Kate Sanborn.

My favorite lectures of long ago, for friends who remember online

. (page 1 of 20)
Online LibraryKate SanbornMy favorite lectures of long ago, for friends who remember → online text (page 1 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



Of Long Ago

For Friends who Remember





All rights reserved
Jl NE 6, 1898


Sitting on my southern piazza, this perfect after
noon in the perfect month of June, looking out over
" Breezy Meadows," with their rich growth of grass,
fields of waving grain, and ripening crops, while my
cows graze in the distant pasture ; listening to the
raucous yet not unpleasant voices of the conceited
turkey-gobbler and his meek, drab-hued mates, the
geese, always perfectly at home on my farm, the
mournful " koquet, koquet " of the imprisoned
guineas, and the cheerful cackle of the business
hen, I realize that my happiest hours are now those
devoted to outdoor sports and agricultural enter
prises no longer a blue-stocking, but a full-fledged
farmer !

Emerson says that " a farm is a mute gospel."
To me it has rather proved to be a revelation, noisy,
expensive, and at times depressing or exasperating.
Still, I love this life and shall never give it up.

Looking back to the time when, intensely ambi
tious, and audacious because so ambitious, so ignor
ant of the world, and so empty as to purse, I dared to
announce a course of ten lectures on literary themes
in New York city, a young woman, almost unknown,

4 Across The Years

I am amazed at the venture, and bless, as I have
always done, the patrons who, believing in me, gave
such effective aid. Do you recall my painful timid
ity, my face, which turned all colors from excite
ment, and how every bit of that nervous fear
vanished under the radiant inspiration of the en
couraging faces before me ? Dear happy hours !
Dear faces ! Dear faithful friends !

How far away it all seems ! Since then I have
talked to thousands, have enjoyed the honors of
somewhat successful authorship, have been professor
of literature in a woman s college, president of a
woman s club, have learned to make butter, and
manage hens. But nothing stays so agreeably in
my memory as that first audience of New York
women. How public opinion changes as time rolls
on ! Twenty-five years ago there were plenty of
persons who considered me an oddity on account
of my profession ; some would not care to know
a woman who unsexed herself by speaking on a
platform. I was an unconscious pioneer : now the
number of women doing the same work is legion.
I started a class in Dr. Holland s parlor on Park
Avenue for his wife and a score of friends, condens
ing new books and speaking of current events ; now
every village has such a class, or else a thriving club
able to do its work without a guide.

Egotism (on paper) is sometimes allowable. I
confess without any apology that, like Montaigne, I
have always " hungered to make myself known,"

Across The Years 5

have desired earnestly to be known especially, as
a thorough, well-equipped student of literature.

And now I am not willing to let these pet
lectures grow yellow in a desk, or, after my death,
be stored in an attic as food for mice, or, later, given
to the flames. I am not so exacting as to expect you
to read them : just give the book an honorable place
in your libraries perhaps some grandchildren of
yours may look them over. They represent a deal
of " digging," careful condensing and elimination,
and are still worth preserving.

The kindest of publishers fight shy of lectures ;
all want something light and amusing from me
farm bulletins and comic adventures. That is only
a small part of my life, so I offer some serious work
made easy reading by hard labor, to those who still
retain a kindly interest in

Farmer, Henwoman, and ex-Litterateur.












OLD Maids have been classified, by one who has
written a book about them, as Voluntary, Involun
tary, Inexplicable, and Literary. These various
modifications are honored with a chapter of com
ment ; each type is clearly defined except the Lit
erary Spinster ; she is left severely alone. Possibly,
the terms were thought synonymous, for in the
hearts of many there is still an innate shrinking
from a Blue Stocking, a name first applied to a man,
the agreeable Dr. Stillingfleet, whose blue stockings
were often noticed at Mrs. Montagu s Receptions.

Jeffrey hit the happy medium when speaking of
a literary woman : " I don t care how blue her stock
ings are, if her petticoats are long enough to hide
her hose."

An engraving in an English Annual, entitled
" The Husband of a Blue," illustrates the once pop
ular theory that a woman who writes must of neces
sity be a failure in home-life. The luckless man, in
extremely simple toilette, is walking the floor ; a
screaming baby in his arms, a pendulum between
patience and despair ; while Madam, all unconscious
of the situation, unless, perhaps, annoyed by the
cries of one and the heartfelt groans of the other,
is perched up in bed with tangled locks flowing

10 Spinster Authors of England

and eyes wildly rolling, as she rounds some fine
sentence, or, with gaze uplifted, is waiting for fur
ther inspiration.

Both in England and our own country there are
many distinguished authors who are also good wives
and mothers, women, in happy homes, with hus
bands proud and fond, sure of three good meals
each day, and every button on.

But Literary Spinsters are to be enumerated in
this paper ; scarcely-more, for there are so many to
be mentioned that I can merely evoke, and dismiss,
like the showman of a panorama.

I must go back to the Fourteenth Century for
my first Spinster Author, to the pretty Prioress and
practical sportswoman Juliana Berners, a Minerva
in her studies, a Diana in her diversions, the high
born beauty, once famous, now forgotten, cotempo-
rary with Chaucer. Her works, printed in black
letter, and adorned with extraordinary wood-cuts,
have lately been reproduced in luxurious binding.
Her treatise on the Art of Fishing is the best known.
She is the author of the " Book of St. Albans," which
contains essays on Hawking, Hunting, Coat-Armor,
Fishing, and Bearing of Arms printed at West
minster by Wynkyn de Worde, a rival of Caxton,
in 1486.* She was practical as well as learned and

* BERNERS (Dame Juliana). A Treatyse of Fysshinge wyth an Angle.
A facsimile reproduction of the first book on the subject of fishing,
printed in England by Wynkyn de Worde at Westminster in 1496.
With an introduction by Rev. M. G. Watkins, M.A. 4to, printed on
hand made paper, rough edges, blind tooled, vellum boards. London,
E. Stock, n. d. (1880). $4.50.

Spinster Authors of England H

enjoyed the chase as does the empress of Austria
to-day. It is paradoxical to imagine a holy Prioress,
accustomed to severe restriction and serene medita
tions, chasing over the woodlands with hound and
horn, or collecting recipes for the extinction of
vermin on her pet hawks, which she cared for with
untiring devotion. We owe to her the earliest Eng
lish treatise on fishing.

Her picture, as seen in Zouch s Life of Walton,
shows a striking face, full of decision, spirit, and
sweetness, a handsome figure, attractive in spite of
her ugly gear. On her right is seen the landing net,
with fish and creel, on the left, emblems of the chase,
and a hooded falcon at top.

Good-bye, pretty and pious Juliana of so long-ago.
I would like to linger with you but a brilliant crowd
is beckoning, led by Queen Elizabeth herself.
" Queen Bess " (1553-1603) was an accomplished lin
guist, translated from Greek and Latin and occasion
ally " dropped into poetry."

A sonnet on Mary, Queen of Scots, is preserved,
also some verses on her own feelings, at the depart
ure of a rejected lover.

You recall her couplet, added to Raleigh s, on a
window of her palace. He scratched :

" I fain would climb,
But that I fear to fall."

She rejoined :

" If thy heart fails thee
Do not climb at all.

12 Spinster Authors of England

A bit of impromptu doggerel is ascribed to her
on entering a certain town, where the mayor, a pom
pous, rotund little personage, mounted on a stool, to
make his address of welcome more impressive.

Her reply was brief and curt :

" You great fool,
Get off that stool ! "

Disraeli speaks of a manuscript volume of her
poems still to be seen in the Hatfield collection.

She was ambitious to shine as a poet, although
affecting to be angry when one of the ladies of her
bedchamber copied some rhymes from her tablet,
" fearing her people should imagine she was busied
in such toys."

Her courtiers lavished extravagant praise on her
royal ditties, which any editor of to-day would con
sign to the waste basket, and the Latin poem of her
cousin will live, while the verses of Elizabeth Re-
gina are forgotten.

We are more interested in another Elizabeth, the
celebrated classical scholar, Miss Carter (1717-1806),
in the words of Allibone, " an ornament to her sex and
an honor to her race." Of her translation of Epicte-
tus, which brought her ^"1,000, Dr. Warton said " It
excels the original."

Dr. Johnson, her friend and admirer for nearly
half a century, composed a Greek epigram in her
honor. He remarked of a fine Greek scholar : " Sir,
he is the best Greek scholar in England, except
Elizabeth Carter."

Spinster Authors of England 13

Upon hearing- a lady commended for her learn
ing, he said, 1 "A man is in general better pleased
when he has a good dinner upon his table than when
his wife talks Greek. My old friend, Miss Carter,
could make a pudding as well as translate Epictetus,
and work a handkerchief as well as compose a

William Hayley, Cowper s biographer, wrote sev
eral volumes on " Old Maids, Ancient and Modern,"
and dedicated the work to Mrs. Carter,* saying :

" Permit me to pay my devotions to you, as the
ancients did to their three-fold Diana, and to rever
ence you in three distinct characters as a poet, as a
philosopher, and as an old maid."

Miss Carter was a first-rate housekeeper and nee
dle-woman, took lessons in drawing and music, was
an excellent dancer, could play cards, or share in any
social diversion when young, even somewhat of a
romp. She jots in her diary, " I walked three miles
yesterday in a wind that I thought would have blown
me out of this planet, and afterwards danced nine
hours, and then walked back again. No girl pedant
was she, and they said she had many opportunities
of marriage.

Miss Elizabeth Carter once went to a puppet show
at Deal with some five friends. Punch was uncom
monly dull and serious, though usually more jocose
than delicate. " Why, Punch," says the showman,
" what makes you so stupid ? " "I can t talk my

* English spinsters, after arriving at the mature age of fifty, were
addressed as Mrs., not Miss.

14 Spinster Authors of England

own talk," answers Punch, " because the famous Miss
Carter is here ! "

Next in order Miss Catherine Talbot (1720-1777),
a most worthy spinster, who can only be mentioned,
for several pages must be given to Hannah More
(1745-1832), whose talent for writing showed itself
early. When but a little child, if she could get hold
of a sheet of paper, she would scribble some essay or
poem, never omitting a moral, and then hide it in a
dark closet with the brooms and duster. When she
composed verses at night, her admiring sister would
often steal down stairs for a light and then jot them

One of her favorite games was a prophecy, for her
mother proudly relates how she used to make a car
riage of a chair and invite her sisters to ride with her
to London to see bishops and booksellers Her high
est ambition was a whole quire of paper, all her own,
and when the prize was obtained she covered sheet
after sheet with letters to depraved characters to re
claim and reform them, and the replies, expressive
of contrition and resolutions of amendment. She
was as brilliant as good. When Sheridan, the elder,
delivered his lectures on eloquence in Bristol, she
sent some verses to the orator, which led to a pleas
ant acquaintance. As a talker she was remarkable,
When about sixteen, a dangerous illness brought an
eminent physician to her bedside. Like every one
else who met her he was completely charmed by her
conversation. On one occasion he entirely forgot

Spinster Authors of England 15

the purpose of his visit in the fascination of her talk,
till suddenly, recollecting himself, when he was half
way down stairs, he cried out : " Bless me ? I forgot
to ask the girl how she was," and hurried back to the
room exclaiming, " How are you to-day, my poor
child ? "

In her i/th year she wrote a pastoral drama,
" The Search after Happiness," a success. She had
already a wide correspondence with distinguished
men. One sent her this verse on her promise to
visit his garden :

" Blow, blow my sweetest rose,

For Hannah More will soon be here,
And all that crowns the ripening year
Should triumph where she goes."

Her father disliked pedantic women, and having
taught her a little Latin and mathematics was
alarmed at her progress; at twenty she was an
uncommon linguist. But, if learned, never poky in
her brilliant youth ; popular in London soci
ety ; full of spirit and humor ; a special favorite
of Dr. Johnson, Garrick. Horace Walpole called
her his " holy Hannah." Garrick gave her the pet
name of " Nine," referring to the Muses. He wrote
prologue and epilogue for her play of " Percy," a
success, which gave her 750 pounds. She earned
more than $150,000 by her pen, one-third of which
she gave away, and did not begin her career until
after thirty. Millions of her tracts and ballads were
sold. It is said that her books were more numerous,

16 Spinster Authors of England

passed through more editions, printed in more
languages, read by more people, than those of any
woman on record. Her popular story, " Coelebs in
Search of a Wife," unendurably tame now, went
through ten editions in one year. Of course, she
was severely criticised by rivals. She said she " was
battered, hacked, scalped, tomahawked." After
Garrick s death she never went to a theatre, even to
see her own tragedies performed, and lived more
quietly, but always eagerly sought for by the best
society. Only one love affair is spoken of in con
nection with this beautiful woman, so witty and
attractive, and that most unfortunate and mortify
ing. A rich widower, kept postponing their mar
riage until her friends interfered. He declared that
he had the deepest regard and respect for Miss
More, and at his death he bequeathed her a thousand
pounds. She had other offers, but avoided a second
entanglement. Most people think of Hannah More
as an aged spinster with black mits, corkscrew curls,
and a mob cap, always writing or presenting a
solemn tract, ignoring her youthful fascinations.

Her kindness to Macaulay, when a precocious
little lad he often visited her, is pleasant to remember.

She stimulated him to read, giving the money to
buy his first valuable books, laying, as she said,
" the tiny cornerstone of his library," and encouraged
without flattery.

If, after listening to this high estimate, you go
to your library and taking down Hannah s prosy

Spinster Authors of England 17

disquisitions, rather dusty on the edges, and, turning
over the various volumes, look for something inter
esting or lively, you will be disappointed. Her
tracts and homely poems, written for practical effect
among the poor (for instance, the dialogue between
the two weavers over the half-made carpet), are still
excellent. But who reads Hannah More now ? Her
day has gone by. Her " Percy," like Addison s
" Cato," would be wretchedly dull on any stage.
Towards the close of her life she fell into a common
error, and grew narrow in her views, and unneces
sarily solemn. Never found time to read Scott s
novels, and accused him of being not immoral but
non-moral, which was unjust ; and said she would
rather present herself at Heaven s gate with her"
tract, "The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain," in her hand,
than encumbered with all the novels of the mighty
" Wizard of the North."

A good novel is as useful in its way as a good
tract, and Jeannie Dean s character and her speech
to the Queen in behalf of her sister, seems to me
more Christlike, than the stilted submission of the
saintly shepherd.

" And when we come to die, my Leddy, its
not what we hae dune for ourselves, but what we
hae dune for others that we think on maist pleas

" I wonder if you ever heard a story told to me
by your countryman, Mr. Northmore, a great Dev
onshire reformer, one of the bad epic poets and

18 Spinster Authors of England

very pleasant men in which that country abounds.
He said that Jeremy Bentham being on a visit at a
show-house in those parts, at a time when he was
little known except as a jurist, certainly before the
publication of the Church of Englandism, or any
such enormities Mrs. Hannah More, being at a
watering-place in the neighborhood, was minded to
see him, and availed herself of the house, being one
which was shown on stated days, to pay a visit to
the philosopher. He was in the library when the
news arrived, and the lady being already in the
ante-chamber and no possible mode of escape pre
senting itself, he sent one servant to detain her a
few minutes and employed another to build him up
with books in a corner of the room. When the
folios and quartos rose above his head, the curious
lady was admitted. Must it not have been a droll
scene ? The philosopher playing at bo-peep in his
intrenchment and the good lady, who had previously
ascertained that he was iii the room, peering after
him in all the agony of baffled curiosity ! "

I have sketched Hannah More s picture as faith
fully as possible, with no idea of blaming her for
being too good, but it would be partial not to allude
to her narrowness lest a shadow might fall on the

She said many good things, as : "I used to
wonder why people should be so fond of the com
pany of their physician, till I recollected he is the
only person with whom one dares to talk continually

Spinster Authors of England 19

of one s self without interruption, contradiction, or

"There are only two bad things in this world,
sin and bile." Speaking of Woman s Rights, how
many ways there are of being ridiculous ? I am sure
I have as much liberty as I can make good use of,
now I am an old maid, and when I was a young one
I had, I dare say, more than was good for me."

Anna Seward (1747-1809) was a most sentimental,
lackadaisical, affected creature, with a particularly
florid and stilted style, called by her admirers of the
" Delia Cruscan " school the " The Swan of Litch-
field," but who impresses more impartial observers
as a Goose. Still, at nine years old she could repeat
the first three books of Paradise Lost, which proves
her appreciation of good poetry whatever we may
think of her own. She wrote a succession of
Elegies, Monodies, and Odes ; Sonnets, Poetical
Epistles, and Adieus; all about Capt. Cook and Major
Andre, and a variety of other notables ; also a
metrical novel, " Louisa," and laid claim to the first
fifty lines of Dr. Darwin s " Botanic Garden " ; was
afterwards his biographer, a real misfortune for the
doctor s fame, though a ludicrous one. Walter Scott,
who was her literary executor, pronounced her two
volumes of poems " absolutely execrable," and her six
volumes of published correspondence proved an
utter failure. I grieve to say that this voluminous
publication was regarded as a display of " vanity,
egotism, and malignity ! "

20 Spinster Authors of England

Leigh Hunt says, " Miss Seward is affected and
superfluous, but now and then she writes a goop
line, for example :

And sultry silence brooded o er the hills,

and she can paint a natural picture." Horace Walpole
wrote to the Countess of Ossory, " Misses Seward
and Williams, and half a dozen more of those har
monious virgins, have no imagination, no novelty.
Their thoughts and phrases are like their gowns,
old remnants cut and turned." Her style is the acme
of high-flownativeness and stewed prunism. She
says that Dr. Darwin purchased about the year 1777,
" a little wild umbrageous valley, a mile from Litch-
field, irriguous from various springs and swampy
from their plentitude."

When this bog was transformed into a Paradise,
she took her tablets and pencil and, seated on a
flowery bank in the midst of that luxurious retreat,
composed some lines, " while the sun was gilding
the glen, and while birds of every plume poured
their songs from the boughs."

Four lines from the " Botanic Garden " will
suffice for a specimen :

" My plumy pairs in gay embroidery dressed,
Form with ingenious bill the pensile nest,
To Love s sweet notes attune the listening dell,
And Echo sounds her soft symphonious shell."

Richard Lovell Edge worth, the eccentric father
of Maria, who liked to pose as a bachelor, met Miss
Seward at Litchfield, when " she was in the height of

Spinster Authors of England 21

youth and beauty, of an enthusiastic temper, a
votary of the Muses, and of the most eloquent and
brilliant conversation." He adds that Mrs. Darwin
had a little pique against Miss Seward, who had in
fact been her rival with the doctor. " At Mrs. Dar
win s tea-table I was placed next Miss Seward, and a
number of lively sallies escaped her that set the
table in good humor. I remember she repeated
some of Prior s " Henry and Emma," and dwelling
upon Emma s tenderness she cited the care that she
^proposed to take of her lover if he were wounded,

" To bind his wounds my finest lawns I d tear,
Wash them with tears, and wipe them with my hair."

I represented that the lady who must have had
by her own account a choice of lawns might have
employed some of the coarse sort for this operation
instead of having recourse to her hair. I then paid
Miss Seward some compliments on her own beauti
ful tresses, and at that moment the watchful Mrs.
Darwin took this opportunity of drinking Mrs.
EdgcwortJi s health."

As Americans, we ought to think kindly of Miss
Seward, as she was on our side during the War for
Independence. Boswell has recorded Johnson s re
mark, " I am willing to love all mankind except an
American," adding that " his inflammable corrup
tions bursting with horrid fire, he breathed out
threatenings and slaughter, calling them rascals, rob
bers, and pirates, and exclaiming he d burn em and
destroy "em." Miss Seward, looking to him with mild

22 Spinster Authors of England

but steady astonishment, said : " Sir, this is an
instance that we are always most violent against
those whom we have injured." Johnson said to Miss
Seward, " Madam, there is not anything equal to
your description of the sea round the North Pole, in
your ode on the death of Captain Cook."

In one of her letters she exclaims : " How prone
are our hearts perversely to quarrel with the friendly
coercion of employment at the very instant in which
it is clearing the torpid and injurious mists of una
vailing melancholy.""*

We come next to Jane Austen (1755-1817), who,
like Mrs. Browning, has been called "a feminine
Shakespeare." Her life was most simple and se
cluded, domestic, and she really wrote for her own
amusement idolized by her nephews and nieces,
who were always pleading to go to "Auntie s Room "
for a frolic, a petting, or a story. It was not then
thought desirable for young ladies to study or write,
so Miss Austen compromised matters by a large piece
of fancy work kept on parlor table to hide her manu
scripts when callers appeared. Much money was
not necessary for the moderate expenses of her quiet
home, and so modestly did she estimate her work,
that when she received one hundred and fifty pounds
from the sale of " Sense and Sensibility," she consid
ered it a prodigious recompense. She called her ex
quisite word painting " little bits of ivory, two inches

*This sort of writing emigrated to America, but died with Mrs.

Spinster Authors of England 23

wide." She never posed as a literary light, had a
dislike of being lionized, was a little embarrassed
when introductions were sought, saying, " If I am a
wild beast I cannot help it ; it is not my fault." She
wrote early two of her masterpieces, published before

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryKate SanbornMy favorite lectures of long ago, for friends who remember → online text (page 1 of 20)