathing.
Afterwards we all went on top of the house. It was very pleasant up
there. I took the children to Barnum's Museum, as I proposed doing. They
were delighted, particularly with the "Happy Family," which consisted of
cats, rats, birds, dogs, rabbits, monkeys, etc., etc., dwelling together
in unity. I observed that though the cats forbore to lay a paw upon
the rats and mice about them, they yet took a melancholy pleasure in
_looking_ at these dainty morsels, from which nothing could persuade
them to turn off their eyes. I am glad that you got away from New
Bedford alive and that you did not stay longer, but hearing about our
friends there made me quite long to see them myself. Do have just the
best time in the world at Harpswell, and don't let the Rev. Elijah drown

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