Lydia Maria Child

by Lydia Maria Francis

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The North American Review (review date 1833)

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SOURCE: A book review in The North American Review, Vol. XXXVII, No. LXXX, July, 1833, pp. 138-64.

[In the following unsigned review of several of Child's books, the reviewer proclaims Child a leading American woman author, offers an overview of her works, and recaps in detail several of the biographical sketches in the books reviewed.]

When Napoleon told Madame de Staël that she was the first woman in the republic, who bore the most children, though he said a good thing, it was hardly a true one. We should go somewhat more for the intellectual, and say that she was the first, and the best too, who wrote the most useful books. Governing ourselves by this standard, we are not sure that any woman in our country would outrank Mrs. Child. This lady has long been before the public as an author, with much success. And she well deserves it,—for in all her works we think that nothing can be found, which does not commend itself by its tone of healthy morality, and generally by its good sense. Few female writers, if any, have done more or better things for our literature, in its lighter or graver departments. She has continued to render herself popular in fiction and fact; to be graceful alike in telling a village story, and in giving a receipt for the kitchen; to be at home in the prose and the poetry of life; in short, to be just the woman we want for the mothers and daughters of the present generation. We have long watched the course of Mrs. Child, and in general, with satisfaction. Sometimes we have been more than satisfied,—we have admired her.

Mrs. Child began, if we mistake not, as a novelist. This, while the field was so full of able adventurers in this department,—we mean abroad, more particularly,—was something hazardous. But on the whole she succeeded. To us this appears the more singular, and the more a subject for self-congratulation with the author, as the work she began with was an Indian story. We are stern unbelievers in Indian tales. We are tired of them,—and were so before Mrs. Child made her essay. We long ago believed that the best specimens of Indian character and life had been given us by earlier authors, some of them the best of whom we can boast. Charles Brockden Brown drew a better picture of the veritable savage, than has ever been painted after him, by any of our literary pencils. We have never been satisfied with a portrait since. Some writers have caricatured the whole affair, while they thought they were working up the warp and woof of their own immortality, at once. It is well for such authors, that the chiefs they meant to depict were not living, to see the outrageous representations of themselves on the pages of their historians. There would have been no chance for them. Wampum and calumet had never been respected towards such adventurers among the red men. They would have been scalped, inevitably. But we cannot stop to particularize. It is enough to say, that the idea of Indian girls wearing 'mantles' instead of blankets, and Indian chiefs talking hexameters, like Alexander Pope, or unmeasured poetry, like Ossian, is too supremely ridiculous for people in health, and in their senses. Yet such Indians we have, by the score, in our Indian novels, shown up with all the gravity imaginable to a simple, wondering, cheated and maltreated public. Mrs. Child drew her savage very well,—though not so well as Brown. Still there was an evident inclination...

(This entire section contains 11114 words.)

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to throw more of civilized life and conversation into the portraiture than is admissible; and though she had too much tact not to avoid the gross inconsistencies into which some who preceded and many who have followed her, have fallen, stillHobomok cannot be reckoned by any means faultless, and belongs to the second class of Mrs. Child's productions.

Soon after came the Rebels,—a revolutionary story. This was a popular tale in its time,—and, for aught we know, is so now. It made no very high pretensions, but was full of the familiar incidents of the period to which it related, and interested all readers, no doubt by the associations it awakened and the pictures it presented. We have no very particular recollection of its plot,—as who can have, that reads a twentieth part of the novels that are pouring upon us? We remember, however, being pleased by the narrative,—by the drawing of some of the characters, and the management of some of the scenes. Some of the witty portions, or what were intended as such, struck us as not particularly happy. The old jokes of Dr. Byles were rather heavily introduced, and were also not the best which he is said to have committed. Puns, unless they are very good,—that is, very bad ones,—for the worse they are the better,—are a poor material for the pages of a work like the one referred to. The Doctor had wit, but Mrs. Child had done better by us, had she given us some of her own description in the place of these specimens of reverend humor.

We next find her before the public in a position more interesting than ever. No man or woman, it strikes us, can assume one of more moral dignity and beauty, than that of a faithful instructer and enlightener of the young in the way of all excellence. To come down to the multiplied little demands of the youthful mind, and to enter into its interests and feelings, especially when literary ambition and success would seem to allure to higher walks,—or what the world calls such,—is an act, that reflects honor on the intellect of the person who performs it. We say nothing of the heart that prompts to this sacrifice,—for sacrifice it is, in the instance supposed, when public sentiment is waiting for a new appearance of a popular author, to render a new tribute of public applause.

In becoming the editor of the Juvenile Miscellany, Mrs. Child conferred a favor on parents and children alike; especially on the moral and religious portion of the community. This little work is admitted on all hands to be singularly excellent in its way. Its design and execution are both admirable. To one who has thought little of these things, it may appear an easy matter to make a book of this kind; so didactic and simple. But it is this very simplicity, that makes it a difficult work. Nothing is harder than for an intelligent, disciplined, severe mind to adapt itself, in language as well as in manner, to the minds of children. The wisest may prove themselves fools here, though they may be Solomons in every thing else. Witness the extreme difficulty that a sensible man frequently encounters in addressing an assembly of youthful persons,—the pupils at a Sunday school, for instance. We have sometimes had occasion to see this, when it has given us absolute pain, so utterly unable was the speaker to accommodate himself to the little intellects with which he was confronted. We have seen the person, who, a few moments before, had delighted us with his easy elocution, and perhaps stirred us with his eloquence, in the course of an appeal to a miscellaneous audience, sink to something really flat and unprofitable, in endeavoring to express himself to a hundred or two of young listeners. The off-hand, self-confident talker of a popular meeting has been absolutely abashed before the upturned host of infantile intent faces, and escaped from his dilemma only by giving up the matter at once, or subsiding into a strain of remark, natural enough to him, to be sure, but wholly above the comprehension of his hearers. So widely do we depart from simplicity, as we adapt ourselves to this complex world, and so unconscious are we of our departure, till some such emergency convinces us of it, to our confusion! The power alone of producing such a series of short instructive stories as the Miscellany presents, so well calculated to captivate the youthful attention, and to fix youthful sympathy, argues a remarkable power of invention. In fact, it is one of the best proofs of the author's capacity for higher things. In the instance of Mrs. Child, this fertility is uncommon,—and we should all hold ourselves happy that we have a genius who comes to all our hearths, giving token of holding out so well, from the fund she has shown us already.

But Mrs. Child was determined to become a still more decided utilitarian. She saw a great deficiency in the system of house-keeping among us,—and resolved to supply it. This she has done to the letter. Does any one doubt her success? Let ten editions of the Frugal Housewife answer such unbelievers. No book, so little like a novel, or a poem, ever had such a run. It was to be found making its way into the boudoirs of the fashionable, as well as into the farmhouse. Every miss from the country who came to purchase a silk in the city, bore away a 'Housewife' done up in its folds. It was studied to be talked of in coteries,—and brought to mind over every lunch upon sponge cake. It laid itself down cosily by Walter Scott and Master Irving, deeming itself, as well it might, fit company for either, for what enjoyment can there be of the intellectual, unless we first attend to a proper regulation of the physical? The economy of mind is connected in more ways than one with the economy of things that pertain to the body. In short, this little volume carried the day over all its contemporaries. It became a general favorite,—and so remains to this day. Its good sense has commended it to mothers and daughters in England and France, and we understand it has gone through some editions in Paris. Now all this is very creditable to the public and the author. We have read portions of the book ourselves, though we are as bad as bachelors, and must say that the Hints are worth persual once a month. As to remarks upon the volume, made by some one, we never cared to inquire who,—evidently clever, but as evidently a tyro in culinary luxuries, and who should have known better withal than to snarl at a lady, while he had the advantage of a periodical to do it in,—to say nothing of their want of gallantry in the abstract,—we hold them to be altogether in bad taste. We must resolutely maintain that 'hard gingerbread is nice.'

This is a more revolutionary book than any other that Mrs. Child has written,—more so even than the Rebels; for the revolution with which this busies itself, extends all over our houses. It operates like a health committee, or a committee of vigilance. No woman will plead ignorance of its texts, and no daughter who looks to an establishment will dare own herself without it. We like this. It is refreshing, once in a while, to see people really giving their money for what is useful, and letting a poor novel sink out of the market, by the way of the upper shelves of the publishers. It would be well if cui bono? were a question nearer the surface of writers' minds in the present day. As it is, a crown is due to every one who makes it a first inquiry, and who is not ashamed to use plain English to answer it. The Housewife, we think, must be intelligible to all; if it be not, it will not be for want of plainness in telling the truth, or of directness in the application of the remarks to many of our domestic prejudices and follies.

The Girl's Book and the Mother's Book were but parts of the general plan which our author appears to have laid out, of designating, in a simple way, the reciprocal duties of parent and child, and of showing to both, by example and precept, the importance of the several relations in which they stand to each other. At least these good lessons are derivable from both the works, whether there was any particular intention of inculcating them or not. The latter takes up the child at the nursery, and carries her through to matrimony,—a very important part of the female pilgrimage. Through all the stages of life between these two termini, our author goes, with advice pertinent to each; and we think mothers have reason to pass a vote of thanks to her, for the excellent strain of remark that seasons her pages. The observations upon marriage struck us as particularly sensible. They are in good season for all the world,—and would have been, a century ago. They would form an excellent tract for the continent, and in England especially would they be of pungent application. Alas! even republican America must come in for her share of the reproof which these remarks embody. Indeed, look the world over, and will not the moralist, though he have but a single eye, still see that it continues to be a melancholy time of bargain and sale, in matters of wedlock? We hardly know which is most to blame in this sad business, the parent that sells the child, or the child that suffers herself to be sold. For our own parts, we approve resistance in these affairs, where the heart goes not with the hand. We love the setting up of a beautiful Ebenezer, against unreasonable and unchristian authority.

The works we have thus noticed, with the exception of the novels, are those of Mrs. Child's collection that particularly aim to be useful,—we mean useful in the most direct and simple forms of usefulness. It is not one person in a generation, though endowed with all the talent to do it, who will undertake to perform the service to society which has been done by this lady. There is an idea that it is an irksome, thankless business, and minds are kept from attempting it by a mistaken impression that there are higher duties, and employments more worthy of a busy spirit. How false and absurd this notion is, we have taken occasion to suggest indirectly, in some previous remarks. We own something then to the mind that breaks away from this vulgar prejudice, and especially to one that has done so much to meet the demands of society, in a department where so much was wanting.

We have strong doubts, whether the importance of the education of women is sufficiently understood or appreciated among us. Certainly it is not sufficiently considered. Did we reflect more upon the influence they exert upon the whole system of society, there would be more sensitiveness upon this subject, and more active interest expressed with regard to its details. It is probable, did we view the thing aright, that far from holding it an unsatisfactory or inglorious occupation in any one, to develope and direct the female mind in early years, we should esteem it an employment worthy of our best powers, and as satisfactory as it is important. We have great faith in the inclination of the tree from the bending of the twig. Then look at the issue. View the subject, not in a microscopic way, but in its vast bearings. In the formation of the social frame, what constituent so important as the influence,—the mind, of woman! She gives to the life of man its moral tone. How much of our life is passed with her,—how much in trying to please her,—and how much are our habits and feelings formed and graduated by her connexion with us in every stage of existence! In making her, therefore,—in educating her,—we make and educate ourselves. It must be confessed, that as a mass, we are the clay, after all; and that woman moulds us pretty much as she wills. The relations of lover and husband, if considered a moment, will suggest the truth of our sentiments upon this subject. In one case the influence of the female is unrivalled, and in the other, if not always so unquestionable, is still uniform enough, to be called a primary power. Every one who has circulated in society, knows how this influence extends to its customs and its tone of conversation, and to what is called its general character;—and over the literature of the land, it may be traced by a certain, though perhaps curious and erratic progress. In short, as a principle, affecting the whole social organization, nothing can take precedence of the influence of woman.

Her education, therefore, should look to the great duties to which she is destined,—to the all-important situations which she is to occupy in society. She should be educated as one, who is hereafter to sustain the relation of a mother:—one who is to educate future sons of the republic. An English writer has somewhere said, that the English principle was to educate women in order to marry, and the English practice to give them such an education, as would totally unfit them for being good wives, were not the good influence of nature stronger than the evil one of art,—meaning, we presume, that their being excellent helpmates happened to them much after the manner of Dogberry's reading and writing.

Now, though there may be something of caricature in this, still there is a vein of truth running through it;—and in our own country how much might be said and done in relation to female education, as a matter intimately connected with the future welfare of the whole land! How much might yet be done to set utility in advance of accomplishment, to cultivate the region of the heart, as well as that of the intellect, and to fit the whole woman for her own coming years, as well as for the influence she is to exert over those of the many with whom she will be associated!

When we repeat, therefore, our expressions of respect for the class of Mrs. Child's works, on which the above remarks have a bearing, we are only rendering a proper tribute to our author for successful exertions in a humble, though very important department. It is one in which the amount of labor has been trifling, until of late years. Writers, until recently, have seemed to think that there were only men and women to write for. They forgot that there were thousands not of age. With the exception of a few tales by Miss Edgeworth, stories that were intended to inculcate any thing were stories for adults, as much as for the children for whom they purported to be made. We do not complain of this, as a general thing,—for some of the best tales we have are the simple ones which adroit minds have furnished for youth. We mean to say, that it has been reserved for very late years to produce a series of popular fictions, and of moral essays, which have had in view, as the guiding object, the direct moral and mental improvement of the young. As such, they deserve all commendation, and will produce the best effects in drawing the youthful mind from idle objects, and fixing it on those of real importance.

The Coronal, one of the works named at the head of this article, is a 'collection of miscellaneous pieces, written at various times,' as the author tells us on her title page. Many of them have before appeared in the Annuals, and all are well worth preserving in this way. Though she calls them the 'airy nothings' of the mind, Mrs. Child and all who are in the habit of thinking with her on this subject, may be assured that such nothings are frequently our pleasantest literary substance, and find 'a local habitation' in the bosoms of men,—and sensible men too,—where graver matters in octavo are permitted to subside into forgetfulness. We are for preserving these morsels of mind and fancy. They are often the most beautiful gems in the coronal of our thoughts, and have a value proportioned, not to their size, but to their purity and lustre. We shall not stay to designate any of the tales that make up this volume. We will merely observe that they are good specimens of the class of writings to which they belong,—the graceful, gay effusions that redeem our magazines and Annuals.

It would be wrong to pass by the poetry, of which the volume furnishes a few short pieces. We know not that Mrs. Child makes pretensions to poetic distinction, but we freely say that she might lay claim to excellence in this particular, and that with a good degree of success. There is among us,—and it seems to pervade nearly all ranks of writers of the day,—a disposition to a rather dangerous and unfair system of criticism as regards our poetry and our poets. It is a system that recognises too much of the principle of protection, or what in religion we should call exclusiveness. It inclines to testify rather too emphatically in favor of some one or two of the gentlemen of the 'fine frenzy,' as though they were entitled to a monopoly of praise and veneration for their poetic achievements, be their weaknesses and wants what they may. We see no virtue in this course;—and what we say here, we say in perfect good nature, and under a conviction that those who pursue it, are doing the writers themselves no kindness, because it will make them careless, if not too vain, and others injustice, who, after all, are good company for them, if not fully their peers. On the other hand, we enter our protest against the critical tirades, of which we see too many, against the ablest and purest poets of our land, evidently conducted with a partisan ferocity, and unsupported alike by sense or reason. We hold the true principle to be,—a place for all who deserve it, and impartiality in our presentments, exercised under all the solemnity of a grand juror's oath. Meanwhile we are glad to find one, now and then, of the fairer and better half, whose genius may render questionable the title 'in the male line' to all the poetic genius of the republic. Here are some lines by Mrs. Child, full of as high and strong poetry as has appeared in our country, and far better than half of that which is considered orthodox and unapproachable, by many of the soidi-sant judges of the art. The subject is the Painting, by Vanderlyn, of Marius seated on the Ruins of Carthage.

Pillars are fallen at thy feet,
Fanes quiver in the air,
A prostrate city is thy seat,—
And thou alone art there.

No change comes o'er thy noble brow,
Though ruin is around thee
Thine eye-beam burns as proudly now,
As when the laurel crowned thee.

It cannot bend thy lofty soul
Though friends and fame depart;
The car of fate may o'er thee roll,
Nor crush thy Roman heart.

And Genius hath electric power,
Which earth can never tame;
Bright suns may scorch, and dark clouds lower,—
Its flash is still the same.

The dreams we loved in early life,
May melt like mist away;
High thoughts may seem, mid passion's strife,
Like Carthage in decay.

And proud hopes in the human heart
May be to ruin hurled,
Like mouldering monuments of art
Heaped on a sleeping world.

Yet there is something will not die,
Where life hath once been fair;
Some towering thoughts still rear on high,
Some Roman lingers there!

The last production of Mrs. Child, and the one on which we propose to make a few closing remarks, is the Ladies' Library. Of this work, three volumes have already appeared,—excellent specimens,—and constituting so many of a series that our author intends to give to the public, from time to time. The first will prove, perhaps, as interesting as any one to most readers, as well from the subject as the style. It contains the lives of Madame de Staël and Madame Roland,—both women of eminence,—and the first the most wonderful and brilliant of her sex. We have rarely read lives of more interest. Every one knows the outline of Madame de Staël's career,—but the filling up, in cases of this kind, is, after all, the thing to delight us. Mrs. Child has shown herself to advantage here. The manner of her story is clear, simple, sometimes eloquent, and always in good taste. This is fortunate, where so peculiar a strain is required. In a work that contains a mixture of the biographical with the historical, we might expect some departure from the tone appropriate to both, and an appearance of effort in the writer, to keep up to the spirit of each department. But there is nothing like this. The style is sustained throughout, and sufficiently easy to keep the reader always interested,—just as we are interested by the conversation of a person who talks fluently, to the point, and in full possession of his subject. We are glad to see these leading volumes of a collection that bids fair to be so valuable. It is not enough to hear about eminent men or eminent women, day after day, from eulogists,—or to see them in their works merely. We want the speaking portrait. We want something to which we can have daily recurrence, if necessary, as to a perfect picture of the person;—to which, as an example, we can point our children, and tell them to aspire. To be sure, Madame de Staël was a being who reached a point, by the aid of genius and circumstances, to which most female minds must despair of attaining. Still, lessons, emulative, instructive and cautionary, may be drawn from her character. No intellect has all its powers beyond the reach of any other that improves its own endowments as it ought, and as it can. In some respects certain minds are alone in their elevation. But it is only in certain respects. By perseverance, others may arrive at an equal height in some distinct department.

We have always been struck,—we may almost say amused, though in rather a sad way,—with the bearing of Napoleon towards Madame de Staël. To us, it always formed one of the most interesting passages in his and her history. His conduct towards this lady certainly was indicative of very peculiar sentiments, and betrayed the feelings of the man to a degree which the First Consul was not accustomed to allow. We recollect no person with whom he came into contact during his career, that occasioned him so much chagrin as the author of Corinna. All this was complimentary to her no doubt,—and we believe that she felt it to be so, notwithstanding her tone of complaint and vexation at her persecution; for to possess a mind capable of troubling one like Bonaparte's, and to be told of it too, was something out of the common order of things. The fact is, that Napoleon stood in singular fear of this extraordinary woman. Most of the sex he despised, or treated in a light manner, which his historians call playfulness; but we doubt whether he would have dared to pat Madame de Staël's neck, or pinch her ear. Still, though he did not literally lay ungentle hands on her, the story of his enmity and malignity towards her is enough to show what he was willing to bring himself to do through the agency of others, and how little a great man may become by listening to his selfishness and passions.

In the matter of her exile, we hardly know which to be struck with most,—the evil spirit of the despot, brought to the determination of effecting her banishment,—the diplomatic adroitness of Talleyrand,—or the shrewdness of the victim. The little scene in which the order of removal is broken to her, is well managed; and we present it, in the language of Mrs. Child.

Napoleon requested Talleyrand to inform her that she must quit Paris. His characteristic finesse was shown in his manner of performing the embarrassing office assigned him by the First Consul. He called upon Madame de Staël, and, after a few compliments, said, "I hear, Madam, you are going to take a journey." "Oh, no! it is a mistake, I have no such intention." "Pardon me, I was informed you were going to Switzerland." "I have no such project, I assure you." "But I have been told, on the best authority, that you would quit Paris in three days." Madame de Staël took the hint and went to Copet.

This was noble severity. To follow it up with something in perfect keeping,—"the minister of police gave out," in certain terms, that if Madame de Staël, on her return to Copet, should venture one foot within forty leagues of Paris, she was a good prize." The exile afterwards "drily remarks," says Mrs. Child, "that it was the custom of Bonaparte to order conscripts and women to be in readiness to quit France in twenty-four hours."

In connexion with this subject, we quote one or two sayings of Napoleon as set down by Mrs. Child. They show, what we have intimated above, the fear in which he stood of his fair foe.

When he was told that no woman, however talented, could shake the foundation of his power, he replied, "Madame de Staël carries a quiver full of arrows, that would hit a man if he were seated on a rainbow." Napoleon, in one of his conversations at St. Helena, excuses his uninterrupted persecution of Madame de Staël, by saying that she was an ambitious, intriguing woman, who would at any time have thrown her friends into the sea, for the sake of exercising her energy in saving them.

A few years make almost necromantic changes in the fortunes of some people. How different the condition and tone of Talleyrand, the diplomate of Napoleon in this graceful ruse, just related, to get Madame de Staël out of Paris, because her arch enemy thought the air was bad for her,—of Talleyrand practising a little of his exquisite tact on one who had an almost equal portion with himself, and effecting a grand object for his master, in a tone of levity with which he would have arranged an excursion into the country,—from those of Talleyrand just returned from America, emptying his purse of fifteen francs,—his whole fortune,—on a table before Madame de Staël, and assuring her that unless she helped him, he should try what virtue there was in the Seine!

The result is known. As the story goes, Madame de Staël, then the most eloquent and powerful individual of the coterie that directed the Directory of Barras, interfered with good effect, in favor of her friend, and the ex-bishop became minister of Foreign Affairs. Since that time, fortune can hardly be said to have stood doubtfully with him, and the admirable sagacity with which he has managed to play Vicar of Bray on a dignified scale, through all the phases of empire to which the French government has been subjected, is, we believe, universally acknowledged. That Madame de Staël should have felt some indignation towards her former protégé, now ambassador extraordinary indeed, in the capacity in which he stood before her, is hardly to be wondered at; and when we take into view all that may naturally have occurred to her mind on retrospect, as connected with the bearer of the consular hint, we must confess that the feeling of hatred which she conceived, and afterwards exhibited, was by no means singular. We suspect that she was not of a temper to forgive ingratitude as a matter of course. She was too ardent in her attachments not to be strong in her resentments.

The life of Madame Roland is, on the whole, a more interesting biography than that of Madame de Staël. For fortitude and daring, this woman has not her superior in history. Her persecution and suffering afford an example of the degrading pass to which man may be brought by the power of evil passion. The horrors of the French Revolution are proverbial; but if any one thing, more than another, exhibits in full relief, the malignity of man, it is the hunting down of woman to torture and death. Such depravity is a perfect inversion of the order of human nature,—and its exhibition is revolting, to the last degree. Napoleon, as we have intimated above, betrayed not a little of this ferocity in his conduct towards Madame de Staël. It was in principle the same disposition, that actuated the fiends who brought Madame Roland to the scaffold.

The second volume of the series contains the lives of two women, conspicuous, though in different ways, in their several times and countries; Lady Rachel Russell in England, and Madame Guyon in France. If Madame de Staël may be called a great example of her sex, the two personages here exhibited may with equal emphasis be pronounced good ones. The fortunes and fate of Lady Russell are familiar to all readers of English history. They are set forth here with considerable effect,—and we think her case worthy of preservation, in the way our author has chosen, as an instance of exceedingly praiseworthy regard and affection for her unfortunate husband, and of high and dignified endurance under a complication of singular sufferings. Her life embodies not a little of romantic and tragic incident; but doubtless much of the interest derivable from that source, and which in our own day lends a melancholy attractiveness to her story, was lost upon the public mind in the troublous times of the Charleses. Unfortunately, persecution and suffering for conscience's sake were too common matters at that period, to permit an individual instance to be long regarded, or much wept over. Lady Rachel married Lord William Russell, while he was a younger brother; and it was after his accession to the title, and while he was necessarily absent during his elections, on political business in London, or in attendance at Oxford, that those letters were written, which are so peculiar for their warmheartedness and simplicity, and exhibit such a spirit of affection and zeal. These letters constitute most of that portion of the volume, which is devoted to Lady Russell. We gather from them, that she was of a pious inclination; and all her views and feelings seem to have partaken of a peculiar purity and holiness. The dispositions she manifested at this time were all in accordance with the true and unbending principle, which seems so well to have supported her in her after trials.

Lord Russell was a friend of liberty. He opposed openly the grasping prerogative of the king. He held with the people as to jealousy of French influence, and the intrigues of the Roman Catholics,—and he favored the bill to exclude James from the succession. Of course, even if he did not act, he professed enough to subject himself to the pains and penalties of meddling with such delicate and dangerous matters. Besides this he was one of a council of six, chosen to consult upon the measures necessary to check the despotic doings of Charles and his brother. This implicated him beyond escape,—and he was associated in his fate with Essex, and Monmouth, and Howard, and Hampden, and Sidney, who, it is well known, came to utter confusion in the cause they had undertaken. He was arrested,—and though escape was offered him, just before his commitment, by some connivance of the court, he was too well grounded in his principles, to take advantage of it.

'Burnet tells us,' observes our author, 'that the day before Lord Russell was arrested, a messenger was observed many hours waiting near his door,—a measure that was taken in so open and careless a manner, (the back door of his house not being watched,) as led to the suspicion that it was intended to frighten him away.' Had Lord Russell fallen into this snare, it would have saved them from the odium of his death, and would have given them a fine opportunity to blacken his character. But he, conscious of no other political opinions than those which he had long and openly avowed in Parliament, refused to avail himself of this insidious measure; and his 'faithful, obedient and most affectionate wife,' was tempted by no unworthy weakness to advise him to a course of conduct inconsistent with his innocence and honor.

Lord Russell would not attempt to leave the house, while the messenger from the Council was pacing before his door, although he was ignorant of what, and by whom, he was accused. His lady was sent to obtain information and consult his friends; with what anxiety the task was performed, we can well imagine. During the fortnight, that elapsed between his commitment to the Tower and his trial, she was diligently employed in procuring information as to what was likely to be urged against him, and in adopting every measure of precaution. She accompanied him to court on the day of his trial; on which occasion the crowd was so great, that the counsel complained of not having room to stand. When Lord Russell requested to have a person to take notes of the trial for him, the chief justice said, 'any of your servants shall assist you in writing any thing you please.' To which Lord Russell replied, 'My wife is here to do it.' As he spoke, the excellent daughter of the virtuous Southampton rose up and stood by his side. It is much to be regretted, that history does not inform us how she supported herself through that fatal day, or how she received the tidings of the death of Lord Essex, which were suddenly brought into court, and which she was aware would have a material influence on her husband's destiny. We only know that she so commanded her feelings, as neither to disturb the court, nor distract the attention of her husband.

Lord Russell simply pleaded not guilty, and appealed to the laws of his country. But what were they, opposed to the quiddities, evasions and tricks of lawyers who would be courtiers, packed juries, and a judge whose sense of justice was so overruled by his fears, that he suffered 'I would to wait upon I dare not!' Even as it was, our author observes that it was thought Chief Justice Pemberton did not state the matter with sufficient eagerness against the noble prisoner, and he was soon after turned out of his office.

Every measure was taken to save the victim. The Earl of Bedford, the writer remarks, offered the Duchess of Portsmouth the enormous sum of one hundred thousand pounds, if she would procure his son's pardon. But notwithstanding her love of money, she did not dare to move in the business. Offers, too, were made on every side, to aid him by force and stratagem to escape, but Lord Russell refused to listen to any proposition. The closing scene of his life is given with some effect. The author presents it in the language of some writer, whom she quotes.

He went into his chamber about midnight, and I staid all night in the outer room. He went not to bed till about two in the morning; and was fast asleep till four, when, according to his order, we called him. He was quickly dressed, but would lose no time in shaving,—for he said he was not concerned in his good looks that day. He went into his chamber six or seven times in the morning and prayed by himself, and then came out to Tillotson and me. He wound up his watch, and said, "Now I have done with time, and am going to eternity." Tillotson and I went in the coach with him to the place of execution. Some of the crowd that filled the streets wept, while others insulted. He was singing psalms a great part of the way; and said he hoped to sing better very soon. Observing the great crowds of people, he said, "I hope I shall soon see a much better assembly." When he came to the scaffold, he walked about it three or four times. Then he turned to the sheriff, and delivered his paper. He protested he had always been far from any designs against the King's life, or government,—he prayed God would preserve both, and the Protestant religion.

Lord Russell, continues our author, was beheaded on the 21st July, 1683,—dying as he had lived, the firm friend of truth, of the Protestant religion, and of the liberties of his country. The substance of his speech to the sheriff was a profession of his sentiments in relation to the church, and an unqualified rebuke of Popery in every form. The same speech, and the paper he delivered to the officers on the scaffold, are still preserved, remarks the writer, at Woburn Abbey, in letters of gold.

From this time forward, the life of Lady Russell seems to have been a struggle between her duty and her grief. Profound as her sorrow was, and deep, oftentimes, as was the shadow of her melancholy, she seems never to have forgotten that it was incumbent on her to resist their influence, for many and high reasons. She had children about her, now drawn nearer than ever by an interest doubly strong. This awoke her anew to all a parent's feelings and duties. She was left the guardian of her husband's principles and fame. This recalled her to all the duties of a wife. She was to exhibit to the world that she was proud of the sentiments professed by one who was called to suffer unjustly, and that the eternal principle of right afforded an inward support, that no power on earth could subdue. This recalled her to a consideration of herself. As an example in these respects, she was certainly uncommon, and not to be reached by every mind, though by every mind worthy of strong regard and active imitation in cases of weighty and accumulated trial. As might be supposed, attempts were made to distort the intentions, and blacken the character of Lord Russell, after he was gone, and as was suggested above, there was no occasion on which the good wife shone more conspicuous, than in his lady's unfailing defence of his excellent character, and constant effort to preserve the purity of his reputation.

Nothing can show more strongly the high estimation to which her lofty virtue commended her, and the sentiments of respect with which she was regarded, than the conduct of the Prince and Princess of Orange, in expressly ordering the Minister Dykvelt, as soon as he arrived as Plenipotentiary from the States of Holland, to condole with her, and to express their sense of the loss sustained by the Protestant religion in the death of her husband. A reversal of his attainder was one of the first acts of William and Mary. Thus was the cloud in a degree lifted from the fame and fortunes of the house of Russell, and the faithful wife and noble mother came at last to bask in the sunshine that seemed to have been withdrawn from her forever. She died, our author informs us, at the age of eighty-seven, having survived her husband forty years. The whole range of history presents few women who reflect more honor on the sex, for high moral courage, uncommon kindness and devotion, unquestionable virtue, and unsullied purity.

The story of Madame Guyon is that of a devout enthusiast. It presents a curious instance of the extravagance to which the human mind will suffer itself to be carried, under the influence of strong excitement. The intensity of Madame Guyon's pious feelings seems to have been coincident with her youth; and several things that she relates, while they show the depth of her childish devotion, betray also the absorbing spirit of her enthusiasm. On one or two occasions she seems to have been sensible of a falling off. She said of herself, 'I fell into a state of indifference and indevotion; though I still kept up the outside appearance with a good deal of care; and the habit I was in, of being at church with modesty, made me appear better than I was. Vanity, which had been excluded from my heart, now resumed its seat there. I began to pass a good deal of my time before a looking-glass. All seemed to me to look beautiful in my person, but I saw not that it covered a polluted soul.' And again, after her marriage, which seems to have been unfortunate, from the severity of her husband's treatment, she says,—'such heavy blows so impaired the vivacity of my nature, that I became like a lamb that is shearing. I found that whatever I said was offensive, even things which others would have been pleased with. I knew not how to act.' This unhappy marriage was in a few years dissolved by the death of her husband,—of whom, though she paid him exemplary attention during his last illness, she seems to have been willing to be relieved,—if we may gather any thing from her exclamation, when told that he had expired,—'Oh God, thou hast broken my bonds and I will offer thee a sacrifice of praise.' Still, self-inflicted torments seem to have been her delight. None of the austerities to which she subjected herself satisfied her love of suffering. Pincers, and all instruments of torture did not give her pain sufficient. Mortification perpetual and of the deepest kind seems to have been sought for with a morbid avidity. Nor was it confined to the body. She subjected the poor and tried spirit to denials on every occasion that offered. Some of them amuse from their simplicity as well as singularity. She kept a turbulent and troublesome girl, because, as our author says, she thought her soul needed 'a perpetual blister to sting it into passiveness.' She refused all company and amusements, as being in proper keeping with her profession of entire abstinence,—and on one occasion, being near the Queen, whom she had never seen, but strongly desired to see, she refused to look at her, supposing it to be the indulgence of a spirit at war with the self-denying one she had taken up. She had miraculous dreams,—and seems to have participated in all the extravagant spiritual movements, that distinguish people of unchecked devotional enthusiam. Perhaps nothing will prove this better than her story of her restoration from a fit of illness. A holy priest, Father la Combe by name, was her illuminator and supreme director in all things concerning her soul. We give the words of our author.

I had not a penny to help myself with, as I had reserved nothing to myself. Thus I practised poverty, and was in necessity even among those to whom I had given all. They wrote to Father la Combe, desiring him to come to me, as I was so extremely ill. On hearing of my condition, he was so touched with compassion, as to walk on foot all night, it being eight leagues. As soon as he entered the house, my pains abated; and when he had prayed, and blessed me, laying his hand on my head, I was perfectly cured, to the great astonishment of my physicians, who were not willing to acknowledge the miracle.

At length she and Father la Combe 'were accused of heresy and other great crimes.' The latter was imprisoned in the Bastille in 1687.

Of her acquaintance with Fenelon, our author says,—

The family of Fouquet were intimate friends of Fenelon, Archbishop of Cambray; and Madame Guyon had frequent opportunities of conversing with him. Having a dislike of every thing like an affectation of singularity, he was at first disposed to avoid her; but the modesty of her demeanor, and the extreme simplicity and gentleness of her manners soon prepossessed him in her favor. Although she was more unreserved and incautious than the Abbé Fenelon, she strongly resembled him in her disinterestedness, her love of God, her conscientious courage, and her total abandonment of herself to the guidance of Divine Providence; it is not strange, therefore, that he became one of her disciples, as well as a zealous friend and admirer.

Fenelon was the only one of a commission appointed to examine the writings of Madame Guyon, who refused to sign a condemnation of them; which, our author says, implicated him in her impotent heresy,—even as his enemies wished. Madame Guyon was soon after imprisoned in the Bastille. While in confinement, 'she composed five volumes of hymns and spiritual poems, several of which have been translated by Cowper. They are full of devotional fervor, and the versification is free and flowing.'

It is stated that she recovered her liberty in 1701 or 1703, when she was exiled to Dizieux, near Blois, at which latter place, after fifteen years, she died at the age of seventy.

Upon a character like that of Madame Guyon much might be said or written, but it carries with it its own commentary; and we apprehend that Mrs. Child must have supposed that something in the way of warning as well as much instruction, was to be drawn from the example which it offers. It ought to serve as a rebuke of religious extravagance every where, by showing how easily enthusiasm may degenerate into absurdity, and how nearly allied our simplest and best feelings are to self-delusion. On the other hand, as an example of strenuous piety, of patience, humbleness, active benevolence, and sincerity, it is to be commended; and we have reason to be satisfied with so clever a portrait of 'one of the most remarkable of the mystics.'

In her Biographies of Good Wives, which constitute the third volume of this series, and the last production of our author, Mrs. Child has given us some excellent pictures of women, many of whom were celebrated in their time, to an eminent degree; women who were great under many circumstances, and good under all. They have entered into history; and their characters go to form a portion of its exemplary matter in the particulars of praise-worthy endurance, conjugal fidelity, and active virtue,—in short, in the way of all excellence. The book is calculated to be interesting to intelligent young readers; and though most of the lives are familiar in their leading incidents to the general reader, there will still be something found in the volume new and pleasing even to children of an older growth. There is no portrait in the gallery here opened to us, to which we can point with peculiar emphasis, as containing any thing very extraordinary in its lineaments or execution. It is enough to say that there are many fine heads, and that the management of the coloring is generally judicious.

The story of Lady Fanshawe is one of the most entertaining in this volume. She was the wife of Sir Richard Franshawe, who came to be a personage of consequence with Charles the First, and under the Restoration. Of Sir Richard we are told that he was educated a lawyer, but loved travel better than the profession. He went to Paris with only five pounds. The night he arrived, two friars invited him to play,—and he proved himself a perfect pigeon in their hands. But it was a good lesson,—and nothing during his life could tempt him to play again. But though too poor to purchase a supper in France, he soon became a man in much demand in England. He married; became secretary of embassy,—and afterwards ambassador. In all his travels, dangerous as they were at that time, when undertaken for the State, his wife proved his true and brave companion. Sir Richard undertook to carry letters from the Queen Mother to Charles II., then on his way to Scotland. He was well received by the wandering king, who entrusted him with the Privy Signet and Great Seal. But he was fated to ill fortune. He was taken prisoner at the battle of Worcester. Here again the true wife appears. Our author says she immediately hastened to London. 'They met in poverty and in sorrow; and there was an oppressive consciousness that each hour might be the last of the prisoner's life. He assumed a cheerful tone, saying, 'Let us lose no time, for I know not how little I may have to spare. This is the chance of war; so let us sit down and be merry while we may.' During his imprisonment, she never failed to go secretly with a dark lantern, at four o'clock in the morning, to his window. She minded neither darkness nor storms, and often stood talking with him, with her garments drenched in rain. She begged and obtained his release of Cromwell. After the Restoration, 'the King promised to reward Sir Richard Fanshawe's fidelity, by appointing him Secretary of State; but by the treachery of Lord Clarendon, the royal word was not fulfilled.' He was afterwards appointed ambassador to Portugal,—and subsequently to Spain,—where he died. The conduct of his wife, through all the scenes of trial which she passed so triumphantly, is worthy of all admiration.

In her sketch of Mrs. Flaxman, wife of the sculptor, our author introduces the following singular anecdote.

One morning a stranger called upon him, and, presenting a book, said, "This work was sent to you by an Italian artist, and I am requested to apologize for its extraordinary dedication. It was generally believed throughout Italy that you were dead; and my friend, wishing to show the world how much he esteemed your genius, has inscribed his book 'Al ombra di Flaxman,' [To the shade of Flaxman.] No sooner was it published, than the report of your death was contradicted; and the author, affected by his mistake, (which he rejoices to find a mistake) begs you will receive his work as an apology."

Flaxman smiled,—accepted the volume with unaffected modesty, and mentioned the circumstance as curious to his own family, and some of his friends.

This singular occurrence happened on the 2d of December. The next day he took a cold, from which he never recovered. He died peacefully, as he had lived.

In the life of Mrs. Blake, the following equally curious anecdote is told concerning that bold artist.

His poetic mind threw its own glowing coloring over the most ordinary occurrences of life. "Did you ever see a fairy's funeral, madam?" he once said to a lady, who happened to sit by him in company. "Never, sir!" was the answer. "I have," said Blake, "but not before last night. I was walking alone in my garden, there was great stillness among the branches and flowers, and more than common sweetness in the air; I heard a low and pleasant sound, and I knew not whence it came. At last I saw the broad leaf of a flower move, and underneath I saw a procession of creatures of the size and color of green and gray grasshoppers, bearing a body laid out on a rose leaf, which they buried with songs, and then disappeared. It was a fairy funeral."

The Ancient of Days was such a favorite with Blake, that three days before his death, he sat bolstered up in bed, and tinted with his choicest colors and in his happiest style. He touched and retouched it,—held it at arm's length, and then threw it from him, exclaiming, "There! that will do! I cannot mend it." He saw his wife in tears,—she felt that this was to be the last of his works. "Stay, Kate!" cried Blake, "keep just as you are,—I will draw your portrait,—for you have ever been an angel to me." She obeyed, and the dying artist made a fine likeness.

The wife of Luther figures among the subjects of the work. Our author introduces an anecdote, that sets the Reformer in a characteristic light.

The spirit of light and liberty diffused by Luther, found its way even into the dark recesses of the cloister. It became no uncommon thing for monks to quit their profession; and at last woman's feebler nature arose and shook off the yoke that had broken many a pure and loving heart. In 1523, nine nuns escaped from the Convent of Nimptschen, near Grimma. This event of course produced a great excitement; even the princes who were favorable to the reformed religion, did not dare to protect the fugitives openly.

But Luther, as usual, scorned to proceed with caution. He wrote and spoke boldly in defence of the nuns, and praised those who had assisted them to escape. He even went so far as to throw off the monastic habit, which he had continued to wear until that time. Among the nuns was Catherine de Bora, a handsome woman, of highly respectable family, who became the object of a very strong and enduring attachment on the part of Luther. Some lingering prejudices concerning the propriety of marriage between a monk and nun, induced him to repress his feelings for a time. But finding nothing in Scripture to support his scruples, and being strongly urged to it by his revered parents, he suddenly resolved to marry. He was united to Catherine de Bora in 1525; the bridegroom was forty-two years old, and the bride twenty-six. Considering the state of public opinion at that period, the power and rage of his enemies, and his own want of fortune, it was certainly a very bold step; but it was one which he never repented. The advocates of the Romish church took this occasion to pour forth a fresh torrent of abuse. Some affirmed that he was insane; others that he was possessed by an evil spirit; and many loaded both him and his wife with epithets which it would pollute these pages to quote. The storm raged with such fury, that even the courageous Luther was a little disheartened at first. He says, "My marriage has made me so despicable, that I hope my humiliation will rejoice the angels and vex the devils."

But we cannot stay to particularize. We refer our readers to the volume, as a volume of very pleasant and satisfactory reading. The biographies of the wives of Klopstock, Wieland, Huber, and Schiller, struck us as more particularly interesting, perhaps from the excellent virtues developed by those patterns of their sex,—and perhaps from their connexion with men so admirable in the ranks of learning and genius. We cannot but observe, by the way, that Mrs. Child proves by the examples she has adduced, what she professedly desires to illustrate, that a woman may be perfectly happy, though she bind herself, heart and hand, to a painter, a poet, or a politician; to one of the class that many call visionary or gifted, and which is perhaps better known, the world over, under the sweeping title of the irritabile genus. It is, as every observer knows, the common, good-natured misapprehension of the day, as it was of the days of our fathers, that if a person be so unfortunate as to be endowed by Providence with an uncommon share of the 'fine frenzy,' the gift must be accompanied, as of course, with a plentiful lack of that good sense, which is essential to the successful management of dollars or domestics, shopkeeping or house-keeping; and of that pure, substantial affection, which is the only saving principle of wedded life. The hope of any good issue, from the alliance of a gentle with a strong and irritable spirit, has been thought absurd. We trust that this notion may get to be old fashioned, before the world advances much further; and we are glad to see instances held up, that go so far to prove that it is 'not law.'1 Meanwhile, it cannot but have struck the reader of this volume, that if Mrs. Child merely intended it to set forth the biographies of good wives, she has done more than was 'set down in the bond.' She has given us here the lives of good husbands as well as of good wives,—and that in so many instances, that it would warrant a change of the title. In some cases, it must be allowed that the wife plays but a second part in the story, and we are constrained to say, that on one or two occasions, the lady was in so dim a distance that we could hardly discern her. But these are trifles. The writer is true to her main object, in the leading portraits.

Many of Mrs. Child's books have been uncommonly popular. The republication of them in England2 shows this, and while it bears testimony to their extensive circulation, proves, moreover, the good sense of our brethren on the other side of the water.

But we must close. We trust that Mrs. Child will continue her useful labors, and have no doubt that they will be received with constantly increasing favor. We would not have her desert fiction altogether. This would be needless severity of construction, in determining what was useful. High and beautiful lessons may be inculcated by a good story, and as good a rule in morals deduced, as laid down. We are in favor of the employment of efficient mind in the realms of fancy. We want works of imagination that shall do us honor and good at the same time; and these we can have. Genius is not slumbering in our land, and there are a thousand fields, as yet untrodden by its restless foot. Prose, it must be confessed, is the favorite language of the time, both with authors and the world at large,—a consequence, as every one sees, of the matter-of-fact character of the age. As to writing grave essays in verse, or a treatise on the sciences in 'Lydian measure,' though once held not only possible but quite proper, men now would stare at the suggestion. Still we are no believers in the theory of those, who deem poetry altogether among the things of yesterday. Poetry can never die. It can never pass away. It is too much a part of ourselves. We hope for better things than our country has yet seen in this delightful art, and it lies with some of our best prose writers,—writers who have gone into the same fields with Mrs. Child, and given us poems in their sketches and tales,—to bring this about. There is too much inclination abroad to depreciate poetry; and the desertion of her standard by those who are best able to bear it bravely and well, is treachery to their country's honor, as well as to letters and themselves. We repeat, then, that we hope for better things. We look for high and powerful efforts in this department of our literature, and trust that the time is not distant when we can point to works that shall be destined, and shall deserve, to live with those that have already become classic in our language.


1 An entertaining work, lately published, entitled Memoirs of the Loves of the Poets, contains several instances of love and fidelity that might come into this collection. They prove that unless there be something dangerous in fervor and good faith, woman need not fear to put her heart in the keeping of genius. The case of Chaucer is a very pleasant one, as here related. That of James the First of Scotland and Lady Jane Beaufort is well known. The author thus refers to it.

When the king of Scots was released, he wooed and won openly, and as a monarch, the woman he had adored in secret. The marriage was solemnized in 1423, and he carried Lady Jane to Scotland, where she was crowned soon after, his bride and queen.

How well she merited, and how deeply she repaid the love of her devoted and all accomplished husband, is told in history. When James was surprised and murdered by some of his factious barons, his queen threw herself between him and the daggers of the assassins, received many of the wounds aimed at his heart, nor could they complete their purpose, till they had dragged her by force from his arms. She deserved to be a poet's queen and love! These are the souls, the deeds, which inspire poetry,—or rather which are themselves poetry, its principle and its essence. It was on this occasion, that Catherine Douglas, one of the Queen's attendants, thrust her arm into the stanchion of the door, to serve the purpose of a bolt, and held it there till the savage assailants forced their way by shattering the frail defence. What times were these!—alas, the love of women, and the barbarity of men!
Vol. I., p. 143.

2 We have just been shown a beautiful edition of the Mother's Book, printed in London. We have also recently been told, on good authority, an anecdote in reference to one of Mrs. Child's popular works, lately published in Great Britain, which is worth relating, as an example of the amiable spirit of nationality. The publisher took the precaution to mention in his preface that his edition was true to the original, save in those instances where he had expunged the Americanisms. As thus expurgated, it came before the English public. A copy has since been faithfully examined here, and compared with the Boston edition. The only alterations consist in inserting 'this country' in the place of America, or United States, so as to suit it to the meridian of the United Kingdom. Thus much for Americanisms!

John G. Whittier (essay date 1883)

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SOURCE: An Introduction to Letters of Lydia Maria Child. Negro University Presses, 1969, pp. v-xxv.

[In the following introduction to an 1883 edition of Child's letters, Whittier recalls both Child's professional achievements and her personal life, stressing in particular the marked resilience of her principles.]

In presenting to the public this memorial volume [The Letters of Lydia Maria Child,] its compilers deemed that a brief biographical introduction was necessary; and as a labor of love I have not been able to refuse their request to prepare it.

Lydia Maria Francis was born in Medford, Massachusetts, February 11, 1802. Her father, David Francis, was a worthy and substantial citizen of that town. Her brother, Convers Francis, afterwards theological professor in Harvard College, was some years older than herself, and assisted her in her early home studies, though, with the perversity of an elder brother, he sometimes mystified her in answering her questions. Once, when she wished to know what was meant by Shakespeare's "raven down of darkness," which was made to smile when smoothed, he explained that it was only the fur of a black cat, which sparkled when stroked! Later in life this brother wrote of her, "She has been a dear, good sister to me: would that I had been half as good a brother to her." Her earliest teacher was an aged spinster, known in the village as "Marm Betty," painfully shy, and with many oddities of person and manner, the never-forgotten calamity of whose life was that Governor Brooks once saw her drinking out of the nose of her tea-kettle. Her school was in her bedroom, always untidy, and she was a constant chewer of tobacco; but the children were fond of her, and Maria and her father always carried her a good Sunday dinner. Thomas W. Higginson, in Eminent Women of the Age, mentions in this connection that, according to an established custom, on the night before Thanksgiving

all the humble friends of the Francis household—Marm Betty, the washer-woman, wood-sawyer, and journeymen, some twenty or thirty in all—were summoned to a preliminary entertainment. They there partook of an immense chicken pie, pumpkin pie made in milk-pans, and heaps of doughnuts. They feasted in the large, old-fashioned kitchen; and went away loaded with crackers and bread and pies, not forgetting "turnovers" for the children. Such plain application of the doctrine that it is more blessed to give than receive may have done more to mould the character of Lydia Maria Child of maturer years than all the faithful labors of good Dr. Osgood, to whom she and her brother used to repeat the Assembly's catechism once a month.

Her education was limited to the public schools, with the exception of one year at a private seminary in her native town. From a note by her brother, Dr. Francis, we learn that when twelve years of age she went to Norridgewock, Maine, where her married sister resided. At Dr. Brown's, in Skowhegan, she first read Waverley. She was greatly excited, and exclaimed, as she laid down the book, "Why cannot I write a novel?" She remained in Norridgewock and vicinity for several years, and on her return to Massachusetts took up her abode with her brother at Watertown. He encouraged her literary tastes, and it was in his study that she commenced her first story, Hobomok, which she published in the twenty-first year of her age. The success it met with induced her to give to the public, soon after, The Rebels: a Tale of the Revolution, which was at once received into popular favor, and ran rapidly through several editions. Then followed in close succession The Mother's Book, running through eight American editions, twelve English, and one German, The Girl's Book, the History of Women, and the Frugal Housewife, of which thirty-five editions were published. Her Juvenile Miscellany was commenced in 1826.

It is not too much to say that half a century ago she was the most popular literary woman in the United States. She had published historical novels of unquestioned power of description and characterization, and was widely and favorably known as the editor of the Juvenile Miscellany, which was probably the first periodical in the English tongue devoted exclusively to children, and to which she was by far the largest contributor. Some of the tales and poems from her pen were extensively copied and greatly admired. It was at this period that the North American Review, the highest literary authority of the country, said of her, "We are not sure that any woman of our country could outrank Mrs. Child. This lady has been long before the public as an author with much success. And she well deserves it, for in all her works nothing can be found which does not commend itself, by its tone of healthy morality and good sense. Few female writers, if any, have done more or better things for our literature in the lighter or graver departments."

Comparatively young, she had placed herself in the front rank of American authorship. Her books and her magazine had a large circulation, and were affording her a comfortable income, at a time when the rewards of authorship were uncertain and at the best scanty.

In 1828 she married David Lee Child, Esq., a young and able lawyer, and took up her residence in Boston. In 1831-32 both became deeply interested in the subject of slavery, through the writings and personal influence of William Lloyd Garrison. Her husband, a member of the Massachusetts legislature and editor of the Massachusetts Journal, had, at an earlier date, denounced the project of the dismemberment of Mexico for the purpose of strengthening and extending American slavery. He was one of the earliest members of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, and his outspoken hostility to the peculiar institution greatly and unfavorably affected his interests as a lawyer. In 1832 he addressed a series of able letters on slavery and the slave-trade to Edward S. Abdy, a prominent English philanthropist. In 1836 he published in Philadelphia ten strongly written articles on the same subject. He visited England and France in 1837, and while in Paris addressed an elaborate memoir to the Société pour l'Abolition d'Esclavage, and a paper on the same subject to the editor of the Eclectic Review, in London. To his facts and arguments John Quincy Adams was much indebted in the speeches which he delivered in Congress on the Texas question.

In 1833 the American Anti-Slavery Society was formed by a convention in Philadelphia. Its numbers were small, and it was everywhere spoken against. It was at this time that Lydia Maria Child startled the country by the publication of her noble Appeal in behalf of that Class of Americans called Africans. It is quite impossible for any one of the present generation to imagine the popular surprise and indignation which the book called forth, or how entirely its author cut herself off from the favor and sympathy of a large number of those who had previously delighted to do her honor. Social and literary circles, which had been proud of her presence, closed their doors against her. The sale of her books, the subscriptions to her magazine, fell off to a ruinous extent. She knew all she was hazarding, and made the great sacrifice, prepared for all the consequences which followed. In the preface to her book she says,

I am fully aware of the unpopularity of the task I have undertaken; but though I expect ridicule and censure, I do not fear them. A few years hence, the opinion of the world will be a matter in which I have not even the most transient interest; but this book will be abroad on its mission of humanity long after the hand that wrote it is mingling with the dust. Should it be the means of advancing, even one single hour, the inevitable progress of truth and justice, I would not exchange the consciousness for all Rothschild's wealth or Sir Walter's fame.

Thenceforth her life was a battle; a constant rowing hard against the stream of popular prejudice and hatred. And through it all—pecuniary privation, loss of friends and position, the painfulness of being suddenly thrust from "the still air of delightful studies" into the bitterest and sternest controversy of the age—she bore herself with patience, fortitude, and unshaken reliance upon the justice and ultimate triumph of the cause she had espoused. Her pen was never idle. Wherever there was a brave word to be spoken, her voice was heard, and never without effect. It is not exaggeration to say that no man or woman at that period rendered more substantial service to the cause of freedom, or made such a "great renunciation" in doing it.

A practical philanthropist, she had the courage of her convictions, and from the first was no mere closet moralist, or sentimental bewailer of the woes of humanity. She was the Samaritan stooping over the wounded Jew. She calmly and unflinchingly took her place by the side of the despised slave and free man of color, and in word and act protested against the cruel prejudice which shut out its victims from the rights and privileges of American citizens. Her philanthropy had no taint of fanaticism; throughout the long struggle, in which she was a prominent actor, she kept her fine sense of humor, good taste, and sensibility to the beautiful in art and nature.1 While faithful to the great duty which she felt was laid upon her in an especial manner, she was by no means a reformer of one idea, but her interest was manifested in every question affecting the welfare of humanity. Peace, temperance, education, prison reform, and equality of civil rights, irrespective of sex, engaged her attention. Under all the disadvantages of her estrangement from popular favor, her charming Greek romance of Philothea and her Lives of Madame Roland and the Baroness de Staël proved that her literary ability had lost nothing of its strength, and that the hand which penned such terrible rebukes had still kept its delicate touch, and gracefully yielded to the inspiration of fancy and art. While engaged with her husband in the editorial supervision of the Anti-Slavery Standard, she wrote her admirable Letters from New York; humorous, eloquent, and picturesque, but still humanitarian in tone, which extorted the praise of even a pro-slavery community. Her great work, in three octavo volumes, The Progress of Religious Ideas, belongs, in part, to that period. It is an attempt to represent in a candid, unprejudiced manner the rise and progress of the great religions of the world, and their ethical relations to each other. She availed herself of, and carefully studied, the authorities at that time accessible, and the result is creditable to her scholarship, industry, and conscientiousness. If, in her desire to do justice to the religions of Buddha and Mohammed, in which she has been followed by Maurice, Max Müller, and Dean Stanley, she seems at times to dwell upon the best and overlook the darker features of those systems, her concluding reflections should vindicate her from the charge of undervaluing the Christian faith, or of lack of reverent appreciation of its founder. In the closing chapter of her work, in which the large charity and broad sympathies of her nature are manifest, she thus turns with words of love, warm from the heart, to Him whose Sermon on the Mount includes most that is good and true and vital in the religions and philosophies of the world:—

It was reserved for Him to heal the broken-hearted, to preach a gospel to the poor, to say, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much." Nearly two thousand years have passed away since these words of love and pity were uttered, yet when I read them my eyes fill with tears. I thank Thee, O Heavenly Father, for all the messengers thou hast sent to man; but, above all, I think Thee for Him, thy beloved Son! Pure lily blossom of the centuries, taking root in the lowliest depths, and receiving the light and warmth of heaven in its golden heart! All that the pious have felt, all that poets have said, all that artists have done, with their manifold forms of beauty, to represent the ministry of Jesus, are but feeble expressions of the great debt we owe Him who is even now curing the lame, restoring sight to the blind, and raising the dead in that spiritual sense wherein all miracle is true.

During her stay in New York, as editor of the Anti-Slavery Standard, she found a pleasant home at the residence of the genial philanthropist, Isaac T. Hopper, whose remarkable life she afterwards wrote. Her portrayal of this extraordinary man, so brave, so humorous, so tender and faithful to his convictions of duty, is one of the most readable pieces of biography in English literature. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, in a discriminating paper published in 1869, speaks of her eight years' sojourn in New York as the most interesting and satisfactory period of her whole life.

She was placed where her sympathetic nature found abundant outlet and occupation. Dwelling in a house where disinterestedness and noble labor were as daily breath, she had great opportunities. There was no mere alms-giving; but sin and sorrow must be brought home to the fireside and the heart; the fugitive slave, the drunkard, the outcast woman, must be the chosen guests of the abode,—must be taken, and held, and loved into reformation or hope.

It would be a very imperfect representation of Maria Child which regarded her only from a literary point of view. She was wise in counsel; and men like Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, Salmon P. Chase, and Governor Andrew availed themselves of her foresight and sound judgment of men and measures. Her pen was busy with correspondence, and whenever a true man or a good cause needed encouragement, she was prompt to give it. Her donations for benevolent causes and beneficent reforms were constant and liberal; and only those who knew her intimately could understand the cheerful and unintermitted self-denial which alone enabled her to make them. She did her work as far as possible out of sight, without noise or pretension. Her time, talents, and money were held not as her own, but a trust from the Eternal Father for the benefit of His suffering children. Her plain, cheap dress was glorified by the generous motive for which she wore it. Whether in the crowded city among the sin-sick and starving, or among the poor and afflicted in the neighborhood of her country home, no story of suffering and need, capable of alleviation, ever reached her without immediate sympathy and corresponding action. Lowell, one of her warmest admirers, in his "Fable for Critics" has beautifully portrayed her abounding benevolence:—

There comes Philothea, her face all aglow,
She has just been dividing some poor creature's woe,
And can't tell which pleases her most, to relieve
His want, or his story to hear and believe;
No doubt against many deep griefs she prevails,
For her ear is the refuge of destitute tales;
She knows well that silence is sorrow's best food,
And that talking draws off from the heart its black blood.

The pole, science tells us, the magnet controls,
But she is a magnet to emigrant Poles,
And folks with a mission that nobody knows,
Throng thickly about her as bees round a rose;
She can fill up the carets in such, make their scope
Converge to some focus of rational hope,
And, with sympathies fresh as the morning, their gall
Can transmute into honey,—but this is not all;
Not only for those she has solace; O, say,
Vice's desperate nursling adrift in Broadway,
Who clingest, with all that is left of thee human,
To the last slender spar from the wreck of the woman,
Hast thou not found one shore where those tired drooping feet
Could reach firm mother-earth, one full heart on whose beat
The soothed head in silence reposing could hear
The chimes of far childhood throb back on the ear?
Ah, there's many a beam from the fountain of day
That, to reach us unclouded, must pass, on its way,
Through the soul of a woman, and hers is wide ope
To the influence of Heaven as the blue eyes of Hope;
Yes, a great heart is hers, one that dares to go in
To the prison, the slave-hut, the alleys of sin,
And to bring into each, or to find there, some line
Of the never completely out-trampled divine;
If her heart at high floods swamps her brain now and then,
'T is but richer for that when the tide ebbs agen,
As, after old Nile has subsided, his plain
Overflows with a second broad deluge of grain;

What a wealth would it bring to the narrow and sour,
Could they be as a Child but for one little hour!

After leaving New York her husband and herself took up their residence in the rural town of Wayland, Mass. Their house, plain and unpretentious, had a wide and pleasant outlook; a flower garden, carefully tended by her own hands, in front, and on the side a fruit orchard and vegetable garden, under the special care of her husband. The house was always neat, with some appearance of unostentatious decoration, evincing at once the artistic taste of the hostess and the conscientious economy which forbade its indulgence to any great extent. Her home was somewhat apart from the lines of rapid travel, and her hospitality was in a great measure confined to old and intimate friends, while her visits to the city were brief and infrequent. A friend of hers, who had ample opportunities for a full knowledge of her home-life, says,

The domestic happiness of Mr. and Mrs. Child seemed to me perfect. Their sympathies, their admiration of all things good, and their hearty hatred of all things mean and evil were in entire unison. Mr. Child shared his wife's enthusiasms, and was very proud of her. Their affection, never paraded, was always manifest. After Mr. Child's death, Mrs. Child, in speaking of the future life, said, "I believe it would be of small value to me if I were not united to him."

In this connection I cannot forbear to give an extract from some reminiscences of her husband, which she left among her papers, which, better than any words of mine, will convey an idea of their simple and beautiful home-life:—

In 1852 we made a humble home in Wayland, Mass., where we spent twenty-two pleasant years entirely alone, without any domestic, mutually serving each other, and dependent upon each other for intellectual companionship. I always depended on his richly stored mind, which was able and ready to furnish needed information on any subject. He was my walking dictionary of many languages, my Universal Encyclopedia.

In his old age he was as affectionate and devoted as when the lover of my youth; nay, he manifested even more tenderness. He was often singing,—

"There's nothing half so sweet in life
As Love's old dream."

Very often, when he passed by me, he would lay his hand softly on my head and murmur, "Carum caput." … But what I remember with the most tender gratitude is his uniform patience and forbearance with my faults… . He never would see anything but the bright side of my character. He always insisted upon thinking that whatever I said was the wisest and the wittiest, and that whatever I did was the best. The simplest little jeu d'esprit of mine seemed to him wonderfully witty. Once, when he said, "I wish for your sake, dear, I were as rich as Croesus," I answered, "You are Croesus, for you are king of Lydia." How often he used to quote that!

His mind was unclouded to the last. He had a passion for philology, and only eight hours before he passed away he was searching out the derivation of a word.

Her well-stored mind and fine conversational gifts made her company always desirable. No one who listened to her can forget the earnest eloquence with which she used to dwell upon the evidences from history, tradition, and experience, of the superhuman and supernatural; or with what eager interest she detected in the mysteries of the old religions of the world the germs of a purer faith and a holier hope. She loved to listen, as in St. Pierre's symposium of "The Coffee-House of Surat," to the confessions of faith of all sects and schools of philosophy, Christian and pagan, and gather from them the consoling truth that our Father has nowhere left his children without some witness of himself. She loved the old mystics, and lingered with curious interest and sympathy over the writings of Böhme, Swedenborg, Molinos, and Woolman. Yet this marked speculative tendency seemed not in the slightest degree to affect her practical activities. Her mysticism and realism ran in close parallel lines without interfering with each other. With strong rationalistic tendencies from education and conviction, she found herself in spiritual accord with the pious introversion of Thomas à Kempis and Madame Guion. She was fond of Christmas Eve stories, of warnings, signs, and spiritual intimations, her half belief in which sometimes seemed like credulity to her auditors. James Russell Lowell, in his tender tribute to her, playfully alludes to this characteristic:—

She has such a musical taste that she'll go
Any distance to hear one who draws a long bow.
She will swallow a wonder by mere might and main.

In 1859 the descent of John Brown upon Harper's Ferry, and his capture, trial, and death, startled the nation. When the news reached her that the misguided but noble old man lay desperately wounded in prison, alone and unfriended, she wrote him a letter, under cover of one to Governor Wise, asking permission to go and nurse and care for him. The expected arrival of Captain Brown's wife made her generous offer unnecessary. The prisoner wrote her, thanking her, and asking her to help his family, a request with which she faithfully complied. With his letter came one from Governor Wise, in courteous reproval of her sympathy for John Brown. To this she responded in an able and effective manner. Her reply found its way from Virginia to the New York Tribune, and soon after Mrs. Mason, of King George's County, wife of Senator Mason, the author of the infamous Fugitive Slave Law, wrote her a vehement letter, commencing with threats of future damnation, and ending with assuring her that "no Southerner, after reading her letter to Governor Wise, ought to read a line of her composition, or touch a magazine which bore her name in its list of contributors." To this she wrote a calm, dignified reply, declining to dwell on the fierce invectives of her assailant, and wishing her well here and hereafter. She would not debate the specific merits or demerits of a man whose body was in charge of the courts, and whose reputation was sure to be in charge of posterity. "Men," she continues, "are of small consequence in comparison with principles, and the principle for which John Brown died is the question at issue between us." These letters were soon published in pamphlet form, and had the immense circulation of 300,000 copies.

In 1867 she published A Romance of the Republic, a story of the days of slavery; powerful in its delineation of some of the saddest as well as the most dramatic conditions of master and slave in the Southern States. Her husband, who had been long an invalid, died in 1874. After his death her home, in winter especially, became a lonely one; and in 1877 she began to spend the cold months in Boston.

Her last publication was in 1878, when her Aspirations of the World, a book of selections, on moral and religious subjects, from the literature of all nations and times, was given to the public. The introduction, occupying fifty pages, shows, at three-score and ten, her mental vigor unabated, and is remarkable for its wise, philosophic tone and felicity of diction. It has the broad liberality of her more elaborate work on the same subject, and in the mellow light of life's sunset her words seem touched with a tender pathos and beauty. "All we poor mortals," she says,

are groping our way through paths that are dim with shadows; and we are all striving, with steps more or less stumbling, to follow some guiding star. As we travel on, beloved companions of our pilgrimage vanish from our sight, we know not whither; and our bereaved hearts utter cries of supplication for more light. We know not where Hermes Trismegistus lived, or who he was; but his voice sounds plaintively human, coming up from the depths of the ages, calling out, "Thou art God! and thy man crieth these things unto Thee!" Thus closely allied in our sorrows and limitations, in our aspirations and hopes, surely we ought not to be separated in our sympathies. However various the names by which we call the Heavenly Father, if they are set to music by brotherly love, they can all be sung together.

Her interest in the welfare of the emancipated class at the South and of the ill-fated Indians of the West remained unabated, and she watched with great satisfaction the experiment of the education of both classes in General Armstrong's institution at Hampton, Va. She omitted no opportunity of aiding the greatest social reform of the age, which aims to make the civil and political rights of woman equal to those of men. Her sympathies, to the last, went out instinctively to the wronged and weak. She used to excuse her vehemence in this respect by laughingly quoting lines from a poem entitled "The Under Dog in the Fight":—

I know that the world, the great big world,
Will never a moment stop
To see which dog may be in the wrong,
But will shout for the dog on top.

But for me I never shall pause to ask
Which dog may be in the right;
For my heart will beat, while it beats at all,
For the under dog in the fight.

I am indebted to a gentleman who was at one time a resident of Wayland, and who enjoyed her confidence and warm friendship, for the following impressions of her life in that place:—

On one of the last beautiful Indian summer afternoons, closing the past year, I drove through Wayland, and was anew impressed with the charm of our friend's simple existence there. The tender beauty of the fading year seemed a reflection of her own gracious spirit; the lovely autumn of her life, whose golden atmosphere the frosts of sorrow and advancing age had only clarified and brightened.

My earliest recollection of Mrs. Child in Wayland is of a gentle face leaning from the old stage window, smiling kindly down on the childish figures beneath her; and from that moment her gracious motherly presence has been closely associated with the charm of rural beauty in that village, which until very lately has been quite apart from the line of travel, and unspoiled by the rush and worry of our modern steamcar mode of living.

Mrs. Child's life in the place made, indeed, an atmosphere of its own, a benison 'of peace and good-will, which was a noticeable feature to all who were acquainted with the social feeling of the little community, refined, as it was too, by the elevating influence of its distinguished pastor, Dr. Sears. Many are the acts of loving kindness and maternal care which could be chronicled of her residence there, were we permitted to do so; and numberless are the lives that have gathered their onward impulse from her helping hand. But it was all a confidence which she hardly betrayed to her inmost self, and I will not recall instances which might be her grandest eulogy. Her monument is builded in the hearts which knew her benefactions, and it will abide with 'the power that makes for righteousness.'

One of the pleasantest elements of her life in Wayland was the high regard she won from the people of the village, who, proud of her literary attainment, valued yet more the noble womanhood of the friend who dwelt so modestly among them. The grandeur of her exalted personal character had, in part, eclipsed for them the qualities which made her fame with the world outside.

The little house on the quiet by-road overlooked broad green meadows. The pond behind it, where bloom the lilies whose spotless purity may well symbolize her gentle spirit, is a sacred pool to her townsfolk. But perhaps the most fitting similitude of her life in Wayland was the quiet flow of the river, whose gentle curves make green her meadows, but whose powerful energy, joining the floods from distant mountains, moves, with resistless might, the busy shuttles of a hundred mills. She was too truthful to affect to welcome unwarrantable invaders of her peace, but no weary traveler on life's hard ways ever applied to her in vain. The little garden plot before her door was a sacred inclosure, not to be rudely intruded upon; but the flowers she tended with maternal care were no selfish possession, for her own enjoyment only, and many are the lives their sweetness has gladdened forever. So she lived among a singularly peaceful and intelligent community as one of themselves, industrious, wise, and happy; with a frugality whose motive of wider benevolence was in itself a homily and a benediction.

In my last interview with her, our conversation, as had often happened before, turned upon the great theme of the future life. She spoke, as I remember, calmly and not uncheerfully, but with the intense earnestness and reverent curiosity of one who felt already the shadow of the unseen world resting upon her.

Her death was sudden and quite unexpected. For some months she had been troubled with a rheumatic affection, but it was by no means regarded as serious. A friend, who visited her a few days before her departure, found her in a comfortable condition, apart from lameness. She talked of the coming election with much interest, and of her plans for the winter. On the morning of her death (October 20, 1880) she spoke of feeling remarkably well. Before leaving her chamber she complained of severe pain in the region of the heart. Help was called by her companion, but only reached her to witness her quiet passing away.

The funeral was, as befitted one like her, plain and simple. Many of her old friends were present, and Wendell Phillips paid an affecting and eloquent tribute to his old friend and anti-slavery coadjutor. He referred to the time when she accepted, with serene self-sacrifice, the obloquy which her Appeal had brought upon her, and noted, as one of the many ways in which popular hatred was manifested, the withdrawal from her of the privileges of the Boston Athenæum. Her pall-bearers were elderly, plain farmers in the neighborhood; and, led by the old whitehaired undertaker, the procession wound its way to the not distant burial-ground, over the red and gold of fallen leaves, and under the half-clouded October sky. A lover of all beautiful things, she was, as her intimate friends knew, always delighted by the sight of rainbows, and used to so arrange prismatic glasses as to throw the colors on the walls of her room. Just after her body was consigned to the earth, a magnificent rainbow spanned, with its arc of glory, the eastern sky.2

The letters in this collection constitute but a small part of her large correspondence. They have been gathered up and arranged by the hands of dear relatives and friends as a fitting memorial of one who wrote from the heart as well as the head, and who held her literary reputation subordinate always to her philanthropic aim to lessen the sum of human suffering, and to make the world better for her living. If they sometimes show the heat and impatience of a zealous reformer, they may well be pardoned in consideration of the circumstances under which they were written, and of the natural indignation of a generous nature in view of wrong and oppression. If she touched with no very reverent hand the garment hem of dogmas, and held to the spirit of Scripture rather than its letter, it must be remembered that she lived in a time when the Bible was cited in defense of slavery, as it is now in Utah in support of polygamy; and she may well be excused for some degree of impatience with those who, in the tithing of mint and anise and cummin, neglected the weightier matters of the law of justice and mercy.

Of the men and women directly associated with the beloved subject of this sketch, but few are now left to recall her single-hearted devotion to apprehended duty, her unselfish generosity, her love of all beauty and harmony, and her trustful reverence, free from pretence and cant. It is not unlikely that the surviving sharers of her love and friendship may feel the inadequateness of this brief imemorial, for I close it with the consciousness of having failed to fully delineate the picture which my memory holds of a wise and brave, but tender and loving woman, of whom it might well have been said, in the words of the old Hebrew text, "Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all."


1 The opposition she met with from those who had shared her confidence and friendship was of course keenly felt, but her kindly and genial disposition remained unsoured. She rarely spoke of her personal trials, and never posed as a martyr. The nearest approach to anything like complaint is in the following lines, the date of which I have not been able to ascertain:—

"The World That I Am Passing Through."

Few in the days of early youth
Trusted like me in love and truth.
I've learned sad lessons from the years,
But slowly, and with many tears;
For God made me to kindly view
The world that I am passing through.

Though kindness and forbearance long
Must meet ingratitude and wrong,
I still would bless my fellow-men,
And trust them though deceived again.
God help me still to kindly view
The world that I am passing through.

From all that fate has brought to me
I strive to learn humility,
And trust in Him who rules above,
Whose universal law is love.
Thus only can I kindly view
The world that I am passing through.

When I approach the setting sun,
And feel my journey well-nigh done,
May earth be veiled in genial light,
And her last smile to me seem bright.
Help me till then to kindly view
The world that I am passing through.

And all who tempt a trusting heart
From faith and hope to drift apart,
May they themselves be spared the pain
Of losing power to trust again.
God help us all to kindly view
The world that we are passing through!

2 The incident at her burial is alluded to in a Sonnet written by William P. Andrews:—

Freedom! she knew thy summons, and obeyed
That clarion voice as yet scarce heard of men;
Gladly she joined thy red-cross service when
Honor and wealth must at thy feet be laid:
Onward with faith undaunted, undismayed
By threat or scorn, she toiled with hand and brain
To make thy cause triumphant, till the chain
Lay broken, and for her the freedmen prayed.
Nor yet she faltered; in her tender care
She took us all; and wheresoe'er she went,
Blessings, and Faith and Beauty, followed there,
E'en to the end, where she lay down content:
And with the gold light of a life more fair,
Twin bows of promise o'er her grave were blent.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson (essay date 1899)

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SOURCE: "Lydia Maria Child," in Contemporaries, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1899, pp. 108-41.

[In the essay below, Higginson discusses Child's broad cultural influence, tempering a general synopsis of her life and works with his personal recollections of her.]

To those of us who were by twenty years or more the juniors of Mrs. Child, she always presented herself rather as an object of love than of cool criticism, even if we had rarely met her face to face. In our earliest recollections she came before us less as author or philanthropist than as some kindly and omnipresent aunt, beloved forever by the heart of childhood,—some one gifted with all lore, and furnished with unfathomable resources,—some one discoursing equal delight to all members of the household. In those days she seemed to supply a sufficient literature for any family through her own unaided pen. Thence came novels for the parlor, cookery books for the kitchen, and the Juvenile Miscellany for the nursery. In later years the intellectual provision still continued. We learned, from her anti-slavery writings, where to find our duties; from her Letters from New York, where to seek our highest pleasures; while her Progress of Religious Ideas introduced us to those profounder truths on which pleasures and duties alike rest. It is needless to debate whether she did the greatest or most permanent work in any especial department of literature, since she did pioneer work in so many. She showed memorable independence in repeatedly leaving beaten paths to strike out for herself new literary directions, and combined the authorship of more than thirty books and pamphlets with a singular devotion both to public and private philanthropies, and with almost too exacting a faithfulness to the humblest domestic duties.

Lydia Maria Francis was born at Medford, Mass., February 11, 1802. Her ancestor, Richard Francis, came from England in 1636, and settled in Cambridge, where his tombstone may still be seen in the burial-ground. Her paternal grandfather, a weaver by trade, was in the Concord fight, and is said to have killed five of the enemy. Her father, Convers Francis, was a baker, first in West Cambridge, then in Medford, where he first introduced the article of food still known as "Medford crackers." He was a man of strong character and great industry. Though without much cultivation, he had uncommon love of reading; and his anti-slavery convictions were peculiarly zealous, and must have influenced his children's later career. He married Susannah Rand, of whom it is only recorded that "she had a simple, loving heart, and a spirit busy in doing good."

They had six children, of whom Lydia Maria was the youngest, and Convers the next in age. Convers Francis was afterwards eminent among the most advanced thinkers and scholars of the Unitarian body, at a time when it probably surpassed all other American denominations in the intellectual culture of its clergy. He had less ideality than his sister, less enthusiasm, and far less moral courage; yet he surpassed most of his profession in all these traits. He was Theodore Parker's first scholarly friend, and directed his studies in preparation for the theological school. Long after, Mr. Parker used still to head certain pages of his journal, Questions to ask Dr. Francis. The modest "study" at Watertown was a favorite headquarters of what were called "the transcendentalists" of those days. Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Ripley, and the rest came often thither, in the days when the Dial was just emancipating American thought from old-world traditions. Afterwards, when Dr. Francis was appointed to the rather responsible and conservative post of professor in the Harvard Theological School, he still remained faithful to the spirit of earlier days, never repressing free inquiry, but always rejoicing to encourage it. He was a man of rare attainments in a variety of directions; and though his great reading gave a desultory habit to his mind, and his thinking was not quite in proportion to his receptive power, he still was a most valuable instructor, as he was a most delightful friend. In face and figure he resembled the pictures of Martin Luther, and his habits and ways always seemed like those of some genial German professor. With the utmost frugality in other respects, he spent money profusely on books, and his library—part of which he bequeathed to Harvard College—was to me the most attractive I had ever seen; more so than even Theodore Parker's.

His sister had, undoubtedly, the superior mind of the two; but he who influenced others so much must have influenced her still more. "A dear good sister has she been to me; would that I had been half as good a brother to her." This he wrote, in self-depreciation, long after. While he was fitting for college, a process which took but one year, she was his favorite companion, though more than six years younger. They read together, and she was constantly bringing him Milton and Shakespeare to explain. He sometimes mystified her,—as brothers will, in dealing with maidens nine years old,—and once told her that "the raven down of darkness," which was made to smile, was but the fur of a black cat that sparkled when stroked; though it still perplexed her small brain why fur should be called down.

Their earliest teacher was a maiden lady, named Elizabeth Francis,—but not a relative,—and known universally as "Ma'am Betty." She is described as "a spinster of supernatural shyness, the never-forgotten calamity of whose life was that Dr. Brooks once saw her drinking water from the nose of her tea-kettle." She kept school in her bedroom,—it was never tidy, and she chewed a great deal of tobacco; but the children were fond of her, and always carried her a Sunday dinner. Such simple kindnesses went forth often from that thrifty home. Mrs. Child once told me that always on the night before Thanksgiving, all the humble friends of the household—"Ma'am Betty," the washerwoman, the berry-woman, the wood-sawyer, the journeymen-bakers, and so on—some twenty or thirty in all, were summoned to a preliminary entertainment. They here partook of an immense chicken-pie, pumpkin-pies (made in milk-pans), and heaps of doughnuts. They feasted in the large old-fashioned kitchen, and went away loaded with crackers and bread by the father, and with pies by the mother, not forgetting "turnovers" for their children. Such homely applications of the doctrine "It is more blessed to give than to receive" may have done more to mould the Lydia Maria Child of maturer years than all the faithful labors of good Dr. Osgood, to whom she and her brother used to repeat the Westminster Assembly's Catechism once a month.

Apart from her brother's companionship, the young girl had, as was then usual, a very subordinate share of educational opportunities; attending only the public schools, with one year at the private seminary of Miss Swan, in Medford. Her mother died in 1814, after which the family removed for a time to Maine. In 1819 Convers Francis was ordained over the First Parish in Watertown, and there occurred in his study, in 1824, an incident which was to determine the whole life of his sister.

Dr. J. G. Palfrey had written in the North American Review for April, 1821, a review of the now forgotten poem of "Yamoyden," in which he had ably pointed out the use that might be made of early American history for the purposes of fictitious writing. Miss Francis read this article, at her brother's house, one summer Sunday noon. Before attending the afternoon service, she wrote the first chapter of a novel. It was soon finished, and was published that year,—a thin volume of two hundred pages, without her name, under the title of Hobomok: a Tale of Early Times. By an American.

In judging of this little book, it is to be remembered that it marked the very dawn of American imaginative literature. Irving had printed only his Sketch Book; Cooper only Precaution. This new production was the hasty work of a young woman of nineteen—an Indian tale by one who had scarcely even seen an Indian. Accordingly, Hobomok now seems very crude in execution, very improbable in plot; and is redeemed only by a certain earnestness which carries the reader along, and by a sincere attempt after local coloring. It is an Indian "Enoch Arden," with important modifications, which unfortunately all tend away from probability. Instead of the original lover who heroically yields his place, it is to him that the place is given up. The hero of this self-sacrifice is an Indian, a man of high and noble character, whose wife the heroine had consented to become, at a time when she had been almost stunned with the false tidings of her lover's death. The least artistic things in the book are these sudden nuptials, and the equally sudden resolution of Hobomok to abandon his wife and child on the reappearance of the original betrothed. As the first work whose scene was laid in Puritan days, Hobomok will always have a historic interest, but it must be read in very early youth to give it any other attraction.

The success of this first effort was at any rate such as to encourage the publication of a second tale in the following year. This was "The Rebels; or, Boston before the Revolution. By the author of Hobomok. " It was a great advance on its predecessor, with more vigor, more variety, more picturesque grouping, and more animation of style. The historical point was well chosen, and the series of public and private events well combined, with something of that tendency to the over-tragic which is common with young authors,—it is so much easier to kill off superfluous characters than to do anything else with them. It compared not unfavorably with Cooper's revolutionary novels, and had in one respect a remarkable success. It contained an imaginary sermon by Whitefield and an imaginary speech by James Otis. Both of these were soon transplanted into "School Readers" and books of declamation, and the latter, at least, soon passed for a piece of genuine revolutionary eloquence. I remember learning it by heart, under that impression; and was really astonished, on recently reading The Rebels for the first time, to discover that the high-sounding periods which I had always attributed to Otis were really to be found in a young lady's romance.

This book has a motto from Bryant, and is "most respectfully inscribed" to George Ticknor. The closing paragraph states with some terseness the author's modest anxieties:—

Many will complain that I have dwelt too much on political scenes, familiar to every one who reads our history; and others, on the contrary, will say that the character of the book is quite too tranquil for its title. I might mention many doubts and fears still more important; but I prefer silently to trust this humble volume to that futurity which no one can foresee and every one can read.

The fears must soon have seemed useless, for the young novelist early became almost a fashionable lion. She was an American Fanny Burney, with rather reduced copies of Burke and Johnson around her. Her personal qualities soon cemented some friendships, which lasted her life long, except where her later anti-slavery action interfered. She opened a private school in Watertown, which lasted from 1825 to 1828. She established, in 1827, the Juvenile Miscellany, that delightful pioneer among children's magazines in America; and it was continued for eight years. In October, 1828, she was married to David Lee Child, a lawyer of Boston.

In those days it seemed to be held necessary for American women to work their passage into literature by first compiling some kind of cookery book. They must be perfect in that preliminary requisite before they could proceed to advanced standing. It was not quite as in Marvell's satire on Holland, "Invent a shovel and be a magistrate," but, as Charlotte Hawes has since written, "First this steak and then that stake." So Mrs. Child published in 1829 her Frugal Housewife, a book which proved so popular that in 1836 it had reached its twentieth edition, and in 1855 its thirty-third.

The Frugal Housewife now lies before me, after a great many years of abstinence from its appetizing pages. The words seem as familiar as when we children used to study them beside the kitchen fire, poring over them as if their very descriptions had power to allay an unquenched appetite or prolong the delights of one satiated. There were the animals in the frontispiece, sternly divided by a dissecting knife of printer's ink, into sections whose culinary names seemed as complicated as those of surgical science,—chump and spring, sirloin and sperib,—for I faithfully follow the original spelling. There we read with profound acquiescence that "hard gingerbread is good to have in the family," but demurred at the reason given, "it keeps so well." It never kept well in ours! There we all learned that one should be governed in housekeeping by higher considerations than mere worldly vanity, knowing that "many people buy the upper part of the sparerib of pork, thinking it the most genteel; but the lower part is more sweet and juicy, and there is more meat in proportion to the bone."

Going beyond mere carnal desires, we read also the wholesome directions "to those who are not ashamed of economy." We were informed that "children could early learn to take care of their own clothes,"—a responsibility at which we shuddered; and also that it was a good thing for children to gather blackberries,—in which we heartily concurred. There, too, we were taught to pick up twine and paper, to write on the backs of old letters, like paper-sparing Pope, and if we had a dollar a day, which seemed a wild supposition, to live on seventy-five cents. We all read, too, with interest, the hints on the polishing of furniture and the education of daughters, and we got our first glimpses of political economy from the Reasons for Hard Times. So varied and comprehensive was the good sense of the book that it surely would have seemed to our childish minds infallible, but for one fatal admission, which through life I have recalled with dismay,—the assertion, namely, that "economical people will seldom use preserves." "They are unhealthy, expensive, and useless to those who are well." This was a sumptuary law, against which the soul of youth revolted.

The wise counsels thus conveyed in this more-than-cookery book may naturally have led the way to a Mother's Book, of more direct exhortation. This was published in 1831, and had a great success, reaching its eighth American edition in 1845, besides twelve English editions and a German translation. Doubtless it is now out of print, but one may still find at the antiquarian bookstores the Girl's Own Book, by Mrs. Child, published during the same year. This is a capital manual of indoor games, and is worth owning by any one who has a houseful of children, or is liable to serve as the Lord of Misrule at Christmas parties. It is illustrated with vignettes by that wayward child of genius, Francis Graeter, a German, whom Mrs. Child afterwards described in the Letters from New York. He was a personal friend of hers, and his pencil is also traceable in some of her later books. Indeed, the drollest games which he has delineated in the Girl's Own Book are not so amusing as the unintentional comedy of his attempts at a "Ladies' Sewing Circle," which illustrates American life in the History of Woman. The fair laborers sit about a small round table, with a smirk of mistimed levity on their faces, and one feels an irresistible impulse to insert in their very curly hair the twisted papers employed in the game of "Genteel lady, always genteel," in the Girl's Own Book.

The History of Woman appeared in 1832, as one of a series projected by Carter & Hendee, of which Mrs. Child was to be the editor, but which was interrupted at the fifth volume by the failure of the publishers. She compiled for this the Biographies of Good Wives, the Memoirs of Madame De Staël and Madame Roland, those of Lady Russell and Madame Guion, and the two volumes of Woman. All these aimed at a popular, not a profound, treatment. She was, perhaps, too good a compiler, showing in such work the traits of her brother's mind, and carefully excluding all those airy flights and bold speculations which afterwards seemed her favorite element. The History of Woman, for instance, was a mere assemblage of facts, beginning and ending abruptly, and with no glimpse of any leading thought or general philosophy. It was, however, the first American storehouse of information upon that whole question, and no doubt helped the agitation along. Its author evidently looked with distrust, however, on that rising movement for the equality of the sexes, of which Frances Wright was then the rather formidable leader.

The Biographies of Good Wives reached a fifth edition in the course of time, as did the History of Woman. I have a vague childish recollection of her next book, The Coronal, published in 1833, which was of rather a fugitive description. The same year brought her to one of those bold steps which made successive eras in her literary life,—the publication of her Appeal for that Class of Americans called Africans.

The name was rather cumbrous, like all attempts to include an epigram in the title-page, but the theme and the word "Appeal" were enough. It was under the form of an "Appeal" that the colored man, Alexander Walker, had thrown a firebrand into Southern society which had been followed by Nat Turner's insurrection; and now a literary lady, amid the cultivated circles of Boston, dared also to "appeal." Only two years before (1831), Garrison had begun the Liberator, and only two years later (1835), he was dragged through Boston streets, with a rope around his body, by "gentlemen of property and standing," as the newspapers said next day. It was just at the very most dangerous moment of the rising storm that Mrs. Child appealed.

Miss Martineau in her article, "The Martyr Age in America,"—published in the London and Westminster Review in 1839, and at once reprinted in America,—gives by far the most graphic picture yet drawn of that perilous time. She describes Mrs. Child as "a lady of whom society was exceedingly proud before she published her Appeal, and to whom society has been extremely contemptuous ever since." She adds: "Her works were bought with avidity before, but fell into sudden oblivion as soon as she had done a greater deed than writing any of them."

It is evident that this result was not unexpected, for the preface to the book explicitly recognizes the probable dissatisfaction of the public. She says:—

I am fully aware of the unpopularity of the task I have undertaken; but though I expect ridicule and censure, I cannot fear them. A few years hence, the opinion of the world will be a matter in which I have not even the most transient interest; but this book will be abroad on its mission of humanity long after the hand that wrote it is mingling with the dust. Should it be the means of advancing, even one single hour, the inevitable progress of truth and justice, I would not exchange the consciousness for all Rothschild's wealth or Sir Walter's fame.

These words have in them a genuine ring; and the book is really worthy of them. In looking over its pages, after the lapse of many years, it seems incredible that it should have drawn upon her such hostility. The tone is calm and strong, the treatment systematic, the points well put, the statements well guarded. The successive chapters treat of the history of slavery, its comparative aspect in different ages and nations, its influence on politics, the profitableness of emancipation, the evils of the colonization scheme, the intellect of negroes, their morals, the feeling against them, and the duties of the community in their behalf. As it was the first anti-slavery work ever printed in America in book form, so I have always thought it the ablest; that is, it covered the whole ground better than any other. I know that, on reading it for the first time, nearly ten years after its first appearance, it had more formative influence on my mind in that direction than any other, although of course the eloquence of public meetings was a more exciting stimulus. It never surprised me to hear that even Dr. Channing attributed a part of his own anti-slavery awakening to this admirable book. He took pains to seek out its author immediately on its appearance, and there is in her biography an interesting account of their meeting. His own work on slavery did not appear until 1835.

Undaunted and perhaps stimulated by opposition, Mrs. Child followed up her self-appointed task. During the next year she published the Oasis, a sort of anti-slavery annual, the precursor of Mrs. Chapman's Liberty Bell, of later years. She also published, about this time, an Anti-Slavery Catechism and a small book called Authentic Anecdotes of American Slavery. These I have never seen, but find them advertised on the cover of a third pamphlet, which, with them, went to a second edition in 1839. The Evils of Slavery and the Cure of Slavery; the first proved by the opinions of Southerners themselves, the last shown by historical evidence." This is a compact and sensible little work.

While thus seemingly absorbed in reformatory work, she still kept an outlet in the direction of pure literature, and was employed for several years on Philothea, which appeared in 1836. The scene of this novel was laid in ancient Greece. I well remember the admiration with which this romance was hailed; and for me personally it was one of those delights of boyhood which the criticism of maturity cannot disturb. What mattered it if she brought Anaxagoras and Plato on the stage together, whereas in truth the one died about the year when the other was born? What mattered it if in her book the classic themes were treated in a romantic spirit? That is the fate of almost all such attempts,—compare, for instance, the choruses of Swinburne's "Atalanta," which might have been written on the banks of the Rhine, and very likely were. But childhood never wishes to discriminate, only to combine; a period of life which likes to sugar its bread and butter prefers also to have its classic and romantic in one.

Philothea was Mrs. Child's first attempt to return, with her anti-slavery cross still upon her, into the ranks of literature. Mrs. S. J. Hale, who, in her Woman's Record, reproves her sister writer for "wasting her soul's wealth" in radicalism, and "doing incalculable injury to humanity," seems to take a stern satisfaction in the fact that "the bitter feelings engendered by the strife have prevented the merits of this remarkable book from being appreciated as they deserve." This was perhaps true; nevertheless it went through three editions, and Mrs. Child, still keeping up the full circle of her labors, printed nothing but a rather short-lived Family Nurse (in 1837) before entering the anti-slavery arena again.

In 1841 Mr. and Mrs. Child were engaged by the American Anti-Slavery Society to edit the Anti-Slavery Standard, a weekly newspaper published in New York. Mr. Child's health being impaired, his wife undertook the task alone, and conducted the newspaper in that manner for two years, after which she aided her husband in the work, remaining there for eight years in all. She was very successful as an editor, her management being brave and efficient, while her cultivated taste made the Standard attractive to many who were not attracted by the plainer fare of the Liberator. The good judgment shown in her poetical and literary selections was always acknowledged with especial gratitude by those who read the Standard at that time.

During all this period she was a member of the family of the well-known Quaker philanthropist, Isaac T. Hopper, whose biographer she afterwards became. This must have been the most important and satisfactory time in Mrs. Child's whole life. She was placed where her sympathetic nature found abundant outlet and plenty of coöperation. Dwelling in a home where disinterestedness and noble labor were as daily breath, she had great opportunities. There was no mere almsgiving there, no mere secretaryship of benevolent societies; but sin and sorrow must be brought home to the fireside and to the heart; the fugitive slave, the drunkard, the outcast woman, must be the chosen guest of the abode,—must be taken and held and loved into reformation or hope. Since the stern tragedy of city life began, it has seen no more efficient organization for relief than when Isaac Hopper and Mrs. Child took up their abode beneath one roof in New York.

For a time she did no regular work in the cause of permanent literature,—though she edited an anti-slavery almanac in 1843,—but she found an opening for her best eloquence in writing letters to the Boston Courier, then under the charge of Joseph T. Buckingham. This was the series of Letters from New York that afterwards became famous. They were the precursors of that modern school of newspaper correspondence in which women have so large a share, and which has something of the charm of women's private letters,—a style of writing where description preponderates over argument and statistics make way for fancy and enthusiasm. Many have since followed in this path, and perhaps Mrs. Child's letters would not now be hailed as they then were. Others may have equaled her, but she gave us a new sensation, and that epoch was perhaps the climax of her purely literary career.

Their tone also did much to promote the tendency, which was showing itself in those days, towards a fresh inquiry into the foundations of social science. The Brook Farm experiment was at its height; and though she did not call herself an Associationist, yet she quoted Fourier and Swedenborg, and other authors who were thought to mean mischief; and her highest rhapsodies about poetry and music were apt to end in some fervent appeal for some increase of harmony in daily life. She seemed always to be talking radicalism in a green-house; and there were many good people who held her all the more dangerous for her perfumes. There were young men and maidens, also, who looked to her as a teacher, and were influenced for life, perhaps, by what she wrote. I knew, for instance, a young lawyer, just entering on the practice of his profession under the most flattering auspices, who withdrew from the courts forever—wisely or unwisely,—because Mrs. Child's book had taught him to hate their contests and their injustice.

It was not long after this that James Russell Lowell, in his "Fable for Critics," gave himself up to one impulse of pure poetry in describing Mrs. Child. It is by so many degrees the most charming sketch ever made of her that the best part of it must be inserted here:—

There comes Philothea, her face all aglow,
She has just been dividing some poor creature's woe,
And can't tell which pleases her most, to relieve
His want, or his story to hear and believe;


The pole, science tells us, the magnet controls,
But she is a magnet to emigrant Poles,
And folks with a mission that nobody knows
Throng thickly about her as bees round a rose;
She can fill up the carets in such, make their scope
Converge to some focus of rational hope,
And with sympathies fresh as the morning, their gall
Can transmute into honey,—but this is not all;
Not only for these she has solace, oh, say,
Vice's desperate nursling adrift in Broadway,
Who clingest with all that is left of thee human
To the last slender spar from the wreck of the woman,
Hast thou not found one shore where those tired drooping feet
Could reach firm mother earth, one full heart on whose beat
The soothed head in silence reposing could hear
The chimes of far childhood throb back on the ear?
Ah, there's many a beam from the fountain of day
That, to reach us unclouded, must pass on its way
Through the soul of a woman, and hers is wide ope
To the influence of Heaven as the blue eyes of Hope;
Yes, a great heart is hers, one that dares to go in
To the prison, the slave-hut, the alleys of sin,
And to bring into each, or to find there, some line
Of the never completely out-trampled divine;
If her heart at high floods swamps her brain now and then,
'T is but richer for that when the tide ebbs again,
As after old Nile has subsided, his plain
Overflows with a second broad deluge of grain;
What a wealth would it bring to the narrow and sour,
Could they be as a Child but for one little hour!

The two series of Letters from New York appeared in 1843 and 1845, and went through seven or more editions. They were followed in 1846 by a collection of tales, mostly printed, entitled Fact and Fiction. The book was dedicated to "Anna Loring, the Child of my Heart," and was a series of powerful and well-told narratives, some purely ideal, but mostly based upon the sins of great cities, especially those of man against woman. She might have sought more joyous themes, but none which at that time lay so near her heart. There was more sunshine in her next literary task, for, in 1852, she collected three small volumes of her stories from the Juvenile Miscellany and elsewhere, under the title of Flowers for Children.

In 1853 she published her next book, entitled Isaac T. Hopper; a True Life. This gave another new sensation to the public, for her books never seemed to repeat each other, and belonged to almost as many different departments as there were volumes. The critics complained that this memoir was a little fragmentary, a series of interesting stories without sufficient method or unity of conception. Perhaps it would have been hard to make it otherwise. Certainly, as the book stands, it seems like the department of "Benevolence" in the "Percy Anecdotes," and serves as an encyclopædia of daring and noble charities.

Her next book was the most arduous intellectual labor of her life, and, as often happens in such cases, the least profitable in the way of money. The Progress of Religious Ideas through Successive Ages was published in three large volumes in 1855. She had begun it long before in New York, with the aid of the Mercantile Library and the Commercial Library, then the best in the city. It was finished in Wayland, with the aid of her brother's store of books, and with his and Theodore Parker's counsel as to her course of reading. It seems, from the preface, that more than eight years elapsed between the planning and the printing, and for six years it was her main pursuit. For this great labor she had absolutely no pecuniary reward; the book paid its expenses and nothing more. It is now out of print and not easy to obtain.

This disappointment was no doubt due partly to the fact that the book set itself in decided opposition, unequivocal though gentle, to the prevailing religious impressions of the community. It may have been, also, that it was too learned for a popular book and too popular for a learned one. Learning, indeed, she distinctly disavowed. "If readers complain of want of profoundness, they may perchance be willing to accept simplicity and clearness in exchange for depth." … "Doubtless a learned person would have performed the task far better in many respects; but, on some accounts, my want of learning is an advantage. Thoughts do not range so freely when the storeroom of the brain is overloaded with furniture." And she gives at the end, with her usual frankness, a list of works consulted, all being in English except seven, which are in French. It was a bold thing to base a history of religious ideas on such books as Enfield's Philosophy and Taylor's Plato. The trouble was not so much that the learning was second-hand,—for such is most learning,—as that the authorities were second-rate. The stream could hardly go higher than its source; and a book based on such very inadequate researches could hardly be accepted, even when tried by that very accommodating standard, popular scholarship.

In 1857 Mrs. Child published a volume entitled Autumnal Leaves; Tales and Sketches in Prose and Rhyme. It might seem from this title that she regarded her career of action as drawing to a close. If so she was soon undeceived, and the attack of Captain John Brown upon Harper's Ferry aroused her, like many others, from a dream of peace. Immediately on the arrest of Captain Brown she wrote him a brief letter, asking permission to go and nurse him, as he was wounded and among enemies, and as his wife was supposed to be beyond immediate reach. This letter she inclosed in one to Governor Wise. She then went home and packed her trunk, with her husband's full approval, but decided not to go until she heard from Captain Brown, not knowing what his precise wishes might be. She had heard that he had expressed a wish to have the aid of some lawyer not identified with the anti-slavery movement, and she thought he was entitled to the same considerations of policy in regard to a nurse. Meantime Mrs. Brown was sent for and promptly arrived, while Captain Brown wrote Mrs. Child one of his plain and characteristic letters, declining her offer, and asking her kind aid for his family, which was faithfully given.

But with this letter came one from Governor Wise,—courteous, but rather diplomatic,—and containing some reproof of her expressions of sympathy for the prisoner. To this she wrote an answer, well worded and quite effective, which, to her great surprise, soon appeared in the New York Tribune. She wrote to the editor (November 10, 1859): "I was much surprised to see my correspondence with Governor Wise published in your columns. As I have never given any person a copy, I presume you must have obtained it from Virginia."

This correspondence soon led to another. Mrs. M. J. C. Mason wrote from "Alto, King George's County, Virginia," a formidable demonstration, beginning thus: "Do you read your Bible, Mrs. Child? If you do, read there, 'Woe unto you hypocrites,' and take to yourself, with twofold damnation, that terrible sentence; for, rest assured, in the day of judgment, it shall be more tolerable for those thus scathed by the awful denunciations of the Son of God than for you." This startling commencement—of which it must be calmly asserted that it comes very near swearing, for a lady—leads to something like bathos at the end, where Mrs. Mason adds in conclusion, "No Southerner ought, after your letters to Governor Wise, to read a line of your composition, or to touch a magazine which bears your name in its list of contributors." To begin with double-dyed future torments, and come gradually to the climax of "Stop my paper," admits of no other explanation than that Mrs. Mason had dabbled in literature herself, and knew how to pierce the soul of a sister in the trade.

But the great excitement of that period, and the general loss of temper that prevailed, may plead a little in vindication of Mrs. Mason's vehemence, and must certainly enhance the dignity of Mrs. Child's reply. It is one of the best things she ever wrote. She refuses to dwell on the invectives of her assailant, and only "wishes her well, both in this world and the next." Nor will she even debate the specific case of John Brown, whose body was in charge of the courts and his reputation sure to be in charge of posterity. "Men, however great they may be," she says, "are of small consequence in comparison with principles, and the principle for which John Brown died is the question at issue between us."

She accordingly proceeds to discuss this question, first scripturally (following the lead of her assailant), then on general principles; and gives one of her usual clear summaries of the whole argument. Now that the excitements of the hour have passed, the spirit of her whole statement must claim just praise. The series of letters was published in pamphlet form in 1860, and secured a wider circulation than anything she ever wrote, embracing some three hundred thousand copies. In return she received many private letters from the slave States, mostly anonymous, and often grossly insulting.

Having gained so good a hearing, she followed up her opportunity. During the same year she printed two small tracts, The Patriarchal Institution and The Duty of Disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Law, and then one of her most elaborate compilations, entitled The Right Way the Safe Way, proved by Emancipation in the British West Indies and Elsewhere. This shows the same systematic and thorough habit of mind with its predecessors; and this business-like way of dealing with facts is hard to reconcile with the dreamy and almost uncontrolled idealism which she elsewhere shows. In action, too, she has usually shown the same practical thoroughness, and in case of this very book forwarded copies at her own expense to fifteen hundred persons in the slave States.

In 1864 she published Looking towards Sunset,—a very agreeable collection of prose and verse, by various authors, all bearing upon the aspects of old age. This was another of those new directions of literary activity with which she so often surprised her friends. The next year brought still another in the Freedmen's Book,—a collection of short tales and sketches suited to the mental condition of the Southern freedmen, and published for their benefit. It was sold for that purpose at cost, and a good many copies were distributed through teachers and missionaries.

Her last publication, and perhaps (if one might venture to guess) her favorite among the whole series, appeared in 1867,—A Romance of the Republic. It was received with great cordiality, and is in some respects her best fictitious work. The scenes are laid chiefly at the South, where she has given the local coloring in a way really remarkable for one who never visited that region, while the results of slavery are painted with the thorough knowledge of one who had devoted a lifetime to their study. The leading characters are of that type which has since become rather common in fiction, because American society affords none whose situation is so dramatic,—young quadroons educated to a high grade of culture, and sold as slaves after all. All the scenes are handled in a broad spirit of humanity, and betray no trace of that subtle sentiment of caste which runs through and through some novels written ostensibly to oppose caste. The characterization is good, and the events interesting and vigorously handled. The defect of the book is a common one,—too large a framework, too many vertebrœ to the plot. Even the established climax of a wedding is a safer experiment than to prolong the history into the second generation, as here. The first two thirds of the story would have been more effective without the conclusion. But it will always possess value as one of the few really able delineations of slavery in fiction, and the author may well look back with pride on this final offering upon that altar of liberty where so much of her life had been already laid.

In later life Mrs. Child left not only the busy world of New York, but almost the world of society, and took up her abode (after a short residence at West Newton) in the house bequeathed to her by her father, at Wayland, Mass. In that quiet village she and her husband peacefully dwelt, avoiding even friendship's intrusion. Times of peace have no historian, and the later career of Mrs. Child had few of what the world calls events. Her domestic labors, her studies, her flowers, and her few guests kept her ever busy. She had never had children of her own,—though, as some one has said, she had a great many of other people's,—but more than one whom she had befriended came to dwell with her after her retirement, and she came forth sometimes to find new beneficiaries. But for many of her kindnesses she did not need to leave home, since they were given in the form least to be expected from a literary woman,—that of pecuniary bounty. Few households in the country contributed on a scale so very liberal, in proportion to their means.

One published letter, however, may serve as a sample of many. It was addressed to an Anti-Slavery Festival at Boston, and not only shows the mode of action adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Child, but their latest opinions as to public affairs:—

WAYLAND, January 1, 1868.

DEAR FRIEND PHILLIPS,—We inclose fifty dollars as our subscription to the Anti-Slavery Society. If our means equaled our wishes, we would send a sum as large as the legacy Francis Jackson intended for that purpose, and of which the society was deprived, as we think, by an unjust legal decision. If our sensible and judicious friend could speak to us from the other side of Jordan, we doubt not he would say that the vigilance of the Anti-Slavery Society was never more needed than at the present crisis, and that, consequently, he was never more disposed to aid it liberally… .

The British Anti-Slavery Society deserted their post too soon. If they had been as watchful to protect the freed people of the West Indies as they were zealous to emancipate them, that horrid catastrophe in Jamaica might have been avoided. The state of things in those islands warns us how dangerous it is to trust those who have been slaveholders, and those who habitually sympathize with slaveholders, to frame laws and regulations for liberated slaves. As well might wolves be trusted to guard a sheepfold.

We thank God, friend Phillips, that you are preserved and strengthened to be a wakeful sentinel on the watch-tower, ever to warn a drowsy nation against selfish, timid politicians, and dawdling legislators, who manifest no trust either in God or the people.

Yours faithfully,



Mrs. Child outlived her husband six years, and died at Wayland, October 20, 1880. She was one of those prominent instances in our literature of persons born for the pursuits of pure intellect, whose intellects were yet balanced by their hearts, both being absorbed in the great moral agitations of the age. "My natural inclinations," she once wrote to me, "drew me much more strongly towards literature and the arts than towards reform, and the weight of conscience was needed to turn the scale." In a community of artists, she would have belonged to that class, for she had that instinct in her soul. But she was placed where there was as yet no exacting literary standard; she wrote better than most of her contemporaries, and well enough for her public. She did not, therefore, win that intellectual immortality which only the very best writers command, and which few Americans have attained. But she won a meed which she would value more highly,—that warmth of sympathy, that mingled gratitude of intellect and heart which men give to those who have faithfully served their day and generation.

Seth Curtis Beach (essay date 1905)

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SOURCE: "Lydia Maria Child," in Daughters of the Puritans: A Group of Brief Biographies, Books for Libraries Press, Inc., 1905, pp. 79-119.

[In the following excerpt, Beach provides an overview of Child's life and career.]

In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, few names in American literature were more conspicuous than that of Lydia Maria Child, and among those few, if we except that of Miss Sedgwick, there was certainly no woman's name. Speaking with that studied reserve which became its dignity, the North American Review said of her:

We are not sure that any woman of our country could outrank Mrs. Child. This lady has been before the public as an author with much success. And she well deserves it, for in all her works, nothing can be found which does not commend itself by its tone of healthy morality and good sense. Few female writers if any have done more or better things for our literature in the lighter or graver departments.

Mrs. Child began her literary career in 1824 with Hobomok, a Tale of Early Times, and she closed it with a volume of biography, entitled Good Wives, in 1871. Between these two dates, covering forty-seven years, her publications extended to more than thirty titles, and include stories, poems, biographies, studies in history, in household economics, in politics, and in religion. "Her books," says Col. Higginson, "never seemed to repeat each other and belonged to almost as many different departments as there are volumes"; and while writing so much, he adds, "she wrote better than most of her contemporaries."

If she had not done many things so well, she would still have the distinction of having done several things the first time they were ever done at all. It has been claimed that she edited the first American magazine for children, wrote the first novel of puritan times, published the first American Anti-Slavery book, and compiled the first treatise upon what is now known as "Comparative Religions," a science not then named, but now a department in every school of theology.

Mrs. Child's maiden name was Francis, and under that name she won her first fame. She was born in Medford, Mass., Feb. 11, 1802. Her father, Convers Francis, is said to have been a worthy and substantial citizen, a baker by trade, and the author of the "Medford Crackers," in their day second only in popularity to "Medford Rum." He was a man of strong character, great industry, uncommon love of reading, zealous anti-slavery convictions, generous and hospitable. All these traits were repeated in his famous daughter. It was the custom of Mr. Francis, on the evening before Thanksgiving to gather in his dependents and humble friends to the number of twenty or thirty, and feast them on chicken pie, doughnuts and other edibles, sending them home with provisions for a further festival, including "turnovers" for the children. Col. Higginson, who had the incident from Mrs. Child, intimates that in this experience she may have discovered how much more blessed it is to give than to receive. Certainly, in later life, she believed and practiced this doctrine like a devotee.

Mrs. Child began to climb the hill of knowledge under the instruction of a maiden lady known as "Ma'am Betty," who kept school in her bedroom which was never in order, drank from the nose of her tea-kettle, chewed tobacco and much of it, and was shy to a degree said to have been "supernatural," but she knew the way to the hearts of children, who were very fond of her and regularly carried her a Sunday dinner. After "Ma'am Betty," Mrs. Child attended the public schools in Medford and had a year at a Medford private seminary.

These opportunities for education were cut off at the age of twelve apparently by some change in the family fortunes which compelled the removal of Maria to Norridgewock, Maine, on the borders of the great northern wilderness, where a married sister was living. An influence to which she gave chief credit for her intellectual development and which was not wholly cut off by this removal was that of Convers Francis, her favorite brother, next older than herself, afterward minister in Watertown, and professor in the Divinity School of Harvard University. In later life, Dr. Francis was an encyclopedia of information and scholarship, very liberal in his views for the time. Theodore Parker used to head pages in his journal with, "Questions to ask Dr. Francis."

Dr. Francis began to prepare for college when Mrs. Child was nine years old. Naturally the little girl wanted to read the books which her brother read, and sometimes he seems to have instructed her and sometimes he tantalized her, but always he stimulated her. Years afterward she wrote him gratefully, "To your early influence, by conversation, letters, and example I owe it that my busy energies took a literary direction at all."

Norridgewock, her home from her twelfth to her eighteenth year, was and is a very pretty country village, at that era the residence of some very cultivated families, but hardly an educational center. As we hear nothing of schools either there or elsewhere we are led to suppose that this twelve year old girl had finished her education. If she lacked opportunities for culture, she carried with her a desire for it, which is half the battle, and she had the intellectual stimulus of letters from her brother then in college, who seems to have presided over her reading. What we know of her life at this period is told in her letters to this brother.

The first of these letters which the editors let us see was written at the age of fifteen. "I have," she says

been busily engaged reading Paradise Lost. Homer hurried me along with rapid impetuosity; every passion that he portrayed I felt; I loved, hated, and resented just as he inspired me. But when I read Milton I felt elevated "above this visible, diurnal sphere." I could not but admire such astonishing grandeur of description, such heavenly sublimity of style. Much as I admire Milton, I must confess that Homer is a much greater favorite.

It is not strange that a studious brother in college would take interest in a sister who at the age of fifteen could write him with so much intelligence and enthusiasm of her reading. The next letter is two years later when she has been reading Scott. She likes Meg Merrilies, Diana Vernon, Annot Lyle, and Helen Mac Gregor. She hopes she may yet read Virgil in his own tongue, and adds, "I usually spend an hour after I retire for the night in reading Gibbon's Roman Empire. The pomp of his style at first displeased me, but I think him an able historian."

This is from a girl of seventeen living on the edge of the northern wilderness, and she is also reading Shakespere. "What a vigorous grasp of intellect," she says, "what a glow of imagination he must have possessed, but when his fancy drops a little, how apt he is to make low attempts at wit, and introduce a forced play upon words." She is also reading the Spectator, and does not think Addison so good a writer as Johnson, though a more polished one.

What she was doing with her ever busy hands during this period we are not told, but her intellectual life ran on in these channels until she reaches the age of eighteen, when she is engaged to teach a school in Gardiner, Maine, an event which makes her very happy. "I cannot talk about books," she writes, "nor anything else until I tell you the good news, that I leave Norridgewock as soon as the travelling is tolerable and take a school in Gardiner." It is the terrible month of March, for country roads in the far north, "the saddest of the year." She wishes her brother were as happy as she is, though, "All I expect is that, if I am industrious and prudent, I shall be independent."

At the conclusion of her school, she took up her residence with her brother in Watertown, Mass., where one year before, he had been settled as minister of the first parish. Here a new career opened before her. Whittier says that in her Norridgewock period, when she first read Waverly at the house of her physician, she laid down the book in great excitement, exclaiming, "Why cannot I write a novel?" Apparently, she did not undertake the enterprise for two years or more. In 1824, one Sunday after morning service, in her brother's study, she read an article in the North American Review, in which it was pointed out that there were great possibilities of romance in early American history. Before the afternoon service, she had written the first chapter of a novel which was published anonymously the same year, under the title of Hobomok: a Tale of Early Times. A search through half a dozen Antique Book stores in Boston for a copy of this timid literary venture I have found to be fruitless, except for the information that there is sometimes a stray copy in stock, and that its present value is about three dollars. It is sufficient distinction that it was the first attempt to extract a romantic element from early New England history. Its reception by the public was flattering to a young author. The Boston Athenæum sent her a ticket granting the privileges of its library. So great and perhaps unexpected had been its success that for several years, Mrs. Child's books bore the signature, "By the author of Hobomok." Even The Frugal Housewife was "By the author of Hobomok."

In 1825, the author of Hobomok published her second novel, entitled, The Rebels: a Tale of the Revolution. It is a volume of about 300 pages, and is still very readable. It ran rapidly through several editions, and very much increased the reputation of the author of Hobomok. The work contains an imaginary speech of James Otis, in which it is said, "England might as well dam up the Nile with bulrushes as to fetter the step of Freedom, more proud and firm in this youthful land than where she treads the sequestered glens of Scotland or couches herself among the magnificent mountains of Switzerland." This supposed speech of Otis soon found its way into the School Readers of the day, as a genuine utterance of the Revolutionary patriot, and as such Col. Higginson says he memorized and declaimed it, in his youth.

This literary success was achieved at the age of twenty-three, and the same year Miss Francis opened a private school in Watertown, which she continued three years, until her marriage gave her other occupations. In 1826, she started The Juvenile Miscellany, as already mentioned, said to be the first magazine expressly for children, in this country. In it, first appeared many of her charming stories afterward gathered up in little volumes entitled, Flowers for Children.

In 1828, she was married to Mr. David Lee Child, then 34 years of age, eight years older than herself. Whittier describes him as a young and able lawyer, a member of the Massachusetts legislature, and editor of the Massachusetts Journal. Mr. Child graduated at Harvard in 1817 in the class with George Bancroft, Caleb Cushing, George B. Emerson, and Samuel J. May. Between 1818 and 1824, he was in our diplomatic service abroad under Hon. Alexander Everett, at that time, Chargé d'Affaires in the Netherlands. On his return to America, Mr. Child studied law in Watertown where, at the house of a mutual friend, he met Miss Lydia Maria Francis. She herself reports this interesting event under date of Dec. 2, 1824. "Mr. Child dined with us in Watertown. He possesses the rich fund of an intelligent traveller, without the slightest tinge of a traveller's vanity. Spoke of the tardy improvement of the useful arts in Spain and Italy." Nearly two months pass, when we have this record: "Jan. 26, 1825. Saw Mr. Child at Mr. Curtis's. He is the most gallant man that has lived since the sixteenth century and needs nothing but helmet, shield, and chain-armor to make him a complete knight of chivalry." Not all the meetings are recorded, for, some weeks later, "March 3," we have this entry, "One among the many delightful evenings spent with Mr. Child. I do not know which to admire most, the vigor of his understanding or the ready sparkle of his wit."

There can be no doubt that she thoroughly enjoyed these interviews, and we shall have to discount the statement of any observer who gathered a different impression. Mr. George Ticknor Curtis, at whose home some of these interviews took place, was a boy of twelve, and may have taken the play of wit between the parties too seriously. He says,

At first Miss Francis did not like Mr. Child. Their intercourse was mostly banter and mutual criticism. Observers said, "Those two people will end in marrying." Miss Francis was not a beautiful girl in the ordinary sense, but her complexion was good, her eyes were bright, her mouth expressive and her teeth fine. She had a great deal of wit, liked to use it, and did use it upon Mr. Child who was a frequent visitor; but her deportment was always maidenly and lady-like.

The engagement happened in this wise. Mr. Child had been admitted to the bar and had opened an office in Boston. One evening about nine o'clock he rode out to Watertown on horseback and called at the Curtises' where Miss Francis then was. "My mother, who believed the denouement had come," says Mr. Curtis, "retired to her chamber. Mr. Child pressed his suit earnestly. Ten o'clock came, then eleven, then twelve. The horse grew impatient and Mr. Child went out once or twice to pacify him, and returned. At last, just as the clock was striking one, he went. Miss Francis rushed into my mother's room and told her she was engaged to Mr. Child."

There are indications in this communication that Mr. Curtis did not himself greatly admire Mr. Child and would not have married him, but he concedes that, "Beyond all doubt, Mrs. Child was perfectly happy in her relations with him, through their long life." After their marriage, he says, they went to housekeeping in a "very small house in Boston," where Mr. Curtis, then a youth of sixteen, visited them and partook of a simple, frugal dinner which the lady cooked and served with her own hands, and to which Mr. Child returned from his office, "cheery and breezy," and we may hope the vivacity of the host may have made up for the frugality of the entertainment.

In Letters from New York, written to the Boston Courier, she speaks tenderly of her Boston home which she calls "Cottage Place" and declares it the dearest spot on earth. I assume it was this "very small house" where she began her married life, where she dined the fastidious Mr. Curtis, and where she seems to have spent eight or nine happy years. Her marriage brought her great happiness. A friend says, "The domestic happiness of Mr. and Mrs. Child seemed to me perfect. Their sympathies, their admiration of all things good, and their hearty hatred of all things mean and evil, were in entire unison. Mr. Child shared his wife's enthusiasms and was very proud of her. Their affection, never paraded, was always manifest." After Mr. Child's death, Mrs. Child said, "I believe a future life would be of small value to me, if I were not united to him."

Mr. Child was a man of fine intellect, with studious tastes and habits, but there is too much reason to believe that his genius did not lie in the management of practical life. Details of business were apparently out of his sphere. "It was like cutting stones with a razor," says one who knew him. "He was a visionary," says another, "who always saw a pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow." This was a kind of defect which, though it cost her dear, Mrs. Child, of all persons, could most easily forgive. One great success he achieved: that was in winning and keeping the heart of Mrs. Child. Their married life seems to have been one long honeymoon. "I always depended," she says,

upon his richly stored mind, which was able and ready to furnish needed information on any subject. He was my walking dictionary of many languages, and my universal encyclopedia. In his old age, he was as affectionate and devoted as when the lover of my youth; nay, he manifested even more tenderness. He was often singing,

'There's nothing half so sweet in life
As love's old dream.'

Very often, when he passed me, he would lay his hand softly on my head and murmur 'Carum Caput.' … He never would see anything but the bright side of my character. He always insisted upon thinking that whatever I said was the wisest and whatever I did was the best.

In the anti-slavery conflict, Mr. Child's name was among the earliest, and at the beginning of the controversy, few were more prominent. In 1832, he published in Boston a series of articles upon slavery and the slave-trade; in 1836, another series upon the same subject, in Philadelphia; in 1837, an elaborate memoir upon the subject for an anti-slavery society in France, and an able article in a London Review. It is said that the speeches of John Quincy Adams in Congress were greatly indebted to the writings of Mr. Child, both for facts and arguments.

Such, briefly, is the man with whom Mrs. Child is to spend forty-five years of her useful and happy life. In 1829, the year after her marriage, she put her twelve months of experience and reflection into a book entitled, The Frugal Housewife. "No false pride," she says, "or foolish ambition to appear as well as others, should induce a person to live a cent beyond the income of which he is assured." "We shall never be free from embarrassment until we cease to be ashamed of industry, and economy." "The earlier children are taught to turn their faculties to some account the better for them and for their parents." "A child of six years is old enough to be made useful and should be taught to consider every day lost in which some little thing has not been done to assist others." We are told that a child can be taught to braid straw for his hats or to make feather fans; the objection to which would be that a modern mother would not let a child wear that kind of hat nor carry the fan.

The following will be interesting if not valuable: "Cheap as stockings are, it is good economy to knit them; knit hose wear twice as long as woven; and they can be done at odd moments of time which would not be otherwise employed." What an age that must have been when one had time enough and to spare! Other suggestions are quite as curious. The book is "dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy." "The writer," she says, "has no apology to offer for this little book of economical hints, except her deep conviction that such a book is needed. In this case, renown is out of the question; and ridicule is a matter of indifference."

Goethe made poems of his chagrins; Mrs. Child in this instance utilized her privations and forced economies to make a book; and a wonderfully successful book it was. She was not wrong in supposing it would meet a want. During the next seven years, it went through twenty editions, or three editions a year; in 1855, it had reached its thirty-third edition, averaging little short of one edition a year for thirty-six years. Surely this was a result which made a year of economical living in a "very small house" worth while.

The Frugal Housewife was a true "mother's book," although another and later volume was so named. The Mother's Book was nearly as successful as The Frugal Housewife, and went through eight American editions, twelve English, and one German. The success of these books gave Mrs. Child a good income, and she hardly needed to be the "frugal housewife" she had been before.

A check soon came to her prosperity. In 1831, she met Garrison and, being inflammable, caught fire from his anti-slavery zeal, and became one of his earliest and staunchest disciples. The free use of the Athenaeum library which had been graciously extended to her ten years before, now enabled her to study the subject of slavery in all its aspects, historical, legal, theoretical, and practical and, in 1833, she embodied the results of her investigations in a book entitled, An Appeal in behalf of the class of Americans called Africans. The material is chiefly drawn from Southern sources, the statute books of Southern states, the columns of Southern newspapers, and the statements and opinions of Southern public men. It is an effective book to read even now when one is in a mood to rose-color the old-time plantation life and doubtful whether anything could be worse than the present condition of the negro in the South.

The book had two kinds of effect. It brought upon Mrs. Child the incontinent wrath of all persons who, for any reason, thought that the only thing to do with slavery was to let it alone. "A lawyer, afterward attorney-general," a description that fits Caleb Cushing, is said to have used tongs to throw the obnoxious book out of the window; the Athenæum withdrew from Mrs. Child the privileges of its library; former friends dropped her acquaintance; Boston society shut its doors upon her; the sale of her books fell off; subscriptions to her Juvenile Miscellany were discontinued; and the magazine died after a successful life of eight years; and Mrs. Child found that she had ventured upon a costly experiment. This consequence she had anticipated and it had for her no terrors. "I am fully aware," she says in her preface, "of the unpopularity of the task I have undertaken; but though I expect ridicule, I do not fear it. … Should it be the means of advancing even one single hour the inevitable progress of truth and justice, I would not exchange the consciousness for all Rothschild's wealth or Sir Walter's fame."

Of course a book of such evident significance and power would have had another effect; by his own acknowledgement, it brought Dr. Channing into the anti-slavery crusade, and he published a book upon slavery in 1835; it led Dr. John G. Palfry, who had inherited a plantation in Louisiana, to emancipate his slaves; and, as he has more than once said, it changed the course of Col. T. W. Higginson's life and made him an abolitionist. "As it was the first anti-slavery work ever printed in America in book form, so," says Col. Higginson, "I have always thought it the ablest." Whittier says, "It is no exaggeration to say that no man or woman at that period rendered more substantial service to the cause of freedom, or made such a 'great renunciation' in doing it."

Turning from the real world, which was becoming too hard for her, Mrs. Child took refuge in dreamland and wrote Philothea: a story of Ancient Greece, published in 1835. Critics have objected that this delightful romance is not an exact reproduction of Greek life, but is Hamlet a reproduction of anything that ever happened in Denmark, or Browning's Saul of anything that could have happened in Judea, a thousand years before Christ? To Lowell, Mrs. Child was and remained "Philothea." Higginson says that the lines in which Lowell describes her in the "Fable for Critics," are the one passage of pure poetry it contains, and at the same time the most charming sketch ever made of Mrs. Child.

There comes Philothea, her face all aglow;
She has just been dividing some poor creature's woe,
And can't tell which pleases her most—to relieve
His want, or his story to hear and believe.
No doubt against many deep griefs she prevails,
For her ear is the refuge of destitute tales;
She knows well that silence is sorrow's best food,
And that talking draws off from the heart its bad blood.

In 1836, Mr. Child went abroad to study the Beet Sugar industry in France, Holland, and Germany and, after an absence of a year and a half, returned to engage in Beet Sugar Farming at Northampton, Mass. He received a silver medal for raw and refined sugar at the Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association in 1839, and a premium of $100 from the Massachusetts Agricultural society the same year. He published a well written and edifying book upon "Beet Sugar," giving the results of his investigations and experiments. It was an enterprise of great promise, but has taken half a century, in this country, to become a profitable industry.

Mrs. Child's letters from 1838 to 1841 are dated from Northampton, where she is assisting to work out the "Beet Sugar" experiment. It would have been a rather grinding experience to any one with less cheerfulness than Mrs. Child. She writes, June 9, 1838, "A month elapsed before I stepped into the woods which were all around me blooming with flowers. I did not go to Mr. Dwight's ordination, nor have I yet been to meeting. He has been to see me however, and though I left my work in the midst and sat down with a dirty gown and hands somewhat grimmed, we were high in the blue in fifteen minutes." Mr. Dwight was Rev. John S. Dwight, Brook Farmer, and editor of Dwight's Journal of Music.

Half of her published letters are addressed to Mr. or Mrs. Francis G. Shaw, parents of Col. Robert G. Shaw. Here is one in 1840, to Mr. Shaw, after she had made a trip to Boston. It will be interesting as presenting a new aspect of Mrs. Child's nature:

The only thing, except meeting dear friends, that attracted me to Boston was the exhibition of statuary. … I am ashamed to say how deeply I am charmed with sculpture: ashamed because it seems like affectation in one who has had such limited opportunity to become acquainted with the arts. I have a little figure of a caryatid which acts upon my spirit like a magician's spell. … Many a time this hard summer, I have laid down my dish-cloth or broom and gone to refresh my spirit by gazing on it a few minutes. It speaks to me. It says glorious things. In summer I place flowers before it; and I have laid a garland of acorns and amaranths at its feet. I do love every little bit of real sculpture.

Her other artistic passion was music, quite out of her reach at this period; but happily, she loved birds and flowers, both of which a Beet Sugar Farm in the Connecticut Valley made possible. A family of swallows made their nest in her woodshed, husband and wife dividing the labors of construction, nursing, and even of incubation, though the male bird did not have the same skill and grace as the lady, in placing his feet and wings. Mrs. Child gives a pretty account of this incident in a letter to one of her little friends, and says, "It seems as if I could watch them forever." Later, in one of her letters to the Boston Courier, she gives a more complete account of the episode. Her observations convinced her that birds have to be taught to fly, as a child is taught to walk.

When birds and flowers went, she had the autumn foliage, and she managed to say a new thing about it: it is "color taking its fond and bright farewell of form—like the imagination giving a deeper, richer, and warmer glow to old familiar truths before the winter of rationalism comes and places trunk and branches in naked outline against the cold, clear sky."

Whether she had been living hitherto in a "rent" we are not told, but in a letter of February 8, 1841, she informs us that she is about to move to a farm on which "is a sort of a shanty with two rooms and a garret. We expect to whitewash it, build a new wood-shed, and live there next year. I shall keep no help, and there will be room for David and me. I intend to half bury it in flowers."

There is nothing fascinating in sordid details, but Mrs. Child in the midst of sordid details, is glorious. A month before this last letter, her brother, Prof. Francis, had written her apparently wishing her more congenial circumstances; we have only her reply, from which it appears her father is under her care. She declines her brother's sympathy, and wonders that he can suppose "the deadening drudgery of the world" can imprison a soul in its caverns. "It is not merely an eloquent phrase," she says,

but a distinct truth that the outward has no power over us but that which we voluntarily give it. It is not I who drudge; it is merely the case that contains me. I defy all the powers of earth and hell to make me scour floors and feed pigs, if 1 choose meanwhile to be off conversing with angels. … If I can in quietude and cheerfulness forego my own pleasures and relinquish my tastes, to administer to my father's daily comfort, I seem to those who live in shadows to be cooking food and mixing medicines, but I am in fact making divine works of art which will reveal to me their fair proportions in the far eternity.

Besides this consolation, she says, "Another means of keeping my soul fresh is my intense love of nature. Another help, perhaps stronger than either of the two, is domestic love."

Her Northampton life was nearer an end than she supposed when she wrote these letters; she did not spend the next year in the little farm house with "two rooms and a garret"; on May 27th, she dates a letter from New York city, where she has gone reluctantly to edit the Anti-Slavery Standard. She had been translated from the sphere of "cooking food and mixing medicines" to congenial literary occupations; she had, let us hope, a salary sufficient for her urgent necessities; her home was in the family of the eminent Quaker philanthropist, Isaac T. Hopper, who received her as a daughter, and whose kindness she repaid by writing his biography. However the venture might come out, we would think her life could not well be harder or less attractive than it had been, drudging in a dilapidated farm house, and we are glad she is well out of it. Strange to say, she did not take our view of the situation. We have already seen how independent she was of external circumstances. In a letter referred to, dated May 27, she chides a friend for writing accounts of her outward life:

What do I care whether you live in one room or six? I want to know what your spirit is doing. What are you thinking, feeling, and reading? … My task here is irksome enough. Your father will tell you that it was not zeal for the cause, but love for my husband, which brought me hither. But since it was necessary for me to leave home to be earning somewhat, I am thankful that my work is for the anti-slavery cause. I have agreed to stay one year. I hope I shall then be able to return to my husband and rural home, which is humble enough, yet very satisfactory to me. Should the Standard be continued, and my editing generally desired, perhaps I could make an arrangement to send articles from Northampton. At all events, I trust the weary separation from my husband is not to last more than a year. If I am to be away from him, I could not be more happily situated than in Friend Hopper's family. They treat me the same as a daughter and a sister.

The Anti-Slavery Standard was a new enterprise; its editorship was offered to Mr. and Mrs. Childs jointly; Col. Higginson says that Mr. Child declined because of ill health; another authority, that he was still infatuated with his Beet Sugar, of which Mrs. Child had had more than enough; it appears from her letter that neither of them dreamed of abandoning the Sugar industry; if the enterprise was folly, they were happily united in the folly.

However, of the two, the Anti-Slavery Standard was the more successful enterprise, and at the end of the two years, Mr. Child closed out his Beet Sugar business and joined Mrs. Child in editing the paper. Mrs. Child edited the Standard eight years, six of which were in conjunction with Mr. Child. They were successful editors; they gave the Standard a high literary character, and made it acceptable to people of taste and culture who, whatever their sympathy with antislavery, were often repelled by the unpolished manners of Mr. Garrison's paper, The Liberator.

Something of her life outside the Standard office, something of the things she saw and heard and enjoyed, during these eight years, can be gathered from her occasional letters to the Boston Courier. They are interesting still; they will always be of interest to one who cares to know old New York, as it was sixty years ago, or from 1840 onward. That they were appreciated then is evident from the fact that, collected and published in two volumes in 1844, eleven editions were called for during the next eight years. Col. Higginson considers these eight years in New York the most interesting and satisfactory of Mrs. Child's life.

Though we have room for few incidents of this period, there is one too charming to be omitted. A friend went to a flower merchant on Broadway to buy a bunch of violets for Mrs. Child's birthday. Incidentally, the lady mentioned Mrs. Child; she may have ordered the flowers sent to her house. When the lady came to pay for them, the florist said, "I cannot take pay for flowers intended for her. She is a stranger to me, but she has given my wife and children so many flowers in her writings, that I will never take money of her." Another pretty incident is this: an unknown friend or admirer always sent Mrs. Child the earliest wild flowers of spring and the latest in autumn.

I have said that one of her passions was music, which happily she now has opportunities to gratify. "As for amusements," she says, "music is the only thing that excites me. … I have a chronic insanity with regard to music. It is the only Pegasus which now carries me far up into the blue. Thank God for this blessing of mine." I should be glad if I had room for her account of an evening under the weird spell of Ole Bull. Her moral sense was keener than her æsthetic, but her æsthetic sense was far keener than that of the average mortal. Sometimes she felt, as Paul would have said, "in a strait betwixt two"; in 1847 she writes Mr. Francis G. Shaw: "I am now wholly in the dispensation of art, and therefore theologians and reformers jar upon me." Reformer as she was and will be remembered, she was easily drawn into the dispensation of art; and nature was always with her, so much so that Col. Higginson says, "She always seemed to be talking radicalism in a greenhouse."

Mr. and Mrs. Child retired from the Standard in 1849. Her next letters are dated from Newton, Mass. Her father was living upon a small place—a house and garden—in the neighboring town of Wayland, beautifully situated, facing Sudbury Hill, with the broad expanse of the river meadows between. Thither Mrs. Child went to take care of him from 1852 to 1856, when he died, leaving the charming little home to her. There are many traditions of her mode of life in Wayland, but her own account is the best: "In 1852, we made our humble home in Wayland, Mass., where we spent twenty-two pleasant years, entirely alone, without any domestic, mutually serving each other and depending upon each other for intellectual companionship." If the memory of Wayland people is correct, Mr. Child was not with her much during the four years that her father lived. Her father was old and feeble and Mr. Child had not the serene patience of his wife. Life ran more easily when Mr. Child was away. Whatever other period in the life of Mrs. Child may have been the most satisfactory, this must have been the most trying.

Under date of March 23, 1856, happily the last year of this sort of widowhood, she writes:

This winter has been the loneliest of my life. If you knew my situation you would pronounce it unendurable. I should have thought so myself if I had had a foreshadowing of it a few years ago. But the human mind can get acclimated to anything. What with constant occupation and a happy consciousness of sustaining and cheering my poor old father in his descent to the grave, I am almost always in a state of serene contentment. In summer, my once extravagant love of beauty satisfies itself in watching the birds, the insects, and the flowers in my little patch of a garden.

She has no room for her vases, engravings, and other pretty things; she keeps them in a chest, and she says. "when birds and flowers are gone, I sometimes take them out as a child does its playthings, and sit down in the sunshine with them, dreaming over them."

We need not think of her spending much time dreaming over her little hoard of artistic treasures. Her real business in this world is writing the history of all religions, or The Progress of Religious Ideas in Successive Ages.' It was a work begun in New York, as early as 1848, finished in Wayland in 1855, published in three large octavo volumes and, whatever its merits or success, was the greatest literary labor of her life.

Under date of July 14, 1848, she writes to Dr. Francis:

My book gets slowly on. … I am going to tell the plain, unvarnished truth, as clearly as I can understand it, and let Christians and Infidels, Orthodox and Unitarians, Catholics, Protestants, and Swedenborgians growl as they like. They will growl if they notice it at all: for each will want his own theory favored, and the only thing I have conscientiously aimed at is not to favor any theory at all.

She may have failed in scientific method; but here is a scientific spirit. "In her religious speculations," says Whittier, "Mrs. Child moved in the very van." In Wayland, she considered herself a parishioner of Dr. Edmund H. Sears, whom she calls, "our minister," but she was somewhat in advance of Dr. Sears. Her opinions were much nearer akin to those of Theodore Parker. Only a Unitarian of that type could perhaps at this early period have conceived the history of religion as an evolution of one and the same spiritual element "through successive ages."

She had not much time to dream over her chest of artistic treasures when the assault of Preston S. Brooks upon Senator Sumner called her to battle of such force and point that Dr. William H. Furness said, it was worth having Sumner's head broken.

When death released her from the care of her father, she took "Bleeding Kansas" under her charge. She writes letters to the newspapers; she sits up till eleven o'clock, "stitching as fast as my fingers could go," making garments for the Kansas immigrants; she "stirs up the Wayland women to make garments for Kansas"; she sends off Mr. Child to make speeches for Kansas; and then she writes him in this manner: "How melancholy I felt when you went off in the morning darkness. It seemed as if everything about me was tumbling down; as if I were never to have a nest and a mate any more." Surely the rest of this letter was not written for us to read: "Good, kind, magnanimous soul, how I love you. How I long to say over the old prayer again every night. It almost made me cry to see how carefully you had arranged everything for my comfort before you went; so much kindling stuff split up and the bricks piled up to protect my flowers." Here is love in a cottage. This life is not all prosaic.

Old anti-slavery friends came to see her and among them Charles Sumner, in 1857, spent a couple of hours with her, and left his photograph; she met Henry Wilson at the anti-slavery fair and talked with him an "hour or so." Whittier says, "Men like Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, Salmon P. Chase, and Governor Andrew availed themselves of her foresight and sound judgment of men and measures."

When John Brown was wounded and taken prisoner at Harper's Ferry, nothing was more in character for Mrs. Child than to offer her services as his nurse. She wrote him under cover of a letter to Gov. Wise, of Virginia. The arrival of Mrs. Brown, made Mrs. Child's attendance unnecessary, but the incident led to a lively correspondence between Mrs. Child and Gov. Wise, in which Mrs. Senator Mason, of Virginia, joined. Neither of her distinguished correspondents possessed the literary skill of Mrs. Child. The entire correspondence was collected in a pamphlet of which 300,000 copies were sold. On a visit to Whittier at Amesbury, a delegation from a Republican political meeting called upon her, saying they wanted to see the woman who "poured hot shot into Gov. Wise."

In 1863, after saying that she is "childish enough to talk to the picture of a baby that is being washed," she writes her friend, Mrs. Shaw,

But you must not suppose that I live for amusement. On the contrary I work like a beaver the whole time. Just now I am making a hood for a poor neighbor; last week I was making flannels for the hospital; odd minutes are filled up ravelling lint; every string that I can get sight of I pull for poor Sambo. I write to the Tribune about him; I write to the Transcript about him; I write to private individuals about him; and I write to the President and members of Congress about him; I write to Western Virginia and Missouri about him; and I get the articles published too. This shows what progress the cause of freedom is making.

Not everything went to her mind however. If we think there has been a falling from grace in the public life of our generation, it may do us good to read what she says in 1863: "This war has furnished many instances of individual nobility, but our national record is mean."

In 1864, she published Looking Toward Sunset, a book designed to "present old people with something wholly cheerful." The entire edition was exhausted during the holiday season; 4,000 copies were sold and more called for. All her profits on the book, she devoted to the freedmen, sending $400 as a first instalment. Not only that, but she prepared a volume called The Freedman's Book, which she printed at an expense of $600, and distributed among the freedmen 1200 copies at her own cost. She once sent Wendell Phillips a check of $100 for the freedmen, and when he protested that it was more than she could afford, she consented to "think it over." The next day, she made her contribution $200. She contributed $20 a year to the American Missionary Association toward the support of a teacher for the freedmen, and $50 a year to the Anti-Slavery Society. A lady wished, through Mr. Phillips, to give Mrs. Child several thousand dollars for her comfort. Mrs. Child declined the favor, but was persuaded to accept it, and then scrupulously gave away the entire income in charity. It is evident she might have made herself very comfortable, if it had not given her so much more pleasure to make someone else comfortable.

Her dress, as neat and clean as that of a Quakeress, was quite as plain and far from the latest style. A stranger meeting her in a stage coach mistook her for a servant until she began to talk. "Who is that woman who dresses like a peasant, and speaks like a scholar?" he asked on leaving the coach. Naturally, it was thought Mrs. Child did not know how to dress, or, more likely, did not care for pretty things. "You accuse me," she writes to Miss Lucy Osgood, "you accuse me of being indifferent to externals, whereas the common charge is that I think too much of beauty, and say too much about it. I myself think it one of my greatest weaknesses. A handsome man, woman or child can always make a pack-horse of me. My next neighbor's little boy has me completely under his thumb, merely by virtue of his beautiful eyes and sweet voice." There was one before her of whom it was said, "He denied himself, and took up his cross." It was also said of him, "Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor." He never had a truer disciple than Mrs. Child.

Not that she ever talked of "crosses." "But why use the word sacrifice?" she asks. "I never was conscious of any sacrifice." What she gained in moral discipline or a new life, she says, was always worth more than the cost. She used an envelope twice, Wendell Phillips says; she never used a whole sheet of paper when half of one would do; she outdid poverty in her economies, and then gave money as if she had thousands. "I seldom have a passing wish for enlarging my income except for the sake of doing more for others. My wants are very few and simple."

In 1867, Mrs. Child published A Romance of the Republic, a pathetic story, but fascinating, and admirably written; in 1878, appeared a book of choice selections, entitled, Aspirations of the World; and in 1871, a volume of short biographies, entitled Good Wives, and dedicated, to Mr. Child: "To my husband, this book is affectionately inscribed, by one who, through every vicissitude, has found in his kindness and worth, her purest happiness and most constant incentive to duty."

Mr. Child died in 1874 at the age of eighty, and Mrs. Child followed him in 1880, at the age of seventyeight. After her death, a small volume of her letters was published, of which the reader will wish there were more. Less than a month before her death, she wrote to a friend a list of benevolent enterprises she has in mind and says, "Oh, it is such a luxury to be able to give without being afraid. I try not to be Quixotic, but I want to rain down blessings on all the world, in token of thankfulness for the blessings that have been rained down upon me."

It is too late to make amends for omissions in this paper, but it would be unjust to Mrs. Child to forget her life-long devotion to the interests of her own sex. In 1832, a year before her Appeal in behalf of that class of Americans called Africans,—eleven years before the appearance of Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Mrs. Child published A History of the Condition of Women in all ages and nations, showing her disposition to begin every inquiry with a survey of the facts, and also that the "woman question" was the first to awaken her interest. Her greatest contribution to the advancement of women was herself; that is, her own achievements. To the same purpose were her biographies of famous women: Memoirs of Mme. de Stael and Mme. Roland in 1847, and sketches of Good Wives in 1871. Whittier says, she always believed in woman's right to the ballot, as certainly he did, calling it "the greatest social reform of the age." In one letter to Senator Summer, she directly argues the question: "I reduce the argument," she says, "to very simple elements. I pay taxes for property of my own earning, and I do not believe in 'taxation without representation.'" Again: "I am a human being and every human being has a right to a voice in the laws which claim authority to tax him, to imprison him, or to hang him."

A light humor illuminates this argument. Humor was one of her saving qualities which, as Whittier says, "kept her philanthropy free from any taint of fanaticism." It contributed greatly to her cheerfulness. Of her fame, she says playfully: "In a literary point of view I know I have only a local reputation, done in water colors."

Could anything have been better said than this of the New England April or even May: "What a misnomer in our climate to call this season Spring, very much like calling Calvinism religion." Nothing could have been keener than certain points scored in her reply to Mrs. Senator Mason. Mrs. Mason, remembering with approving conscience her own ministries in the slave cabins caring for poor mothers with young babies, asks Mrs. Child, in triumph, if she goes among the poor to render such services. Mrs. Child replies that she has never known mothers under such circumstances to be neglected, "and here at the North," said she, "after we have helped the mothers, we do not sell the babies." After Gen. Grant's election to the Presidency, a procession with a band from Boston, marched to her house and gave her a serenade. She says that she joined in the hurrahs "like the strong-minded woman that I am. The fact is, I forgot half the time whether I belonged to the stronger or weaker sex." Whether she belonged to the stronger or weaker sex, is still something of a problem. Sensible men would be willing to receive her, should women ever refuse to acknowledge her.

Wendell Phillips paid her an appreciative tribute, at her funeral. "There were," he said, "all the charms and graceful elements which we call feminine, united with a masculine grasp and vigor; sound judgment and great breadth; large common sense and capacity for everyday usefulness, endurance, foresight, strength, and skill." The address is given in full in the volume of Letters. There is also a fine poem by Whittier for the same occasion:

Than thine was never turned a founder heart
To nature and to art;

Yet loving beauty, thou couldst pass it by,
And for the poor deny
Thyself …

The volume contains a poetical tribute of an earlier date, by Eliza Scudder, of which Mrs. Child said, "I never was so touched and pleased by any tribute in my life. I cried over the verses and I smiled over them." I will close this paper with Miss Scudder's last stanza:

So apt to know, so wise to guide,
So tender to redress,—
O, friend with whom such charms abide,
How can I love thee less?

Margaret Farrand Thorp (essay date 1949)

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SOURCE: "Dusting Mirrors," in Female Persuasion: Six Strong-Minded Women, Yale University Press, 1949, pp. 215-53.

[In the biographical sketch below, Thorp delineates the "dichotomy of mind" that prompted Child to alternate between apparently apolitical works and her highly political antislavery tracts.]

"Too much cannot be said on the importance of giving children early habits of observation." When, in 1832, Maria Child wrote that dictum in her Mother's Book she was anxious not only that the young should be made to see truth but that they should be helped to enjoy the world. And she was making, really, an autobiographical statement. Observation was for her the first of the virtues. The greater part of her long and active life was spent in teaching people to see, to see often things they did not want to look at. "I sweep dead leaves out of paths and dust mirrors," she said once in describing her daily activities and she might as well have been describing her method of propaganda: she set out her facts always so clear and clean that it was impossible not to see them. To thousands of men and women, including distinguished abolitionists like Charles Sumner, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and William Ellery Channing, her books first made clear the true nature of slavery.

Lydia Maria Francis (the family called her Maria) began her own observation of the world on September 11, 1802, in Medford, Massachusetts. Of her mother it is recorded only that she had "a spirit busy in doing good," a spirit which her daughter inherited. Her father was a baker, the originator of the "Medford Cracker," so excellent a cracker, the story runs, that orders came to him from Europe, even from Russia. He was, like the Beechers' blacksmith grandfather, an artisan who loved to read and who believed in education for his children. His eldest son, Convers, six years older than Maria, became a Unitarian clergyman and Parkman Professor in the Harvard Divinity School.

It was Convers who supervised his sister's studies, directed her reading, and tried to answer her curious questions. "Do not forget," concludes a letter written when she was seventeen, "that I asked you about the 'flaming cherubims,' the effects of distance horizontal or perpendicular, 'Orlando Furioso,' and Lord Byron." Maria told her brother that he had formed her mind but certainly he never managed to impart to it any of the caution for which he was notorious. That caution often exasperated to anger his distinguished disciple Theodore Parker who had more in common temperamentally with his mentor's sister. Maria thought Parker "the greatest man, morally and intellectually, that our country ever produced."

Maria Francis was visiting her brother, pastor at the time of the Unitarian Church in Watertown, Massachusetts, when, at the age of twenty-one, she discovered her literary vocation. The story, repeated again and again by contemporary biographers, was first set down by that indefatigable anthologist Rufus Griswold who probably had it from Maria herself.

Waiting for her brother in his study one day in the summer of 1823 Maria Francis happened to pick up an old copy of the North American Review (April, 1821) and was attracted by an article on a long narrative poem called Yamoyden.

We are gratified [wrote the Rev. J. G. Palfrey] with the appearance of Yamoyden, for a reason distinct from that of being an accession to the amount of good poetry. We are glad that somebody has at last found out the unequalled fitness of our early history for the purposes of a work of fiction. For ourselves, we know not the country or age which has such capacities in this view as N. England in its early day; nor do we suppose it easy to imagine any element of the sublime, the wonderful, the picturesque and the pathetic, which is not to be found here by him who shall hold the witch-hazel wand that can trace it.

That witch-hazel wand Maria Francis felt suddenly in her grasp. It pointed her to her first mission: a novel she saw might be a work of patriotism. She took up a pen from her brother's table and began to write.

It was then about noon. Convers Francis returned a little before afternoon service and his sister asked him to look at the first chapter of a novel, set in Naumkeak (Salem) in 1629. When he looked up from the manuscript and explained, "But, Maria, did you really write this? Do you mean what you say, that it is entirely your own?" Maria Francis' fate was set; she became a literary lady. In six weeks she had finished Hobomok, and Cummings, Hilliard and Company of Boston agreed to print it. Mindful of her patriotic mission she signed it "By an American."

The most interesting thing about Hobomok is not its setting but its study of the motives which drive the lovely heroine to become the bride of an Indian warrior. The situation may quite possibly have been suggested by Yamoyden where a well-born young lady is united with a noble savage, but Miss Francis is concerned with something more than a striking plot. She shows her Mary Conant nearly mad with despair at the news that her lover has been lost at sea. The poor girl can find no comfort in her home for her gentle mother has lately died and her stern, old father was largely responsible for the lover's exile from the colony. Even Mary's religion merely intensifies her despair; the Puritanism of Naumkeak has stupefied her mind with "an ill directed belief in the decrees of heaven and the utter fruitlessness of all human endeavor." She turns to Hobomok, the one person in Salem who has shown her unvarying kindness and admiration.

What follows is somewhat less realistic. Mary, Hobomok, and his old mother live a quiet life together in a tastefully decorated wigwam; Mary bears a child; and finally, when the lost lover, who was not drowned, returns, the noble Hobomok goes through the Indian form of divorce and vanishes forever into the wilderness.

This curious plot shocked both reading public and critics. "It is in very bad taste, to say the least," wrote Jared Sparks in the North American, but he admired the book's other qualities and Boston as a whole agreed with him. There was enthusiastic approval of the animated descriptions of scenes and persons, the agreeable style, and the picture of the times. Female literary success was then so rare as to be exciting. Everybody talked about Hobomok and the Boston Athenæum bestowed on Miss Francis an almost unique honor, a free ticket of admission to its library. Of course she went to work at once on another novel. In 1825 "the author of Hobomok" published The Rebels: Or, Boston before the Revolution.

The Rebels is not quite so exciting as its title promises. It is heavily charged with patriotic sentiment and political conversation but it is better organized than its predecessor and decidedly better as a picture of a period. Prerevolutionary Boston did not present such dangerous blanks to the romantic fancy as the shadowier era of the Puritan and the noble redman. The talk is stilted enough but it was based on sound models. The speech against the Stamp Act which the young authoress invented for James Otis was quoted in schoolbooks as an example of that patriot's oratory.

The public liked The Rebels and the North American predicted that, "notwithstanding its many defects," it would take "a high rank in the estimation of all admirers of descriptive and pathetic eloquence." Miss Francis found herself a local celebrity. Adulation did her no harm, for she had a head not easily turned and literature was her proper calling. In fact one cannot help wondering whether, born in the twentieth century, she might not have made a really good novelist. A little of the scientific psychology she would have picked up in any good college to direct her accurate intuitions, a little instruction in historical method to channel her enthusiastic curiosity, and she might have disciplined her sentimental sympathy and undocumented imagination into a vigorous and effective realism.

In any case Maria Francis had found the work she wanted to do. It was, though, work more delightful than remunerative so she resorted to the conventional expedient of opening a small school in Watertown and, a year later, the unconventional expedient of editing a magazine for the young, one of the earliest in the country. The Juvenile Miscellany was, wrote Margaret Fuller, "much and deservedly esteemed by children."

It was during these years in Watertown that Maria Francis began her lifelong friendship with Margaret Fuller. That brilliant and ambitious girl, eight years Maria's junior, was delighted to discover a companion who shared her enthusiasm for learning and whose thinking was quite free from cant and pretense. Miss Francis' conversation, she wrote, "is charming,—she brings all her powers to bear upon it; her style is varied, and she has a very pleasant and spirited way of thinking." They read Locke together as introduction to a course of English metaphysics and then Mme. de Staël on Locke. Margaret decided to take the brilliant Frenchwoman as a model instead of "the useful Edgeworth," and Maria made her the subject of the first biography in the Ladies Family Library which she began to edit a few years later.

It was in Watertown, too, that Maria Francis made the acquaintance of David Lee Child who was studying law there with his uncle. After one of their first evenings together she made an entry in her journal: "He is the most gallant man that has lived since the sixteenth century and needs nothing but helmet, shield, and chain armor to make him a complete knight of chivalry."

That, from the little we know of him, was an accurate estimate of David Child. He had not only charm and courage but that inner compulsion to defend the oppressed which one associates with the Round Table. And the helmet covered an excellent brain. These were all qualities to attract Maria Francis. She had them herself, tempered with a practicality which David Child lacked. In 1820 he had left his post of secretary of legation at Lisbon to fight in Spain against the French because, he said, he felt it his duty to defend liberty. Now he was devoting more and more of his energies to the unremunerative, unpopular cause of the American slave.

The Francis-Child friendship seems to have been a Benedict and Beatrice affair with much witty pretense of antagonism on either side to hide an affection rapidly growing warm. The courtship went on for three years until, admitted to the bar, David Child felt justified in asking Maria Francis to be his wife. George Ticknor Curtis, who as a small boy watched a good many of their meetings over the bannisters in his mother's house, tells the story of the proposal which, he says, lasted four hours and a half. Mrs. Curtis, who had discreetly retired to the second floor, waited patiently for the raising of the siege but David Child's horse, tethered close to the front porch, found the time too long and pawed the piazza steps so vigorously that his master had to dash out at intervals to quiet him.

The marriage took place on October 19, 1828, and the couple set up housekeeping in Boston. It was a very happy though a highly unconventional ménage: the wife thought for herself and she earned the major portion of the family income. Maria Child believed in freedom for the slave but she did not share her husband's abolition principles. She respected them, though, and was ready, as always, to listen and to learn. She was ready, too, to accept the consequences of his putting his legal skill at the disposition of fugitive slaves and oppressed Negroes, a ruinous practice of course for a young lawyer. Mrs. Child undertook to do the domestic labor of the household—an economy which caused remark—and she kept their expenses to a minimum. Curtis thought it worth reporting that when they entertained him at dinner they served a savory meat pie, roasted potatoes, and baked Indian pudding, no dessert, no wine, no beverage; but it was, apparently, a very good meat pie.

Her experience in domestic economy Maria Child converted promptly into literary capital. The Frugal Housewife, which she published in 1829, went into forty editions, gratefully purchased by "the poor" for whom she said it was written. It did not escape, though, the satiric comment of N. P. Willis who made great play with one of her economical dicta: "Hard gingerbread is nice" (it keeps so well). Maria Francis, unlike most literary young ladies, had not surrendered to Willis' charm and had declined to write for his Mirror.

Next, drawing on her experience as a teacher and editor of the Juvenile Miscellany, though she had no children of her own, Mrs. Child published a wise and charming Mother's Book, which went into English and German as well as many American editions. Then The Girls' Own Book with rules for games, directions for making baskets and "ornaments," and instruction in sewing and gardening. For girls also was The First Settlers of New England as Related by a Mother to Her Children, an attempt to prove by history what Hobomok had demonstrated by romance: that the Indian is a noble creature, hostile and barbarous only when the white man provokes him with cruelty and deceit. Like Jane Swisshelm and Grace Greenwood, Maria Child found the red man "repugnant" but she felt that he must have justice and that it was her duty to help him to it.

In 1832 Maria Child began the editing of the Ladies Family Library, a series designed to "suit the taste, and interest the feelings of women." Each volume, the prospectus states, will be prepared by the editor and will contain more or less original writing—in those happy days before copyright there were no limits on the length of a compiler's quotations. Maria Child was skillful at compiling and condensing and she managed to infuse into anything she composed the pleasant freshness of her own interest in the subject. She was a popularizer of the best kind, simplifying without condescension.

I have been told [she wrote in one of her prefaces] that I did not moralize enough, or explain my own opinions with sufficient fulness. To this I can only answer, that I am describing the minds of others, not my own. It seems to me that the beauty of biography consists in simplicity, clearness, and brevity. I wish to give faithful portraits of individuals, and leave my readers in freedom to analyze their expression.

For the first volume she chose Mme. de Staël, whom she and Margaret Fuller had admired for her brilliant mind and her readiness to labor in the public service, and another revolutionary heroine, Mme. Roland. The second volume treats Mme. de Guyon and Lady Russell. The third contains some two score brief biographies of Good Wives ranging from "Calphurnia, wife of Pliny" to "Mrs. LaFayette." This was followed by a History of the Condition of Women in All Ages, not, the editor explains, an essay on woman's rights, nor yet a philosophical investigation of the relation of the sexes, simply a collection of facts presented with the idea that they will excite thought and provide material for argument. This, from the beginning to the end, was Maria Child's method of propaganda: to dust the mirror so that her readers could not choose but see.

Everything she wrote in any vein pleased both public and critics and her reputation grew. "We are not sure," said the North American, "that any woman in our country would outrank Mrs. Child. … Few female writers, if any, have done more or better things for our literature, in its lighter or graver departments." This was a pleasant position to occupy and pleasant, too, were the literary friendships her work brought her in Boston and Cambridge. It was not an easy life but it had come to be a very good one, and full of promise for the future, when, quite deliberately, she pulled it all down about her head.

In 1833 Maria Child published An Appeal in Behalf of that Class of Americans Called Africans. The curious title alone was frightening to her contemporaries and the whole book seemed to respectable Boston dangerously incendiary. Her friends, all but a very few, and her large national circle of readers and admirers drew away in alarm. Women who had been proud to bow to the distinguished Mrs. Child now cut her on Mt. Auburn Street. The Athenæum, scandalized that its shelves had been utilized for the production of such a fanatical document, wrote in haste withdrawing the privileges it had bestowed. The sale of her books declined sharply and subscriptions to the Juvenile Miscellany were canceled so rapidly that it soon became futile to publish the little magazine at all.

Outwardly the Appeal is a quiet document. There is no invective, no denunciation, simply information set down almost without comment. It begins with a history of slavery, describing its true nature in the United States, and then considers the effect of the institution upon the Negro and upon his owner. All the assertions are documented with chapter and verse, with citations of laws and legal testimony, with corroborative little stories horrifying in their objectivity. Then remedies are considered. The inadequacy of colonization and the frequent evil motives behind the plan are made clear and the contrasting purpose of the Anti-Slavery Society is explained. The propaganda method is simple but it is deadly; Boston was quite right to be alarmed. The Appeal became a powerfully influential document. More than one dangerous abolitionist ascribed his conversion to the cause to his reading of Mrs. Child. William Ellergy Channing, who had never met her before, walked out from Boston to Roxbury to tell her she had convinced him that slavery was a subject on which he should no longer remain silent; John Palfrey said to her years later that it was the Appeal which caused him to liberate his slaves; and Charles Sumner wrote that it had an important effect upon his course in Congress.

Maria Child's own conversion was a surprise not only to respectable Boston but to the abolitionists themselves. They were accustomed to see her at their meetings but they supposed that she came merely out of courtesy to her husband; they had never thought of her as a potential fighter in their ranks. It was David Child who changed her point of view by spreading out pertinent documents for her observation. There are telling sentences in her anti-slavery books which mark the progress of her conviction, the particular facts which she found inescapable.

I have read not a few Reports of Cases in Southern Courts; and those reports did more than any thing else to make me an abolitionist.

These assertions [that abolition would cause servile insurrections] have been so often, and so dogmatically repeated, that many truly kind-hearted people have believed there was some truth in them. I myself, (may God forgive me for it!) have often, in thoughtless ignorance, made the same remarks. An impartial and careful examination has led me to the conviction that slavery causes insurrections, while emancipation prevents them.

I once had a very strong prejudice against antislavery;—(I am ashamed to think how strong—for mere prejudice should never be stubborn), but a candid examination has convinced me, that I was in an error. I made the common mistake of taking things for granted, without stopping to investigate.

Though not the first, Maria Child was one of the earliest of the courageous little band of men and women who fought the good fight through that period which Harriet Martineau called the Martyr Age in the United States. The adjective is accurate; both spiritual and physical courage were required of the abolitionists, and Maria Child had both. Once committed to the cause, she battled for it with all her might. The Lord, she said, had more than enough waiters; fighters were what he needed in his service now. As a Boston abolitionist she learned what it meant to face a mob and she used to tell, with a certain amusement, pacifist as she was, of the time when, at a meeting in the Music Hall, she collared a man who was shaking his fist in Wendell Phillips' face, and of her surprise when he tumbled down. Someone cried out to her, "This is no place for women," and she retorted promptly, "They are needed here to teach civilization to men." In 1839 she was writing to Lucretia Mott: "A little while ago I rejoiced that I was growing more entirely and universally tolerant. Now, I cannot abide the proud, self-sufficient word. What right have I, or any other fallible mortal, to be tolerant?"

It is eloquent testimony to the strength of the convention that prevented the nineteenth-century woman from public lecturing that not one of those female abolitionists, so intrepid in the presence of a mob, could bring herself to speak in any formal gathering. The councils of the Anti-Slavery Society were guided again and again by the wisdom of Mrs. Chapman, Mrs. Follen, and Mrs. Child, but never by their voices. The Reverend Samuel May tells how he repeatedly sprang to the platform, "crying, 'Hear me as the mouthpiece of Mrs. Child, or Mrs. Chapman, or Mrs. Follen,' and convulsed the audience with a stroke of wit, or electrified them with a flash of eloquence, caught from the lips of one or the other of our anti-slavery prophetesses."

It was not until 1838 that Maria Child altered her convictions on feminine oratory. When Angelina Grimké felt impelled to break the bonds of silence and address a committee of the Massachusetts Legislature on her experience as a slaveholder, Maria Child accompanied her to the State House and wrote to her friend E. Carpenter: "I think it was a spectacle of the greatest moral sublimity I ever witnessed." She herself never felt called upon to speak for the cause; her talent for persuasion worked most effectively in another medium.

The Appeal was followed by book after abolitionist book. Repetitive only in their ultimate purpose and the quiet objectivity of their manner, they presented their case in a diversity of ways from a variety of angles. Between 1833 and 1836 Maria Child published The Oasis, an anti-slavery miscellany; an Anti-Slavery Catechism, which furnished answers to the questions she was most often asked by her friends; Authentic Anecdotes of Slavery; and The Evils of Slavery and the Cure of Slavery, the First Proved by the Opinions of Southerners Themselves, the Last Shown by Historical Evidence. And while she wrote this clear and factual propaganda she was engaged in the composition of her most transcendental novel, Philothea, a romance of the time of Pericles and Aspasia.

This dichotomy of mind was characteristic. Whittier said that her mysticism and her realism ran in close parallel lines and certainly she moved easily from one to the other. By choice she would have remained, like Margaret Fuller, an artist working on the ideal plane, out of the heat and dust of reform, working, to be sure, for the improvement of mankind but by ministry to the soul and the intellect, not to the body. She would have liked to do more novels like Philothea, more short stories like her famous "Children of Mt. Ida," more essays like "What Is Beauty?" published (April, 1843) in the Dial, but the power of her Puritan ancestors was strong; she could not pass by on the other side of a duty waiting to be done and her observant imagination saw duties everywhere.

The practical tendencies of the age [she wrote in the preface to Philothea], and particularly of the country in which I lived, have so continually forced me into the actual, that my mind has seldom obtained freedom to rise into the ideal. The hope of extended usefulness has hitherto induced a strong effort to throw myself into the spirit of the times; which is prone to neglect beautiful and fragrant flowers, unless their roots will answer for vegetables, and their leaves for herbs.

Such homely, pungent metaphors, generated by bondage to the actual, are frequent in her prose, giving it much of its vigor and originality. This, for instance, in the Anti-Slavery Standard (May 27, 1841):

He [Channing], and other champions of what is called individual action, will not admit my proposition, because they will not perceive it to be true; but, the simple fact is, anti-slavery societies are the steam, and they are the passengers in the cars. They may not like the puffing and blowing, the cinders and the jolting; but the powerful agency carries them onward.

Yet Philothea, the escape novel, is written with great charm and is far more skillfully composed than the early books though the plot melodrama is still thick. The background is carefully got up and the historical personages speak in character—Plato, for instance, quotes liberally from his Dialogues—yet contemporary critics found the atmosphere more redolent of Cambridge than of Athens.

Greek or Boston, talk of the soul in relation to the gods was a refreshment to Maria Child. So was the contemplation of the beautiful objects, the purple robes, the marble statues, the golden lyres, with which she could surround her Athenian characters. The still-life passages in her fiction are always written con amore. Even in the New England novels she manages to introduce here and there a pearl-set miniature or an elegant workbox and in Philothea she could let her imagination run. Though quite untaught in the arts, always too poor to fulfill her dream of European travel, she had an instinctive delight in line and pattern.

I have a little plaster figure of a caryatid, which acts upon my spirit like a magician's spell. … to me it has an expression of the highest kind. Repose after conflict—not the repose of innocence, but the repose of wisdom. Many a time this hard summer I have laid down dish-cloth or broom and gone to refresh my spirit by gazing on it a few minutes. (To Francis G. Shaw, Northampton, 1840.)

She looked at nature with the same delight—bare boughs against the sky, a briar rose in the dooryard—enjoying not so much God's immanence, though she was always aware of that, as his craftsman's skill in harmony and design.

In the year Philothea was published David Child set out on another expedition in helmet, shield, and chain armor: a three-year task of infinite labor and no possible profit to himself but of potentially great usefulness to the slave.

A problem which constantly troubled the early abolitionists was the discovery of substitutes for commodities—cotton and sugar in particular—which could be produced economically only by slave labor. Many ardent souls took, and kept, vows to wear no cotton garment and to drink their tea unsweetened but they knew well that only a handful of the devoted would follow them to these extremes. If, though, adequate substitutes could be offered for the products of slavery many thoughtful Northerners would gladly use them. One of the most promising possibilities was the replacing of cane with beet sugar. Beet sugar had been made in Europe since 1802 and Napoleon had established a profitable industry in France but nothing at all about the process was known in the United States. Should not someone go abroad to study it and then attempt the manufacture in America? A small fund was raised for the purpose and David Child undertook the quest. He had no agricultural training but he did know something of Europe and European tongues and he had the scholar's ability to learn a new thing.

The outset of the journey was painful. David Child was mysteriously arrested on the dock in New York on the flimsy grounds of an old debt. This is the only occasion on record when his wife's spirit failed her; Maria Child sat down on a pile of luggage and burst into tears. But she did not weep long; she was soon packing up a bundle of clothing for her husband to take to prison and comforting him there until well-todo friends could arrange for his release.

The European voyage meant for the Childs a long separation, eighteen months, but so much was accomplished that they were happy about it in the end. David Child visited sugar factories in France, Belgium, and Germany; he talked with beet cultivators and sugar manufacturers distinguished for their science and their success; he read everything that had been printed on the subject; and he came home an expert. The Connecticut River Valley, it was decided, offered the best opportunity for the anti-slavery experiment so the Childs spent the next year and a half in Northampton, Massachusetts, not altogether happily. David Child's agricultural ideas seemed to the neighboring farmers thoroughly impractical. He found them skeptical and not at all cooperative while his wife was discouraged by their obtuseness in abolition matters and by their religious bigotry.

If I were to choose my home [she wrote her brother December 22, 1838], I certainly would not place it in the Valley of the Connecticut. It is true, the river is broad and clear, the hills majestic, and the whole aspect of outward nature most lovely. But oh! the narrowness, the bigotry of man! To think of hearing a whole family vie with each other, in telling of vessels that were wrecked, or shattered, or delayed on their passage, because they sailed on Sunday! To think of people's troubling their heads with the question whether the thief could have been instantaneously converted on the cross, so that the Saviour could promise him an entrance to Paradise! In an age of such stirring inquiry, and of such extended benevolence—in a world which requires all the efforts of the good and wise merely to make it receptive of holy influences, what a pity it is that so much intellect should be wasted upon such theological jargon!

Despite the self-righteousness of Northampton there was much agricultural curiosity in the country at large and the experiment proved a scientific if not a financial success. David Child demonstrated that the cultivation of the beet and the manufacture of beet sugar were perfectly practicable in America and he put the results of his demonstration into an excellent pamphlet on which the Massachusetts Agricultural Society bestowed a premium. Unfortunately beet sugar manufacture to be profitable has to be carried on on a much greater scale than the funds for the Northampton experiment permitted. It was not until five years after the Civil War that the first successful American beet sugar factory was built, in California.

The work in Northampton furnished the Childs with house and food but little besides, and the writing which they both did for anti-slavery periodicals brought them of course more merit than cash. Something to provide a regular income had to be done so, in the spring of 1841, Maria Child agreed to undertake the editorship of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, a weekly paper which the Anti-Slavery Society had initiated in New York the year before. A measure of the distance the abolitionists moved in advance of their time is the fact that they could take the revolutionary step of appointing a woman to the editorship of a reform journal (seven years before Jane Swisshelm's Saturday Visiter) without either controversy or apology. It was simply announced that

We greatly rejoice … not merely that we have her extraordinary ability and faithfulness enlisted, and her reputation invested in the cause—but that they come to our aid in the form of woman. It will, we anticipate, prove an era in our enterprise. Woman has spoken and written in the anti-slavery service, but this is, we believe, her first assumption of the editorial chair in this great movement.

Even this seemed to Maria Child too much feminism.

I am heartily obliged to brother Rogers [she wrote in her first editorial] for his friendly greeting and cordial welcome. …

In answer to his wish, that I should on this occasion, "forget every incident of my existence, except my humanity," I merely reply that I would be, too, had forgotten all else.

Had Mr. Child's business made it possible for him to remove to New York, his experience in editing, his close observation of public affairs, and the general character of his mind, would have made it far better for the cause to have him for a resident, and myself for an assistant editor, but in any other point of view, it is quite unimportant that the arrangement is reversed.

David Child sent frequent contributions from Northampton and occasionally was able to share the editorial duties in New York. It was at this time, too, that he did his most distinguished scholarly labor for the cause, the collection and arrangement of the arguments against the admission of Texas which J. Q. Adams made the basis of his speeches during the debates in Congress.

Maria Child, entering upon her new duties, found herself "a sort of black sheep," as she said, among the New York literary and editorial fraternity. As an abolition editor she could get no courtesies from booksellers, had difficulty in borrowing from club libraries, and found the task of gathering information and preparing extracts far more onerous than she had anticipated. "The type is fine, and that large sheet [it was the largest of all the abolition journals] swallows an incredible amount of matter." Much of the paper she wrote herself, including every week two or three vigorous editorials.

She had accepted the position for a year but she stayed actually for three; the Society would not let her go. As Wendell Phillips wrote her in 1842, "the ultra, the moderate, the half-converted, the zealous, the indifferent, the active, all welcome the Standard, and … it is fast changing them all into its own likeness of sound, liberal, generous, active, devoted men and women."

During her years in New York Maria Child lived most happily in the house of the good Quaker Isaac Hopper, one of the most original and competent reformers of that great reforming generation. The "true life" of Isaac T. Hopper which she published in 1854 (two years after her friend's death) is unconventional biography of a very agreeable kind. A long series of anti-slavery adventures are set down as she heard Friend Hopper tell them on summer evening walks along the Bowery or on winter nights beside the family fire; from the cumulative anecdotes emerges a firm and individual figure, the stalwart Quaker, full of courage and ingenious resource, who fought persistently from boyhood to old age, in the cause of the oppressed, risking his means, his reputation, and more than once his life, yet never transgressing the principles of anti-violence. "If thou wert not a coward," he said on one occasion to an angry slave catcher, "thou wouldst not try to intimidate me with a pistol. I do not believe thou hast the least intention of using it in any other way; but thou art much agitated, and may fire it accidentally; therefore I request thee not to point it toward me, but to turn it the other way."

When another ruffian, to prove the identity of a fugitive by the whip scars on his body, ordered the man to strip and let the court examine his back, Friend Hopper objected: '"Thou hast produced no evidence that the man thou hast arrested is a slave,' said he. 'Thou and he are on the same footing before this court. We have as good a right to examine thy back, as we have to examine his.' He added, with a very significant tone, 'In some places, they whip for kidnapping.'"

Isaac Hopper was so well versed in the law and so ingenious in turning his knowledge to account, that he often extricated a slave by some perfectly legal twist which neither magistrate nor lawyer could contest. If that failed he was adroit in throwing the pursuers off the scent or in spiriting the fugitive away.

Don't get frightened when the right moment comes to act; but keep thy wits about thee, and do as I tell thee. Thy master will come here tomorrow at ten o'clock, according to appointment. I must deliver thee up to him, and receive back the obligation for one thousand dollars, which I have given him. Do thou stand with thy back against the door, which opens from this room into the parlor. When he has returned the paper to me, open the door quickly, lock it on the inside, and run through the parlor into the back-yard. There is a wall there eight feet high, with spikes at the top. Thou wilt find a clothes-horse leaning against it, to help thee up. When thou hast mounted, kick the clothes-horse down behind thee, drop on the other side of the wall, and be off.

In the forty years of his residence in Philadelphia, Friend Hopper estimated for Maria Child, he gave aid to more than a thousand fugitives and his benevolence was by no means confined to the slave; "wherever there was good to be done, his heart and hand were ready." He believed, as Maria Child herself believed, that to see a need was to be called upon to fill it.

If a hundred citizens in New-York would act as Friend Hopper did, the evil [in this case the exclusion of Negroes from public conveyances] would soon be remedied. It is the almost universal failure in individual duty, which so accumulates errors and iniquities in society, that the ultra-theories, and extra efforts of reformers become absolutely necessary to prevent the balance of things from being destroyed; as thunder and lightning are required to purify a poluted atmosphere.

In Philadelphia Isaac Hopper served as a prison inspector and in New York, where he removed in 1829 to conduct a bookshop for the Hicksite Quakers, he was agent for the Prison Association formed to find employment for released criminals to whom respectable folk were often reluctant to give work. Maria Child could have had no better guide to the miseries and the alleviating charities of the great city which she learned to know far more intimately than most of its lifetime inhabitants. She was soon involved in endless personal, in addition to her professional, good works for she had a capacity for inviting confidence. All sorts of people would talk to her, not just because she was compassionate and wise but because she was interested; about life in any form she had indefatigable curiosity. This is the trait that Lowell makes play with in the Fable for Critics where "Philothea"—she and "Miranda" Fuller are the only ladies present—comes in "with her face all aglow,"

She has just been dividing some poor creature's woe,
And can't tell which pleases her most, to relieve
His wants, or his story to hear and believe;
No doubt against many deep griefs she prevails,
For her ear is the refuge of destitute tales;
She knows well that silence is sorrow's best food,
And that talking draws off from the heart its black blood,
So she'll listen with patience and let you unfold
Your bundle of rags as 't were pure cloth of gold,
Which, indeed, it all turns to as soon as she's touched it,
And (to borrow a phrase from the nursery) muched it.

Many of the stories poured out to her Maria Child transmuted as propaganda for the Anti-Slavery Society or the Prison Association, sometimes in their regular journals, sometimes in popular magazines which did not object to a little reform if it was well trimmed with melodrama or sentiment or morality. There was, for instance, the story of "Charity Bowery," set down almost precisely in her own words. Charity did washing for Mrs. Child in New York and told her how she had obtained her freedom and managed to buy one of her sixteen children and how she had sent word to her old mistress, who refused to let her purchase her little grandson, to "prepare to meet poor Charity at the judgment seat." Or "The Irish Heart," the case of a reformed convict from the files of the Prison Assocation, for Philothea could transmute from cold print as effectively as from firsthand confidence. Or the account, given her by the husband of Harriet Beecher Stowe, of "The Emancipated Slaveholders," who never themselves knew freedom till they set their bondsmen free.

Many of the heroines of these stories are prostitutes, in whom Mrs. Child's interest went deeper than the romantic pity common to the literary ladies of her generation. She was concerned to discover the social, and particularly the psychological, causes of their fall and, though presented in the language of sentiment, her diagnosis is usually scientific and sound. "Elizabeth Wilson," for instance, hanged for infanticide. As a child she was "always caressing her kitten, or twining her arms about [her brother] Willie's neck, or leaning on her mother's lap, begging for a kiss." When she was ten her mother died and the sight of the corpse "with large coins on the eye-lids, was so awfully impressed on her imagination, that the image followed her everywhere, even into her dreams." Elizabeth's father was kind but undemonstrative; her stepmother, cold. She was bound out to service, separated from her beloved Willie, treated, not cruelly, but entirely without understanding—and so, even to the lady subscribers to the Columbian Magazine, Elizabeth's ardent response to the affection of a handsome stranger seemed not so much wicked as inevitable. Mrs. Child had dusted another mirror.

Some of these golden tales made their first appearance in the columns of the Anti-Slavery Standard and it was for those columns also, and at the same time for the Boston Courier, that Mrs. Child began the Letters from New York which, collected between covers, made the most admired of all her books. "Really, a contribution to American literature," Margaret Fuller called it in the Dial. The Letters are also Maria Child's most characteristic work. The parallel lines of realism and idealism run here very close together and the writer steps easily back and forth. Taking off from something she has noticed as she walked down Broadway or strolled on the Bowery or crossed on the ferry to Brooklyn, she lets her thought or her fancy run. The fancy runs usually too fast and far for modern taste, is too heavily loaded with violets and rainbows, gauzewinged fairies and Swedenborgian "correspondences," but the thought is almost always interesting:

Of brick walls, for instance, glaring in the August sun:

Strange to say, they are painted red, blocked off with white compartments, as numerous as Protestant sects, and as unlovely in their narrowness. What an expenditure for ugliness and discomfort to the eye! To paint bricks their own colour, resembles the great outlay of time and money in theological schools, to enable dismal, arbitrary souls to give an approved image of themselves in their ideas of Deity.

Of a fire in her neighborhood:

A single bucket of water, thrown on immediately, would have extinguished it; but it was not instantly perceived, roofs were dry, and the wind was blowing a perfect March gale. Like slavery in our government, it was not put out in the day of small beginnings, and so went on increasing in its rage, making a deal of hot and disagreeable work.

Of lion-taming:

The menagerie attracts crowds daily. It is certainly exciting to see Driesbach dash across the arena in his chariot drawn by lions; or sleep on a bed of living leopards, with a crouching tiger for his pillow; or offering his hand to the mouth of a panther, as he would to the caresses of a kitten. But I could not help questioning whether it were right for a man to risk so much, or for animals to suffer so much, for the purposes of amusement and pecuniary profit.

No matter where the theme carries her she speaks always as though she were writing a personal letter, to a definite individual, or as though she were talking to a companion during a walk, pointing excitedly and saying, See. This must have been the tone of the conversation her friends enjoyed so much. New York interested her endlessly yet she never really liked it. She was by nature a country dweller, troubled by noise and crowds, and beyond that she had a deep distaste for the lusty commercialism of the day, seeing it not as an example of exuberant American energy but as the destroyer of all impulses to beauty, the negation of philosophy and art, with Wall Street as its culmination.

For all their quality of direct address the Letters from New York have none of the rush of noise and chatter which fills such columns as Grace Greenwood's and those of most of the newspaper correspondents of the day. Events held for Maria Child comparatively little interest; what concerned her were people, places, objects, and their intellectual and spiritual ramifications. "Some of her magazine papers," wrote Poe in his "Literati," "are distinguished for graceful and brilliant imagination—a quality rarely noticed in our countrywomen."

With one of the great crusades of the day which began during her years as editor, the woman's suffrage movement, Maria Child had no immediate connection. Her hands were more than filled with tasks and the ballot interested her only as a means to other work. Yet the suffragists thought of her always as a fellow laborer and a forerunner. The Gage-Stanton History of the suffrage movement is dedicated to a score of brave women who broke the first paths for their sex and the list begins: Mary Wollstonecraft, Frances Wright, Lucretia Mott, Harriet Martineau, Lydia Maria Child. The History records further Mrs. Child's legacy of $1,000 for the work of the Suffrage Society, the first such bequest ever made. It publishes also various characteristic letters which she wrote to be read at suffrage conventions:

Dear Mrs. Stanton: … What I most wish for women is that they should go right ahead, and do whatever they can do well, without talking about it. But the false position in which they are placed by the laws and customs of society, renders it almost impossible that they should be sufficiently independent to do whatever they can do well, unless the world approves of it. They need a great deal of talking to, to make them aware that they are in fetters. Therefore I say, success to your Convention, and to all similiar ones!

In 1852 David and Maria Child settled in Wayland, then a remote little village connected with Boston only by a daily stagecoach. Mrs. Child's father had purchased a house there which he shared with them until his death in 1856, an agreeable old house with an elm and a willow before its door and a prospect of green meadows sloping down to the Sudbury River. The years in Wayland—they lived there the rest of their lives—were quiet, laborious, frugal, but productive years and very happy.

David Child never succeeded in getting the federal appointment for which he hoped but he wrote much for the anti-slavery cause and took his share of tasks about the house and garden. His wife speaks of his continual reading and study and records her dependence on "his richly stored mind, which was able and ready to furnish needed information on any subject. He was my walking dictionary of many languages, my Universal Encyclopedia."

It was she who managed the financial as well as the domestic affairs of the household; she who brought in what little income they had and determined how it should be spent. It is she always of whom reminiscent visitors—for friends came despite the distance—write with enthusiasm. The simple house had individuality and charm. There was always good talk there and a generous hospitality though the fare was very plain. Maria Child gave so freely of everything she possessed that all her life long she was poorer and less comfortable than she need have been. Her "habits of observation" showed her so clearly the good her money could do that she found it continually necessary to give out of all proportion to her means. Wendell Phillips, who managed her business affairs, tells of saying to her when she asked him at some exigency in the freedmen's cause to send them for her a hundred dollars, "' I do not think, Mrs. Child, you can afford to give so much just now.' … 'Well,' she answered, ' I will think it over, and send you word tomorrow.' Tomorrow word came, 'Please send them two hundred.'"

The wealthy friends who tried to help her she resisted affectionately but with an independent pride. When one of them wanted to settle on her a sum that would bring in several thousand a year she firmly declined, till Wendell Phillips suggested that perhaps her friend had difficulty in distributing her income wisely and Mrs. Child ought to be willing to help. She thereupon accepted the trust and portioned out every dollar of income to the causes in which she believed. In the same spirit she never hesitated to importune her friends and acquaintances for worthy organizations or individual cases of need, exerting her propaganda skill in persuasive letters until her end was accomplished.

Her own expenditures she kept to the barest minimum. The house was plainly furnished; all domestic labor she performed herself; meals were wholesome but very simple; and her dress was so inexpensive and unadorned that its lack of fashion was apparent even to her masculine friends. In the later portraits her only ornaments are a small white collar and a neat cap tied under her chin, but the face it circles is singularly attractive though it has no pretension to beauty. The mouth is too long and straight, the nose too broad, the chin too wide and firm, but the eyes are wise and merry and the whole expression is an agreeable combination of vitality and serenity. Her hair she wore parted in the middle and drawn smoothly back, not, as the usual fashion was, over the ears but looped around them. The portraits of Margaret Fuller show the same rather unattractive style and one imagines that the two young intellectuals had agreed on the compromise because they felt that listening was so important a part of life.

The seclusion of Wayland made possible the completion in 1855 of a work Maria Child had begun in the New York days and planned long before that, The Progress of Religious Ideas through Successive Ages. The cost of publishing the three volumes she bore herself and she realized, as she had anticipated, only a trifling profit but it seemed to her important at any price to bear witness to her religious tenets as it was important to speak her convictions on racial discrimination. Her purpose, she said, was a very simple one: "to show that theology is not religion." "I would candidly advise," the preface begins "persons who are conscious of bigoted attachment to any creed, or theory, not to purchase this book. Whether they are bigoted Christians, or bigoted infidels, its tone will be likely to displease them."

Displeasure was a euphemism for what she expected, and got. "This is the second time," she wrote to Lucy Osgood, "I have walked out in stormy weather without a cloak." From her youth up she had felt that the descriptions by Christian writers of other forms of religious faith were eminently unfair; she thought that readers should be given the facts and left to their own conclusions, but to do this it was necessary, as she said, to trample under her feet a deal of theological underbrush.

Her own intensely religious nature had never been able to confine itself within the bonds of even the broadest sect. A creed to Maria Child was always the hardened shell of what had been a living truth. She could not act within it. She coveted the strength and happiness of religious communion with her fellows but even her admired brother and his fellow Unitarians, many of whose ideas she shared, and the Quakers, to whom she was close spiritual kin, seemed to her at times unduly narrow and stiff. She could not reconcile herself to any limitation of her own spiritual insights. These came to her often through the arts, especially music which, though she was technically quite ignorant, moved her often to illuminating ecstasy. Her tireless interest also in all forms of experience led her to concern herself with table rappings and the other phenomena of spiritualism, with cases of thought transference and of second sight, but this interest was not, as some of her friends supposed, mere enthusiastic credulity. Lowell was amusing but wrong when, playing on her admiration for Ole Bull, he said that

She has such a musical taste, she will go
Any distance to hear one who draws a long bow.

Actually she was not credulous but curious, focusing on the spirit world the observant attention and analysis by which she had sought the true remedy for slavery or the best method of reforming criminals. As the imaginative inquiring mind of today thinks to come at the secret of creation by the discovery of a new isotope so, a century ago, it sought a clue in the "electric fluid" by which human mind was supposed to communicate with mind. To an age witnessing such miraculous developments in earthly communication as the railway and the telegraph, it seemed quite probable that swifter and clearer means of spiritual communication might be discovered. Many of the phenomena of the relations between minds and between mind and body with which Maria Child tried to deal are now the commonplaces of psychology. That she and other strong-minded women were interested in dreams and phrenology, in mesmerism and spirit rappings is a definite indication not of weakness but of mental vigor and courage.

Maria Child's interest in the phenomena of spiritism was strengthened by her own acute sensitivity to the emotions and experiences of her friends.

The outrage upon Charles Sumner made me literally ill for several days. It brought on nervous headache and painful suffocations about the heart. If I could only have done something, it would have loosened that tight ligature that seemed to stop the flowing of my blood. But I never was one who knew how to serve the Lord by standing and waiting; and to stand and wait then! (To Mrs. S. B. Shaw, 1856.)

This same finely tuned imagination turned upon John Brown produced, quite without calculated intention, Maria Child's most dramatic and famous piece of propaganda. She had never met Brown personally but had of course closely followed his career through Garrison and other abolitionist friends, had even shared in it to some extent by dashing off for the Tribune in 1856 a serial propaganda story called "The Kansas Immigrants." When the news came of the raid at Harper's Ferry, Maria Child though distressed by the act of violence was deeply moved by the courage and high idealism which prompted it. She felt, as she had when Summer was beaten, that she could not endure to stand and wait, she must do something for the old hero lying wounded in hostile hands. To the group of Boston abolitionists excitedly discussing the situation she made a suggestion which they approved. She sent a letter to Governor Wise of Virginia and one to Captain Brown.

Wayland, Oct. 26, 1859

Dear Captain Brown: Though personally unknown to you, you will recognize in my name an earnest friend of Kansas, when circumstances made that Territory the battle-ground between the antagonistic principles of slavery and freedom, which politicians so vainly strive to reconcile in the government of the United States.

Believing in peace principles, I cannot sympathize with the method you chose to advance the cause of freedom. But I honor your generous intentions,—I admire your courage, moral and physical. I reverence you for the humanity which tempered your zeal. I sympathize with you in your cruel bereavement, your sufferings, and your wrongs. In brief, I love you and bless you.

Thousands of hearts are throbbing with sympathy as warm as mine. I think of you night and day, bleeding in prison, surrounded by hostile faces, sustained only by trust in God and your own strong heart. I long to nurse you—to speak to you sisterly words of sympathy and consolation. I have asked permission of Governor Wise to do so. If the request is not granted, I cherish the hope that these few words may at least reach your hands, and afford you some little solace. May you be strengthened by the conviction that no honest man ever sheds blood for freedom in vain, however much he may be mistaken in his efforts. May God sustain you, and carry you through whatsoever may be in store for you! Yours, with heartfelt respect, sympathy and affection,

L. Maria Child

The letter was an impulse of pure humanity. Mrs. Child had no intention of making her scheme public but packed her little trunk, collected a quantity of old linen for lint, and waited only a reply from Governor Wise to whom she had written for permission to proceed.

The Governor answered that of course she had every right to visit Virginia and that he would protect her passage but he suggested "the imprudence of risking any experiment upon the peace of a society very much excited by the crimes with whose chief author you seem to sympathize so much." Word came at the same time that Brown's wife had been able to go to him and Mrs. Child's project was therefore abandoned but she turned it to account for the cause. She sent to Wise's plausible letter a long and acute reply explaining why he seemed to her hypocritical, presenting him, in a form he could not choose but read, with a kind of condensed version of her Appeal on behalf of the Africans. She did not expect her letter to circulate beyond the gubernatorial circle but it aroused so much talk there that someone passed it on to the New York Tribune, to which she then thought proper to send her letter to John Brown and his grateful reply. The Tribune publication of these documents called forth a long letter of reproach from a lady of Virginia, Mrs. M. J. C. Mason, wife of the senator who drew the Fugitive Slave Law.

Do you read your Bible, Mrs. Child? [the letter began.] If you do, read there, "Woe to you hypocrites," and take to yourself with twofold damnation that terrible sentence; … You would soothe with sisterly and motherly care the hoary-headed murderer of Harper's Ferry! … Now, compare yourself with those your "sympathy" would devote to such ruthless ruin, and say, on that "word of honor, which never has been broken," would you stand by the bedside of an old negro, dying of a hopeless disease, to alleviate his suffering as far as human aid could? Have you ever watched the last, lingering illness of a consumptive, to soothe, as far as in you lay, the inevitable fate? Do you soften the pangs of maternity in those around you by all the care and comfort you can give? … I will add, in conclusion, no Southerner ought, after your letter to Governor Wise and to Brown, to read a line of your composition, or to touch a magazine which bears your name in its list of contributors; and in this we hope for the "sympathy" at least of those at the North who deserve the name of woman.

Mrs. Mason underestimated her antagonist. Mrs. Child was practiced in the refutation of just such stubbornly provincial arguments. She had done it often calmly; she wrote now at white heat and so effectively that the pamphlet, into which the whole correspondence was immediately gathered, became a highly useful abolition document. Three hundred thousand copies were sold and one phrase in particular was quoted again and again and again. "It would be extremely difficult to find any woman in our villages who does not sew for the poor, and watch with the sick, whenever occasion requires. … I have never known an instance where the 'pangs of maternity' did not meet with requisite assistance; and here at the North, after we have helped the mothers, we do not sell the babies."

Pacifist as she was, the declaration of war was to Maria Child a cause for sadness; the preservation of the Union did not seem sufficient cause for slaughter and she was horrified by the army's care to treat the flying slave as Southern property which should not be confiscated but returned.

January 21, 1862:—This winter I have for the first time been knitting for the army; but I do it only for Kansas troops. I can trust them, for they have vowed a vow unto the Lord that no fugitive shall ever be surrendered in their camps.

It was not until the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that she felt the combat justified.

And with the freeing of the slaves she found at once other work to do. The Negro now had liberty but very little else; he needed work, money, education, friends, and to all these Maria Child tried to help him. She contributed steadily to the Freedmen's Aid Association, giving always, as we have seen, far beyond her means. She wrote more of her persuasive letters, picturing so vividly individual cases of need that the recipient could not deny the assistance or the funds she asked. She prepared and published (1865) at her own expense a Freedmen's Book which offered to the newly liberated slave practical advice and spiritual encouragement, not at all in the tone of a tract but in the language of a friendly serious conversation. Some of the stories and verses are by other hands but a large part of the book she wrote herself alternating biographical sketches of heroic Negroes with paragraphs of practical advice on health, dress, economy, or education.

Most vigorously of all Maria Child worked for a principle which even the North barely understood and seldom practiced: racial equality.

"Our cause," she had written of abolition in 1861, "is going to mount the throne of popular favor. Then I shall bid good-by to it, and take hold of something else that is unpopular. I never work on the winning side."

Actually she had not waited for the success of abolition to espouse her new unpopular cause. She had been aware of the need for preaching racial tolerance when she first entered the anti-slavery ranks with the Appeal. Its last chapter is concerned with "Prejudices against People of Color, and Our Duties in Relation to This Subject," of which she had said roundly: "Let us not flatter ourselves that we are in reality any better than our brethren of the South. Thanks to our soil and climate, and the early exertions of the Quakers, the form of slavery does not exist among us; but the very spirit of the hateful and mischievous thing is here in all its strength." Directly and indirectly she now labored this point in her letters to the press and she made it the theme of the last and most interesting of her novels.

A Romance of the Republic, published in 1867, is dedicated to the Father and Mother of Colonel Shaw of whom she once wrote to Whittier: "I have always thought that no incident in the anti-slavery conflict, including the war, was at once so sublime and romantic as Robert G. Shaw riding through Washington Street at the head of that black regiment."

The heroines of the tale are the incredibly beautiful daughters of a New Orleans merchant and a Spanish West-Indian Negress. Their father, who is devoted to them, brings them up in luxury and seclusion but neglects to manumit them and is carried off suddenly by death. After extraordinary adventures and escapes the elder sister becomes an opera singer and both find adoring husbands to whom their black blood is a matter of complete indifference. The story runs on into the second generation and through the Civil War. The plot is a web of coincidences and melodramatic elements: wounded heroes, wicked seducers, false marriages, faithful servants, Italian music masters, even children changed at birth, but within this thicket the characters move and talk like human beings. One becomes attached to them and concerned about their destinies; that society should classify some of them as white and others as black seems altogether arbitrary and meaningless; the point of racial equality is made both directly and indirectly. In 1868 An Appeal for the Indians attacked another facet of the problem.

Through the remaining years of her' life Maria Child continued to work for this and the other causes which seemed to her good. At seventy-six she published yet another book, Aspirations of the World, an anthology designed to show that in fundamental religious matters there is much on which all men agree. So full of projects and activity was all her old age that there was small space for the usual looking back but when she did, it was most often to the early years of the abolition struggle, those years when "The Holy Spirit did actually descend upon men and women in tongues of flame. … All suppression of selfishness makes the moment great; and mortals were never more sublimely forgetful of self than were the abolitionists in those early days."

Kirk Jeffrey (essay date 1975)

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SOURCE: "Marriage, Career, and Feminine Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America: Reconstructing the Marital Experience of Lydia Maria Child, 1828-1874," in Feminist Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2/3, 1975, pp. 113-30.

[In the essay below, Jeffrey examines the consonance between Child's nontraditional married and professional life and her relatively conservative opinion about women's social roles.]

Historians who have examined the careers of women who became writers and social reformers in the period from the 1830s to the Civil War have suggested that many of them were covertly protesting against their subordination and expressing hostility to men and the Victorian home.1 They argue that the confinement of women to a set of domestic roles lay at the heart of subjection of women in nineteenth-century America; but they have produced few detailed studies of individual marriages from the point of view of an articulate woman. Such studies might contribute to an understanding of the ways in which these admittedly exceptional women's expectations and perceptions of marriage were related to their career aspirations and to their ideas about the status of women generally.

It is important to explore women's own perceptions of their condition in the past because of the possibility that these perceptions differed from our own. Lois Banner has recently suggested that our Victorian ancestors may not have expected from marriage the same things that we would expect today; she warns us to avoid ascribing our own attitudes and perceptions to women of the nineteenth century. "If they consciously avoided sensuality," for example, "why must we then assume that the lack of it cast a permanent blight on marriages? If we do not happen to like Victorian marriages, does that necessarily mean that the Victorians did not?"2

The marriage of Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) can be studied with such questions in mind. As a Garrisonian abolitionist and popular didactic writer, Maria Child enjoyed a significant career.3 She commented on the condition of women in several books as well as in her private correspondence. Though she was married for forty-six years to David Lee Child (1794-1874), Maria Child lived apart from her husband for almost ten years during the 1840s. For historians of women interested in the relationship between the marriages of middle-class writers and reformers, their public careers, and their ideas and attitudes concerning women and the home, Child's life would seem to merit study as an important individual case.

As a case study, this analysis is intended to complement the aggregative studies of career women which are underway.4 It is, of course, vulnerable to criticism because of its limited scope. But studies of individuals can suggest refinements or even major changes in generalizations based upon more cursory studies of larger populations.

A second reason for the present inquiry was my curiosity about just what could be learned concerning the private experience of a woman long dead. Fortunately, hundreds of Lydia Maria Child's letters to her husband and friends survive. Yet many aspects of her private life can never be recovered. She is known to have destroyed over 700 letters, and these may have been particularly intimate and revealing ones. In general, the letters and other surviving sources enable one to reconstruct Child's attitudes toward her husband and her home life. They also provide information about certain aspects of domestic behavior, notably domestic duties of husband and wife and the development of their private marital culture of memories, rituals, jokes, and so forth. The sources reveal almost nothing about sexual matters. And they enable one to reconstruct the perspective of only Mrs. Child, since Mr. Child's papers are fewer and less revealing.5 But historians must often try to make bricks without straw. In the present inquiry, moreover, we are not trying to tell the whole history of Child's marriage—only to explore the relationship between her marriage, career, and ideas about women.

Maria Child always admired her husband for his idealism. After their first meeting, in the winter of 1824-1825, she confided to her diary, "He is the most gallant man that has ever lived since the sixteenth century; and needs nothing but helmet, shield, and chain armor to make him a complete knight of chivalry." Indulging in a political gesture that a later generation of young men would imitate, David Child had fought for the Spanish revolutionary army in 1823 against the invasion of Bourbon France "in consequence of my love of liberty and my abhorrence of fraud, cruelty, and despotism." But to Maria's family and friends, Child appeared a latter-day Quixote who rushed ineffectually from one enthusiasm to the next. In 1825 he turned 31 but still had no settled career. Two years later he gained entrance to the Massachusetts bar—and began defending clients without fee. His effect on business problems, Maria's family warned her, was about equal to "cutting stones with a razor."6 This judgment would turn out to be entirely accurate.

Married in 1828, the Childs enjoyed several years of domestic bliss. Maria already had an established career as a popular novelist; after her marriage she kept house, entertained, wrote a new novel and the popular didactic book The Frugal Housewife, and edited a children's magazine. The Childs had no children, but their marriage was remarkably close and affectionate. A few letters survive from the early years. "You cannot imagine how often I have thought of your bright and affectionate face looking up so kindly and confidingly in mine," wrote David while away on business. "We lost a great deal of life by not being married sooner," wrote Maria.7

But while she had married for love—cool judgment could have had no part in her decision to marry David Child—Maria expected more than affection from her husband. She also implicitly asked that he treat her as his intellectual equal, give her freedom to pursue her own career as a writer, and provide enough financial support for the two of them to live near her relatives and friends in Boston.8 With his financial and moral support there need be no conflict between her being a loving, dutiful wife and having a career. David Child did satisfy his wife on most of these points, and the result was an unusually egalitarian relationship for the mid-nineteenth century. Child's freedom was further enhanced by the fact that no children were born. But her husband was a dismal failure as a breadwinner. From this fact arose most of their marital unhappiness.

After 1832 the Childs became intensely involved in abolitionism. When Child published An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans in 1833, she was socially ostracized; income from her other books plummeted. The Childs were forced to borrow heavily from relatives, and in 1836 they had to sell their home.9 Maria, the more famous of the pair, was to a growing extent dependent on her husband's earning ability. But David, by the mid-183Os, had put aside his legal career in order to investigate the feasibility of an antislavery scheme which had occurred to him. If slavery persisted because of the need for cheap, unskilled labor to cultivate the staple crops of the South, why not try to find substitute crops which would be as profitable yet permit a different labor system?10 He settled on sugar beets; in 1838, after a trip to Europe to study beet culture, he moved himself and his wife to Northampton, where he bought a 100-acre farm with money given them by his wife's father. Friends were shocked at their decision, for the land was marshy and the only buildings were a two-room shanty and a leanto. Here Maria lived until 1841.11

The years in Northampton, which culminated in her separation from David Child, were among the most depressing periods of Maria's life. Cut off from intellectual companionship, overworked, anxious about David's health, she tried to keep up her spirits. "It is not me, who drudges," she wrote her brother, "it is merely the case containing me. I defy all the powers of earth and hell to make me scour floors and feed hogs, if I choose meanwhile to be off conversing with the angels." But attempts to live on a spiritual plane above daily realities could not sustain her. After a dozen years of marriage she had somehow fallen into the plight of many other women of her time: chained to a domestic routine, cut off from her friends and intellectual interests by a decision of her husband's. "Never have circumstances so mastered my soul," she had to admit.12

As domestic life ensnared Maria, her husband's undeniable good qualities came to seem less important, his ineffectuality more so. Increasingly she felt resentful, even condescending, toward him. Five years before, she had still been resilient and hopeful. She had eagerly fulfilled her responsibility to support and encourage him in his moments of discouragement: "Few men have done more good in the world than you have done. Few are more truly respected. … God knows that I consider my union with you his richest blessing. It has made me a better and a happier woman than I was before. I had rather be your wife without a cent in the world, than to possess millions, and not be your wife."13 But by 1840 she often felt scornfully impatient, though she tried not to betray her feelings to David. Child characterized her situation in a bitter letter to the nine-year-old daughter of her friends, the Lorings.

Late one winter afternoon—as she wrote little Anna Loring—she and Mr. Child had been hurrying to catch a train. David rushed ahead with the bags; Maria followed, picking her way down an icy road made doubly treacherous by fog and drizzle. Suddenly she slipped and fell into a large puddle. "My shoes were filled with water, my cloak was wet through, and Mr. Child far ahead stood calling out 'Oh, dear me! what shall I do?' Looking first wistfully at me, and then at the cars, which, with a loud puffing and snorting, were just about to start."14 Maria had begun the story by wondering whether Anna would have laughed or cried; but she concluded that the episode was more sad than comical. It perfectly encapsulated her recent married experience: Maria suffering, David close by but ineffectual.

Child's prospects for a continued career of her own seemed a shambles. "I can not take a school, while liable to be called away to follow Mr.' Child's fortunes; and I am afraid my 'false position' toward the 'spirit of the age' will cut off profit as an author."15 But the alternative, domesticity, was equally unpromising as long as it meant the "beet-sugar bog." Yet Maria would have been satisfied with a domestic arrangement permitting her some free time for her writing, she told herself. "If we could afford to build [a house], however humble, it seems to me I should be perfectly contented. I do so love a home, and it has so seldom been my lot to have one." But realizing that modest dream would require a great change in David Child. Unable or unwilling to demand that he give up his project, Child tried to think only of her duty as a wife. She even quoted to a friend a little verse which she half-believed:

The daily round, the trivial task
Will furnish all we need to ask—
Room to deny ourselves—a road
To lead us daily nearer God.

Still, Child also realized that, even at its worst, her marriage satisfied many of her needs and expectations. As she repeatedly confessed to friends, she needed to love and to be loved. Even during this depressing era of her life, she continued to affirm the value of her bond to David: "If I were to begin life again, with all my sobering experience, I should risk all for love again, and consider the world well lost. What has wealth or fame to offer, compared with a friend whose welcoming smile and kiss is always ready, and who verily thinks you the wisest, best, handsomest, and above all, the dearest person in the world?"17

Maria also had a fierce need for intellectual independence, and David had shown that he was able to be affectionate without needing to control her behavior or pass judgment on her ideas. Luckily, the Childs were both abolitionists and shared a broad curiosity about the political and religious questions of the day. David's geniality and obvious reliance upon Maria probably contributed to her sense of confidence in herself. She never felt guilty about her career, yet never decided that it was inappropriate for her to do housework—all of it. She experienced no sense of "role conflict" except when domestic work became too heavy in practice to permit her the time she needed to read and write. Her marriage was never so unsatisfying that she could regard it as an entirely restrictive and repressive factor in her life.

Clearly uncertain about how to proceed, Child was unexpectedly rescued from the prospect of an indefinite future of alternating between optimism and resignation by an offer of the editorship of a New York abolitionist weekly, the National Anti-Slavery Standard, in early 1841. Eagerly she accepted; by May, while David started on the latest crop of beets in Northampton, she was settled in New York.18 But what was the meaning of her sudden decision? Maria insisted that she had left her husband in order to contribute from afar to their marriage by bringing in an income. She proclaimed to friends that the editorial post was an onerous and unpleasant one which she would not have undertaken otherwise.19 But she must have realized that editing an abolitionist paper was unlikely to bring financial security. In fact, by reminding the public of her radical views, it might further erode her ability to profit from more conventional writings.

After the prelude of the late 1830s, the decade of the 1840s forms a distinct era in the history of the Child marriage. Maria and David lived apart most of the time, and Maria apparently came close to accepting the separation as permanent. Careful study of her thoughts during this critical period reveals much about the marriage and about her attitude toward it.

Dissatisfied as she had become with her marriage by the time she left Northampton, Child did not blame her husband personally for the unhappiness she felt. But she accepted him only condescendingly. She had decided that "my husband's deficiencies in business matters are incurable; that he inherits the causes in his organization, and can no more help having them than he can help the color of her eyes… . "20 If she could not hope for change in his behavior, she must defend her own interests more vigorously. So after resigning from the Standard in 1843, Child remained in New York. David joined her for a few months and tried his hand at editing the paper, but then returned to Northampton and his beets. Except for occasional visits, the two lived apart until 1850. Moreover, Child refused to bankroll any more of David's projects. She "pursued my own avocations without any reference to his whereabout or whatabout." David "cordially assented to it, as a measure equally necessary and just"; but it saddened Maria to be so cut off from him and to watch him, year after year, "always pumping into a sieve." By the mid-1840s she recognized that her decision to leave him, which she had first defined as a way of improving their life together, had weakened the marital bond greatly. "Strongly as we love each other, our growth is more and more divergent; and this above all things makes me sad."21 For the first time in their marriage, she was acting upon the belief that she and David were two individuals whose needs were in conflict and were more important than the life they might share together.

As marriage and domesticity receded, Child's professional career flourished as never before. She now published her most popular and significant non-abolitionist work, the two-volume Letters from New York, and began the research that would eventuate in The Progress of Religious Ideas a decade later.

Child's joy at escaping Northampton and her eagerness for emotional experience after the years of farm life were also revealed in the curious attachment she formed to the Norwegian violinist Old Bull, whom she met in 1843 during his first American tour. Captivated by his florid musical style, she was also attracted by his personality and physical charms. Bull was 33, eight years younger than Maria; he combined David Child's intelligence and joking manner with handsome features and a more masterful personality. Maria puffed his performances in several short articles and confided to the Boston music critic John S. Dwight that Bull's music "has awakened in me a new sence [sic]—it has so stirred the depths of my soul, and kindled my whole being, that my heart bounds forth to meet one that sympathizes with me. Old as I am, it is the strongest enthusiasm of my life."22 Though Bull had a distinctly old-world attitude toward women—he enjoyed their company but considered them his inferiors—Maria eagerly adopted a half-wifely, half-motherly role toward him, embroidering him a smoking cap, offering to make suspenders for him, and suggesting warm baths at bedtime for his nervous temperament.23

By the middle of the decade, Child had built for herself a life physically and emotionally separate from her husband. She had broken from conventional expectations about married women far more consciously and emphatically than most women writers, but the next few years would show that she was unwilling to define the separation as permanent. Her eventual decision to return to David Child is hard to explain. By leaving him she had regained her independence and her literary reputation. As the years passed she seemed less and less inclined to embrace the cares that always seemed to accompany her living with him. She even missed him less and less. "I am so much accustomed to his never coming, that 'I never expect him till I see him.' …"24

But just as her moods had oscillated between hope and pessimism during the Northampton period, so now feelings of serenity with her new way of life alternated with feelings of guilt. The woman who once wrote, "I have turned aside from my true mission to help Mr. Child in various emergencies" and proclaimed her intention to "live for one individed [sic] object,"25 at other times accused herself of neglecting her mission to sustain her husband, especially when she discovered that he was discouraged or ill.26 David Child was in his mid-fifties now and increasingly troubled by rheumatism. He had given up on the beets and sold the farm, but still had not discovered a way to earn a steady income. Maria often felt that he needed her; and her father too was alone and in need of care.

Now that David had given up "that odious farm," one obstacle to their reunion was removed. And, having regained her literary reputation, Maria began to question whether her ambition of becoming a respected woman writer had been worth the effort. As a woman she could never hope to enjoy the reputation of the leading male writers. Nor did she any longer believe that her works inspired or aided her readers to any great degree. With her own breakaway from convention in the 1840s she had become dimly aware of the narrow, trivial character of much "ladies' literature." The women's magazines "are so skittishly moral, that they are always devilishly dull. … I long to see the crow-bars got under, and the whole edifice fall."27

But Maria Child realized she was not the person to wield the crow-bar. She had never enjoyed taking part in public controversies—abolitionist meetings had always been a grim chore. Preoccupied now with her research on religious matters, she probably hoped that this work would both firmly establish her intellectual reputation and contribute to a loosening of the religious and ethical code of the day. But to move ahead with this project she decided she needed quiet and a more settled, sustaining home life after years of boarding with families in New York. Even as her weeks and months seemed to "glide on in peaceful drowsy contentment," considerations of both marriage and career were combining to induce her to return to David Child.28

A visit from him in September 1849, which lengthened into a stay of several months, precipitated the decision. To her surprise, Maria enjoyed the visit "like a second honey-moon. It is so pleasant to have a sympathizing friend in my loneliness." Ever susceptible to the charms of domesticity, she declared that "domestic love" was worth the "tax" that it began immediately to exact: "I have been constantly hurried with making and mending to get [David] into repair."29

In 1850 she rejoined David in Massachusetts. But the old ambivalence persisted: despite the uneasiness with which she had lived apart from him, and despite the compelling reasons for the reunion, returning often seemed a defeat and a rejection of what she had tried to accomplish during the 1840s. Yet her decision was her own, for David respected her freedom to arrange her life as she pleased.30 So far as is known, he never begged or importuned his wife to rejoin him.

After 1850 a note of weariness increasingly appears in Maria's correspondence. To her old friend Sarah Shaw she wrote:

It is amazing to me how my long residence [in New York] has already gone away into the dim distance of the past. Do you remember in Moore's Epicurean how the novitiate passes to the upper Mysteries by a ladder suspended over an abyss. Every step by which he mounted fell behind him into the unfathomable gulf. This has been my spiritual experience. The steps by which I have ascended have one by one fallen behind me; and regret them as I may, my foot can never rest upon them again.

And to Sarah's husband Frank Shaw she confided, "I have done trying to shape my destiny, even in imagination."31 Late in 1853 Maria's father invited her and David to move in with him in his home in Wayland, Massachusetts. When he died in 1856, the Wayland house became their own. This unexpected acquisition relieved David of a responsibility he had never been able to fulfill. But even after that date many of the old sources of disappointment remained. The Childs were chronically short of money and isolated; their home was hours by coach from downtown Boston. Child spoke often of her loneliness and of the burden of daily tasks.32 Her exasperation at David's foibles remained, for he never changed. Childlike as ever, he is last seen in a contemporary account by a Wayland neighbor who described his climbing a 40-foot tree at the age of 70 to wave the American flag and sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in celebration of the Union victory at Gettysburg.33

At times Maria's depression became very black. As she nursed her dying father in November 1856, she wrote Louisa Loring, "I think this must be the narrowest passage in my narrow life. I have often thought so before; but now, the closing walls must either recede and widen my prospects, or they must crush me. I feel as if every vestige of poetry had been trampled out of me in these last six weary years."34 More and more often, it seemed, she peered out her window at bleak days which mirrored her own mood: "The weather has been weeping for three days, and grows more dismal, instead of brightening up. In all the course of my long pilgrimage, I remember no year with so small a proportion of sunshine. I hope we are not drifting toward the North Pole, and that the Sun is not getting old and feeble, as some astronomers say."35

To these moods the only antidotes she knew now in middle age were constant work or—when activity failed—resignation. Grimly she tried to temper her interests and yearnings, refusing invitations from friends in an effort not to whet her desires for companionship, music, and gaiety when they could not be fully satisfied.36

The heightened national crisis over slavery in the 1850s contributed to Child's moodiness. From the time of John Brown's raid in October 1859, through the Civil War she experienced a resurgence of energy and abolitionist dedication.37 Thereafter she seems to have found something like serenity, at least for part of the time. To her own surprise, she began to like her Wayland cottage; she also regained an intimate companionship with David. He was "the kindest mate that ever woman had; I m[sic] busy all the time; I have a great desire to help others, and some small power to do so; and I m[sic] blest in being very much like a child in the enjoyment of simple pleasures; the little wild animals, the flowers, little photographs, and cheerful little pictures, amuse me greatly."38 When David died, in September 1874, she was genuinely overwhelmed with grief and loneliness. "I feel," she wrote, "as if I had nothing to live for."39

Few studies have attempted to relate the domestic experience of articulate nineteenth-century American women to their activities beyond the home and to their ideas and attitudes about the condition of women.40 Obviously, this goal cannot be reached unless it turns out to be possible to take the first step, the reconstruction of the private experiences of individual women. The foregoing account of Maria Child's marriage suggests that a woman's letters can reveal a great deal if used in conjunction with other sources.

The above account also suggests that the relationship between Child's marital experience and the development of her public career was not a simple one. Not until a dozen years of marriage had passed did she decide that she must choose between her marriage and her career. Only when she came to believe that "my husband's deficiencies … are incurable" did Child take action.

Marital unhappiness led Child directly to her decision to take the offered editorship in early 1841. But the sources of her unhappiness were not what our received image of nineteenth-century marriages has led us to expect. David Child not only recognized his wife's right to an identity and a career of her own, but he aided and encouraged her without reservation. He was not an authoritarian husband who expected his wife to maintain a sheltered domestic sphere that he regularly forsook for the more interesting spheres of work and politics. Instead, he was a visionary and an impractical man, incapable of becoming a breadwinner.

Maria Child herself participated in the choices that led up to the crisis. She refused to temper her abolitionist opinions during the 1830s. She encouraged David to try the beet experiment, believing that it was best for him, that it might work, and that she could cope in Northampton. Convinced that he should follow his own genius just as she wished to follow hers, Maria refused to ask him to drop the beet farming. Instead she left him.

Child's husband did not fit the stereotype of the aggressive Jacksonian male, nor was Child burdened with the cares of a family. No more was her status in the community dependent entirely on David's. Peculiar circumstances, and not participation in some presumed larger patterns of subordination and restriction, led Maria to her decision in 1841. Likewise, her decision to rejoin David in 1850 is difficult to comprehend as a choice of domesticity over career.

This case suggests, then, that generalizations about the relationship between domestic experience and career decisions among nineteenth-century women will be difficult to make, and that we need a more detailed understanding of the actual experiences of such women. If this seems a negative and unsatisfactory conclusion, it might be possible to generalize more broadly with respect to another important question: Did Child's personal experience impel her toward a new and more critical opinion of the institution of marriage and the status of women in American society? One might think that a woman writer living apart from her husband must have had unorthodox views about these questions, but the evidence does not support this conclusion. During the 1840s, Maria continued to take a timid and largely uncritical stance toward the questions beginning to be raised by contemporary feminists. Nor is there any trace of a covert sense of victimization on her part. But her views on marriage and the condition of women betrayed a coherent set of assumption that historians have not fully described or explained, though they were widely held.

In stories published between 1844 and 1848, Maria actually exploited the memories of her early married years, sentimentalizing her relationship to David and setting up the result as an appropriate goal for herself and other women. Among these stories was one entitled "The Beloved Tune," a case history of a model marriage. In the story Alessandro is a young composer of German-Italian background, a detail apparently intended to suggest an unusually emotional and creative temperament. He marries Dora, a sweet, domestic girl, and the two enjoy several years of family happiness. Like his wife, Alessandro is a passive homebody but, for reasons not explained, he takes to the bottle and grows increasingly sharp and impatient—increasingly authoritarian and masculine—with his wife and little daughter. Luckily, his music and the family love that it symbolizes save him from the fate of becoming so passionate and aggressive that he endangers the tranquility of the home. Dora teaches the child to pick out on the piano the beloved family tune that Alessandro had composed for her when they were first married. Hearing it works a conversion in Alessandro: '"No more wine, dear Dora; no more wine. Our child has saved me.'"41

Like other stories Maria wrote in the same period, "The Beloved Tune" reflected the widespread suspicion of aggressive masculinity that characterized nineteenth-century American culture. Maria assumed that even such a paragon as Alessandro might one day, for no apparent reason, fall victim to his passions, and that his doing so would threaten the unity and happiness of the family.42

As this story suggests, Maria Child failed to articulate a critique of marriage as an institution. If, as some historians have argued, such a critique is the touchstone of radical feminism,43 then she was no feminist. But she did accept a distinctively feminine set of attitudes and beliefs—that is, an ideology articulated for the most part by middle-class women which defined the female sex as the moral guardian of the male.44 Child, who as a girl had read English sentimental novels and the works of such evangelical moralists as Hannah More, had helped to popularize this feminine ideology in her stories, novels, and didactic works. During the 1830s and 1840s, Child assumed that most women would remain in the home or near it while men took responsibility for politics and business.45 The moral improvement of society would come about as men became more like women—more modest and meek, pious and affectionate. Men would grow better through the moral tutelage of their mothers and wives. Like others who held similar views, such as Catharine Beecher, Lydia Sigourney, and Sarah Josepha Hale, Child never assumed that the home was the only appropriate place for women. Other activities, such as teaching, writing, and moral reform, were also within woman's appropriate sphere. All of these activities, however, seemed appropriate for their sex because of women's presumed greater piety, emotional sensitivity, and nurturance; and all were consonant with the assumption that women had special responsibilities as the moral guardians of men.

The feminine ideology to which Child subscribed arose out of a pervasive anxiety about rapid social change and implied that women and the family would be the agents of social control. This assignment required a somewhat expanded sphere for women, as well as a greater equality between the sexes. The ideology also implied a suspicion of men and a rejection of traditional male-female realtionships based upon male gallantry and female subordination. In the 1840s Child angrily denounced male gallantry as "merely the flimsy veil which foppery throws over sensuality, to conceal its grossness." But women, she continued, participated in their own degradation. They "have, from long habit, become accustomed to consider themselves as household conveniences, or gilded toys. Hence, they consider it feminine and pretty to abjure all such use of their faculties, as would make them co-workers with man in the advancement of those great principles, on which the progress of society depends."46

Essentially this was no argument for rights, but a call to women to perform their "duties" in the significant roles of wife, mother, and moral guardian. It implied that women were primarily responsible for the home and of other home-like areas of life, and that they were inherently noble and good.

Far from being regarded as a reactionary position, this feminine ideology was widely hailed as an intelligent and progressive contribution to the solution of the nation's social problems. Its advocates, flushed with a sense of purpose and regarding themselves as reformers, were nevertheless hostile to the more radical feminist views of the Grimké sisters, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others. Maria Child herself, in later years, sympathized at a distance with the work of these feminists; but she declined to become actively involved.

Privately acknowledging the justice of the "widespread restlessness on the subject of love and marriage," Child admitted: "I see the immensity of the evil, but I do not see a safe remedy. I stand still, puzzled and frightened."47 Apparently the "evil" was the sexual aggressiveness and worldly ambition of American men. But while Child expressed a definite hostility toward men as the disrupters of family life, she did not go farther to explain what new rights and freedoms women required, or how the family itself might be changed to release women from the subordination she perceived. All she could conclude was that if women could freely develop their own characters and propensities, domestic life would be "more perfected."48

Once she had rejoined David Child, Maria apparently came to feel that her marriage—and marriage as an institution—was too tender a subject to bear much hard scrutiny. What she said of society at large could as well apply to herself: "I am so well aware that society stands over a heaving volcano, from which it is separated by the thinnest possible crust of appearances, that I am afraid to speak or to think on the subject [of reforming marriage]."49

Maria Child's married life could have been used as a standard by which many other middle-class wives, sharing her values, might have wished to measure themselves. To such women—and to many men—the concept of "rights" was a profoundly disturbing one, particularly when it came to be applied to women and thereby seemed to threaten the unity and order of the family. Sarah Josepha Hale, to take an important example, wrote in 1833 that "the term rights of woman is one to which I have an almost constitutional aversion. It is a kind of talisman, which conjures up in my mind the image of a positive, conceited, domineering wife, than whom scarce any object in nature can be more disgusting."50 Feminism, like intemperance, seemed destructive of the one institution—the family—upon which social order and tranquility depended. Women should not seek increased personal freedom but use their talents to serve others in their appropriate sphere of action. This archaic assumption lay behind even the most apparently radical actions of Maria Child. Her conscience told her "I have no right to refuse to do any kind of work, that I can do, for human freedom, merely because I don't like the kind of work."51 This attitude impelled her to attend the abolitionist conventions, which she hated, just as it contributed to her decision to return to her husband in 1850.

The principal conclusion of this essay has been that the idiom in which Maria Child wrote about the home and women in her books and stories was the same idiom in which she thought about her own marriage. The themes linking her domestic experience with her public thought seem to have been (a) building a happy, peaceful home, and (b) defining and carrying out her duties as a woman. Her own attitudes and values on these subjects were widely shared, and, taken in conjunction with the peculiar circumstances of her own marriage, they explain the fact that she could be a radical abolitionist without becoming a radical critic of American family life and the position of women.

Moving away from Maria Child, I want to conclude with some further observations about the feminine ideology of the mid-nineteenth century. Use of such a term carries several implications. It suggests, first, that by the 1830s middle-class women possessed a set of values and priorities that were in some respects distinct from those of middle-class men. It suggests, further, that proposals aimed at enhancing the status and power of women—for instance, the effort to improve women's education—were perceived at the time in a context quite different from feminism. That is, they were seen as steps that would enable women to exert their moral leadership more adequately and thereby keep American society from further moral degeneration.

If a coherent feminine ideology existed by the 1830s and 1840s, how was it related to actual changes in the condition of women in American society? Women as a group did not enjoy as rapid an expansion of opportunity as men during the half-century following the Revolution. Gerda Lerner has pointed out that many possibilities for work outside the home were then limited or closed to women, and women did not share in the political democratization of the period.52 However, it is not certain that women perceived themselves as deprived and oppressed. To many, it probably seemed that in post-Revolutionary America, women had at last succeeded in carving out a sphere of their own, in which they were out from under the direct control of men and in which they had significant although indirect influence on the larger society. Their domestic "sphere" must have seemed too new and precious an acquisition to be given up in return for the full integration advocated by early feminists.53

Such perceptions cannot be dismissed as utterly irrational. Women of the middle class probably had a growing autonomy in the choice of husbands and greater control over their own fertility during this period.54 And at a time when the early education of children was being recognized as important, mothers were taking over this task for both sexes well past infancy.55

Beyond these trends within the family itself, women benefited from the more expansive and heterogeneous social order of the nineteenth century. As keepers of the home they came to be identified as a new elite of "gentle rulers" who could replace the declining elites of the colonial and Federalist eras and, through their moral influence on men and children, preserve the public virtue without which America's experiment in republicanism would surely fail.56

Several indications for further research seem to follow from this discussion of the feminine ideology. We need to understand the intellectual and emotional sources of these ideas in English and American evangelicalism, republican thought of the Revolutionary period and afterward, and literary portrayals of the sexes.57 Second, ideas and attitudes about women clearly were closely related to concerns about family life, children, and sexuality during the nineteenth century. These relationships too need to be more carefully studied. And third, it is important to examine in detail the relationship of ideas and attitudes about women to the actual conditions under which women lived their lives. What were the significant changes in the condition of middle-class American women in the decades after the Revolution? Why did the feminine ideology come to seem an appropriate way of describing the role of women in American society? How did the ideology influence women in the conduct of their individual lives? The case of Lydia Maria Child has suggested these questions, but more work in a variety of areas will be needed before they can be answered.


1 Helen Waite Papashvily, All the Happy Endings (New York: Harper & Row, 1956); William R. Taylor and Christopher Lasch, "Two 'Kindred Spirits': Sorority and Family in New England, 1839-1846," New England Quarterly, 36 (March 1963): 23-41; Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, "Beauty, the Beast, and the Militant Woman: A Case Study in Sex Roles and Social Stress in Jacksonian America," American Quarterly, 23 (October 1971): 562-84; Ann D. Wood, "The 'Scribbling Women' and Fanny Fern: Why Women Wrote," ibid., 23 (Spring 1971): 3-24; Wood, "Mrs. Sigourney and the Sensibility of the Inner Space," New England Quarterly, 45 (June 1972): 163-81; Wood, "The War Within a War: Women Nurses in the Union Army," Civil War History, 18 (September 1972): 197-212; Ronald W. Hogeland, "'The Female Appendage': Feminine Life-Styles in America, 1820-1860," ibid., 17 (June 1971): 101-14.

2 Lois W. Banner, "On Writing Women's History," Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 2 (Augumn 1971): 356.

3 See, e.g., Robert E. Streeter, "Mrs. Child's 'Philothea': A Transcendentalist Novel?" New England Quarterly, 16 (December 1943): 648-54; James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964); George M. Fredrickson, The Inner Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1965); Aileen S. Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1969).

4 For reports on one such study on the progressive period, see Richard Jensen and Barbara Campbell, "How to Handle a Liberated Woman," Historical Methods Newsletter, 5 (June 1972): 109-13; and Jensen, "Family, Career, and Reform: Women Leaders of the Progressive Era," in Michael Gordon (ed.), The American Family in Social-Historical Perspective (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973), pp. 267-80.

5 For the destruction of letters, see Lydia Maria Child [hereafter LMC] to Louisa Loring, March 8, 1849, and to Anna Loring Dresel, August 5, 1874 (Loring Family Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College). For other discussions of the problem of investigating domestic life see Edward N. Saveth, "The Problem of American Family History," American Quarterly, 21 (Summer 1969, Part 2): 311-29; and Alan Macfarlane, The Family Life of Ralph Josselin, a Seventeenth-Century Clergyman: An Essay in Historical Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 10-11.

6 Journal entry for January 26, 1825, in LMC manuscript autobiography, LMC Papers, Antislavery Collection, Cornell University Library; Helene G. Baer, The Heart Is Like Heaven: The Life of Lydia Maria Child (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964), pp. 44-50; "David Lee Child," Dictionary of American Biography, IV (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1930), pp. 65-66; Seth Curtis Beach, Daughters of the Puritans (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1907), p. 91.

7 David Lee Child [hereafter DLC] to LMC, October 3, 1830 (DLC Papers, Antislavery Collection, Cornell University Library); LMC to DLC, n.d. [about 1830] (LMC Papers, Cornell).

8 Child never outlined her expectations of marriage in so many words, but her letters emphasize these hopes again and again. See, e.g., LMC to Francis Alexander, September 2, 1832 (Simon Gratz Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania); to Ellis Gray Loring, May 7, [1840] (LMC Papers, New York Public Library [hereafter NYPL]); to Maria Weston Chapman, May 11, [1841] (Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Boston Public Library [hereafter BPL]); to Francis G. Shaw, October 12, 1841 (Shaw Family Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University); to Ellis Gray Loring, February 24, 1856, in Letters of Lydia Maria Child (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1883), p. 74; to DLC, November 19, 1856 (Cornell University Library).

9 Baer, Heart Is Like Heaven, chapters 4-7. Baer suggests that Child joined the abolitionist cause as a way of becoming closer to her husband: "If the only way to reach his innermost core was to join him in reform, it would become her way, for she had to have his full love" (pp. 62-63). There is no evidence to support this interpretation. Her concern for other oppressed and neglected groups, notably Indians and children, antedated her involvement in abolitionism and even her acquaintance with David Child.

10 [David Lee Child,] "Beet-Sugar Manufacture," North American Review, 48 (April 1839): 415-47; The Culture of the Beet and the Manufacture of Beet Sugar (Boston: Weeks, Jordan and Co., 1840).

11 Baer, Heart Is Like Heaven, pp. 89-98; LMC manuscript autobiography, pp. 8-12; LMC to Louisa Loring, July 10, 1838 and January 12, 1839 (Schlesinger Library); to Ellis Gray Loring, March 24, 1839 (NYPL); to Francis G. Shaw, October 23, 1840 (Houghton Library).

12 LMC to Convers Francis, January 8, 1841 and October 20, 1840 (Cornell University Library).

13 LMC to DLC, July 28, 1836 (Cornell University Library).

14 LMC to [Anna Loring,] February 9, 1840 (Schlesinger Library).

15 LMC to Louisa Loring, April 30, 1839 (Schlesinger Library).

16 LMC to Francis G. Shaw, October 24, 1840 (Houghton Library; this quotation and subsequent quotations from this collection are reproduced by permission of the Harvard College Library); cf. LMC to Convers Francis, January 8, 1841 (Cornell University Library).

17 LMC to Francis G. Shaw, October 12, 1841; cf. LMC to Sarah Shaw, November 9, 1856, and to Francis G. Shaw, February 20, 1857 (Houghton Library).

18 Baer, Heart Is Like Heaven, pp. 110-23.

19 LMC to Ellis Gray Loring, December 13, 1841 (NYPL); to Mrs. E. Pierce, May 17, 1841, in Letters, p. 42; to Francis G. Shaw, May 27, 1841 (Houghton Library).

20 LMC to Francis G. Shaw, August 2, 1846 (Houghton Library).

21 Ibid.

22 LMC to John S. Dwight, October 23, 1844 (BPL); Sara Bull, Ole Bull: A Memoir (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1883); LMC, "A Few Words More about Ole Bull," The New World (New York) 8 (January 6, 1844); 25-27; "Recollections of Ole Bull," Columbian Lady's and Gentleman 's Magazine (New York), 5 (February 1846): 72-76.

23 Mortimer Smith, The Life of Ole Bull (Princeton University Press, 1943), pp. 64, 66, 96. See also George Willis Cooke, John Sullivan Dwight (Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1898), pp. 75-82. Before meeting Bull, Child had formed a platonic attachment to John Hopper, the 26-year-old brother of Abby Hopper Gibbons and son of Isaac Hopper, the old Quaker abolitionist in whose home she boarded in New York City. Her financial adviser Ellis Loring warned her against any indiscretion; Maria insisted that the friendship was perfectly innocent, but admitted that she and Hopper were "aboslutely necessary to each other's happiness." Thereafter, in deference to Loring, she referred to young Hopper as her "adopted son." But she clearly found the friendship to be something more than this phrase implied. See LMC to Ellis Gray Loring, May 27, 1841 (Schlesinger Library), July 27, August 11, August 31, and September 28, 1841 (NYPL); to DLC, July 11, 1841 (Cornell University Library); to Maria Weston Chapman, January 19, 1842 (BPL); to Francis G. Shaw, May 29, 1843 and July 18, 1844 (Houghton Library). For Child's later attitudes toward John Hopper, who married in early 1848, see LMC to Marianne Silsbee, January 5, 1848 and February 5, 1869 (LMC Letters, American Antiquarian Society [hereafter AAS]). For Hopper see Octavius B. Frothingham, "Words Spoken at the Funeral of John Hopper" (New York 1864). That her affection for Hopper had sexual overtones in suggested in a letter to Francis G. Shaw, August 2, 1846: "You cannot make men and women have a horror of each other: the impulses of nature are too strong. But this is a subject on which I dare not speak… . I am, in fact, unqualified to speak, because here lies the weak side of my own nature. 'The strong necessity of loving' has been the great temptation and conflict of my life… . " (Houghton Library).

24 LMC to Mrs. Relief Loring, February 12, 1848 (Schlesinger Library); cf. LMC to Marianne Silsbee, February 6, 1848 (AAS).

25 LMC to Francis G. Shaw, July 18, 1844 (Houghton Library); cf. LMC to Louisa Loring, April 27, 1842 (Schlesinger Library).

26 LMC to Ellis Gray Loring, November 24, 1841 (NYPL); to DLC, November 2, 1846 (Cornell University Library).

27 LMC to [Francis G. Shaw,] July 11, 1847 (Houghton Library).

28 Ibid.

29 LMC to Marianne Silsbee, October 29 and December 6, 1849, and January 24, 1850 (AAS).

30 LMC to Ellis Gray Loring, February 24, 1856, in Letters, p. 74.

31 LMC to Sarah Shaw, November 28, 1850; to [Francis G. Shaw,] December 26, 1852; cf. to same, June 3, 1854, and to [Sarah Shaw,] March 23, 1856 (Houghton Library); and to Marianne Silsbee, January 1, 1854 (AAS).

32 LMC to [Francis G. Shaw,] June 3, 1854 (Houghton Library); to Ellis Gray Loring, November 22, 1857 and January 21, 1858; to Anna Loring, February 27, 1860 (Schlesinger Library).

33 Alfred Wayland Cutting, Old-Time Wayland (n.p., 1926), p. 47.

34 LMC to Louisa Loring, November 23, 1856 (Schlesinger Library).

35 LMC to Anna Loring Dresel, November 10, 1868 (Schlesinger Library).

36A partial list of Child's activities in 1864 includes: wrote 235 letters; read 28 books; made 25 needle books for freedwomen; gathered and made a peck of pickles for hospitals; knit 4 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of suspenders for David, 6 baby shirts for friends, and a large afghan; made 2 flannel shirts, a woolen cape, a door mat, and a spectacle case; cut and made 3 gowns, 4 towels, and 6 sets of curtains; cooked 360 dinners and 362 breakfasts; swept the house 350 times; "besides innumerable jobs too small to be mentioned." All this information is contained in a fragmentary manuscript, "Employments in 1864," LMC Papers, Cornell University Library. For her refusals of invitations see LMC to [Sarah Shaw,] March 23, 1856 (Houghton Library); to Ellis Gray Loring, November 22, 1857 (Schlesinger Library).

37 E.g., Correspondence between Lydia Maria Child, Governor Wise and Mrs. Mason (Boston: American Antislavery Society, 1860); LMC (ed.), Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Boston: the author, 1861); LMC, The Freedmen 's Book (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1865).

38 LMC to Anna Loring, May 24, 1862 (Schlesinger Library); to Henrietta Sargent, September 30, 1862 (Cornell University Library).

39 LMC to Anna Loring Dresel, September 18, 1874 (Schlesinger Library); to Sarah Shaw, October 1874 (Cornell University Library); to Rev. John B. Wight, December 12, 1874 (LMC Papers, Wayland Historical Society).

40 The few exceptions focus heavily on nineteenth-century feminists and often imply that such women were in some sense maladjusted. E.g., Robert E. Riegel, American Feminists (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1963).

41 LMC, "The Beloved Tune: Fragments of a Life, in Small Pictures," Columbian Lady's & Gentleman 's Magazine, 4 (November 1845): 193-96. See also "Home and Politics," Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature & Art, 3 (August 1848): 63-68, which is analyzed in Kirk Jeffrey, "The Family as Utopian Retreat from the City: The Nineteenth-Century Contribution," Soundings, 55 (Spring 1972): 31-32.

42 Ibid., pp. 30-33; and esp., Charles E. Rosenberg, "Sexuality, Class and Role in 19th-century America," American Quarterly, 25 (May 1973): 131-53. This suspicion of masculinity may be understood as an aspect of the general uneasiness accompanying social change during the Jacksonian era. Men, after all, were responsible for most of the obvious changes. The sentimental portrayal of Alessandro (in his sober phase) reflected Child's wish, implicit in many stories of this period, that society could accommodate men who were as passive and emotional as women. See Jeffrey, "The Family as Utopian Retreat," pp. 30-33 for further discussion.

43 E.g., William L. O'Neill, Everyone Was Brave (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969).

44 This ideology has been discussed by Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860," American Quarterly, 18 (Summer 1966): 151-74, though Welter fails to point out that its votaries perceived themselves as reformers helping to elevate the status of women. For another useful discussion see Glenda Gates Riley, "The Subtle Subversion: Changes in the Traditionalist Image of the American Woman," Historian 32 (February 1970): 210-27.

45 LMC, The Frugal Housewife (Boston: Carter & Hendee, 1829); The Mother's Book (Boston: Francis, 1831); Biographies of Good Wives (New York: Francis, 1833); The Family Nurse (Boston: Charles J. Hendee, 1837); and esp., The History of the Condition of Women (2 vols.; New York: Allen, 1835), II, pp. 210-11, and Letters from New-York, 1st ser. (New York: C. S. Francis, 1843), pp. 233-34, 238. "The more women become rational companions … the more highly will men appreciate home—that blessed word, which opens to the human heart the most perfect glimpse of Heaven, and helps to carry it thither, as on an angel's wings."

46 Ibid., pp. 235-36.

47 LMC to [Lucy Osgood?] May 11, 1856 (Cornell University Library); see also LMC to Sarah Shaw, December 1, 1858 and January 16 and February 11, 1859 (Houghton Library) for Child's ambivalent reaction to the news that a woman acquaintance had had an extramarital affair after discovering her husband's infidelity. Without condoning the husband's behavior, Child was shocked at the wife's response and urged Sarah Shaw to avoid "mixing her up with your daughters."

48Letters from New-York, 1st ser., 235-36; see also Letters from New-York, 2nd ser. (New York: C. S. Francis, 1844), pp. 282-87.

49 LMC to [Lucy Osgood?] May 11, 1856 (Cornell University Library).

50Ladies' Magazine (Boston), 6 (November 1833): 496. For other examples see Horace Mann, A Few Thoughts on the Powers and Duties of Woman. Two Lectures (Syracuse: Hall, Mills & Co., 1853); Rev. John Todd, Woman's Rights (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1867); Rev. Daniel Wise, The Young Lady's Counsellor (Boston: Pierce, 1852).

51 LMC to William Lloyd Garrison, June 20, 1860 (BPL).

52 Gerda Lerner, "The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson," Midcontinent American Studies Journal, 10 (Spring 1969): 7.

53 For typical statements by articulate women see Virginia Randolph Cary, Letters on Female Character, Addressed to a Young Lady, on the Death of Her Mother (Richmond: A. Works, 1828), p. v; Lydia H. Sigourney, Letters to Mothers (6th edn.; New York: Harper & Brothers, 1846), p. 166; Sarah J. Hale, Woman's Record (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1853), p. v.

54 Daniel Scott Smith has discussed these points in two important recent articles: "Parental Power and Marriage Patterns: An Analysis of Historical Trends in Hingham, Massachusetts," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 35 (August 1973): 419-28; and "Family Limitation, Sexual Control, and Domestic Feminism in Victorian America," Feminist Studies, 1 (Winter-Spring 1973): 40-57.

55 Anne L. Kuhn, The Mother's Role in Childhood Education: New England Concepts 1830-1860 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947).

56 The link between republican theory and Victorian values has not been thoroughly investigated; but see Robert E. Shalhope, "Toward a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American Historiography," William & Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 29 (January 1972): 78. Linda K. Kerber's essay "Daughters of Columbia: Educating Women for the Republic 1787-1805," in Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick (eds.), The Hofstadter Aegis (New York: Knopf, 1974), greatly enhances our understanding of this link.

58 The best source is still Janet Wilson James, "Changing Ideas about Women in the United States, 1776-1825" (unpub. Ph.D. diss., Radcliffe, 1954).

Susan Phinney Conrad (essay date 1976

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SOURCE: "Women's History and Feminist Thought: Romantic Discoveries and Transformations," in Perish the Thought: Intellectual Women in Romantic America, 1830-1860, Oxford University Press, 1976, pp. 93-133.

[In the following excerpt, Conrad argues that Child's writings on women 's history did not champion prototypical feminist causes but did create "a usable past" in which readers could discover "the great varieties of female experience."]

In contrast to the almost linear progression of American feminism's social origins, those of women's history were as diverse as the interests, temperaments, and talents of individual women who wrote about it. Like many feminists, Lydia Maria Child, the first American intellectual to record women's history, was deeply committed to abolitionism, her intellectual contributions to that cause rank her with the most important Americans engaged in antislavery work. However, just as [Elizabeth] Stanton came to view feminism and abolitionism as separate concerns, Child kept her work in women's history and in abolitionism carefully distinct; moreover, she remained aloof from the feminist movement until the 1870s and never equated women's history with women's rights in her own writings.

Neither did the period's most industrious historian of the American woman, Elizabeth Ellet—a rabid anti-feminist who viewed the movement as a crime against nature… .

Regardless of their ambiguous and overtly hostile relationship to feminism, these two historians compiled data most useful to feminist thought. The data they amassed and interpreted also made the female past accessible to general audiences, perplexed and concerned with the nature and social role of women and eager to read interpretations of each. Ellet and Child showed their readers that women did have a history, a complex and serious story worthy of attention and respect. A closer look at their lives and works reveals how and why these two women, whose temperaments were so vastly different, began to collect—to construct and reconstruct—a usable past for women.

Following in the tradition of Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, on the other hand, took women's past and transformed it into a theoretical framework for the feminist persuasion—a step neither Ellet nor Child could take. The work of these three intellectuals represents the unique contributions American women made to intellectual history before the Civil War: In the process of thinking about women they made it a more sophisticated and problematic undertaking, and generated a dialectic between the subjects of women's history and women's rights from which both feminists and antifeminists drew insights and inspiration.

Lydia Maria Child: The Many Worlds of Women and an Intellectual's Dilemma

As a child in Medford, Massachusetts, during the first decade of the nineteenth century, Lydia Maria Francis often saw her neighbors gawking at the aging scholar, Hannah Adams—pointing her out as the village eccentric. The citizens of Medford were fond of citing Adams as a most graphic example of how learning could ruin a woman, and the young Maria, wanting above all to become a "true woman," did not wish to emulate Hannah Adams in any fashion. If that harmless old woman could not take a walk around town without being ridiculed as a "learned woman," it was obvious that women must be very cautious about the kind of knowledge they acquired and the way they chose to display it.17

Yet, in her own intellectual career, Lydia Maria Child was drawn to the same subjects Hannah Adams had chosen—the history of religions and the nature of New England's past—and as a historian she too insisted that she was, in Hannah Adams's words, merely a "modest compiler, as befits a true woman." Child's first work was a historical romance concerning the relationship between Puritan and Indian culture in early New England. Predating James Fenimore Cooper's works on these themes, Hobomok, finished in six weeks and signed "by an American," was an immediate success; its nineteen-year-old author became a celebrity—the toast of Boston and Cambridge literati. Her fears allayed—everyone admired her work, no one branded her a female pedant—she soon gained a large audience for each successive work. She also acquired a husband.

David Lee Child, a young lawyer and ardent abolitionist, was not what the Francis family considered an ideal husband. Ignoring their objections, Lydia Maria accepted his proposal and entered domestic life with enthusiasm, determined to show her family that even without money their marriage would be an ideal union. In 1829 she offered her experience to the public in the best-selling Frugal Housewife, from which one could learn how to live simply, wholesomely, and rather elegantly on practically no income. The author soon discovered that this was to be a lifelong task for her—that she would have to be continually frugal with the money she earned to forestall bankruptcy. Her precarious financial status made it impossible to live up to that ideal of domesticity she cherished: she could never be sure that any house she so carefully made a home would be hers for long.18 She relied upon her wedding gifts to transform even the rudest dwelling into a place of genteel charm—until David sold them without consulting her.19 Regardless of such lapses, he was revered by his wife as a delightful husband and intellectual companion.

Marriage also brought out the basic conflict of her intellectual life. As a member of her brother's household in Cambridge, she had been within the inner circle of New England transcendentalism. Nourished on romanticism's basic texts in her brother's extensive library, in conversations with his friends, and in her close relationship with Margaret Fuller, Child had delighted in purely abstract intellectual pursuits; her philosophical and literary investigations had made her value an aesthetic life above all intellectual stances. Marriage drew her into the thick of abolitionist agitation. David Child was a contributor to William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator and later editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard—a post that his wife would also occupy. To this abolitionist circle her original commitment to a contemplative life was immoral: intellectuals must be activists when confronted with pressing issues and social evils like slavery.

Unlike Fuller, who experienced and attempted to resolve similar conflicts between a life of action and one of contemplation, yet remained aloof from abolitionist circles, Child found that she had literally married that cause. Perplexed by the arguments she heard and read every day—the compelling and eloquent logic of Garrison and her husband—caught between conflicting intellectual and social orientations and values, Child attempted to ignore the question her dilemma raised: What kind of intellectual life would be virtuous for anyone confronted with current social problems and appropriate for a "true woman" as well? Thinking about women was temporarily more comforting and certainly more profitable; A Mother's Book (1831), another domestic manual, and The Little Girl's Own Book (1831), a book of games for girls, testified to her growing popularity as a foremost arbiter of traditional femininity. It seemed as if the young woman who had studied Kant and Mme de Staël with Margaret Fuller had turned her back upon them and had also declined to follow her husband into abolitionist agitation. Two years later Lydia Maria Child wrote not another domestic guide but the first antislavery volume to be published in America. Her Appeal in Behalf of that Class of Americans Called Africans (1833) was a cogently reasoned and carefully documented attack on slavery, so convincing that it was responsible for drawing many Americans—among them, Wendell Phillips, William Ellery Channing, Charles Sumner, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson—into abolitionist ranks. It was, in addition, an early work in black history for it contained sections on African customs and a history of slavery and its impact on American culture.

Literary Boston was stunned by the Appeal. The only woman allowed to enter the Boston Athenaeum had researched and written this shocking book there, and Child's passport to culture and respectability was soon revoked. Although David Child's editorials protesting Andrew Jackson's treatment of the Cherokee Indians had, in the late 1820s, influenced his wife to research and publish a brief history of the Indians in New England—The First Settlers of New England—it was Garrison who finally converted her to the antislavery position. Like Stanton's experience in London, Child's meeting with Garrison left an indelible memory; it was the event that transformed her life. "Old dreams vanished, old associations departed, and all things became new," she wrote, when he "got hold of the strings of my conscience and pulled me into reforms… . "20

The same year in which the Appeal was published, Child began to write women's history, publishing the first of a projected five-volume series to be entitled The Ladies' Family Library. Innocently enough, the first title was Good Wives, a compendium of "true women" behind men great and small. Such a reaffirmation of feminine domesticity, coming in the same year as the Appeal, did nothing to protect Child from the opprobrium of old friends and her large reading public. The sales of her books dropped as quickly as did her social prestige. Although she probably knew that Good Wives could not save her from criticism, her venture into women's history complemented her decision to become a public and publishing abolitionist. Writing and thinking about women's history began to serve as a kind of mental compass that kept Child from losing her balance as she moved into the dangerous world of reform.

As an uncompromising abolitionist, Child always gave that cause priority over all other needed reforms, including women's rights. For her it was impossible to equate the plight of slaves with that of women; thinking perhaps only of women in her own situation, she considered "woman's sphere," regardless of how narrow and restrictive it might be, a paradise compared to the world of slavery. Child's conception of women's history and its function in her own intellectual life further clarify why she refused to make parallels between slaves and women or to assume an active feminist role. In search of a haven from calamity and change, Child hoped to find in the history of women a refuge from the abolitionist controversy in which she had become so thoroughly embroiled.

At first her motives and her ideals resembled Sarah Hale's: both wished to find in history irrefutable evidence of "true womanhood." If life afforded so few examples, surely history contained multitudes that she could re-create, giving life to that favorite abstraction—ideal femininity. In its entirety, Child foresaw The Ladies' Family Library as a private academy for the training of "true women," as both symbol and elaboration of that world elsewhere—"woman's sphere." The series of books would always be there, on the shelf, no matter how unstable and uncertain life itself might be.

As Child became more deeply engaged with her material, the nature of the series began to change. Her romantic orientation, her intellectual curiosity and vitality, and her admiration for courageous and gallant spirits, regardless of their "true femininity," led her far afield from Good Wives to the panoramic History of Women in All Ages and Nations and onward to a composite biography of Mme de Staël and Pauline Roland. At this significant point the publishers' dwindling capital forced them to cancel the rest of the series. Its shifting emphasis, from woman playing her traditional role to woman as individual, reflects the author's changing conception of women and their history. Ransacking history for female symbols of uniformity she had, in a characteristically romantic fashion, found diversity instead.

The History of Women in All Ages and Nations was a celebration of that diversity, and was a personal and cultural voyage of self-discovery for Lydia Maria Child. Determined to include all women everywhere, she presented Romans and Russians, Athenians and Austrians, Spartans, Swedes, and Swiss—even Walachians and South Sea Islanders. Her summaries of the roles women had assumed in each culture demonstrated a tolerance for alien customs, an ability to understand the mores of different cultures without judging them harshly—a broad intellectual perspective that is entirely absent in the 950 pages of Sarah Hale's Woman's Record, published sixteen years later. Although Hale did include some women of whom she strongly disapproved, her general tactic was to leave out those—her American contemporaries in particular—who did not conform to her standard of ideal femininity. Child, with a romantic intellectual's panoramic vision, wished to include everything about the female experience. Hoping that some pattern of unity might emerge no matter how much data she collected, Child turned to the American woman and placed her within a cross-cultural perspective.

The future of the American woman and the outcome of the American experiment each seemed as uncertain for Lydia Maria Child as they had for Margaret Fuller. Child concluded that only if virtue triumphed would America form a distinctive and distinguished culture, and her interpretations of the changing nature of American society made the fate of virtue, of the American woman, and of the Republic, seem highly problematic. Fearing that wealth and luxury were transforming America, she astutely described an emerging class structure in which highest prestige was conferred upon the woman of leisure. For one who considered work beneficial to all, and especially to women, the declining value of "active industry"—increasingly considered a "bar to gentility"—implied a loss of virtue and the potential failure of the American experiment.21

Urbanization merely deepened her pessimism: America's rapidly growing cities, especially New York City, were nurturers of vice and corruption. They contained decadent women of wealth and leisure as sexually corrupt as European courtesans, but Child assured her readers—and herself—that they would never outnumber their foreign counterparts. After all, she noted, American women were often characterized, even defined, by their prudery, and she gladly accepted that criticism as a virtue—within the limits of decorum. To protest too much was in her opinion both vulgar and boring.

Child was acutely aware of the female status-revolution around her and its implications for the American woman. No matter how bleak the future of woman's work might seem, however, most people were still engaged in honest toil—a fact that gave her some comfort and the hope that the trends she saw might yet be reversed. Finally, in summing up the American woman, Child described her as without direct political influence; even so, American women had more "influence and freedom" than women anywhere else.22

The history of intellectual women, their past and potential roles and contributions, was a different story—much more ambiguous and depressing than that of American women in general. The only hope for an intellectual woman lay in the future, and the march of democracy would determine her fate. For Child, as for Margaret Fuller, even the greatest female intellect of all, Mme de Staël, was tainted by her "artificial" nature, and Child despised artifice in any form. Paris was, according to a popular saying, where Bostonians went when they died, she once wrote a friend; what a perfect place for the Boston "aristocracy," where even the flowers were "artificial!"23 That Parisian milieu had ruined Mme de Staël; regardless of her democratic principles, she had been corrupted by the aristocracy she rejected.

In contrast to such an age of "artifice," Child saw the nineteenth century as an age of transformation in which the image of the intellectual woman might be altered and enhanced. For Child, the diffusion of knowledge and spirit of practicality that accompanied it were the distinguishing characteristics of her own era.24 Now that knowledge was no longer the property of the elite, women might be learned without pedantry—a trait exclusive to aristocrats and "bluestockings," both of whom she regarded with equal loathing and contempt. Even if they symbolized this new age, men still regarded learned women with disdain and suspicion, she observed, yet at least one could hope that a spirit of tolerance might increase as men witnessed the lives, practical and true, of contemporary women thinkers. In any case, Lord Byron had, in Child's opinion, said it all, and she quoted him with enthusiasm: "I care not how blue a woman's stockings are if her skirts are long enough to cover them."25 Living out that motto, however, did not entail wearing a mask of feminine passivity, for Lydia Maria Child sealed her letters with the words, "While I live I'll crow."26

Child regretted that lives of "true women," distinguished by a total allegiance to that ideal of womanhood supposedly so valued by society, never seemed quite worthy of the historian's attention. The long garments of that role had made women invisible: the quiet "domestic virtues" were always eclipsed by violence, discord, and the deeds of male heroes. Even when women had acted bravely according to masculine standards—Child was surprised how courageous they had been in all epochs—their deeds were seldom recorded.

Frustrated by the scarcity of material on women's social history, and romantically attracted to exotic and unusual personalities, she returned to the fascinating Mme de Staël, publishing her portrait together with a short life of another prominent figure in the French Revolution, Pauline Roland. Her interpretations of these extraordinary women and the social upheaval Child found so terrifying were carefully addressed to her audience. Framed as she wished American women to view them, her portraits of Mme de Staël and Roland reveal, in addition, her view of her own role as a historian of women. She would play Virgil to the Dantes of her generation—women lost in the maze of the female past and confused by the present who wished to understand their relation to the more complex and corrupt civilization of the Old World. In this book Child would lead them without harm through the inferno of revolutionary France. There, American women could meet two spirits from whom they might learn much, including the meaning of being an American and a woman—and the dangers of being an intellectual woman.

"Abandon hope all ye who enter the halls of genius, especially if you are female" was the clearest message the departed had given the historian to bring to women in the nineteenth century. Child called the life of Mme de Staël "a long continued and brilliant triumph" so far removed from "the ordinary lot of mortals" that any sense of identification with such a personality—with the "vividness of her fame"—was impossible for other women.27 That was just as well, Child concluded, for Mme de Staël had warned other women, even her own daughter, not to follow her example. Her life was an agony of suffering, from the "envy and evil feelings which always darken the bright path of genius"—especially of a female genius, who would pay a greater price than a man if she refused to "submit to the opinions of the world." Speaking to all American women, Child emphasized that "none of us would wish such a destiny for a sister, or a child."28

Pauline Roland, the subject of Child's second biography, also felt it futile for women to assume autonomous and public intellectual stances. Child reargued Roland's position on the subject: the very choice of an intellectual life would alienate the intellectual woman from both men and women, yet her works and her life would always be judged by sexual criteria. Excellence, above all, would not be tolerated. If critics found it impossible to discredit the quality of her work they would try to pronounce it derivative; if these tactics failed, defects of character, real or imagined, could be exposed. Then, a woman thinker would find herself in a curious state of equilibrium: her intellectual excellence would be "fully counterbalanced by the publicity given to her defects."29

Child found Pauline Roland a more accessible and congenial subject than Mme de Staël, for she had been a "good wife," one who had defined her own intellectual identity in relation to her philosophe husband's, who had worked with him on the infamous Encyclopedie—who had even followed him to the guillotine. In contrast, Mme de Staël's autonomy and her brilliance were frightening; she had been, Child concluded, a woman of "extremes" whose life was marred by "excesses."30 Unlike Sarah Hale, however, Child still found her admirable for her "expansive freedom," her "mighty energy of soul, which never found room enough in this small world of ours." And, most important, she was not an evil woman: even her faults sprang, like a Greek hero's, from "the excess of something good."

These judgments provided Child with a certain distance from her subject, essential not only to being, as she put it, an "impartial biographer," but to fulfilling a psychological imperative as well. By implicitly convincing herself and her countrywomen not to be intimidated, not to feel inferior to the splendid Mme de Staël, Child could not only avert her eyes from this blinding image but she could avoid comparing her own work with Mme de Staël's—and thus competing with the woman she had called the greatest female mind in history.

Lydia Maria Child also needed to insulate herself and her work from the most brilliant women of her own generation in order to continue her intellectual career. Reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh had made her feel so intellectually inadequate that she feared she might never be able to write again; although she insisted that such unquestionable proof of female genius raised her spirits and the world's opinion of women, it lowered her own self-esteem as an intellectual.31

Comparing herself to Margaret Fuller was equally unnerving and debilitating. Freely admitting her own shortcoming in a letter to Margaret, Child praised and criticized the newly published Woman in the Nineteenth Century, revealing her own strategy of intellectual survival among the giants. Blaming her own shortcomings—"I have no critical skill, and you have much"—upon what she always considered a scanty and superficial education, she thought Margaret's book was flawed by too much learning: "It may be the mere habit of elaborateness; but it has the appearance of effort. The stream is abundant and beautiful; but it always seems to be pumped, rather than to flow." To Fuller, who wanted above all for her thought to "flow" and knew how rarely she succeeded, such criticism probably hurt; it seemed aimed with deadly accuracy at her weakest point. Child admitted that she had often envied such thorough learning as Margaret's, but it was too late now to woo those muses they had once courted together. Her letter implied that her limitation was a virtue after all: she would write effortlessly, unencumbered by that great weight of knowledge under which Margaret—and her prose—always strained. And she did. Child also found it amusing to disguise her own intellectuality: while Margaret read on and on through the seasons, she had been merely "listening to the grass grow."32

In her letter Child mentioned rather whimsically that a change in intellectual style would also entail a loss of identity: "If I were now to attempt to be something other than I am, I should be neither one thing nor the other."33 This was Child's greatest fear. Only a will to believe could stave off the depression and sense of intellectual and social disorientation that constantly threatened to overwhelm her. At any moment she might plunge into the "dark and comfortless regions of utter skepticism," as Mme Roland had when she embraced what Child called the "wild and wicked systems, which the French dignified with the title of Philosophy."34

As a Unitarian, Child had absorbed those deistic principles in a form so mild and diluted that when she discovered romantic thought the Unitarian church could not hold her. And, like so many of her contemporaries who shared this experience, she had great difficulty in maintaining affiliations with any religious institution. Always in search of a church she could join with conviction, Child never found one. Attempting to retain some semblance of religious faith, she refused to read works such as Harriet Martineau's or to meet the visiting Englishwoman, who wanted to discuss American abolitionists with her and was most disappointed at Child's "disinclination" to be introduced.35 Such confrontations were too dangerous for one already in a state of almost cosmic uncertainty: "To put the soul on such a track is like sending a bird out into the long cold storm. Who can be sure that it will come back to the Ark with an olive-branch in its mouth?"36

Her lack of religious conviction, she reasoned, only increased her "horror of [religious] infidelity" and proved that her faith had never been strong if it could vanish so easily.37 Determined that no one except her most intimate friends would know of her ambivalent and "peculiarly isolated" spiritual stance, she wore a public mask and called it a "crystal heart" where no confusion reigned.38 She also reserved her sufferings as a woman for her friends' ears only.

Although life, especially life in America, was "fragmentary" and "disjointed," being female had increased her sense of dislocation; her sex made it extremely difficult to find a "position in life" as men could.39 Child placed her own life within a historical context, recognizing that her personal dilemmas as a woman and an intellectual were cultural dilemmas as well. She saw herself as a small figure lost in a vast intellectual and social transformation—"everywhere, the old lines of thought seem to be undergoing a process of decomposition, and entering into new combinations."40

Woman's history was a ballast against chaos and skepticism, a refuge from the ominous signs she continually reported in other work and in correspondence; it provided the sense of continuity lacking in American culture and in the life of the female intellectual, haunted by uncertainty and ambivalent about everything—especially herself. For these reasons she could not endorse a life of the mind as a viable option for women. Neither past nor future warranted optimism—"I have no sanguine hopes about anything"41—and women's history and her own life demonstrated that a "stoical endurance" was the best stance, especially for a woman thinker.42

Unlike Margaret Fuller or other flamboyant intellectuals she analyzed, Child found any form of publicity more and more distasteful as she grew older. Caught between conflicting impulses like so many intellectuals of her generation, she loved solitude, yet felt guilty if she did not participate in the reform whose morality she could not deny. Drawn into the abolitionist struggle, she hated political strife and narrow-mindedness of both reformers and politicians.43 Distrusting both abstract thought and social activism—poised between these intellectual stances—she lacked the conviction to present herself or the women she found in history as vivid symbols of what Smith had called the "new woman," the "woman of intellect." One who was, in her own words, "afloat on an endless sea, without rudder or compass" could hardly encourage others to follow her example.44

Instead of offering herself as a symbol of female achievement or endorsing an intellectual life for women, Lydia Maria Child gave her readers The Ladies' Family Library, as unfinished and fragmented as her own life, in which they could read about the great varieties of female experience. Such data gave women a usable past; it provided evidence of their existence and a means of identification with their history. A tragic sense of loss permeated that past, for life meant change and deprivation to Child, and women's record was no exception. There were no heroes, no women singled out for approval, no activities endorsed as superior to any others, for all women were heroes, confronting the same inscrutable universe from whatever vantage point their many worlds afforded. These interpretations of women's history were offered in a spirit of friendship and a sense of community with other women by one whose greatest skill was to state her lack of conviction with such authority and vitality that hers was one of the nineteenth century's most interesting American minds.


17 Milton Meltzer, Tongue of Flame: The Life of Lydia Maria Child (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1965), pp. 18, 35.

18 Lydia Maria Child to Francis George and Sarah Blake [Sturgis] Shaw, 23 March 1856. Shaw Family Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University. By permission of the Harvard College Library.

19 Meltzer, Tongue of Flame, p. 112.

20Notable American Women, 1608-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), s.v. "Child, Lydia Maria."

21 Mrs. D. L. [Lydia Maria] Child, The History and Condition of Women, 2 vols. (Boston: John Allen & Cox, 1835) 2:260-61.

22Ibid., pp. 261, 266-67.

23 Child to Francis George and Sarah Shaw, 23 March 1856, Shaw Family Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University. By permission of the Harvard College Library.

24 Child, History and Condition of Women, 2:208-9.

25Ibid., pp. 261 , 144-45.

26 Lydia Maria Child's personal letter-seal, Loring Collection, New York Public Library.

27 Child, Memoirs of Madame de Staël and of Madame Roland, rev. ed. (1847; reprint ed., Auburn, Me.: A. L. Littlefield, 1861), p. 140.

28Ibid., pp. 107-8.

29 Quoted in ibid., p. 109.

30 The following quotations are from ibid., pp. 109, 240.

31 Quoted in Meltzer, Tongue of Flame, pp. 132-33.

32 Lydia Maria Child to Margaret Fuller, 23 August 1844, Fuller Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University. By permission of the Harvard College Library.


34 Child, De Staël and Roland, p. 135.

35 Harriet Martineau to Lydia Maria Child, 10 January, n.d., Lydia Maria Child Letters, Houghton Library, Harvard University. By permission of the Harvard College Library.

36 Lydia Maria Child to Convers Francis, 25 October 1857, Lydia Maria Child Papers, New York Public Library.


38 Lydia Maria Child to Francis George Shaw, 29 May 1843, Shaw Family Papers, Child Correspondence, Houghton Library, Harvard University. By permission of the Harvard College Library.

39 Child to Shaw, 11 July 1847, Shaw Family Papers, Child Correspondence, Houghton Library, Harvard University. By permission of the Harvard College Library.

40 Child to Convers Francis, 25 October 1857, Lydia Maria Child Papers, New York Public Library.

41 Child to Loring, 18 April 1843, Loring Collection, New York Public Library.

42 Child to Sarah Shaw, 23 March 1845, Shaw Family Papers, Child Correspondence, Houghton Library, Harvard University. By permission of the Harvard College Library.

43 Child to Loring; 7 May 1840, 11 April 1841, 31 August 1841, 24 November 1841, 9 March 1842, 6 April 1842, 18 September 1842; Loring Collection, New York Public Library.

44 Child to Francis George and Sarah Shaw, 24 October 1849, Shaw Family Papers, Child Correspondence, Houghton Library, Harvard University. By permission of the Harvard College Library.

Edward P. Crapol (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: "Lydia Maria Child: Abolitionist Critic of American Foreign Policy," in Women and American Foreign Policy, Greenwood Press, 1987, pp. 1-18.

[In the essay that follows, which was originally published in 1987, Crapol examines Child's life and writingsespecially her abolitionist An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans—in order to demonstrate her complex and influential views on American foreign policy.]

One of the pioneer female critics of American diplomacy was the nineteenth century abolitionist Lydia Maria Child. Born in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1802, she was the youngest of the six children of David Convers Francis, a baker who obtained modest fame and fortune as the producer of the "Medford cracker," and Susannah Rand Francis. Before reaching the age of thirty, Maria Child, as she preferred to be called, had made her mark as an intellectual who was at once a successful novelist, a noted author of "how to" books for women, and the editor of Juvenile Miscellany, the first children's magazine to appear in the United States. An advocate of what the English historian J. H. Plumb has labeled the idea of modernity, Mrs. Child viewed slavery as an inhumane, outmoded institution and adhered to the belief that the betterment of humankind, including the elimination of slavery, would be attained through the "acceptance of man's rationality and control over nature."1 She also operated on the belief that the institution of chattel slavery was acceptable in a society where the status of women and children in the family resembled a form of slavery. As a consequence, Maria Child championed the cause of women's rights on its own merits as well as being a means to undermine black slavery. In The Mother's Book (1831) she warned against the overemphasis on romance in young women's lives, urged instead that they cultivate their intellects, abandon their timidity and overcome their dependence on men.2 Maria Child practiced what she preached. In an extraordinary reversal of roles for nineteenth century America she, admittedly more as a matter of necessity than of choice, financially supported her husband, David Lee Child, for most of their married life.

In the early 1830s at what appeared to be the height of her initial literary fame, Maria Child consciously endangered her public reputation by choosing to become an abolitionist. It was not an easy decision. Her husband made the first move, but she resisted and expressed serious reservations about the antislavery cause. An introduction to William Lloyd Garrison arranged by husband, David, led to her conversion. As she recalled years later, "I little thought then that the whole pattern of my life-web would be changed by that introduction. I was then all absorbed in poetry and painting, soaring aloft on Psyche-wings into ethereal regions of mysticism. He got hold of the strings of my conscience and pulled me into reforms."3 Once committed to a life of intellectual activism for social reform, Child's critique of the nation's diplomacy flowed naturally from her newly acquired antislavery beliefs. For more than forty years as writer, petitioner, organizer, pamphleteer, and editor she fought slavery, sought racial and sexual equality, and decried "the insane rage for annexation in this country" and the propensity to seize "the territory of our neighbors by fraud or force."4

The event that signaled Child's public debut as an abolitionist was the publication in July 1833 of her An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans. Not only was it the first book by an American, either male or female, to call for immediate emancipation, but it also included the first systematic exposition of the slave power thesis to appear in the United States. Path-breaking as well were Maria Child's unflinching denunciation of white racism in the North and South and her plea for a national policy of racial equality. Not surprisingly the Appeal's harsh attack on slavery, its indictment of white racism, and its demand for racial equality shocked and offended a large number of Mrs. Child's faithful readers. Unquestionably the majority of Americans found her analysis too radical, certainly it was not the sort of thing a respectable American woman should be writing. The North American Review, previously among her admirers, regretted that Mrs. Child had diverted her pen from its "legitimate spheres of action."5 She had anticipated such negative responses to her Appeal. In the book's preface Child stated defiantly that "I am fully aware of the unpopularity of the task I have undertaken; but though I expect ridicule and censure, it is not my nature to fear them."6 Her prediction was correct. Sales of her books plummeted and the Juvenile Miscellany enterprise folded. With the publication of the Appeal Child courageously embarked on a lifelong struggle for blacks; but her abolitionism exacted a heavy financial toll as she never fully regained the broad popularity she once enjoyed among the reading public.

Despite its unpopularity with the general public and the political establishment in the United States, the Appeal represented a milestone in antislavery annals. It probably converted more women and men to the abolitionist cause than any other publication. Many northern antebellum women acknowledged their intellectual and moral debt to Mrs. Child both publicly and privately. In 1835 antislavery women in Lynn, and Salem, Massachusetts, sent her a gold watch in appreciation of her noble "first appeal in behalf of the American slave."7 Initially converted or strengthened in their commitment to the antislavery cause after reading the Appeal were such prominent and influential male opponents of slavery as William Ellery Channing, Theodore Weld, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and John Gorham Palfrey. Two members of this band of Child disciples, Republicans Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson, ultimately wielded considerable political power as senators from Massachusetts, and in Wilson's case as vice president in the second Grant administration. Of all Maria Child's male "pupils," Sumner came closest to being her intellectual protégé and he fondly referred to her as "his teacher."8

Child's exposé of the influence of the slave power in her Appeal updated the old. Federalist argument that stressed the inequity of the three-fifths clause of the Constitution. In her view that clause, which counted a slave as three-fifths of a person in the population tabulation for representation, gave the South twenty undeserved members of the House of Representatives, allowing Southerners to be the "ruling power of this government" as evidenced in their control of the presidency, the vice presidency, the federal judiciary, and the Congress. The detrimental impact on the North as a result of this Southern dominance in the national councils was all too evident, Child alleged, and was reflected most clearly in the South's historical unfriendliness to commerce and that region's opposition to the growth of an American navy. She repeated another standard Federalist charge by claiming that the War of 1812 had been fought for southern, not national, interests. On the question of the tariff, Mrs. Child found the South to be totally inconsistent, first using duties to inhibit commerce and then objecting when the North favored the tariff to protect is nascent industries. Her partisan reading of the history of the United States's fifty year existence led to the conclusion that the South had a stranglehold on the levers of federal power, which guaranteed "the preservation and extension of slave power."9

In concluding her analysis of slavery's political influence on the republic, Child decried the slave power's restrictive grip on the nation's diplomacy. Her concerns about foreign policy focused on the issues of Haiti and Texas. More than a quarter of a century after the creation of the western hemisphere's first black republic, the United States still withheld formal diplomatic recognition of Haiti. Child not only argued that official recognition was long overdue, but justified, because Haiti was a political and economic success, "fast increasing its wealth, intelligence and refinement." In her call for recognition she highlighted the commercial benefits that would accrue to the United States from such action. American trade with the black republic, impressive even without the benefit of formal diplomatic ties, would be greatly expanded after recognition and the exchange of representatives. In the early 1820s it was estimated that America's exports to Haiti were as large as its combined exports to Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Prussia and Ireland and more shipping entered American ports from Haiti than any other nation except Great Britain, the British North American colonies, and the island of Cuba. In 1831 total trade with Haiti approached $3,000,000, much of it moving through New England's ports.10 But, according to Mrs. Child, neither simple human justice nor commercial logic would prompt the Andrew Jackson administration or the Congress to support recognition. The "existence of slavery among us" prevents it, she lamented, and even more distressing, "our Northern representatives have never even made an effort to have her independence acknowledged, because a colored ambassador would be so disagreeable to our prejudices."11

Prior to Child's demand for recognition, several politicians had warily and obliquely raised the issue, most notably Caleb Cushing and Henry Clay. In response to these cautious soundings, public opinion remained hostile to the idea, and in that context Child's advocacy of Haitian recognition proved as courageous as it was ingenious. What she did was to employ a foreign policy issue to emphasize the central paradox confronting the citizens of antebellum America. The demand for the recognition of Haiti uncovered the basic contradictions inherent in prevailing American ideology, whereby a republic based on the principle of human liberty, defended and promoted racial inequality and sanctioned chattel slavery for several million human beings. The fact that the Haitian issue forced Americans to accept or reject black equality, and indirectly acknowledge the humanity of American slaves, probably explains why that issue, which appears so innocuous on the surface, became one of the primary objectives of the early abolitionist political program.

Southern designs aimed at acquiring Texas from Mexico emerged as another foreign policy issue that agitated Mrs. Child to action. On this question she was following the lead of the Quaker abolitionist, Benjamin Lundy, and her husband, David Lee Child, both of whom had warned her of this danger earlier. "The purchase or the conquest of Texas is a favorite scheme with Southerners," she said, "because it would occasion such an inexhaustible demand for slaves." At the time of the publication of the Appeal in 1833, she was gratified that "the jealousy of the Mexican government places a barrier in that direction."12 To help ensure that Texas remained Mexican and not new territory for the expansion of slavery, Maria Child during the next several years personally helped gather 45,000 signatures against the annexation of Texas on petitions that were sent to the United States Congress.13 That prodigious feat was paralleled by her direct influence on the future direction of the antislavery enterprise, for Mrs. Child identified and pinpointed two of the key foreign policy issues—recognition of Haiti and opposition to the annexation of Texas—that became central to the petition campaigns mounted by men and women abolitionists in the 1830s and 1840s.

Despite her unprecedented achievement in so clearly defining the issues and projecting the line of intellectual attack for the antislavery forces, Child's critique of the slave power was not without flaws and partisan exaggeration. Her comments on the War of 1812, the question of Southern opposition to commerce and a navy, and her view of the South's flip-flop on the tariff were often simplistic, inaccurate, and one-sided. And although the three-fifths clause may have allowed the South to elect twenty additional members to the House of Representatives, at no time between the adoption of the Constitution in 1789 and 1833, when her book appeared, did the South as a section have a majority in that body. But her Appeal should not be dismissed as a paranoid jeremiad. The basic thrust of her argument was correct. The South did dominate the national government. Northern political support was necessary to maintain that domination, but dominate the South did. Mrs. Child recognized that reality, and while imploring the South to abandon slavery for its and the nation's moral and ideological salvation, concentrated on persuading her northern brethren that it was in their self-interest to work to eliminate slavery and its restraints on the nation's diplomacy.

As a trailblazing critic of foreign policy Mrs. Child consistently throughout her career expressed misgivings about the national mania for territorial expansion. Child was a resolute champion of the underdog, who instinctively sought to protect the reds and the blacks. Future expansion could only come at their expense. It would deprive the Indians of their land and destroy their culture, and it would tighten the bonds of slavery for blacks by opening ever more territory to the "peculiar institution." Child was deeply troubled by what she foresaw as the dire impact of future expansionism. In 1838 she confided to her friend Henrietta Sargent: "What God is preparing for us along the Indian frontier, in Mexico, Cuba, Hayti, I know not; but I think I see 'coming events cast their shadows before.' We certainly have done all we could to secure the deadly hostility of the red man and the black man everywhere." And she added this apocalyptic afterthought: "I think God will overrule events to bring about a change, long before the moral sense of this nation demands it as a matter of justice and humanity."14

Once she reached the forefront of the antislavery enterprise, Mrs. Child found herself in a whirlwind of activity that ran the political gamut from the tedious chore of circulating petitions to the emotionally and intellectually more satisfying task of dashing off polemical tracts such as An Anti-Slavery Catechism. Shortly after the appearance of the Appeal she joined the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society and proceeded to organize, with the help of her close friend Louisa Loring, the first antislavery fair to be held in the country. These bazaars became an annual affair where women contributed needlework, cakes, jellies, preserves, and other goods to be sold to raise money for the cause. The expanding public role played by antislavery women caused some consternation within the movement's ranks as well as among the general public. Mrs. Child assured her sisters that while "some will tell you that women have nothing to do with this question … where women are brutalized, scourged, and sold, shall we not inquire the reason? My sisters, you have not only the right, but it is your solemn duty."15 Until her death in 1880 Child would be driven to do something for her oppressed brothers and sisters, be they black, red, white, or yellow.

As a leading antislavery couple the Childs were much in demand during the 1830s heyday of abolitionist activity. In recognition of their commitment they were among the group that hosted the controversial 1835 visit of the British antislavery leader George Thompson. Then in rapid succession the Childs were nominated or volunteered for three overseas ventures ostensibly designed to broadcast the antislavery message, but aimed as well to relieve their increasingly precarious financial straits. A grateful Thompson offered David Child a position in England as an antislavery editor, but before they could sail the entire scheme collapsed for lack of funds. Primarily to overcome the burden of debt, the Childs in early 1836 made plans to join Benjamin Lundy's free labor settlement in Tamaulipas, Mexico. The Texas revolution and the creation of the Lone Star Republic aborted those plans, since the territory Lundy's band was to settle was claimed by Texas. Mrs. Child saw the hand of the slave power at work as she complained that "the troubles in Texas have been got up by bad, ambitious men, stimulated by offers from Southern planters, who want that fine territory for slave markets." Disappointed and depressed at the turn of events, her spirit was "sorely tried concerning Texas" for "if this territory be acquired" by the United States she feared it would "throw back abolition half a century."16 Still hoping to go abroad, Maria and David volunteered at the 1836 annual meeting to be emissaries for the American Anti-Slavery Society on a fact-finding mission to Haiti and the British West Indies to gather information on the condition of free blacks in those islands. Once again they were thwarted as the Executive Committee of that organization thought the Childs, especially Maria, would be more valuable if they remained at home writing antislavery tracts and articles for the press.

Frustrated in his scheme for a Mexican free labor colony, their friend Benjamin Lundy initially became the major antislavery spokesman against Texas annexation. His two broadsides on the Texas insurrection were standard texts for opponents of further territorial expansion in slavery's behalf, and John Quincy Adams relied on Lundy's expertise and advice while waging the fight against annexation in the House of Representatives. Lundy's analysis of the events and forces that led to the Texas rebellion, while drawn from his own personal experience in that Mexican province, unmistakably was cast in the polemical mold of Mrs. Child's slave power thesis. The Jackson administration's swift recognition of the Texas Republic in March, 1837, in glaring contrast to its established policy of non-recognition of the black republic of Haiti, led Mrs. Child and her compatriots to identify the action as irrefutable evidence of the slave power's dominance in Washington. In the midst of this first Texas crisis the signs of slave power's influence were alarmingly visible. Perhaps most ominous was an action by the House of Representatives in 1836 that directly threatened the constitutional guarantee of the right of petition. The House's so-called gag rule, which automatically tabled all antislavery memorials and petitions, was a rude awakening for many in the antislavery enterprise since it exposed the precarious nature of their own civil liberties.

The Southern-inspired use of the gag in the House, which so blatantly threatened the civil liberties of white male protesters, had the political effect of linking "the claims of emancipation and free discussion." This prompted large numbers of Northerners to flock to the antislavery banner, although Mrs. Child believed many of these new recruits "care little or nothing for the poor slave."17 And even as it made new converts to the cause, the gag rule did little or nothing to abate the flood of petitions that continued to pour into Congress, which by April 1838 "filled a room 20 × 30 × 14 feet, closely packed to the ceiling." Just over half of those petitions were circulated and signed by women. That year in Northampton, Massachusetts, residents Maria and David Child also were busy at what she considered "that most odious of all tasks, that of getting signatures to Petitions."18 During the third session of the Twenty-Fifth Congress, December 1838-March, .1839, abolitionist petitions with a total of 500,000 signatures were presented on eight separate topics, including the issues of opposition to the annexation of Texas, and for the first time, the call for the recognition of Haiti.19 Actually the inauguration of petitions for Haitian recognition was a ploy to evade the gag rule, as abolitionists hoped to force a debate on the diplomatic and commercial merits of the Haitian case and ultimately the evils of slavery, to the floor of Congress. The tactic failed as petitions for Haitian recognition were routinely tabled in the same manner as other antislavery memorials.

Some historians of the pre-Civil War period have argued that the shift in the antislavery outlook from an earlier focus on black equality to one primarily concerned with the political, economic and social rights of northern white men led to the creation of an implicitly racist ideology based on the concept of free men, free soil, and free labor.20 Although an accurate assessment, what this interpretation ignores is that the gag rule as an overt challenge to white civil rights probably represented an even greater immediate political threat to female than to male abolitionists. Unable to vote or to participate in the various activities associated with the electoral process, antislavery women saw the activity of circulating petitions as the most important form of political action open to them in antebellum America. To thwart that activity would deprive women of even that marginal political voice. The case for petitioning as being crucial to expanding women's public sphere was made repeatedly by abolitionist women and put most clearly by the Third Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in 1839:

It is our only means of direct political action. It is not ours to fill the offices of government, or to assist in the election of those who shall fill them. We do not enact or enforce the laws of the land. The only direct influence which we can exert upon our Legislatures, is by protests and petitions.21

Admittedly women's petition campaigns by and large failed in their objectives of changing domestic and foreign policy. But as historian Nancy Woloch asserted in her recent study of women in American history, antebellum women did succeed "in appropriating and feminizing a portion of the public sphere."22

Maria Child reluctantly had attended the first Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York in May 1837. She had come to doubt the wisdom of separate female organizations, believing they reinforced the false notion of the legitimacy of separate spheres for men and women and feeling they were "like half a pair of scissors." After heavy pressure from female friends in the movement, Child went as a delegate from Massachusetts. Honored by being elected one of its six vice presidents of the convention, she actively participated in the proceedings, offering several resolutions on slavery and the right of petition that were adopted by the assembly. Although she did not attend the second women's meeting at Philadelphia the following year, Mrs Child agreed to author the convention's "Address to the Senators and Representatives of the Free States," which was to be distributed to all northern members of Congress. Noting that various Congressional resolutions betrayed a belief in the ephemeral nature of the antislavery feeling, she denied that the abolitionist effort was simply a "fanatical and temporary excitement." She also chastised northern legislators for their passivity in the face of the slave power's encroachments. It was their "timid subserviency" that had allowed for Texan independence to be "so hastily acknowledged" by the American government. But not all Northern members of Congress were spineless, and in her "Address" Mrs. Child singled out Representative William Slade of Vermont and Senator Thomas Morris of Ohio for their political courage.23

It was fitting that Mrs. Child should praise the work of Slade and Morris in Congress. Both men were staunch opponents of slavery and the slave power, and probably had been influenced in their antislavery beliefs by the analysis presented in her 1833 Appeal. Within months after Child's recognition of their service to the cause, each man would champion issues that she had helped bring to public attention. In December 1838 Representative Slade recommended that a memorial of the citizens of West Randolph, Vermont, be forwarded to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, "with instructions to report bill for recognizing independence of Hayti, and making provision for customary diplomatic relations with said republic."24 Slade's motion to bring the issue of recognition before the House provided a storm of protest from his Southern colleagues. John Quincy Adams and a few others nonetheless supported Slade's action, but in early 1839 the Foreign Affairs Committee asked to be discharged of further consideration of Haitian recognition, effectively killing the issue in that session. For his part, Senator Morris in February 1839 delivered a famous speech that ostensibly was a defense of the right of petition for abolitionists. In reality the speech proved to be one of the more comprehensive attacks on the slave power, which in its line of argument drew heavily on the intellectual formulation developed by Mrs. Child in her earlier critiques. Widely reprinted, Morris's speech gained a certain notoriety among the faithful and was to become required reading in the growing antislavery library.

After completing the "Address to the Senators and Representatives of the Free States," Mrs. Child temporarily curtailed her public activities primarily because of financial difficulties brought about in good part by her husband's total lack of "business sense." She devoted her energies to aiding her husband in the latest of his unprofitable experiments with sugar beet cultivation, which he hoped would become an alternative to slave-produced cane sugar. In 1841 she emerged from a brief self-imposed exile to accept the position as editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, a weekly abolitionist newspaper based in New York City. As the first woman to edit a major antislavery publication, Mrs. Child labored for two years to set a moderate and reasoned tone at the Standard in hope of calmly persuading more Americans to the antislavery banner. Initially Mrs. Child's editorials reflected her determination to steer a middle course between the Garrisonians and the Liberty Party men, the two factions that split abolitionist ranks in the early 1840s. In the end she became identified with the Garrison faction, going so far as to endorse his call for disunion in an 1842 editorial. A disunionist stance had been unthinkable to her just nine years earlier when she issued the Appeal, but in the interim she had become radicalized by the experience of incessantly confronting the slave power's arrogant and aggressive domination of the existing union. Privately she went even further, confiding to her close friends that violence would be necessary to end slavery and purify the American republic.

The major foreign policy concern of the Standard during her tenure as editor was the prevention of the annexation of Texas. The newspaper covered in detail the Congressional debates on the Texas question and kept up the abolitionist drumbeat against taking the Lone Star Republic into the Union. Her husband, David, shared the commitment to antiannexation, writing a major broadside on the issue and traveling to Washington in the fall of 1842 to serve as informal correspondent for both the Standard and Garrison's Liberator. Mrs. Child also tried to coax non-abolitionist editors to oppose annexation, particularly the transcendentalist Parke Godwin of the Pathfinder. She sent Godwin her husband's pamphlet on Texas urging him "to tell the people the truth" because "slavery is making a desperate effort for the extension and permanence of its power on this continent."25 Although the abolitionists had prevented Texas annexation since the 1836 insurrection against Mexico, Mrs. Child became rather fatalistic about continued antislavery success on the issue. In 1843 just after leaving the Standard she confided to fellow abolitionist Ellis Gray Loring that organizations, presumably her newspaper as well, "have about done their work" on Texas, but their effort "will be carried to its full completion by events they can neither foresee nor regulate."26 And in the hectic period before the Tyler administration's successful annexation of Texas in 1845 by joint resolution of Congress, Maria Child again prophesied that the slave power juggernaut would only be stopped through bloodshed and violence.

Child's prediction of internecine violence was premature. The slave power seemed invulnerable as it rolled on in its territorial quests, and not being satisfied with Texas was now engaged in an unjust war with Mexico for territory stretching as far as the Pacific Ocean. Her pen was once again active in opposition to the Mexican War, but not in any official antislavery capacity. As a result of her exhausting and disillusioning experience as editor of the Standard, with the continual strain and tension of factional disputes and feuds, Mrs. Child had privately announced to close friends her retirement from the antislavery cause. Despite this semi-formal retirement, Lydia Maria Child never really left the antislavery enterprise either emotionally or intellectually. Thereafter she may have operated independently, free of institutional and organizational constraints, but she was no less instrumental in promoting the cause of the slave, and after the Civil War, the freedman.

As an independent critic perhaps her most effective bit of writing during the Mexican War appeared in one of her "letters from New York," a more or less regular column that ran in the Boston Courier. In this particular letter Mrs. Child recounted how a new hotel in the city had attracted her attention because of an unusual sign mounted on its facade. The sign depicted a great bird with out-stretched wings and in its beak was a banner with the motto: "The American Eagle allows little birds to sing." This "pompous annunciation of our national condescension and forbearance" caused her to smile, but only halfheartedly since her "perverse thoughts jumped from the eagle to Indian treaties and negro slaves." At that moment she heard martial music from a nearby park where recruits were being assembled for service in the war against Mexico. The tune beckoned "the brave and the free" to do battle for their country "without hinting that their mission would be to extend slavery, and rob a weaker nation; because little birds must not be allowed to sing."27 To Maria Child the American sense of mission to benighted little nations seemed irrepressible, as did the slave power's incessant drive for territory.

After what amounted to very limited participation in the opposition to the Mexican War, Mrs. Child retreated further from the public limelight. For nearly a decade she rarely engaged in the formal organizational activities of the antislavery cause. Although she never wavered in her abolitionist convictions, the need to overcome nagging personal financial difficulties and to restore some order to her marriage after years of intermittent separation from her husband demanded most of her time and energy. It was not until the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in May 1854, with its popular sovereignty provision that nullified the 1820 Missouri Compromise's prohibition on the extension of slavery above the 36° 30' parallel, that Maria Child once again was stirred to action in defense of the slave. She and her husband entered the fray together—David as lecturer and organizer for the Kansas Aid Society; Maria as author of a serialized tale on "The Kansas Emigrants" published in Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, and as fundraiser for the antislavery settlers in Kansas.

Predictably, Mrs. Child held the slave power responsible for passage of the Nebraska Bill, but on this occasion she was as harshly critical of Northern members of Congress for being completely servile to the slave interest. Apparently she was totally ignorant of Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas's role, which had little to do with slave power, in formulating the legislation to further his political and financial schemes to guarantee that Chicago would be the northern terminus of the projected transcontinental railroad. Although she distrusted Senator Douglas it was not his shenanigans that most bothered her. What Mrs. Child feared above all was that continued northern servility would allow the nation's diplomacy to be manipulated by the slave power to acquire Cuba and Haiti, either through war, or in the case of Cuba, through the liberal use of bribes among Spanish officials. Her fears were not unfounded. Southerners dreamed of Caribbean empire for slavery's expansion and in recognition of the political appeal of those dreams, the Democrats in their 1856 campaign platform endorsed "American ascendancy in the Gulf of Mexico" as one of their foreign policy objectives.28

Now in her mid-fifties at the time the Kansas crisis erupted, Mrs. Child occasionally expressed a sense of despair at the successes of the "ever-encroaching Slave-Power." The emergence of the Republican Party with its modest antislavery stance of free territories and the selection of John C. Fremont to head its 1856 presidential ticket did offer Child renewed hope. It was gratifying for this old foe of slavery to see after almost a quarter century of "labor, discouragement, unpopularity, and persecution" that abolitionist principles at last were beginning "visibly to sway the masses." Mrs. Child's long experience in the cause had converted her to the need for organized political action to assure antislavery victory. In her view Garrisonians and the American Anti-Slavery Society were too narrow and intolerant and had little popular appeal. But in Child's elation over Fremont's nomination, she was not uncritical of the Republican candidate or, for that matter, of all politicians. He had been a filibuster who helped bring on the Mexican War. Despite the fact Fremont may have been deluded "by a blaze of false glory," in her eyes that was little excuse for the unjust aggression against Mexico.29

If bleeding Kansas and the presidential contest between Fremont and the victorious James Buchanan rekindled Maria Child's desire to act against the slave power, her response to John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry in late 1859 evoked national attention that rivaled, and probably surpassed, the public response to the Appeal in the 1830s. Upon hearing the news of the attack and Brown's capture, she wrote him offering to come to Virginia to nurse and aid him during his convalescence and trial. Captain Brown graciously declined her offer. In the meantime she had written Governor Henry Wise seeking permission to enter Virginia on her errand of mercy. Wise's reply to her request touched off a correspondence on the moral questions surrounding Brown's raid and the issue of slavery that quickly appeared in the pages of the New York Tribune.

The publication of the Child-Wise letters led Margaretta Mason, wife of Virginia Senator James M. Mason, to join the fray. Mrs. Mason accused Maria Child of gross hypocrisy in seeking to aid the "old murderer of Harper's Ferry." In her famous response condemning the evils of slavery Mrs. Child, reacting to Mrs. Mason's discussion of the kindnesses southern ladies heaped on slave women during childbirth, caustically noted that in Massachusetts "the pangs of maternity" met with generous support from neighbors, "and here at the North, after we have helped the mothers, we do not sell the babies."30 The entire Child-Wise-Mason exchange was printed in 1860 as a pamphlet for circulation by the American Anti-Slavery Society. Over 300,000 copies were distributed throughout the North, with a number of copies reaching southern readers as well. An enormous circulation for that day, the pamphlet made Mrs. Child a national figure in the bitterly enflamed sectional dispute over slavery.

The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 guaranteed that the raging sectional conflict that had been fueled by John Brown's Harper's Ferry attack would bring disunion and civil war. For almost two decades Maria Child had forecast the horror of civil strife as the inevitable outcome of the struggle between freedom and slavery. As the nation hung on the brink of war after the secession of the lower South and prior to Lincoln's inauguration, Maria Child confidently wrote fellow abolitionist Lucretia Mott in late February 1861 that "whatever turn affairs may take, the term of slavery is sure to be abridged by the present agitation. The blind fury of the Secessionists have [sic] converted them into the most valuable Anti-Slavery Agents."31 When war came the bloodshed and loss of life appalled her. But President Lincoln and the Republican-led Congress did proceed to enact many of the long-sought reforms on the abolitionist agenda. In rapid succession during 1862 slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia and the territories of the United States, a preliminary emancipation proclamation was announced by the President, and the Lincoln administration granted diplomatic recognition to Haiti and Liberia. Mrs. Child was "infinitely cheered" by these actions that she "had long given up the expectation of living to see." She applauded Charles Summer, who was in the forefront of the Senate drive for Haitian recognition, for his long-time devotion and service to the abolitionist cause. The Civil War may have been "an awful thing" but it did represent a "visible step of progress" for Mrs. Child and thousands of her antislavery brethren.32

Abolitionist satisfaction at the progress achieved during the war could not conceal the political expediency inherent in not a few of the government's actions. There were several political and commercial reasons for Lincoln's support of Haitian recognition. One that played a key role was his desire to find a location for the colonization of freed slaves. The island of Haiti had long been touted as a logical choice for colonization and shortly after the United States extended official recognition a scheme for colonization at Ileà-Vache, Haiti, was approved by the Lincoln administration. The Haitian colonization effort proved to be a disaster for the several hundred freedmen who staged the resettlement effort. Mrs. Child apparently was unaware of either Lincoln's support for the plan or the human tragedy that resulted during the project's brief existence. Had she and the other abolitionists who originated the 1830s campaign for Haitian recognition been attuned to the racist implications of Lincoln's action, they would have realized that victory was purchased at the expense of one of their most cherished goals—black equality.33

Mrs. Child, to her credit, did recognize and decry the widespread disdain for the freedmen's rights that was all too common both during and after the war. Her concern that black equality would be thwarted was apparent from the onset of the conflict. In late 1862 just before the official release of the Emancipation Proclamation, she labeled it merely a "war measure" and lamentably "no recognition of principles of justice or humanity surrounded the public act with a halo of moral glory." Even Union victory was bitter-sweet, as Mrs. Child seemed haunted by the devastating human cost of the war. In August 1865 she confessed to her old friend Sarah Shaw, a mother who had lost her only son in the war, that had she been told slavery would be abolished in her day, "I should have anticipated such enthusiastic joy as would set me half crazy." But in reality that did not occur, "what with the frightful expenditure of blood" and the emancipation of slaves "being forced upon us by necessity." What troubled and angered her as well was "the shameful want of protection to the freedmen since they have been emanicipated." With all that on her mind Mrs. Child admitted "there has been no opportunity for any out-gushing of joy and exultation."34 But as in the past her unflinching intellectual honesty did not immobilize this intrepid reformer or lead to total despair. Undaunted she went on to become a leading advocate of education for the freedmen as a way to secure their political and social rights.

Just as she realized the immediate legacy of the Civil War would not be one of full political and social equality for the recently emancipated blacks, Maria Child doubted that Union victory and the destruction of the slave power would usher in a new diplomatic era marked by a less aggressive, less expansionist foreign policy. Although Child's antiexpansionist outlook originally evolved from her slave power analysis, defeat of the slavocracy did not lead her to abandon her opposition to territorial expansion, especially if it came through fraud or force and at the expense of a weaker nation. If the Union triumph brought the nation no nearer racial equality, it also only temporarily curbed the lust for territory and the spirit of annexation so central to the nineteenth century American psyche. One recent historian of Civil War diplomacy in fact has argued that the North's victory assured the United States' imperial hegemony in North America and the Western Hemisphere, and enabled it "to continue its headlong rush into superpowerdom."35 While Maria Child in the post-Civil War period continued to object to morally tainted schemes of territorial expansion, she initially did not place the northern victory in the broad imperial context suggested by some twentieth century historians.

When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 the transaction did not arouse any opposition from Mrs. Child. Presumably the Alaska deal was unobjectionable because it came under the category of a mutually arrived at diplomatic agreement for territorial transfer between two nations of roughly equivalent power and strength. Such was not the case when President Ulysses S. Grant's administration sought to annex Santo Domingo. The actions of the United States were those of a bully, as the nation used its superior naval and military power to intimidate a weaker, essentially defenseless, neighbor. Filibusters who were sponsored by northern business and commercial interests were being used to prepare the way for American annexation. It was "a bad business," angrily wrote Mrs. Child in 1871, "a real filibustering project, twin brother to our taking Texas from the poor Mexicans. This Republic will sink rapidly to degeneracy and ruin, if we go on thus seizing the territory of our neighbors by fraud or force."36 There was another reason for Child's anxi ety about affairs in Santo Domingo and her concern for the future of the American republic. Quite at variance with her genuine and lifelong racial tolerance, she was vehemently anti-Catholic and feared that annexation would bring into the Union a sizable Catholic population that was ignorant of and hostile to republican ideals. Her Yankee, Protestant antipathy for the recent Irish Catholic immigrants that arrived in such large numbers in New England prior to the Civil War apparently extended to Catholic Latins in the Caribbean as well. In the midst of her outcry against Dominican annexation she privately informed Senator Summer that it would be "exceedingly dangerous to add anything to the weight of Roman Catholic influence" in the United States since "the Roman Catholic Church in its spirit and its form, is utterly antagonistic to republican institutions." Summer ignored this atypical lapse of tolerance in his aging mentor. But for Mrs. Child anti-Catholicism remained an emotional ingredient in her reaction to Grant's effort at Caribbean expansion.37

The pages of the National Standard, post-Civil War successor to The National Anti-Slavery Standard, served as Child's forum in the campaign against Dominican annexation. In the public debate she downplayed anti-Catholicism, focusing squarely instead on the issue of the injustice of American aggrandizement at the expense of a weaker neighbor. Sumner, engaged in what amounted to a personal crusade in the Senate to thwart Grant's plans, received her continued praise and frequent moral support. She was much relieved when the annexation scheme died, thanks primarily to Sumner's opposition as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The entire Dominican episode, favored as it was by a President she otherwise admired and respected, left the seventy-year-old reformer ever more wary of American leadership's thirst for imperial glory and overseas expansion. Mrs. Child was distressed further upon reading Grant's second inaugural address with its confident prediction that the civilized world was progressing toward republicanism under the aegis of the United States. Writing to Mrs. Shaw in late March 1873, Child confided that she liked the President's remarks on Indians and blacks, "but I am very sorry to see him so infected with the greed for annexation; and I thought it very injudicious to blurt out that prophecy about a Universal Republic."38

Later that year when the Virginius affair became a cause célèbre it appeared Grant might annex Cuba. That island was wracked by a protracted insurrection against Spanish rule. A crisis with the United States erupted when Spanish authorities seized the Virginius in the fall of 1873 and summarily executed its predominantly American crew on the charge the ship was carrying arms and supplies to the Cuban revolutionaries. A national furor arose that prompted calls for the American takeover of Cuba. Harper's Weekly highlighted its coverage of what it labeled "the butchery in Cuba" with illustrated sketches of crew members and political cartoons urging the Grant administration to take action against the Spanish. One cartoon by Thomas Nast depicted Secretary of State Hamilton Fish boosting Uncle Sam into a bull ring as President Grant handed him a sword with the caption: "THE SPANISH BULL IN CUBA GONE MAD. It must be stopped. If Spain can't do it, WE MUST!"39 Maria Child was sorely "vexed" at Nast's "mad bull" rendition. In her view the Spanish had not acted as a mad bull; they simply had defended themselves against filibusters and marauders. She also believed "our talk about humanity, and the vindication of our national honor, is all pretense—too flimsy to disguise our eagerness to grab at the possessions of Cuba." In Child's exasperation with American territorial lust she exclaimed "I do believe if we could annex the whole world, we should try to get a quarrel with Saturn, in order to snatch his ring from him."40 It would appear that within a few short years after the Civil War ended, Mrs. Child had accepted the verdict of later historians that Union victory had set the stage for the creation of an American overseas empire.

In the 1870s Child concluded a lengthy and impressive career as foreign policy critic and champion of the underdog by adopting the cause of the Chinese immigrant. Through the tried-and-true methods of public letter writing and the lobbying of influential male politicans she opposed federal attempts to exclude Chinese from entering the United States. Frequently skeptical of "spread-eagle" nationalism with its inflated sense of mission, Child on this issue revealed her own somewhat romanticized vision of the mission of a republican United States recently cleansed of the taint of slavery. America now had "a glorious mission" to serve as "a High School for all the nations" by accepting, embracing, and assimilating all comers to its shores. In seeking to make the nation a pluralistic model of racial tolerance and political freedom, Mrs. Child denounced what she identified as a cresting wave of native Americanism, apparently unbothered by the inconsistency of opposing further Catholic additions to the population while urging open access for the Chinese.41 The focus of the anti-Chinese campaign was repeal of the 1868 Burlingame Treaty with China, an agreement that allowed for unrestricted immigration and movement between the two countries. In the end the forces of American nativism triumphed when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Mrs. Child, who died in 1880, did not live to see the defeat of the last of her many foreign policy crusades.

Any assessment of Maria Child's impact on American foreign policy would have to begin with the recognition that she was ever the suspect outsider and unwelcome critic. At no time in her career did she formulate or execute the nation's diplomacy. At no time did she assume the burden of day-to-day decision-making or the challenge of long-range policy formulation. What influence Mrs. Child did have was necessarily indirect and difficult to gauge or measure precisely. As the voice of the oppressed and disfranchised in nineteenth century America she appealed to her contemporaries through the intellectual power and moral force of her ideas. From the public and private testimony of Child's peers it was apparent that the 1833 Appeal successfully presented antislavery's initial critique of slave power and its control of American politics and diplomacy. It served as primer for countless men and women who entered the fight against slavery in the 1830s and 1840s. In that sense she did help shape the intellectual, racial, and political consciousness of a generation of the rank and file of the abolitionist enterprise.

Further proof of the intellectual impact of Child's ideas appeared over the next two decades as the core of her pathbreaking synthesis was adopted and expanded upon by abolitionist men and remained the basis of the antislavery argument until the Civil War. One of the first males to expand upon Child's analysis was Judge William Jay, son of founding father John Jay. Judge Jay extensively reiterated Mrs. Child's argument that American diplomacy was "subservient to the interests of the slaveholders."42 The Child-Jay slave power analysis had further political influence when it became the ideological foundation of the platform of the Liberty Party in the 1840 campaign. James Birney, the party's presidential candidate, and Joshua Leavitt, editor of the party organ the Emancipator, were active proponents of Haitian recognition and in the forefront of the struggle against the annexation of Texas. In their speeches and writings Salmon Chase of Ohio and William Goodell of New York carried the argument through the 1850s. Goodell's 1852 book, Slavery and Anti-Slavery, represented the polemical epitome of the antebellum slave power conspiracy thesis. In the immediate post-Civil War years Child's acknowledged disciple, Henry Wilson, authored an insider's three volume retrospective on the rise and fall of the slave power.43 Although the initial formulator of the slave power thesis, Lydia Maria Child has not received the full historical recognition accorded these men primarily because as a woman she was denied equal access to the political arena. She now must be acknowledged as the leader of the cadre of antebellum intellectuals who demanded and secured the demise of slavery and the slave power.

During the Civil War era when Mrs. Child was at the peak of her national prominence she probably had some sway on foreign policy issues with at least two prominent Republicans—Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson. Just how much influence she had in bringing the Lincoln administration to bestow Haitian recognition or in preventing President Grant from annexing Santo Domingo is virtually impossible to determine, much less measure in any quantifiable way. Her voice undoubtedly was heard, if only to reinforce Sumner, Wilson, and others in their previously held abolitionist convictions. Mrs. Child recognized the limitations under which she labored. As she grew older, the frustration of being unable to participate fully and equally in the nation's political affairs led her to become a tough public advocate of female suffrage and women's rights. At the twilight of her forty-year career she complained to Senator Sumner: "I have keenly felt my limitations as a woman, and have submitted to them under perpetual and indignant protest." When appraising her own influence on public affairs within the constraints placed upon her sex, Mrs. Child used the idiom of "the little mouse" ever active behind the scenes, rejoicing "over her work with infinite satisfaction" on the infrequent occasion when one of her crusades met with success. But in what may well be the most revealing testimony to what it was like to be a female challenging America's male-dominated foreign policy in the nineteenth century, Mrs. Child once confessed that "at times, my old heart swells to bursting … for it is the heart of a man imprisoned in a woman's destiny."44


1 J. H. Plumb, "Spreading the News," review of David Brion Davis' Slavery and Human Progress, New York Review of Books (January 17, 1985), 31.

2 Lydia Maria Child, The Mother's Book (Boston, 1831), 168.

3 Lydia Maria Child to Anne Whitney, June 1879, in John Greenleaf Whittier (ed.), Letters of Lydia Maria Child (Boston, 1883), 255.

4 Lydia Maria Child to Charles Sumner, July 4, 1870, in Milton Meltzer and Patricia G. Holland (eds.), Lydia Maria Child Selected Letters, 1817-1880 (Amherst, 1982), 495; Lydia Maria Child to David Ricketson, February 15, 1871, in Patricia G. Holland and Milton Meltzer, The Collected Correspondence of Lydia Maria Child, microfiche edition. Curiously, throughout her long career as social activist and foreign policy critic Maria Child steadfastly refused to lecture publicly. For example, see Lydia Maria Child to William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator, March 6, 1840.

5North American Review, 41 (1835), 193.

6 Lydia Maria Child, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (Boston, 1833), Preface.

7 Anna Purinton to Lydia Maria Child, August 8, 1835, Collected Correspondence, microfiche edition.

8 Ibid. Charles Sumner to Lydia Maria Child, September 19, 1856; on the influence of the Appeal, see also Lydia Maria Child to Lucy and Mary Osgood, May 11, 1856, to Charles Sumner, July 7, 1856, and to Aaron M. Powell, June 6, 1868.

9 Child, Appeal, 112.

10Niles Register, XXVII, 31; Timothy Pitkin, Statistical View of the Commerce of the United States of America (New Haven, 1835), 219.

11 Child, Appeal, 121.

12 Ibid.

13 Patricia G. Holland and Milton Meltzer, eds., Guide and Index, The Collected Correspondence of Lydia Maria Child 1817-1880 (Millwood, N.Y., 1980), 28-29.

14 Lydia Maria Child to Henrietta Sargent, November 18, 1838, Collected Correspondence, microfiche edition.

15 Lydia Maria Child to the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society [October?—before 19 November 1835], Selected Letters, 41 .

16 Lydia Maria Child to Lydia Bigelow Child, March 10, 1836; Lydia Maria Child to Louisa G. Loring, May 30, 1836, Collected Correspondence, microfiche edition.

17 Ibid., Lydia Maria Child to Henrietta Sargent, November 18, 1838.

18 Ibid.

19 Gilbert H. Barnes, The Antislavery Impulse 1830-1844 (Gloucester, Mass., 1957), 266.

20 See, for example, Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York, 1970).

21Proceedings of the Third Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, Held in Phildelphia, May 1st, 2d and 3d, 1839 (Philadelphia, 1839), 26.

22 Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience (New York, 1984), 182.

23Address to the Senators and Representatives of the Free States, in the Congress of the United States, by the Antislavery Convention of American Women (Philadelphia, 1838).

24House Journal, 25th Cong., 3d Sess, 111; 143.

25 Lydia Maria Child to Parke Godwin, May 2, 1843, Collected Correspondence, microfiche edition.

26 Ibid., Lydia Maria Child to Ellis Gray Loring, June 26, 1843.

27Boston Courier, October 27, 1846.

28 See: Robert E. May, The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 1854-1861 (Baton Rouge, 1973).

29 Lydia Maria Child to Sarah Shaw, November 9, 1856, Collected Correspondence, microfiche edition.

30Correspondence Between Lydia Maria Child and Gov. Wise and Mrs. Mason, of Virginia (Boston, 1860), 26.

31 Lydia Maria Child to Lucretia Mott, February 26, 1861, Selected Letters, 377.

32 Ibid., Lydia Maria Child to Charles Sumner, June 22, 1862, 412.

33 Ludwell L. Montague, Haiti and the United States, 1714-1938 (Durham, 1940), 76.

34 Lydia Maria Child to Sarah Shaw, August 11, 1865, Selected Letters, 457-58.

35 David P. Crook, Diplomacy During the American Civil War (New York, 1975), 9.

36 Lydia Maria Child to Daniel Ricketson, February 15, 1871, Collected Correspondence, microfiche edition.

37 Lydia Maria Child to Charles Sumner, July 4, 1870, Selected Letters, 495; for her anti-Irish sentiments, see Lydia Maria Child to Maria Chapman, April 26, 1842, 169.

38 Ibid., Lydia Maria Child to Sarah Shaw, March 24, 1873, 513.

39Harper's Weekly, November 29, 1873, 1068.

40 Lydia Maria Child to Sarah Shaw [1873, after March 24?], Collected Correspondence, microfiche edition.

41 Lydia Maria Child to John Greenleaf Whitter, July 31, 1870, Selected Letters, 497.

42 William Jay, A View of the Action of the Federal Government in Behalf of Slavery (New York, 1839), 47.

43 Henry Wilson, The Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 3 vols. (Boston, 1872).

44 Lydia Maria Child to Charles Sumner, Wayland, 1870, in Whittier, Letters, 208; Lydia Maria Child to Charles Sumner, July 7, 1856, Selected Letters, 283.

Bruce Mills (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: "A Reading History: 'Hobomok' and Its Audience," in Cultural Transformations: Lydia Maria Child and the Literature of Reform, The University of Georgia Press, 1994, pp. 11-29.

[In the following essay, Mills focuses on Hobomok, exploring the tensions in the novel over race relations and colonialism in America.]

When Lydia Maria Child produced her first novel Hobomok in 1824, she was especially conscious of the prevailing literary tastes and social views held by men who stood prominently behind the pulpits, podiums, and desks of such key religious, academic, and literary institutions as the Unitarian church, Harvard College, the North American Review, and the Boston Athenaeum.1 The novel and its reception provide a case study in how a social ideology, uniquely concentrated in identifiable civic associations and eloquently set forth by community spokesmen, shaped the creation and interpretation of an early American novel. Tracing the relationship between Child and these institutions and their representatives—individuals such as John Gorham Palfrey, her brother Convers Francis, and George Ticknor—illustrates how her readers, especially the critics of the North American Review, sought to regulate the period's social views by suggesting proper subject matter for American narratives and monitoring the way this material adhered to their values. Thus, Hobomok emerged within an interpretive community guided by social interests as well as literary nationalism. Simply said, for Child, pleasing her readers was never strictly a literary matter.2

Boston's civic leaders would have seen in Hobomok many of their own literary prescriptions, liberal religious beliefs, and racial theories. Yet according to an early critique of the novel in the North American Review, the series of incidents that concludes her narrative—the objectionable union of Hobomok and Mary Conant, a Pequod Indian and a white Puritan settler, the birth of "an infant semisavage," and Mary Conant's eventual marriage to a previous lover after Hobomok's magnanimous departure—are "not only unnatural, but revolting … to every feeling of delicacy in man or woman." Significantly, however, Child's seemingly radical version of race relations in Colonial America did not get the book banned in Boston. For, while the reviewer questions the appropriateness of the events, he feels its "excellencies outweigh its faults."3 A close look at the novel and the Brahmin institutional structures that received it reveals what Boston leaders found suitable: dramatic use of American materials, the unfavorable portrayal of stern Calvinism, and accepted conceptions of the Indian character.

To understand the readers Child won and the values they (and she) would have seen within the text, we should look closely at one of the scenes that the Review literary critic found so disagreeable: Mary Conant's decision to wed Hobomok. The circumstances under which this violation of racial boundaries occurs are desperate. Hobomok first hints at the possibility of marrying Mary Conant after finding her alone and in despair following the deaths of her mother, her close friend Lady Arabella, and apparently her lover Charles Brown, who, Miss Conant had only recently learned, supposedly drowned at sea. (Only later is it revealed that Brown escaped the shipwreck.) The description of Conant's response to Hobomok is a moral lesson in prose:

There was a chaos in Mary's mind;—a dim twilight, which had at first made all objects shadowy, and which was rapidly darkening into misery, almost insensible of its source. The sudden stroke which had dashed from her lips the long promised cup of joy, had almost hurled reason from his throne. What now had life to offer? If she went to England, those for whom she most wished to return, were dead. If she remained in America, what communion could she have with those around her? Even Hobomok, whose language was brief, figurative, and poetic, and whose nature was unwarped by the artifices of civilized life, was far preferable to them.4

According to the narrator, Mary Conant has three options: return to England, remain in Salem, or marry an Indian. But the deaths of English relatives have closed off the first option. And her mother's death has made it hard for her to embrace the second. Significantly, sympathetic communion with her father, Roger Conant, and her fellow townspeople is less imaginable than a union with Hobomok. Ruled more by her conflicting emotions than by reason, Mary Conant concludes that only her uncivilized lover can promise love and companionship.

The daughter is unable to experience suitable companionship with her father and other villagers because they have attempted to govern her affections with harsh Calvinist doctrine. Exemplifying this stern and unsympathetic faith is Roger Conant, a man whose religion took root during misfortune and poverty (H, 8). Conant, like his fictional cousin Young Goodman Brown, colors the world with the dark shades of his own understanding of sin. Unlike Hawthorne's Brown, however, Conant finds solace with the band of believers who rejected the Church of England and who, Child writes earlier, might be described as "dark, discontented bigots" (H, 6). Not surprisingly, he is an outspoken adversary of the Episcopalian Charles Brown and, along with the leaders of Salem, votes to banish Brown because he threatens the community with his "false" religion. As important as what Conant believes to be Brown's open worship of the devil's faith, however, is his courting of Conant's daughter. These acts disrupt the public and domestic spheres of Conant's world. Even before the church elders exiled Brown from the town, Roger Conant had banished him from his cottage.

As if to convince readers more fully of the magnitude of the father's hardness of heart—and of Mary's justification for rejecting her community—Child offers Mary one last chance for communion with her father. Just after Mary Conant agrees to marry her Indian lover, she returns to her empty home and resolves not to accept Hobomok's proposal. However, before she can carry through with this decision, her father returns and finds her with Brown's prayer book. Mr. Conant is so controlled by his unbending faith that, even after his wife's deathbed injunction to soften his heart toward Brown for Mary's sake, he rejects sympathy in favor of doctrine: "My soul abhorreth [the prayer book], as it doth the spirits of the bottomless pit"(H, 122). This final act drives his daughter to the "unnatural" union.

That Mary Conant's fateful decision is made under duress is clearly and repeatedly shown throughout the chapter. A litany of mitigating circumstances reinforces the tragic nature of the marriage. The narrator, for instance, ponders the ill-advised choice: "It was strange that trouble had power to excite her quiet spirit to so much irascibility; and powerful indeed must have been the superstition, which could induce so much beauty and refinement, even in a moment of desperation, to exchange the social band, stern and dark as it was, for the company of savages" (H, 122).5 Hobomok himself wonders whether he is not witnessing the ruin of Mary Conant's mind. And, during the Indian ceremony, the "pale and motionless" bride is seen as one who would have "seemed like a being from another world, had not her wild, frenzied look revealed too much of human wretchedness" (H, 123).

Clearly, the events leading to this marriage—the deaths of the women with whom Mary had shared a close bond, the fateful co-incidence of Hobomok's appearance, the severity of wilderness life, her father's harsh Calvinism and brutish love, and Brown's supposed death—rival even Job's trials. The care with which Child portrays these circumstances reveals her understanding of the enormity of Mary Conant's transgression. The lesson, it seems, is not that an interracial, cross-cultural marriage is possible, but that it is the final tragedy in a series of cruel events.6

But there are other morals as well, lessons that arise from the book's place within the Boston literary and religious communities. Child's depiction of the "stern and dark" Calvinist village, for example, corresponds with literary and religious doctrines advanced most clearly by the writers of the Harvard-influenced, Unitarian North American Review.7

By the early 1820s, Child would have been familiar with fiction and reviews of fiction that encouraged specific portrayals of the relationship between New England's forefathers and Indians. Child's introduction to the dialogue about American literature actually began with her reading of the North American Review. In 1846, reflecting upon her career in a letter to Rufus Wilmot Griswold, editor of the anthology Prose Writers in America, Child herself described the essential role this journal played in the creation of Hobomok. Not long after settling into the home of her brother Convers Francis in 1822, Child says she "took up the N. American Review, and read Mr. [John Gorham] Palfrey's review of Yamoyden, in which he eloquently describes the adaptation of early N. England history to the purposes of fiction" (SL, 232). What she would have read is one of the many eloquent appeals urging American writers to use American materials in their novels. In promoting utilization of the untamed landscape, New England's Puritan heritage, and Indian customs, Palfrey seconded calls for a national literature raised by fellow Review critics William Tudor, John Knapp, and William Howard Gardiner.8 The epic poem that Palfrey reviewed—James Wallis Eastburn's and Robert Sands's narrative poem "Yamoyden"—suggested a rough outline for the plot of Child's narrative.9 Yet Child found especially inspiring and sugges tive Palfrey's own assertion that what distinguished American life and history from that of Europe—and thus would eventually define American fiction—was the uneasy grouping of two distinct races. According to Palfrey, Indian superstitions would "furnish abundant food to an imagination inclined to the sombre and terrible, their primitive habits admit of pathos in the introduction of incidents of private life, and in public there occurred events enough to find place for the imposing qualities of heroism."10

Immediately after laying down this April 1821 issue of the North American Review, Child wrote the first chapter of Hobomok, echoing Palfrey's eloquent claims for a usable American past: "Two centuries only have elapsed, since our most beautiful villages reposed in the undisturbed grandeur of nature…. God was here in his holy temple, and the whole earth kept silence before him!" (H, 5). And, she would add, "it is no wonder that men who fled from oppression in their own country, to all the hardships of a remote and dreary province, should have exhibited a deep mixture of exclusive, bitter, and morose passions" (H, 6). Attributing her boldness to Palfrey's words, Child relates in her letter to Griswold that she went on to finish the entire work in just six weeks.

While her fictional response to Palfrey's review indicates that Child subscribed to early literary doctrine, it also indicates that she understood prevailing Unitarian religious views.11 In significant ways, Hobomok writ large New England's, and especially Boston's, struggle to discard the remnants of an orthodox religious faith and thus resonates with the beliefs of those who directly inspired Child's work. Palfrey himself, like Convers Francis, was a Harvard graduate and Unitarian minister who at the time of his review had already served nearly three years as pastor of Boston's prominent Brattle Street church. Palfrey, Francis, and their intellectual peers of the North American Review, after all, would themselves have been profoundly shaped by the shifting views that had changed the direction of their academy.12 Less than two decades earlier, Harvard College had elected Henry Ware to succeed the moderate Calvinist David Tappan as acting president.13 And though by the early 1820s one generation of scholars had passed through the Boston institution, pamphlets and pulpit oratories communicated the intent of orthodox Calvinists to win back New England souls. By the time Child's novel was published in 1824, however, Calvinists suffered a second-class status and Unitarians controlled the institutions of power in Boston. Remembering the arrival of the Calvinists's Calvinist, Lyman Beecher, to Boston in 1825, Harriet Beecher Stowe would write: "All the literary men of Massachusetts were Unitarian. All the trustees and professors of Harvard College were Unitarians. All the elite of wealth and fashion crowded Unitarian churches."14 Living with a Harvard seminary graduate and Unitarian minister, Child shared the intoxicating draught from this cultural chalice. She participated in conversations at Watertown that included such figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, and John Greenleaf Whittier; she continued to read the leading literary and religious journals, critiquing William Ellery Channing's article on Napoleon in the Christian Examiner (July-August 1827) in a letter to a young Margaret Fuller.15 The daily interaction with the forms and dialogue of cultural power helped determine her vision of Puritan ancestors.

When Child characterized the conflict between Mary Conant and her father, then, she drew upon this disenchantment with Calvinism. Like many in Child's generation and the generation before her, Mary Conant finds little religious or social nourishment from neighbors who have inherited a legalistic faith developed in response to an unrelenting environment. Like that of her creator, Mary Conant's religious spirit is more tolerant and imaginative, one nurtured less by an Old Testament regard for law than a New Testament elevation of divine love. Child reveals her own liberal beliefs in the novel when she writes that the Puritans thought little, "amid the fierce contests of opinion, of the latent treasures of mind or the rich sympathies of taste." Instead, she continues, a "sound, doctrinal exposition of Romans brought more religious warmth into their hearts, than the nightly exhibition of the numerous hosts shining in the broad belt of the heavens, those mighty apostles, which God has sent forth to proclaim throughout creation, his majesty and power" (H, 91). Because Salem's fathers seemed more concerned to keep Satan at a distance rather than God in their hearts, they were unable to give Mary what she asked of Hobomok: a love unaffected by social artifice or limited by a stern sense of duty. "Liberty of conscience," warned Goodman Higginson, "is the gilded bait whereby Satan has caught many souls. The threshold of hell is paved with toleration" (H, 65). What drove Mary to despair and in part compelled the Boston religious community to reform their faith was their heritage of a harsh and often unfeeling faith.

Child's belief that Calvinism did not nurture an enlightened and loving community had become a familiar judgment of a new breed of Boston ministers. In May 1919 William Ellery Channing forcefully articulated a Unitarian response to orthodox faith during his ordination sermon for Jared Sparks, an eventual editor of the North American Review and future reviewer of Hobomok. In pamphlet form this address, entitled "Unitarian Christianity," circulated more widely than any other before the Webster-Haynes debates over nullification in 1830.16 Belief in a vengeful God, Channing argues, will not lead to the development of good morals. On the contrary,

it tends to discourage the timid, to give excuses to the bad, to feed the vanity of the fanatical, and to offer shelter to the bad feelings of the malignant. By shocking, as it does, the fundamental principles of morality, and by exhibiting a severe and partial Deity, it tends strongly to pervert the moral faculty, to form a gloomy, forbidding, and servile religion, and to lead men to substitute censoriousness, bitterness, and persecution, for a tender and impartial charity.17

Channing's unsympathetic characterization of Calvinism anticipates Child's portrayal of Roger Conant. Interestingly, Channing (and Child) foresaw that such masculine severity had to be softened by "tender and impartial charity." His images and rhetoric prepare parishioners for a gentler faith. As Child suggests in her novel, this charity can be more powerfully displayed in the actions of women than in the cold doctrine of men.

The emerging liberal morality illuminates more than Child's characterizations of the differing religious temperaments of Roger and Mary Conant. It explains why such a book came to be written and what values such a book could promote. By challenging Calvinism for its perversion of the "moral faculty," Channing and other Unitarian apologists introduced more rational ways to see the struggle for salvation.18 In their enlightened religious and civic perspectives, proper habits and not inborn nature became increasingly important if redemption was no longer arbitrarily predetermined. The formation of virtuous habits, then, became the high charge of every Christian citizen. And, because the intellectual and religious education of its citizens fell upon the leaders of Boston, these city fathers employed private and public means to nourish the intellect and sentiment. While Child might not have embraced the "cold rationality of the Unitarians,"19 she did share this faith in reasoned self-restraint and believed that literature could foster a virtuous citizenry.

By writing in a form that, according to most reviewers and religious leaders, shaped the affections, Child joined in this cultivation of proper values. Not surprisingly, the caretakers of public good—those who controlled the publishing houses and promoted literary careers—attended to her fiction. Later in his life, George Hillard, a prominent Brahmin lawyer, acknowledged the important relationship between the merchant class and culture, and, importantly, between art and social values: "A country in which all men are engaged in acquisition of property … without books, without scholars, without ideas … contains within itself the element of destruction." Culture, Hillard told the Mercantile Library Association, taught "lessons of humility, patience, and submission."20 Such values were especially important to inculcate in lower and middle classes whose changing status would disturb the social structure.

By the mid-1820s, Boston Brahmins had formed the Boston Athenaeum and the North American Review and thus had instituted the means to articulate their conception of social possibilities and of virtuous habits. Both these institutions shared common founders, including the Reverends William Emerson, John Eliot, and Joseph Tuckerman, among others. First producing the Monthly Anthology and Boston Review—the precursor to the North American Review which ran from 1805 to 1811—the group of men helped form the Athenaeum in 1807. The Boston Athenaeum provided a reading room for both the city's merchants and intellectuals and soon became a place "to encourage among its users the development of the moral and intellectual qualities most conducive to social stability; to induce a sense of identity, cohesion and solidarity among its patrons; and to facilitate the career success of proprietors and their families."21 Importantly, in 1832 Child became only the second woman to be granted access to the prestigious, all-male institution.

Beginning in 1815, the North American Review provided another visible forum for the promotion and governing of a social ideology. Its goals were carried forth from its predecessor, the Monthly Anthology. The Anthology had announced the desire to "guard the seats of taste and morals at home from the incursions of the 'paynim host.'"22 Writing to George Ticknor, one of the members of the Anthology Society and eventual patron of Child, Alexander Everett conspicuously connects the Anthology's (and its successor's) social ideology with its literary criticism: "A man who has seen anything of life tends not to be startled by examples of great profligacy and corruption of all kinds—but I love to believe that literature and philosophy afford the best security that one can have of general integrity."23 In Everett's mind, the virtues imparted by literature secured more than isolated good; benefiting as well would be a community still testing the fit of democracy. It became the charge of people such as Alexander Everett, his brother Edward Everett, and George Ticknor to oversee the journal's fiction, manage virtue, and thus promote social stability.24

Child demonstrated when she wrote Hobomok that she understood the responsibility these literary Bostonians spoke of privately and publicly. And, though within the next decade she would increasingly challenge the views these arbiters of social values urged, her successful efforts to obtain the patronage of George Ticknor after the first notice in the North American Review reveals that she appreciated the peculiar role such men could play in advancing the careers of young writers. Child could have chosen few others who surpassed this prominent figure's influence. Ticknor—a man whom one historian has called the representative literary Bostonian—was directly or indirectly involved with the founding and shaping of the Boston Athenaeum, the North American Review, and Harvard College.25 He matured during a time when, in his words, Boston citizens "felt involved in each other's welfare and fate" and religious controversy and the slavery debate had not yet irreparably divided the sympathies of the "compact, united, and kindly community."26

As her letter dated 29 March 1825 indicates, luck and ambition led Child (then twenty-two) to address George Ticknor. Evidently he had offered some "flattering observations" about Hobomok to Lois Curtis, the widow of his half-brother (SL, 3). Child's letter reveals that she wasted little time in seeking his help: "To have been praised by such a man was sufficient to urge me on to mightier efforts; and, under the influence of this inspiration, I had already commenced a new work, when a letter from my publisher [Cummings, Hilliard & Company] informed me that the sale of Hobomok had left me considerably in debt. 1000 were printed, and only half sold" (SL, 4). Child's letter to Ticknor indicates that she had a sure sense of the individual she addressed and the set of readers he represented. Striking a skillful rhetorical balance between respectful admiration and undaunted directness, Child cuts to the quick: "You may ask, what do you wish, or expect me to do? I answer, your influence in the literary and fashionable world is very great, and a few words timely spoken by you would effect more than my utmost exertions. Your judgment would have much weight with those whose taste is law" (SL, 4). In the end, Child tells Ticknor she is asking him to do what her brother cannot and informs the civic leader that both her brother and Mrs. Curtis are unaware of her "presumptuous action." Within two days, Ticknor answered Child's epistle. To her embarrassment, as her letter of March 31 reveals, he requested information regarding the terms of her publisher's contract, apparently with the intent of assisting Child financially (SL, 5).

The association between Child and Ticknor did not end when the difficulties surrounding the novel cleared up. Child dedicated The Rebels, the new book she had commenced at the time of her first letter to Ticknor, to her patron. The admiration Ticknor evidently felt toward Child resulted in useful public exposure as well. During the widely celebrated tour of Lafayette in 1825, Ticknor invited Child to a reception for the French general.27 Finally, the two also exchanged research prior to the publication of Child's biography of Madame de Staël; Ticknor's lectures were part of Child's sources (SL, 21-22). The fruitful relationship between the two ended only when Child entered the abolitionist ranks. The breaking off indicates that prior to Child's call for immediate emancipation she and Ticknor shared compatible values within their spheres of influence.

Not surprisingly, Ticknor's well-placed words provided what Child had hoped—"a new currency to the unfortunate book" (SL, 4). More precisely, the circulation of his views communicated the work's consonance with Brahmin values and resulted in a more favorable review of Hobomok in the North American Review. Again, while the earlier critique had not been entirely unfavorable, it had given a false impression by reacting vehemently to the interracial marriage. To readers understanding that art fruitfully embodies a community ideology and that this prominent review journal stood as the voice for Boston social values, the critic of Child's first novel offered a message for both Child and the reading public: Mary Conant's marriage, remarriage, and reassimiliation into society disturbed her culture's lessons of order. Eliminate such an indelicate relationship, cater to the arbiters of taste, and success, both literary and social, would be attainable. "[Hobomok's] excellencies outweigh its faults," the reviewer observes. "We have been more particular in speaking of the latter, because we hope to hear again from the author, and feel assured that they are only the results of inexperience in this kind of writing; that the author may amend them and at the same time retain all the other qualifications for a good writer, which are here exhibited."28 While the reviewer was careful to praise and not bury the work, his commendation was certainly not unqualified.

Whereas what had already been written and published could not be conveniently amended even if Child had wished it, the work could receive an amended reading, a reading that would much more clearly identify how the text fit within the value structure of its audience. In the July 1825 issue of the North American Review, the current editor Jared Sparks did this refitting with his critique of Hobomok and nine other American publications he terms "Waverley novels." After a brief discussion of the particular patterns of these novels (i.e., their historical nature, descriptions of real scenery as opposed to "arbitrary combinations of fancy," and dramatic dialogue), Sparks expresses the magazine's self-conscious efforts to guide popular tastes. He notes that it is his duty to "exercise a strict surveillance over this department of literature, to be careful in pointing out the merits or demerits of individual authors, as far as practicable, and prompt to oppose pernicious influences, and endeavor to give a beneficial direction to a force, that they cannot resist if they would."29

The force that could not be resisted, of course, was the burgeoning interest in novels. The literary and religious journals evinced a persistent concern over the fearful effects of novel reading. As one reviewer for the Christian Examiner would write at the decade's end, the habit of novel reading was "injurious, for in its ordinary acceptation, it means an exclusive reading of works of mere amusement without judgment or selection." According to this reader, the "constant excitement of the mind, this living upon luxuries, would soon destroy the vigor of the intellect and feelings, even if novels were, which no one pretends, books to which we should go to borrow correct views of life and duty."30 Still, like Sparks, this critic does not conclude that all romances are to be avoided. Rather, he simply concedes that the important question becomes whether or not a particular work will benefit or injure its readers.

Sparks's surveillance of Hobomok, then, suggests that, though Child's novel had not changed, the managers of virtue had revised their opinions and decided to define more closely the text's more beneficial features. Sparks first looks to his review's literary prescriptions in order to explain why Child included such an unrefined event. Granting that one must admit the "bad taste" and "disagreeable impression" of the interracial marriage, he qualifies such a harsh judgment by echoing the words of Child's novel and of Palfrey's 1821 review of "Yamoyden": "Still it should be remembered, in respect to its probability, that if our ancestors were more sternly virtuous, they were certainly without much of the delicacy and refinement of the present generation." He also excerpts episodes from Hobomok that disclose both his literary taste and social ideology: the deathbed scenes of the "Ladies" Mrs. Conant and Arabella Johnson (two women who have submissively sacrificed their lives for their husbands), the striking "delineations of Indian character" that depict the uncivilized nature of the noble Hobomok and his Indian rival, Corbitant, and Hobomok's decision to leave Mary Conant and disappear from white civilization after discovering that Charles Brown still lives. The review does not end with emphasis upon the unfortunate incident but with acknowledgement that the work is not of "the same ephemeral class, with some others of our American novels" and that "it will stand the test of repeated readings, and it will obtain them."31 This last judgment is high praise indeed—especially since conservative Boston reviewers consistently stressed the maxim that, if a book is worth one reading, it is worth reading more than once. With the increasing ability to buy many books, then, reviewers wanted to shape the criteria which readers could use to discriminate between an eternal and ephemeral class of literature.

What provided the opportunity for "repeated readings" was a reassessment of the novel—that is, a new interpretation evolving from a cultural negotiation between the author, text, and readers. In this interaction within one important sphere of influence, the novel survived in part because it served the demands of early nationalistic literary prescriptions, community religious beliefs, and expectations regarding acceptable social possibilities. While the unfortunate event of Hobomok could never be expunged, its role in the novel could be reframed and thus the primary "meanings" of the work amended.

Perhaps Sparks's views are most telling in the way they align Child's novel with the period's conception of the Indian in national life and literature. Sparks's own perception of Indians, a perception consistent with other writers of the North American Review, is evidenced in his analysis of the poem "Escalala, an American Tale." In this review published earlier in 1825, Sparks observes that with his few stern and uniform traits the Indian can never offer "those delicate and innumerable shades, which are spread over the surface of civilised society." Once the definitive Indian traits are told, then all is told; Indians' "generosity, contempt of danger, patience under suffering, revenge, and cruelty" are the virtues and vices that move their affections.32

The literary manifestations of these views were the Indian types that populated the new American novels: the "noble savage" whose generosity was usually extended to whites and the vengeful native whose cruelty to settlers had no bounds. If, following Sparks's reasoning, writers stretched verisimilitude by Europeanizing native American characters, they violated one of the early prescriptions of historical fiction. Characters and events, after all, had to reflect what was then "known" about the past and about "savages." For Sparks, Child's vengeful Corbitant and generous Hobomok capture the limited strains of Indian temperament. Of course, juxtaposing this less sophisticated racial "type" with colonial ancestors helped writers define the American character, a figure who contained the more complex shades of civilization. Introducing extended excerpts of the confrontation between Corbitant and Hobomok, Sparks remarks that "the principle beauties in this work are to be found in the delineations of the Indian character" and confesses that "we have seldom met with more successful efforts in this way."33 Thus, by embodying her community's understanding of "savages," Child served her reading public and achieved recognition.34

Interestingly, while Hobomok's and Mary Conant's marriage and offspring seem to signal new social possibilities, Sparks's review overlooks this element of the novel in order to reinforce the reigning cultural view that the Indian and European races must remain separate. He can do so because Child's text is not entirely committed to the possibilities she offers. Though Child does alter the period's conventional plottings of Indian narratives—a fact that does manifest more enlightened views of race and herald her later commitment to a multiracial vision of America—she still sustains her culture's prevailing attitudes towards Indians throughout the novel. At key moments, Child carefully differentiates the Indians from the new race of Americans; she discriminates between an instinctual and educated understanding of God and between an ungoverned and civilized emotion.

Child introduces such distinctions when the awestruck Pequods and Narragansets observe the Puritan settlers' domesticated oxen. Apparently, though the Indians knew much about nature, these same people could not understand how Englishmen led "buffalo" around by the horns and compelled them to stand or walk at their will. Describing the Indians as "unlettered" and "untutored," Child draws attention to their untrained and undisciplined intellect and thus advantageously contrasts their European neighbors. However, the chapter's opening epigraph emphasizes an even greater lack:

Know ye the famous Indian race?
How their light form springs, in strength and grace,
Like the pine on their native mountain side,
That will not bow in its deathless pride;
Whose rugged limbs of stubborn tone,
No plexuous power of art will own,
But bend to Heaven's red bolt alone!
(H, 29)

Taken from Eastburn's and Sands's poem "Yamoyden," the lines capture one of the dominant features of the untrained race: their ability to endure even the harshest physical trials with stubborn pride. More importantly, however, the narrator's ensuing reflections affirm that in being the messengers of a just and powerful God the Christian Pilgrims command the heavens. Because the Europeans appear to control nature, the Indians see them as "the favorite children of the Great Spirit" (H, 29). This awe explains why the more powerful tribes did not "rise in their savage majesty" and eliminate the unprotected settlements. The narrator concludes that such a fact "is indeed a wonderful exemplification of the superiority of the intellect over mere brutal force" (H, 29). In establishing their city on the hill, the New England forefathers did figuratively wield "Heaven's red bolt."

What makes Hobomok different from others in his tribe is his identification with the enlightened values closely connected with the domestic world of Mary Conant and with spiritual insights fostered in nature. Like the Indians who watch in amazement the domesticated oxen, Hobomok wonders at Mary's magical curing of his mother's illness. After his own priests had pronounced that his mother would die, Mary administered the cordials that saved her. Child weaves the words of worship into Hobomok's response to Mary Conant: "and ever since that time, he had looked upon her with reverence, which almost amounted to adoration" (H, 33).35

Significantly, Child details Hobomok's reaction to this miracle worker shortly after Corbitant, his Indian rival, questions Hobomok's faithfulness to his own race. Corbitant himself rejects any possibility of amalgamation between the distinct cultures and asserts that Hobomok is more sympathetic to "the white-faced daughter of Conant" than to the women of his own tribe (H, 31). Hobomok, it is revealed, has refused to marry an Indian woman. Corbitant angers and confuses Hobomok through both his perceptive estimate of Hobomok's feelings and his prediction of genocide. (Child terms this prophecy the "melancholy presentiment of the destruction of his race" [H, 33].) What follows this confrontation is a revealing series of events. Setting Hobomok alone in nature—within the tranquil environment of a setting sun, warbling birds, and majestic seacoast—Child offers a Christianized translation of Hobomok's uncivilized contemplation of the Book of Nature: "The star, which had arisen in Bethlehem, had never gleamed along his path; and the dark valley of the shadow of death had never been illuminated with the brightness of revealed truth. But though the intellect be darkened, there are rays from God's own throne, which enter into the peacefulness and purity of the affections, shedding their mild lustre on the ignorance of man" (H, 33-34). The knowledge of God is revealed to Hobomok not in the philosophy of men but through his "chariot wheels in the distant thunder" and "drapery in the clouds" (H, 34). This ability to see God in the stars links the spiritual natures of Hobomok and Mary Conant. Again, Mary has in part rejected her father's religion because he and his stern neighbors are warmed more by the doctrine of men than by "the nightly exhibition of the numerous hosts shining in the broad belt of the heavens" (H, 91). Unlike Corbitant, Mary's Indian lover shows the potential for enlightenment. And, like Mary Conant, Hobomok's enlightenment is defined in terms that resonate with Channing's sermon "Unitarian Christianity" and anticipate the "transcendentalisms" of the next decade.

Yet, though Child seems to be suggesting that the Indian may discover the truths available to any man with an open heart, she reminds the reader that even one such as Hobomok, a man who seems redeemed by his worship of Mary Conant and by an instinctual feeling of God, is confined by his nature. The dramatic postscript to this momentary peace reinforces this cultural gospel. Gazing at the stars appearing on the dark horizon, Hobomok is shaken from his reverie by the whizzing arrow of Corbitant. Thrust back into reality, he quickly counterattacks, revealing the definitive passions of the Indian rather than the shades of civilized life. Having offered a rendering of the truths all enlightened men may glimpse, Child now returns to the "realities" of the "untutored" race: '"Love your enemy,' was a maxim Hobomok had never learned, and the tomahawk was already raised above the head of his stupified victim, when the sound of voices was heard in the thicket, and springing into his former path, he pursued his way homeward, as fleetly as some wild animal of the forest" (H, 34). In Child's fictional world, it seems that Hobomok can only come so far on the path from savagery before he must turn his back upon civilization. At the end of the novel, Hobomok again mirrors this plunge into the thicket. Discovering that Charles Brown still lives, Hobomok rejects his impulse to kill his white rival and instead decides to sacrifice his own desires for those of his wife. Ironically, his most "civilized" or "chivalrous" act is one that seems forever to preclude Hobomok's Christianization and any lasting cultural amalgamation.

In the conclusion to Child's novel, we learn that Mary Conant's and Hobomok's "semi-savage" offspring—renamed Charles Hobomok Conant—distinguishes himself at Harvard, finishes his studies in England, and, not surprisingly, eventually loses his "Indian appellation" and thus the more conspicuous traces of his indelicate history (H, 150). The novel Hobomok, like Charles Hobomok Conant, experienced a similar cycle of cultural accommodation. First uneasily accepted by genteel reviewers, it finally achieved the praise that assured its place upon the bookshelves of a cultural elite. At this point in her career, Child welcomed such acclaim. As yet, she more readily accepted the values of those who promoted her.

But though the Indian is purged from both Mary Conant's and her son's life, Conant's survival signals that Child's imagination followed different paths, even when embodying some of the beliefs of her conservative readers. In her unwillingness to sacrifice Mary Conant, Child demonstrates that her fiction's lesson—her story's message and values—must also be found in a community's reassimilation and not rejection of a fallen character. In one of her next major productions, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833), Child would much more dramatically test her community's ability to accommodate a writer whose works and acts transgressed social and literary boundaries.


1 For analyses of Boston literary culture and the values it promoted, see George E. DeMille, "The Birth of the Brahmins," Sewanee Review 37 (April 1929): 172-88; Cleveland Amory, The Proper Bostonians (New York: Dutton, 1947); Stanley French, "The Cemetery as Cultural Institution: The Establishment of Mount Auburn and the 'Rural Cemetery' Movement," American Quarterly 26 (March 1974): 37-59; Paul Goodman, "Ethics and Enterprise: The Values of a Boston Elite, 1800-1860," American Quarterly 18 (Fall 1966): 437-51; Martin Green, The Problem of Boston (New York: Norton, 1966); and Daniel Walker Howe, The Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861 (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1970).

2 See Richard Johnson, "What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?" Social Text 16 (1986-87): 38-80 and Jane Tompkins, "An Introduction to Reader-Response Criticism," in Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, ed. Jane P. Tompkins (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980), ix-xxvi. Johnson's definition of cultural studies as an analysis of power and of social possibilities and his suggestive discussion of a text's role in the circuits of culture helped me rethink the fluid role Child's novel played within public and private spheres. Tompkins's overview reinforced my belief that teachers and scholars do their own important cultural work when they reinsert the text within its historical milieu. Literature is written to affect one's thinking and thus one's action in the world. Seeing the text as an active agent in shaping social values and political positions reframes the way students and teachers can think about literary works.

3 "Hobomok," North American Review 19 (July 1824): 263.

4 Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok & Other Writings on Indians, ed. Carolyn L. Karcher (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1986), 121. Subsequent page references will be from this edition.

5 In part the chaos Mary experiences also arises from a curious ritual she performs early in the book. Wishing to discover who is to be her husband, she enters the outskirts of the forest and chants, "Whoe'er my bridegroom is to be, / Step in the circle after me" (H, 13). To her surprise, Hobomok rather than Charles Brown first follows her steps. Though Brown immediately trails, later during her moment of personal crisis Mary cannot shake the import of Hobomok's having "appear[ed] in the mystic circle" (H, 121).

6 For another reading of this interracial marriage, see Karcher's introduction to Hobomok. Based in part upon her analysis of Child's revision of "Yamoyden" (the epic poem which forms the basis for Hobomok), Karcher argues that "Child's radical revision of patriarchal script thus culminates not in the reassertion of patriarchal authority, but in its overthrow, not in the death of a heroine who has dared to challenge the religious, racial, and sexual ideology on which patriarchy rests, but in her achievement of happiness and with it the triumph of the alternative values she has embraced. Mary returns to the Puritan community on her own terms, unscathed by her violation of its taboos against miscegenation and divorce" (xxxi-xxxii). Whereas I agree with Karcher's interpretation of the novel as an attack upon Puritanism and the patriarchal structures which house these Puritan values, I also believe that Child's reviewers were not necessarily eager to "[expunge the novel] from the historical record" (xxxiv).

7 Any analysis of the early literary doctrine of the North American Review begins with the scholarship of Harry Hayden Clark. See Clark, "Literary Criticism in the North American Review, 1815-1835," in Transactions of the Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters 32 (1940): 299-350. See also Neal Frank Doubleday, "Doctrine for Fiction in the North American Review: 1815-1826," in Literature and Ideas in America: Essays in Memory of Harry Hayden Clark, ed. Robert Falk (Athens: Ohio UP, 1975), 20-39; Frank Luther Mott, ''The North American Review, " A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge: Belknap, 1957), 2: 219-61; Darwin Shrell, "Nationalism and Aesthetics in the North American Review: 1815-1850," in Studies in American Literature, ed. Waldo McNeir and Leo B. Levy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1960), 11-21; and Robert E. Streeter, "Association Psychology and Literary Nationalism in the North American Review, 1815-1825," American Literature 17 (1945): 243-54.

8 See especially William Tudor, "The United States and England," North American Review 1 (May 1815): 61-91, and "Miss Huntley's Poems," North American Review 1 (May 1815): 111-21; John Knapp, "National Poetry," North American Review 7 (December 1818): 169-76; and W. H. Gardiner, "The Spy," North American Review 15 (July 1822): 250-82.

9 See Karcher, "Introduction," Hobomok, xvii-xxxiii.

10 John Gorham Palfrey, "Yamoyden," North American Review 12 (April 1821): 484.

11 As Deborah Clifford notes in her biography, Child, while influenced by her brother's faith, was attracted to another liberal religion, Swedenborgianism. See Crusader for Freedom, 36-38. "As a member of [Convers'] household," Clifford writes, "she was a faithful attendant at Sunday services in the First Church of Watertown. She also joined the women of the parish in distributing food, clothing, and other necessities to the town's poor. But Convers' growing attachment to Unitarianism found no echo in her own heart" (36). Instead, in the fall of 1821 Child signed her name to a "declaration of faith in the doctrines espoused by the Swedenborgian Church," and "on February 10, 1822, the records of the Boston Society of the New Jerusalem show that Lydia Maria Francis had been admitted a member of the Society" (38). Swedenborg believed in what he called a doctrine of correspondences. That is, he held that "everything in the natural world, including man, is the expression of, and corresponds to, some higher spiritual reality" (38).

12 Palfrey and Convers Francis attended Harvard together. Francis, in fact, was a friend of Palfrey and had supported him during his unsuccessful efforts to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa at the end of Palfrey's junior year. Palfrey also officiated Convers's ordination at Watertown in May 1819. See Frank Otto Gatell, JohnGorham Palfrey and the New England Conscience (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963), 25-26, and Clifford, Crusader for Freedom, 35.

13 See Howe, The Unitarian Conscience, 4-7. Howe writes that any "student of Harvard Unitarianism quickly learns that it was—and was considered in its day—the religion of an elite" (7).

14 Ibid., 8. For a more extensive account of this conflict between Calvinism and Unitarianism in the Boston area, see Kathryn Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New York: Norton, [1973]), part 1, "A Calvinist Girlhood, 1800-1823." In conjunction with her study of Catharine Beecher, Sklar recounts the battles that her father, Lyman Beecher, waged with Boston's religious liberals.

15 The presence of Emerson, Parker, and Whittier is mentioned in SL, 3 and CC, 23. To Fuller, Child writes that she is "not prepared to give [Channing's review] the unqualified praise, which many bestow. Neither do I think its spirit sufficiently impartial. I like his high theory exceedingly; but is there no injustice in comparing Bonaparte with a certain abstract, ideal excellence, rather than with any of his species?" (SL, 11). Already Child is questioning the views of cultural leaders and revealing a willingness to entertain differing positions—though she does admit later in the letter that she herself is not an "unqualified admirer of Bonaparte."

Convers Francis's growing prestige among the Unitarian clergy certainly helped Child's career. For response to Francis's 1826 sermon preached at the ordination of Rev. Benjamin Kent, see "Francis's Ordination Sermon," Christian Examiner 3 (July-August 1826): 333-36.

16 Howe, The Unitarian Conscience, 100.

17 Ibid., 101.

18 See Howe, chapter 3, "Reason and Revelation."

19 Clifford, Crusader for Freedom, 36.

20 Goodman, "Ethics and Enterprise," 444. Boston's wealthy merchants and intellectuals clearly understood that, while America could celebrate its democratic principles, such an emphasis on individual responsibility had its risks. Boston Brahmins feared related threats to social stability as well: the influx of European immigrants, a growing industrialism, and the eventual clerical disestablishment.

For studies of Boston and New England worries over changing social and economic conditions (and the effects of such changes upon class, race, and gender relationships), see Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835 (New Haven: Yale UP, 1977), and Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, 1790-1880: A Study in Acculturation (Cambridge: Belknap, 1941). For a study of the impact of clerical disestablishment, see Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Anchor, 1988).

21 Story, "Class and Culture in Boston," 190.

22 Quoted in David B. Tyack, George Ticknor and the Boston Brahmins (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1967), 26.

23 Ibid., 28-29.

24 In his 1824 Phi Beta Kappa address, Edward Everett, editor of the North American Review from 1820 to 1823, asserted that "it is impossible to anticipate what garments our native muses will weave for themselves. To foretell our literature would be to create it" (quoted in Doubleday, "Doctrine for Fiction in the North American Review, " 20). Such a statement implies the lofty intentions of Review editors and critics.

25 See Green, "George Ticknor: The Aristocrat in a Democracy," in The Problem of Boston, 102-21.

26 Tyack, George Ticknor and the Boston Brahmins, 13.

27 See Baer, The Heart Is Like Heaven: The Life of Lydia Maria Child, 42.

28 "Hobomok," North American Review 19 (July 1824): 262.

29 [Jared Sparks], "Recent American Novels," North American Review 21 (July 1825): 79-81, 81 , 83.

30 "Novels," Christian Examiner 6 (May 1829): 173.

31 [Sparks], "Recent American Novels," 87, 90, 95.

32 [Jared Sparks], "Escalala, an American Tale," North American Review 20 (January 1825): 211. For Sparks's correspondence regarding Indian policy during the latter part of the 1820s, see Herbert B. Adams, The Life and Writings of Jared Sparks (Freeport: Books for Libraries, 1970), 1: 274-82.

Published in July 1838, Jared Sparks's and Cornelius Conway Felton's review of Thomas McKenney's and James Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America provides another interesting analysis of Native American traits and literature. See "McKenney and Hall's History of the North American Indians," North American Review 47 (July 1838): 135-48. The writers criticize Native Americans for their failure to "blend themselves with their conquerors, as if there had been some natural repugnance between the white man's and the red man's blood" (138). Such commentary wrongly implies that the reviewers were willing to accept amalgamation when they clearly were not.

Their comments on "Indian" fiction also show how tastes had evolved: "Poets and novelists have given the rein to their imagination, in describing the poetical life, and picturesque eloquence, of the Indians. The representations they have given are utterly false. There is nothing pleasing to the imagination in the dirty and smokey cabin of the Indian chief" (138). His comments regarding Native American religion still resonate, however, with aspects of Child's novel: "His religion is founded upon the simple conception of a Supreme Being… . His views of another life are distinct enough, but utterly insufficient to produce any exalting tendency in his conduct and character in this" (139).

33 [Sparks], "Recent American Novels," 90.

34 See Roy Harvey Pearce, The Savages of America: A Study of the Indian and the Idea of Civilization (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1965), 213-14. Pearce sees Child's character as exemplifying the noble Indian type and the book as relating the "destruction of heroic savage life" (213). Pearce offers a much larger context within which to understand Indian narratives. See part 2, "The Life and Death of the American Savage, 1777-1851."

35 The use of Mary as a "healer" and as the agent for any possible reform in Hobomok demonstrates how well a figure of the domestic realm could embody her period's values. What William Ellery Channing and others imagined in their new faith, after all, was that "tender and impartial charity" could replace the severe legalism of Calvinism. To trace the features of this rational and humanistic faith, Unitarian spokespersons who doubled as literary critics turned to the language of the heart. They increasingly found this language in the domestic sphere.

A review of Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, the work of another novelist championed by the North American Review, further encourages this delineation of domestic life. Though W. H. Gardiner explains that what distinguishes Cooper's works and this particular novel is its unending dangers and escapes, he also observes that the continuous stream of compelling action could be "relieved, and their effect consequently heightened, by the mixture of a little quiet domestic life." For instance, "a few in-door pictures something above those at the quarters of Colonel Munro, and a few strokes of humor … would have been a prodigious improvement" (Gardiner, "Cooper's Novels," North American Review 23 [July 1826]: 191). In Child's work it becomes clear that domestic life would provide an important stage upon which to celebrate and inculcate cultural values.

Carolyn L. Karcher (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: "'The Juvenile Miscellany': The Creation of American Children's Literature," in The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child, Duke University Press, 1994, pp. 57-79.

[With The First Woman in the Republic, Karcher published the first extensive analytical biography of Child. In the following chapter from this work, Karcher documents the cultural position of Child's Juvenile Miscellany, including its appeal to both young and adult readers and the cultural currents that shaped the periodical's direction.]

"I know what that shout means among the children, " said Miss Amy; "the Miscellany has come. "

So I ran down stairs and saw Papa with the book in his hand, stooping down to Mary, who was stretching up her neck, and Emily, who was standing tip-toe to get a look at it; while little black Dinah showed her white teeth for joy. Fortunately, there were two numbers, and as soon as they had been ex-am-in-ed by the elder members of the family, Mary took one copy, and Emily the other. I soon heard dear little Emily spelling Ju-ve-line. Then I begged Mary to find Emily an easy place to read; and Mary was good-na-tur-ed enough to stop in the midst of a pretty story, and show her the "Sailor's Dog. " Then little Emily looked very earnest, and spelt almost a page, until the bell rang for eight 'clock.1

This lively description of "A Family Scene" in Charleston, South Carolina, re-creates the excitement with which the entire household greeted each bimonthly number of Child's Juvenile Miscellany. Written by one of the Miscellany's chief contributors, the transplanted Bostonian Caroline Howard Gilman, the vignette also captures the spirit of a magazine that served as primer, storybook, "library of entertaining knowledge," and purveyor of moral values. The relations it pictures between parents and children, older and younger siblings, master and servant, suggest the social mission of nineteenth-century children's literature: to promote domestic harmony, provide behavioral models for parents and children to emulate, foster a desire for education, and bridge the gap between the privileged classes and their subordinates.2

The presence of the slave child, "little black Dinah," and even more tellingly, the silence as to her actual status (Gilman would soon become an apologist for her adopted region's "peculiar institution"), indicates the conservative nature of this mission.3 The cultural establishment that sponsored the Juvenile Miscellany conceived of children's literature as a buttress for the dominant society's hierarchies of race, class, and gender—not as a site for challenging them.4

When Child founded the Juvenile Miscellany in 1826, however, she did not perceive the contradiction betwen promulgating the moral, social, and political ideology of America's white middle class and furthering a vision of racial equality that threatened white hegemony. For most of its eight-year existence, the magazine successfully combined aims whose incompatibility would not become apparent to either its editor or its audience until controversy over slavery polarized the country in the 1830s.

The reminiscences of readers brought up on the Miscellany testify to how skillfully Child packaged her dual message and how imaginatively she fused didacticism with entertainment. "No child who read the Juvenile Miscellany … will ever forget the excitement that the appearance of each number caused," wrote the abolitionist and woman's rights advocate Caroline Healey Dall in 1883, three years after Child's death.5 The tableau Dall sketched of the neighborhood hubbub on delivery day confirms that Caroline Howard Gilman was not simply puffing the magazine in "A Family Scene."

"The children sat on the stone steps of their house doors all the way up and down Chestnut Street in Boston, waiting for the carrier," recalled Dall. "He used to cross the street, going from door to door in a zigzag fashion; and the fortunate possessor of the first copy found a crowd of little ones hanging over her shoulder from the steps above. … How forlorn we were if the carrier was late!" Half a century later, Dall fondly remembered her favorite stories; their mere titles—"Garafelia," "Ferdinand and Zoe," "The Easter Eggs"—still conjured up "vivid pictures of past delight."

Though the Miscellany had long been eclipsed by vastly more sophisticated children's magazines, Dall pronounced it superior to its successors "in simplicity, directness, and moral influence." She went on to pay Child the tribute of ranking her above all the children's writers who had inherited her mantle, including Louisa May Alcott, whose popularity has endured into our own day. "Never did any one cater so wisely and so well for the unfolding mind," she asserted.

Alcott herself indirectly acknowledged Child's influence by borrowing a famous episode in Little Women—Jo March's decision to help raise money for the family by selling her hair—from a Juvenile Miscellany story.6 Her contemporary Lucy Larcom, an editor of the postCivil War children's magazine Our Young Folks, credited the Juvenile Miscellany with inspiring the founding of the millworkers' periodical in which she made her literary debut: The Lowell Offering.7

Yet another New England writer molded by "that delightful pioneer among children's magazines in America" was the abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson. His 1868 biography of the woman to whom he attributed his conversion to antislavery opened with his "earliest recollections" of the persona she assumed in so many of the Miscellany's dialogues and sketches: "she came before us … as some kindly and omnipresent aunt, beloved forever by the heart of childhood,—some one gifted with all lore, and furnished with unfathomable resources,—some one discoursing equal delight to all members of the household."8

What accounts for the "delight" Child's juvenile readers took in the magazine, and why did it leave such a lasting impression on them? A prime factor was the novelty of the entertainment and instruction the Miscellany offered. Dall, Alcott, Larcom, and Higginson belonged to the first generation of American children to enjoy a magazine and a body of literature produced especially for them. The centuries-old fairy tales and fables we now think of as children's literature did not acquire that function until well into the nineteenth century; in fact, the eighteenth-century British writers who invented the genre of children's literature strongly disapproved of frivolous stories about fairies and witches, which tended, in their view, to warp youthful minds.9

A genre self-consciously aimed at socializing children was born at a historical moment when several related developments were interacting to create a need for such a medium.10 First, the industrial revolution had transformed family relations by taking economic production out of the home and relocating it in factories. Formerly, all but the wealthiest men and women had shared responsibility for earning the family's livelihood and had relegated childrearing to the interstices of household production; as soon as children were old enough to work, they either participated in the family enterprise or were bound out as apprentices. In the industrial era, however, the productive occupations women had once controlled, such as spinning, were taken over by machines. The factory system no longer allowed for combining remunerative work with child care; instead, it demanded a full-time labor force. Reduced to economic dependency, married women of the middle class found themselves redefined purely as homemakers and childrearers.11

Second, an unprecedented idealization of childhood accompanied the separation of the domestic and economic spheres. Previously, Europeans had regarded children as miniature adults. Around the age of seven the child began wearing the same clothes and joining in the same household tasks and pastimes as adults. The concept of childhood as a distinctive state of consciousness requiring careful nurture and protection against adult realities did not exist. No one considered it necessary to shield children from exposure to sexuality, for example, since the assumption of the child's pristine innocence had not yet taken hold.12 Significantly, a new concern for the moral edification of children arose earliest in the middle class, whose economic activity was laying the groundwork for the industrial revolution.

Third, the moral values the middle class stressed—hard work, productivity, usefulness, frugality, self-denial, sobriety, orderliness, punctuality—though originating in the desire to lead a pious life, proved crucial to the development of capitalism. These values, constituting what Max Weber called the "Protestant ethic," sharply distinguished the middle class from both the aristocracy it sought to displace and the working class it sought to regiment.13

From the perspective of the middle class, its twin adversaries were mirror images of each other. The idle and profligate aristocracy monopolized power and privileges it had not earned, unjustly barring the advancement of the hard-working, talented entrepreneurs who were revitalizing the British economy. The lower class, equally averse to honest labor and prone to lewd and disorderly conduct, perpetually threatened to disrupt production. Both aristocracy and lower class wasted the society's resources, impeded economic development, and set a bad example to middle-class youth. Against the feudal order of fixed social classes determined by birth, the middle class formulated a new ideology based on the premise that "[m]erit, talent, and hard work should dictate social, economic, and political rewards." According to this ideology, the individual should rely neither on inherited privileges nor on charity but on his or her own unaided efforts: "[T]he individual alone in the market place of merit and talent … determined for himself his success or failure."14

The future of the middle class hung on the successful transmission of its ideology; middle-class youth must continue to practice the virtues responsible for their forebears' prosperity, and other classes must come to accept the bourgeois worldview. Hence, it was no coincidence that some of the very political theorists who formulated bourgeois ideology—John Locke, Joseph Priestley, William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft—also played a role in the creation of children's literature, and that the most influential practitioners of the new genre—Maria Edgeworth and Anna Letitia Barbauld—came from the same political circles.15

Edgeworth and Barbauld profoundly influenced American writers of Child's generation. Child's first foray into children's literature—Evenings in New England (1824)—explicitly invokes these precursors. "To Write books for children, after Miss Edgeworth and Mrs. Barbauld have written, is indeed presumptuous," Child concedes, realizing that her readers will compare her book with its famous prototype, Barbauld's Evenings at Home; or, The Juvenile Budget Opened (1792). The justification she offers for daring to invade the province of her illustrious predecessors is that their works, "[e]xcellent" though they might be, "are emphatically English." By substituting "American scenes and American characters," she has attempted to adapt an English model to the needs of her compatriots.16 In short, a common nationalist impulse lies behind Evenings in New England and Hobomok, published six months earlier: American children, like American adults, require a literature of their own—a literature that reflects their circumstances, addresses the problems their society poses, and inculcates values suited to a democratic republic.

Of course, the values Child had infiltrated into Hobomok were anathema to the parents who eagerly seized on Evenings in New England. Ironically, she had followed up a book denounced as "revolting … to every feeling of delicacy in man or woman" with one hailed for "nourishing the plant of virtue in its tenderest age, and protecting the blossom of innocence at a time, when it may so easily be withered and destroyed by the rude assaults to which it is exposed."17 The paradox is symptomatic of tensions at the heart of Child's career, which repeatedly found her poised between articulating her culture's deepest convictions and pushing those convictions to their most radical limits. In no phase of her career would the tensions surface more dramatically than in her heyday as a children's writer.

When Child assumed the vocation of an American Mrs. Barbauld, she undertook a complex task. In the 1790s Barbauld had represented the vanguard of the bourgeois revolt against aristocratic privilege. A modern historian has described her as "perhaps the most important woman radical" of her day, after Mary Wollstonecraft.18 Transposed to the United States of the 1820s, however, Barbauld's Evenings at Home would have sounded strangely conservative in some ways and uncomfortably radical in others.

The book's setting—a "mansion-house … inhabited by the family of FAIRBORNE"—betrays the aristocratic character of eighteenth-century British society. As spelled out in "A Dialogue on Different Stations in Life," class distinctions are strongly marked, and mobility between classes is minimal. For example, on coming home from a visit with the daughter of Sir Thomas Pemberton, Sally Meanwell asks why the Meanwells do not have a richly furnished mansion or ride in a coach like the Pembertons. Her mother answers: "Sir Thomas had a large estate left him by his father; but your papa has little but what he gains by his own industry." She reminds Sally that the Meanwells are better off than "Mr. White the baker, and Mr. Shape the taylor," whose children are happy to receive Sally's cast-off dolls, and that they, in turn, are better off than "Plowman the labourer," whose children are "dirty and ragged" and suffer from hunger and cold. Never does Mrs. Meanwell suggest that even by hard work, a farm laborer can rise into the artisanal class, or a capitalist into the landed aristocracy.19

Accordingly, education serves not to level but to reinforce class distinctions—and the gender distinctions deriving from them. "[I]t is the purpose of all education to fit persons for the station in which they are hereafter to live," Mamma explains to Kitty in "Dialogue, on Things to be Learned." She adds pointedly: "you know there are very great differences in that respect, both among men and women." Kitty's education must train her to perform a middleclass woman's household tasks: marketing, making and mending clothes for the family, and bringing up the children. Thus she must master sewing, handwriting, and enough accounting "to prevent our being overcharged in any thing, and to know exactly how much we spend, and whether or no we are exceeding our income, and in what articles we ought to be more saving." In addition, she should study "the nature of plants, and animals, and minerals, because we are always using some or other of them," and acquaint herself with geography and history (English history, as Barbauld's sketches of King Alfred and King Canute indicate). Unlike Miss Rich, Kitty cannot afford to waste time on drawing and music unless circumstances permit.20 And unlike George and Harry in another dialogue, she will acquire her education primarily from her mother rather than from a tutor. Moreover, her mother's circumscribed role in her education will drive home the inferior position women occupy in a middle-class English household of the 1790s—for it will be the father, not the mother, who reads aloud to the children and teaches them about the world.21

If by the 1820s republican America had advanced far beyond the society to which Barbauld had applied her lessons on class and gender, it had never caught up with her radicalism on an issue Americans preferred not to discuss: the assault on "savage" peoples carried out in the name of "civilization." In Barbauld's England, agitation against the slave trade and colonialism had formed part of the bourgeois vanguard's revolt against the old order. Hence, the socialization of bourgeois children could include fostering their sympathy for the victims of colonialism—a component of early bourgeois ideology that would become a liability under a bourgeois regime as dependent on slavery and colonial conquest as the aristocracy it had overthrown.

Listening to his father read about how the Danes used to kidnap Greenlanders on the pretext of instructing them in Christianity and using the converts "to civilize their countrymen," little Edward asks whether "civilized nations [have] any right to behave so to savages" and whether "savages [can] think about right and wrong as we do?" "Why not!" answers Father; "are they not men?" He proceeds to teach his son that there are "no important difference[s] between ourselves and those people we are pleased to call savage, but in the degree of knowledge and virtue possessed by each."22

Barbauld's thinly veiled attack on the colonial ideology used to justify the African slave trade was all too relevant to the United States in the decade that began with a major concession to slaveholders—the Missouri Compromise of 1820—and ended with a congressional vote authorizing Indian removal in 1830. Yet this very fact made Barbauld a doubly problematic model for Child, who inherited both her radicalism and her role in shaping bourgeois ideology to the needs of her generation.

Child's modifications of her prototype in Evenings in New England—and later in the Juvenile Miscellany—provide fascinating insight into the formation of nineteenth-century American culture and ideology. Her first priority is to substitute American for English history lessons. Accounts of Indian tribes, Plymouth Rock, and Revolutionary generals replace anecdotes about English kings. Even when one of the children protests against this patriotic diet and begs for an old-fashioned story about foreign "kings and nobles," their aunt responds with a description of Lafayette's 1824 visit to Boston.

Signaling major changes in the status of women that further differentiate republican America from aristocratic England, the aunt (and in the Juvenile Miscellany, the mother) has now taken over the leading role in the children's education, which Barbauld had accorded to the father and the tutor. In dialogues obviously modeled on Child's own experience of helping to bring up her Norridgewock nieces and nephews, Aunt imparts lessons in history, natural science, trade, and manufactures, as well as moral principles and social values. Nor does she distinguish between her nephew's and niece's educational programs. The dialogues Aunt conducts with Robert on "Personification," "The Rainbow," and "Aurora Borealis" are interchangeable with those she conducts with Lucy on "Oracles," "Trees," "Botanical Hints," and "Gobelins Tapestry." Although Lucy appears less interested than Robert in history, Aunt does not humor her complaint that she is "tired to death of reading" about "battles and revolutions"; instead, Aunt proposes a systematic plan of study, using historical plays and novels to supplement factual texts (9-10).

The issue of class, which had bulked so large in Barbauld's Evenings at Home, has metamorphosed into a concern for preserving republican simplicity and virtue in a society offering the possibility of upward mobility. For example, Aunt tells Lucy that "our happiness depends very little upon wealth," but a great deal upon doing "what we know and feel to be right" (59)—advice that poignantly foreshadows the sacrifices Child would make for her principles less than a decade later.

Similarly, a fable about an overly ambitious oak tree illustrates the moral: "Never be anxious to change a humble situation, which you have long proved to be quiet and happy, for the uncertain comforts of wealth, parade, or fame" (28). When the oak's ambition to leave her obscure village for glamorous Boston is realized, she encounters "quite as many chimney-sweepers and beggars, as she [does] fine ladies and gentlemen" in the city. Languishing in the "smoky and unwholesome" air, she is ultimately cut down to make way for a new street (26-28). Urbanization and industrialization, the fable seems to warn, threaten to introduce disparities of wealth into a relatively egalitarian, rural society. Yet these socioeconomic transformations also provide greater opportunities for advancement than in Barbauld's England.

The task of educating children for the station they would occupy in life would prove much more complicated in a society where distinctions among Mr. Meanwell the capitalist, Mr. Shape the tailor, and Plowman the laborer were no longer so clear-cut and permanent, but where the promise of upward mobility could not always be fulfilled. Class conflicts lurk beneath the surface of Juvenile Miscellany stories, in which destitute widows and orphans typically succeed through persevering hard work in earning the respect and charity of the rich and thereby climbing up to the plateau of middle-class prosperity.

American bourgeois ideology could neither mask nor resolve conflicts involving race, however, which displaced class discrimination onto targeted Others. To extend the promise of upward mobility to Indians and African Americans, whose extorted land and labor furnished the nation's wealth, would mean overturning the economic foundations of the American republic. Thus, American children's literature could not follow Barbauld's lead in denying the existence of "important differences between ourselves and those people we are pleased to call savage."23

Child began struggling with this dilemma in Evenings in New England, where the issues of Indian dispossession, the African slave trade, and slavery itself crop up repeatedly in dialogues between Aunt and Robert. Though Aunt consistently transmits the approved ideological message, she never quite manages to allay Robert's humanitarian concerns. It is as if the adult representing the ideology of the dominant society and the youth representing the instinctive sympathies of the heart are vying for Child's allegiance.

The very first selection in Evenings in New England betrays Child's discomfort with the subjugation of Indians and Africans in republican America. Intended simply to illustrate the concept of "Personification," it gratuitously cites examples that draw children's attention to the violence of white conquest. Personifying Africa is a "dark looking, naked figure, grappling with a lion, and casting a terrified look upon the vessel which he sees off the coast" (1-2)—an allusion Aunt must explain to Robert, who does not understand why the man should be "alarmed at a ship," when "our merchants send a great many pretty things to Africa." Personifying South America is an "Indian digging up whole shovelfulls of pure gold, and exchanging it with a dark looking man for a rod of iron" (2-3). Aunt cannot personify North America as honestly—the Republic wrapped in her stars and stripes merely looks back from a distance at an Indian holding a bow and arrow. The relationship between the two figures, Aunt tells Robert, symbolizes the "savage state" from which the nation has progressed (3); but by noting that Europeans have replaced the Indians who formerly inhabited North America she also hints at a more sinister meaning of the symbol.

In the dialogue "Indian Tribes," Robert raises the question implicit in Aunt's evasive emblem: "if [Indians] were so very thick when Maine was first settled, where can they all have fled?" (73). The answer that "war and various diseases" have decimated them does not satisfy Robert. "But what right had we to take away their lands?" he persists (74). While assuring Robert that in most cases "the Indians sold their land willingly, and were paid honourably," Aunt admits: "they are too often cruelly imposed upon" by "artful, dishonest men" (74). "How I do wish something could be done to make all the Indians as happy and prosperous as we are," exclaims Robert (78). Pessimistic about whether this "desirable" end can be achieved, Aunt predicts that the Indians will ultimately "cease to exist as a distinct people." Yet Child gives the last word to an Indian spokesman: "You have driven us to the seashore, and still you ask us to move on" (78). Soon her white adult mouthpieces would adopt the Indian viewpoint themselves.

The conflict between the white adult's ideology and the white child's emotional impulses is particularly striking in "The Little Master and His Little Slave." A dialogue between Aunt and Robert, it frames a narrative told by a slave to his master's children, and repeated by them to their mother, whose interruptions construct an inner dialogue. On each level a child voices instinctive revulsion against slavery, which an adult tries to contain within a framework of prescriptive commentary.

At the outset, Robert blurts out: "the people at the southward must be very cruel, or they would not keep slaves as they do" (138). Rebuking him for his injustice toward "our southern brethren," Aunt articulates the position shared by well-meaning northern and southern whites in the 1820s, before the founding of a radical abolitionist movement. Slavery is indeed an "indelible stain" on the country's honor, she grants, and "every one that has a single particle of human kindness could not but rejoice to see the Africans released from a state of servitude and oppression." Southerners, however, are not to blame for an institution fastened on the American colonies by the British. "Many of their best men would gladly be rid of it," and Aunt does not doubt that "some time or other," their desire will be fulfilled (138). The process must be gradual, she cautions:

The negroes are very numerous, and they have been so unused to liberty, that they would become licentious and abandoned if left to themselves. Therefore, all that a good man can do, at present, is to make all the slaves in his power as comfortable as possible, to instruct their children, to give freedom to those who deserve it, to use all his personal influence to remove the evil, and to wait patiently till the curse of slavery can be entirely and safely removed from the land. (139)

In short, Aunt believes emancipation can best be hastened by promoting a spirit of goodwill toward white southerners and by acknowledging the efforts of those who are conscientiously preparing their slaves for freedom.24

To convince Robert that "kind masters and grateful slaves are very numerous at the South," Aunt proceeds to read him the story of "The Little Master and His Little Slave." Yet the story reveals that contrary to Aunt's claims, whippings, forced sales, and the separation of families are essential means of disciplining a refractory labor force, even in "kind" households.

The unmanageable slave child, Ned, causes so much trouble on the plantation and sets such a bad example to his fellow slaves that his master and overseer agree he must be sold. Only the intercession of the master's son, little Edward, saves Ned. (Their identical names—Ned is later referred to as "Eddy"—betoken the white child's identification with the slave). Shielding Ned against the overseer's whip with his own back, Edward promises to "make him good" if his father will give Ned to him (142). The slave expresses his gratitude in a double entendre that ironically equates the kind slaveholder with his brutal overseer: "Now, young master," he says, "this rope ties me to you, as fast as it tied me to the whipping-post" (145). As Ned's metaphor suggests, he will remain a slave. At the end of the story, which Edward's daughters have learned from another slave and recounted to their mother, Ned continues to face the same alternatives of submission or punishment after reaching adulthood. Now it is his mistress, the children's mother, who wants to send this "heedless and inattentive" house slave back to the plantation for field work (146).

Like the dialogue that frames it, the story of "The Little Master and His Little Slave" illustrates the process by which adults socialize children into shifting their sympathies from the slave to the master. Guided by their mother, who strongly disapproves of their fraternizing with slaves, Edward's daughters will follow in his footsteps and grow up to be kind slaveholders. Similarly, Robert arrives at the prevailing antislavery position toward which his aunt has been leading him. Although he still "cannot bear the idea of keeping slaves"—once again Child projects her own humanitarian fervor onto the young boy being socialized—he readily concedes the point his aunt reiterates: "that our Southern brethren have an abundance of kind and generous feeling" (146). Putting himself in their place, he imagines what he would do if he had "a little slave": "I would teach him to read, and write, and cypher, and then I would send him to the island of Hayti, where he might be as free and happy as I am" (147). With one significant difference, his antislavery sentiments have been channeled into a solution formulated by slaveholders like Jefferson and Madison and embraced by the vast majority of the American public: gradual, voluntary emancipation and the expatriation of the freed slaves, so that they would no longer menace either a union built on slavery or a republic unwilling to admit people of color as equal citizens. That difference, however—the substitution of Haiti (a republic founded by slave revolutionaries and not recognized by the U.S. government until the Civil War) for Liberia (the puppet state for emancipated slaves established by the slaveholder-dominated American Colonization Society)—signals Child's predisposition toward the radical abolitionist doctrine she would adopt seven years later.25

Not surprisingly, Evenings in New England met with "much more unqualified approbation than Hobomok," as Child reported in a letter to her sister Mary.26 She had redirected her radical impulses toward a socially sanctioned end—appropriating for her compatriots the legacy of a major bourgeois preceptor. Child's audience immediately recognized that Evenings in NewEngland furnished the blueprint for an American children's literature. Praising its "miscellaneous" combination of "fable, dialogue, historical incidents, … precept, … [and] … lessons on the works of nature and art," the North American Review asserted: "The book cannot fail to amuse children, it cannot fail to instruct and make them better [by] … laying the foundation of a character, which in after life will secure to them the respect of the wise, and the benedictions of the good."27

The following year the publisher John Putnam invited Child to edit a magazine for juveniles modeled on Evenings in New England. Perhaps because she feared that such a commitment would deflect her from the literary work on which she hoped to build her reputation, Child undertook the project reluctantly. "[S]ome Boston ladies finally persuaded me into it," she confided to Mary.28 Their role in initiating Child into her new vocation reveals how closely the emergence of children's literature is connected to the economic changes that invested women with the primary responsibility for rearing children, and to the political ideology that apotheosized them as republican mothers. Awarded the sacred task of "instructing their sons in the principles of liberty and government," middle-class American women were naturally among the first to feel the need for an American children's literature.29

Financial pressures also spurred Child to accept Putnam's invitation. The profession of letters was highly precarious for American writers of the early nineteenth century, and nearly all of them supplemented the scanty income derived from novels and short stories by resorting periodically to more lucrative genres—histories, biographies, travelogues, political hack writings, religious works, domestic advice books, children's literature—or to ancillary occupations like schoolteaching, which Child was already pursuing.30

If she at first regarded the launching of a children's magazine as a deviation from her true vocation, Child soon changed her mind. Writing to Mary four months after issuing the first number of the Juvenile Miscellany in September 1826, she sent a pointed message to an old friend from Norridgewock days, the aspiring writer Nathaniel Deering. "Tell N. Deering that children's books are more profitable than any others, and that I am American enough to prefer money to fame." By then she could boast that the Miscellany's subscription list stood at "850 names" and was "every day increasing." "It seems as if the public was resolved to give me a flourish of trumpets, let me write what I will," she remarked naively (little dreaming of the abuse she would receive when she started writing indictments of slavery). "Valuable gifts, jewels, beautiful dresses pour in upon me, invitations beyond acceptance, admiring letters from all parts of the country."31 As these enthusiastic tributes indicate, the Miscellany had filled a vital cultural need at just the right moment.

With the inventiveness she showed so often in her career, Child quickly turned the magazine into a sophisticated professional enterprise. She enlisted a network of contributors that included most of the leading women writers of the day: Lydia Huntley Sigourney, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Eliza Leslie, Sarah Josepha Hale, Caroline Howard Gilman, Hannah Flagg Gould, Anna Maria Wells, and a host of others who can no longer be identified. (Contributors typically published under pseudonyms or initials, while Child left her pieces unsigned.) Each of them produced works commissioned especially for the Miscellany and tailored to fit the various regular series it featured. Sigourney, Gilman, Gould, Hale, and Wells supplied poems and occasional sketches. Sedgwick, Leslie, "F." of Stockbridge, "Mater," and Child herself provided domestic fiction. "A.B.F." authored moral dialogues between "Mother and Eliza" and "Botanical" dialogues between Mother and Harry. "D**" detailed the habits of insects, and "X.Y.Z." the wonders of "Conchology." "F." (possibly Convers Francis) devoted the column "Scripture Illustrations" to explicating obscure biblical references by drawing on travelers' accounts of Middle Eastern customs. Child, who wrote from one-fourth to one-third of every 108-page number and practiced all these genres, specialized in biographical sketches of American heroes, dialogues on "American History," translations of European fairy tales, and stories of Indians, blacks, and ethnic groups from other continents.32

The wide range of selections, enhanced with illustrations and supplemented with riddles, ensured that the Miscellany would appeal to children of both sexes and many ages. Every issue opened with an engraved frontispiece accompanying the lead story and closed with verses, puzzles, and the answers to the preceding issue's "conundrums." Fusing "amusement" with "instruction," as the magazine's subtitle proclaimed, fiction served to inculcate moral principles, and whimsical sketches ("Letter from Summer to Winter," "Complaint of the Letter H to his Brother K") conveyed lessons in geography and spelling.

Any modern reader would find the magazine oppressively didactic. Nevertheless, its nonsectarian approach toward forming youthful minds was both liberal and innovative for its day. To appreciate the Miscellany's pioneering character, one need only glance at its chief competitor, The Youth's Companion, which began publication seven months later, in April 1827—under the editorship of Nathaniel Willis, the father of Child's, dandified beau.33 Willis's "Prospectus" clearly distinguished his aim from Child's. Unlike extant "Literary Magazines for youth, which exclude[d] religious topics" or emphasized "mere amusement," the Youth's Companion would give priority to "articles of a religious character." Accordingly, Willis's four-page weekly consisted almost entirely of brief anecdotes centering on children's conversion experiences or exemplary deaths. The titles speak for themselves: "Death Bed Scene of a Child Six Years Old," "A Child's Prayer for His Minister," "Force of Conscience." Moreover, despite Willis's claim that the Companion would be broader in scope than "Tract and Sabbath School Magazines," he borrowed the preponderance of his selections from those sources.

Willis's narrow religious focus left no room for educational articles, like the natural history essays and dialogues that occupied such a prominent place in the Miscellany. Even when Willis introduced a natural history department in the Companion (perhaps in response to the popularity of the Miscellany's), he gave it a biblical stamp. A brief article on "The Elephant," for example, assembled biblical references to the animal and speculated about whether to identify it with Job's Behemoth. In contrast, Child and her contributors were using natural history in the spirit of the Deist Thomas Paine and the Unitarian scientist Joseph Priestley—to exemplify the workings of an "All-Wise Providence" that had fashioned all creatures for the "necessities of their situation."34

Further, because the Companion eschewed anything that smacked of levity, riddles and conundrums were out of the question. Willis did eventually bow to the public taste for illustrations, but the tiny engravings he squeezed sideways into the upper left-hand corner of the Companion betrayed the reluctance with which he must have followed Child's lead.

Indeed, nothing could testify more eloquently to the Miscellany's role as a trendsetter in the field it inaugurated than its gradual infiltration of its conservative rival. Within a few months of its founding, the Youth 's Companion was already reprinting poems, didactic dialogues, and moral sketches from the Miscellany. At first, Willis confined himself to borrowings compatible with the Companion's religious orientation, such as the poem "Mother, What is Death?" by Gilman and the pious account of "The Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Girl" by Sigourney. Yet before long he began reprinting Child's biographical sketches of William Penn, Tadeusz Kościuszko, and Baron de Kalb (Lafayette's Polish and German analogues). By September 1828 he was even reprinting Child's celebrated stories, "The Cottage Girl" and "Garafelia"—material he had formerly stigmatized as "frivolous."35

Revealingly, the only items Willis never borrowed from the Miscellany were Child's stories about Indians and blacks. Constituting the magazine's most original feature, they also mark the limits of the influence Child exerted on the development of the fledgling genre. Willis realized what the young woman from whom he learned his craft refused to admit—that children's literature could not fulfill its socializing mission if it defied the prejudices of the dominant society. Hence, he contented himself with accounts of converted Indians and pious slaves.36

Although the Youth's Companion and the Juvenile Miscellany represented opposite poles in the spectrum of early nineteenth-century American children's literature, which ranged from Calvinist orthodoxy to Unitarian liberalism, they shared a commitment to inculcating the middle-class value system. American children's literature of the 1820s, like its British prototype of the 1790s, had a critical role to perform while the nation was shifting to an industrial capitalist economy. Along with schools, churches, and the myriad societies for the Promotion of Industry, Frugality, and Temperance that sprang up in the mid-1820s, children's literature served to disseminate the bourgeois work ethic so essential to capitalist production. As one historian has explained, the objective of all these cultural agencies was to create "an orderly society" in which "[c]itizens would be self-reliant, hard-working, and sober; obedient to their superiors; attentive to their labors; and self-disciplined in all their pursuits.37

Indoctrination in the bourgeois virtues is ubiquitous in the Miscellany. "Industry conquers every thing" reads the motto on the opening volume's frontispiece, which pictures a man tilling the fields, against a symbolic backdrop of paired beehives. Through sermons, dialogues, biographical sketches of bourgeois heroes, and stories of children whose industry, frugality, and perseverance overcome all obstacles, Child and her contributors drive home the message that sound work habits and austere living earn their rightful reward.

Symptomatically, Benjamin Franklin appears often in early issues of the Miscellany. A recurrent figure even in British classics of children's literature, Franklin personified the conjunction of the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.38 In fact, Max Weber illustrates the hallmarks of the capitalist ethos—obsessive concern with making and saving money as ends in themselves, and "strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life"—by quoting copiously from the famous passage in Franklin's Advice to a Young Tradesman beginning: "Remember, that time is money."39 Franklin had urged his compatriots to emulate the diligence responsible for his fabled rise from "Poverty and Obscurity … to a State of Affluence and some Degree of Reputation in the World"; and lest they miss the point, he catalogued the thirteen virtues he deemed paramount—temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, chastity, humility—and scrupulously charted his method of acquiring them.40

Child's own parents had proved the validity of both the principles Franklin articulated and the democratic promise of upward mobility that his career exemplified. Convers and Susannah Rand Francis, too, had struggled out of poverty into comparative affluence, thanks to their unwearied industry and rigid economy, and two of their children had advanced from the ranks of artisan-shopkeepers into the intelligentsia, by applying themselves equally industriously to their studies. The Francis family had likewise known the sense of community responsibility that tempered the harsher aspects of Franklin's philosophy. Just as Franklin had founded institutions for the public good and sponsored charities for the relief of the poor, Convers and Susannah had looked after less fortunate neighbors like Ma'am Betty, and, in turn, notables like Governor John Brooks and the Reverend David Osgood had helped further their son Convers's education. No wonder, then, that Child devoted the Miscellany to transmitting the bourgeois ideology Franklin had so compellingly propounded.

Child's first New Year's message to Miscellany readers, "Value of Time," invokes Franklin's authority. "It is your duty,—a solemn, and serious duty,—to make good use of the time God has given you," she exhorts. Assuring children that it is vital to their happiness to be "always employed," she advises: "Make a regular arrangement of your time. Devote some hours to study, some to walking, some to work, and some to play." Significantly, however, when Child quotes Franklin's dictum "Time is money," she amends it to reflect what she values most highly: "time is learning too. That is, a diligent use of it, will procure both wealth and knowledge."41

Child similarly adapts Franklin's message to her own ends in her biographical sketch of him, which singles out three causes for his "rise in the world": the "spirit of enterprise" he manifested, the "habits of close observation" he cultivated, and the "economy" he developed into a fine art. Franklin was "frugal in his own expenses; frugal in his system of politics; and frugal even in his words," comments Child pithily, foreshadowing her appropriation of his role in The Frugal Housewife two years later (1829). The qualification she immediately adds—"Yet his economy seems to have had no touch of meanness"—is characteristic of a woman repeatedly portrayed by her contemporaries as "denying herself every luxury and many common comforts, in order to compass the power to relieve or to prevent suffering."42 Child proceeds to credit Franklin with a style of generosity she herself would practice to the end of her life: "He was always willing to lend money to those who were entering life destitute; and when these people were able and willing to pay him, he would often say, 'Lend it to the first poor tradesman you find, who is industrious and honest; and tell him to lend it to another, as soon as he is able to spare it. In this way, with a small sum of money, I shall do good to the end of time.'"43 Summarizing the lessons of Franklin's career, Child holds it up as a model of middle-class virtue that the idle rich would do well to imitate—a pervasive theme in children's literature.44 "[I]f the laugh of the gay and fashionable, should ever make industry and economy appear like contemptible virtues," she admonishes her readers, "let them remember that Benjamin Franklin, a poor, hard-working mechanic, became by means of these very virtues, a philosopher, whose discoveries were useful and celebrated throughout Europe" (2: 22-23). Once again, Child's version of Franklin's success story subtly modifies it to stress his acquisition of knowledge, rather than wealth, and to define usefulness to humanity as his ultimate achievement.

Franklin is only the best-known of the exemplars Child enlists to school her juvenile readers in the values they must internalize, if they are to become the hard-working, enterprising citizens the American republic needs. Like Franklin, two of the other paragons she cites—the traveler John Ledyard and the painter Benjamin West—demonstrate that by resolutely adhering to these values, Americans can win recognition for their country, as well as for themselves.45 Ledyard teaches "the important lesson of perseverance" by braving the snows of Lapland and Siberia and the "[b]urning sands" of the African desert, and by purusing his voyages of discovery, even when reduced to "utter poverty." And West shows how much "industry, ingenuity, and perseverance" can accomplish, when he becomes "an artist of first rate eminence—admired and respected by the nobility of London, Paris, and Rome—" after fabricating a paintbrush with a black cat's tail and learning from the Indians how to make red and yellow paint.46

Although all of the bourgeois heroes the Miscellany celebrates in its biographical sketches are men, Child preaches the same values to girls in her didactic dialogues and stories. A particularly interesting instance is "Mother and Eliza" in the first number of the Miscellany. Markedly different from the mother-daughter dialogues later contributed by "A.B.F.," it seems to reflect Child's feminist and antiracist concerns.47

In response to Eliza's complaint that the composition her teacher has assigned is beyond her capacity, Mother tells a story contrasting a little girl who gives up too easily with her brother who perseveres. The little girl, Mother suggests, has never learned to persevere, because her thoughts have been occupied by dress and other "trifling amusements," and "trifles always tend to weaken the character, and excuse exertion." Her brother, meanwhile, has "thought more of the necessity of studying and improving himself," because he has been "fitting for college" and preparing "to become a man." Implying that girls ought to be given the same training and opportunities as boys, Mother reiterates "the necessity of being interested in something important, solid and useful."48 Mother realizes, however, that sermons on perseverance are not enough, and that little girls must be given confidence in their abilities. Thus, she suggests a composition based on an account Eliza heard of a sea captain's visit to China. Once Eliza has recalled the details of that account, she sees that she has more than enough material for a composition. At the same time, the captain's description of the Chinese serves to amplify Mother's lesson on perseverance, by compelling respect for a foreign people who exhibit the prime bourgeois virtues. The Chinese are so "industrious" and "ingenious," Eliza remembers, that they contrive to perform several tasks simultaneously. The women, for example, iron clothes by sitting on them, which leaves their hands and feet free for other work! Such a people, comments Mother, would not say "because a thing was difficult, that they could not do it" (1:42).

If Child preaches perseverance and industry to girls and boys alike, her fiction nevertheless reveals inadvertently that the rewards of practicing those virtues are far greater for boys. The story "The Industrious Family" (1831) illustrates the constraints of gender even as it seeks to transcend them. Its competent, responsible heroine, Ellen Temple, may well be Child's answer to Charlotte Temple, the fallen woman who gave her name to Susanna Rowson's best-selling novel of seduction ("few works do so much harm to girls of fourteen or fifteen," Child warns in The Mother's Book, published the same year as "The Industrious Family"). The eldest in a family of orphans, Ellen dutifully raises her brothers and sisters:

She was a good Latin, Italian, and French scholar, painted beautifully, and played with great taste on the harp and guitar. But for all she was so accomplished, she thought it no shame to work with her own hands for the support of her orphan brothers and sisters. For several years after her father's death, she was too poor to pay a domestic; and the noble-minded girl, without a murmur, made the butter, cooked the food, and kept the little swarm of children as neat and busy as so many bees.49

Ellen's industry, frugality, and self-denial shield the family against starvation and inspire her brothers and sisters to emulate her.

Child's point is that they must emulate her for the family to survive. This is not a story of female self-sacrifice, but of socialization into the bourgeois virtues that ensure individual and collective prosperity—among them respect for manual labor. Hence, it is as important for Ellen's brother John to exercise self-denial as it is for Ellen to "work with her own hands." Like Child's brother Convers, John has a passion for books, and "if he had cared only about pleasing himself, he would have read from morning till night; but he knew this would be selfish; and he cheerfully worked in the garden and about the house, without allowing himself an hour a day for his favorite occupation."50

Ultimately, a fairy godfather shows up in the person of a sea captain uncle who rewards the children for their assiduity. The moral that God helps those who help themselves is explicit: "God always provides a way for such industrious, kind-hearted little ones" (221). Child's insistence on male self-denial is equally explicit—because John has shown himself to be "a good, hard-working boy, willing to deny [himself] for the sake of others" (225), his uncle enables him to fulfill his dream of attending college.

The disparity between the rewards the male and female siblings earn, however, drastically undercuts Child's efforts to establish a single standard of virtue for both sexes. While John becomes "a lawyer of great reputation" and his brother, William, also helped by their uncle to pursue his studies, makes "a large fortune by his success in machines" (228), what of Ellen and her sisters? The best to which they can aspire is to marry men like their brothers—a clergyman in Ellen's case, and wealthy manufacturers in the case of her sisters.

This gender inequality is all the more conspicuous in a magazine that marks such an advance beyond the strict sexual stereotyping of early British children's literature, with its unrelieved subordination of women to men.51 Yet it is also symptomatic of the contradictions that pervade nineteenth-century children's literature—and the bourgeois ideology it promulgates. Again and again, the egalitarian claims of bourgeois ideology conflict with the patently inferior position it accords women, the poor, and people of color.

"The Industrious Family," like most stories in the Miscellany, presents poverty as a temporary reverse, which hard work and frugality can always overcome. As "F. of Stockbridge" puts it in a similar story, "In this favored land, no one, who is blessed with health, and willing to be industrious and economical, need be destitute of the comforts of life."52 Child specifically attributes her young protagonists' good fortune to their industry and self-denial. "I am sure you need not ask if they prospered in the world," she writes in an aside to readers (221). "The prudent and industrious generally contrive to accomplish their purposes, in one way or another," agrees "F. of Stockbridge." The children's status as orphans underscores the message that they have had nothing to rely on but themselves. Commenting on the ubiquity of orphans in children's literature, the historian Isaac Kramnick explains: "Orphans allow a personalization of the basic bourgeois assumption that the individual is on his or her own, free from the weight of the past, from tradition, from family." By definition, orphans are responsible "for their own fate," forced back on "their own hard work, self-reliance, merit, and talent."53

How ironic, then, that Child must resort to a deus ex machina—the proverbial rich uncle—to rescue the children from poverty. This device, so frequent in Miscellany stories, implicitly acknowledges that hard work and frugality do not suffice, that the poor cannot be left to rely on themselves, but must instead be helped out of poverty and given financial support if they are to acquire the education needed for upward mobility. As a vehicle for solving the problem of poverty, the deus ex machina also masks the reality of class conflict. Usually, this figure is not a relative, but a rich person who expects some deference in return for charity. Needless to say, neither giver nor recipient ever questions the social structure or suggests that charity may be a right, not a privilege to be earned by good behavior. The traditional happy ending of such stories—a marriage between the poor person and the rich patron's son or daughter—neatly averts class conflict by promising selective upward mobility.

The story "Louisa Preston" (1828) is typical.54 Its heroine, a poor washerwoman's daughter, is almost thwarted in her attempts to educate herself for a career as a primary schoolteacher: "[I]t took so much of her time to assist her mother in washing, to mend her brother's clothes, and to tend the baby, that it seemed to be almost impossible for her to get her lessons" (58). In addition to the heavy workload she must carry in a household too poor to allow her the leisure for studying, Louisa faces the obstacle of class snobbery, as her rich schoolmates taunt her for her patched clothes. Predictably, Child moralizes: "But to the industrious and persevering, nothing is impossible; and Louisa Preston, with all her discouragements, was always the best scholar in school" (58).

The opportunity for Louisa to achieve her goal arises when it is announced that the student who demonstrates the most through command of ancient and modern geography will earn "a handsome copy of Miss Edgeworth's 'Moral Tales,' and one year's education at the best school in the city" (64). Twice, however, Louisa is forced to drop out of school for weeks at a time to nurse her mother and sister through serious illnesses. Thus, her rich classmate Hannah White ends up winning the prize.

Realistically, the story recognizes that poor students cannot compete on equal terms with their rich classmates and that the odds against them are overwhelming. What finally allows Louisa to fulfill her ambition is the charity she earns through her virtuous behavior. First, the mothers of her classmates, hearing of Louisa's "good character," present her with "plain, neat suits of clothes" and give her mother "constant employment" (69). Then, her rival Hannah, who had formerly made fun of her, publicly admits that Louisa would have earned the prize had she not been obliged to nurse her mother and sister. As a result, the school examiners give prizes to both girls. In the end, Louisa not only succeeds in becoming a teacher, but she manages to send her brother to college. Consummating her advancement to middle-class status, she marries Hannah White's brother.

The threat of class conflict is very much on the surface of this story, which honestly acknowledges the enormous gulf between rich and poor. Yet Child defuses that threat by showing how the barriers of class can be transcended. Louisa's virtuous behavior literally reconciles class conflicts: it elicits the charity of the rich, sets a standard of morality they come to emulate, and culminates in a marriage of classes (paralleling the recurrent interracial marriages in Child's fiction for adults). The fact Child overlooks is that such a solution puts the burden of reconciliation on the poor and obfuscates the causes of poverty.

If adopting bourgeois habits of industry, preseverance, and self-denial opens the door to upward mobility, by implication the reverse is also true—the poverty of those who fail to achieve upward mobility can be blamed on their stubborn persistence in lower-class habits of sloth, improvidence, and drunkenness (the epitome of self-indulgence). "The Brothers, or … The Influence of Example" (1827) takes precisely this line. The story contrasts two pairs of poor brothers who respond differently to upper-class programs for the socialization and uplift of the working class. The first pair, Charles and George, work during the week to help their widowed mother support the family, and they attend the Sunday school provided for the village poor. The second pair, Lying Harry and Skulking Dick, waste their time playing truant in the woods and getting drunk. Worse, they exert a pernicious influence over all the poor boys of the village by denouncing the Sunday school as a sop for poor folk, about which "the Squire and the Parson feel mighty grand." George temporarily falls under their sway and nearly forfeits the respect of the other villagers, but thanks to his brother Charles's virtuous example, he repents in time.55

Here, as in "Louisa Preston" and "The Industrious Family," hard work and sobriety earn Charles and George the charity they need to further their education; and education, in turn, allows them to rise in the world. Charles obtains a post in "one of the best schools in the state—the income of which made him much richer than he ever expected to be," and George invents a machine and becomes a wealthy manufacturer. In "The Brothers," however, Child meets the threat of class conflict head-on, explicitly drawing a social rather than an individual moral: "New England is a blessed land. In every corner of it there are people willing and able to assist those who are anxious to gain knowledge" (2: 219). That is, Charles and George owe their good fortune not merely to their own efforts, but to a society that deals justly with the poor and rewards the well-deserving. Such a society obviously needs no redistribution of wealth to eliminate poverty.

Because they reject this ideological premise, Lying Harry and Skulking Dick come to bad ends—if they accepted it, they would realize that it is in their interests to conform to their superiors' ethic of hard work and sobriety. Growing so dissolute that no one will employ them, they sink deeper into poverty, until they are finally imprisoned for robbery. Although he learns his lesson too late, Skulking Dick endorses the story's moral with his dying breath. His fate, he admits, is the result of Harry's bad example; had he followed Charles' path, he, too, might have become a prosperous middle-class citizen.

Interestingly, recent historical studies tend to support the contention that workers who adopted their employers' bourgeois ethic did actually enjoy greater upward mobility than the "traditionalists" who "clung to customs and habits inherited from the loose … morality" of the preindustrial era. Often, however, these "model workers" were "bound by ties of kinship, religion, or neighborhood" to their employers, and thus they were more prone to embrace an ideology that blamed poverty on "idleness and self-indulgence rather than [on] exploitation."56

Stories like "The Brothers" naturally minimize such factors. Even more significantly, they omit an alternative represented by a third group of workers, whom Paul Faler calls "rebel mechanics"—the alternative of adopting the bourgeois moral code while rejecting bourgeois ideology. The rebels articulated what the Lying Harrys and Skulking Dicks inchoately felt—that their employers' wealth was the product not just of "hard work, self-reliance, and shrewdness," but also of "petty fraud and heartless extortion." "The most vigorous opponents of capitalist exploitation," they used bourgeois work discipline "in their own class interest" to struggle for higher wages, and they refused to be bought off by the promise of selective upward mobility.57 In short, they embodied the specter of class conflict that nineteenth-century children's literature sought to exorcise.

Paradoxically, children's literature harked back to the past even while it looked ahead to the future. As an instrument for creating the disciplined labor force required by the developing industrial capitalist economy, children's literature helped propel nineteenth-century America into a new era. Yet when confronting the terrible urban poverty produced by industrial capitalism, the genre offered a solution rooted in the communal ethic of the preindustrial village.

None of Child's Miscellany stories dramatizes the contradiction more poignantly than "The Cottage Girl" (1828). What makes this tale of urban poverty particularly revealing is that Child rewrote it in 1856, after three decades of mushrooming urbanization and accelerating immigration had completely transformed the America of her youth. Titling the new version "Rosy O'Ryan," she registered the changes: the replacement of the native-born American poor by still poorer Irish immigrants; the widening gap between them and the rich in cities that intensified the anonymity of the destitute; the diminishing opportunities for upward mobility. She also noted the elements of a future solution—solidarity among the poor themselves. Nevertheless, she ended the story as she had in 1828, by symbolically restoring the rural community of the past.58

The two versions of "The Cottage Girl" are revealing in another respect. Issues of class and gender intersect in both, but "Rosy O'Ryan" expresses the heightened feminist consciousness fostered by the women's rights movement of the 1830s and 1840s. In addition, it exhibits increased familiarity with the lives of urban working-class women, thanks to the nine years Child had spent in New York from 1841 to 1850, during which she had frequently visited slums, asylums, and prisons.

Set in Boston (though its oddly incongruous title foreshadows the rural haven the story offers its heroine), "The Cottage Girl" can no longer assume a village community like that of "Louisa Preston," in which the plight of a deserving poor family comes naturally to the attention of prosperous neighbors, whose charity can be relied on. Instead, the wealthy seem unaware of the misery around them and unconcerned about the welfare of the washerwomen and scullions they hire to do their menial labor. "The rich people, for whom [Mrs. Wood] worked with patient drudgery, paid her wages, and thought nothing more about her," writes Child ("Rosy" 159). To dispel this callous indifference, she brings home to her readers what poverty means. "[I]t is harder work than many rich little girls imagine, to earn enough to eat, and coarse clothes to wear," she points out, explaining why Mrs. Wood, "a poor woman, whose husband had left her with two little children, to support herself as she could," ends up dying of over-work ("CG" n.s. 1: 3).

In the 1856 version, which fleshes out the hardships such a woman faces, Child turns the deserted Mrs. Wood of "The Cottage Girl" into a battered wife, whom she renames Mrs. O'Ryan: "Mary O'Ryan was a poor Irish woman, whose husband spent all his wages for strong drink. She went out to do washing and scouring, and left her little ones at home for some kind neighbour to look after; as many a poor woman is obliged to do. When she returned after a day of hard work, she often found her husband intoxicated, and he would beat her cruelly, to make her give him the money she had earned" ("Rosy" 158).

Of course, the portrayal of the Irish husband as a drunkard and wife-beater falls into ethnic stereotyping. Now, however, Child recognizes that lower-class women must work—and leave their children in the care of neighbors—regardless of whether or not they have husbands. In fact, the death of her husband at least gives Mrs. O'Ryan "control of her own wages" ("Rosy" 160). The problem is the inadequacy of those wages and the severance of the bonds that had once prompted rich people to relieve the distress of their poor neighbors.

In both "The Cottage Girl" and "Rosy O'Ryan," the only person who comes to the help of the distressed mother is a "poor washer-woman" (named Mrs. Kinsey in the former, Mrs. Wood in the latter). "A great many people in Boston would have helped … if they had known" of the family's need, Child concedes in "The Cottage Girl," yet she implies that their ignorance is almost willful. Those who see the hearse go by know that it is "some poor person['s], because no carriages and very few people" follow it. Still, they do not think to inquire about the circumstances. Child contrasts their heedlessness with the washerwoman's kindness: "Every night, after she had finished her hard day's work, she used to go in and ask how neighbor Wood did, and give the children a portion of her own supper" ("CG" n.s. 1: 5, 7). In "Rosy O'Ryan" Child sharpens her social criticism, pointedly commenting: "Benevolence is commendable in the rich, who can give away ten dollars without depriving themselves of any thing they need; but in the sight of God and angels it is less beautiful and holy than the generosity of the poor. No one knew how often Mrs. Wood was obliged to deny herself a cup of tea, or a morsel of meat, because she had used up her small funds to feed Mary O'Ryan's famishing children" ("Rosy" 159).

Child develops the bonding of the two women into a major theme of "Rosy O'Ryan," where the washerwoman Mrs. Wood shelters Mary O'Ryan and her children during Mr. O'Ryan's drunken sprees, and the two enjoy a "rivalry of mutual kindness" for a year before Mrs. O'Ryan takes ill ("Rosy" 160-61). Another new element Child adds to "Rosy O'Ryan" is the transformation of the friendship into a cross-ethnic alliance. By making Mrs. Wood English and Mrs. O'Ryan Irish, Child suggests that feminist sisterhood and class solidarity can transcend ethnic divisions.

Yet Child never perceives the sisterhood and solidarity of the poor as alternatives to the charity of the rich. If the poor can alleviate each other's suffering, they cannot help each other to achieve upward mobility. And upward mobility remains the only solution Child can envision to the problem of poverty. Thus, despite having shown that the urban rich are utterly oblivious of poverty, Child must find a way of eliciting their charity in order to save the washerwomen and her adopted children from the fate of the dead mother. Suddenly, employers and landlords who have hitherto failed to manifest the slightest curiosity about the struggling family learn of the washerwoman's generosity and resolve to assist her.

That assistance inevitably takes the form of transplanting the family to a rural environment and providing the children with opportunities for advancement. Adopted by a wealthy family, the son becomes a "prosperous" manufacturer in the 1828 text, and a "civil engineer … profitably employed in the construction of railroads" in the 1856 text, where his adopted family suffers financial reverses obliging him to make "his own way in the world" ("Rosy" 188). His sister can only improve her status through marriage. She grows up with the washerwoman, refusing to abandon her even when invited to join her brother's family some years later, but ultimately "marrie[s] a sensible, industrious man, who own[s] a good farm" ("CG" n.s. 1: 18-19; "Rosy" 188).

The divergence of the children's paths raises several issues the story attempts to address but fails to resolve satisfactorily. First, it calls attention to a major disadvantage of upward mobility—the gulf created between a successful individual and the family and class he or she leaves behind. Second, it suggests the unnaturalness of class distinctions, which literally subvert the principle of human brotherhood by dividing brother from sister. Third, it reflects the limitations that gender places on upward mobility.

Child's response to all three issues is to bridge differences. Although the sister initially finds it "strange" that "her own brother—her twin brother, too … should be dressed so much better" than she is, she tells herself she is glad he is "so well off" and philosophizes: "after all, I don't believe he is a bit happier than I am" ("CG" n.s. 1: 15-16). For his part, her brother has an impulse to "put on a frock, and come to work in [his sister's] garden." (In "Rosy O'Ryan" he has the opposite impulse of wanting to support his sister and her adopted mother, "so that they need not work so hard," but the washerwoman, speaking for Child, admonishes him: "work is a good thing; and nobody can be happy without it" ["Rosy" 183]). The irony Child confronts here is basic to bourgeois ideology: once attained, the bourgeois goal of acquiring wealth and bettering one's condition threatens the ethic of hard work and frugality that distinguishes the virtuous middle class from the idle rich.59 Hence, the upwardly mobile individual must relearn the necessity of hard work from the poor.

Also serving to bridge the class differences between brother and sister in "The Cottage Girl" is charity. The brother's wealthy adopted parents send his sister "to a good school" and make her frequent "presents of neat, suitable clothing" ("CG" n.s. 1: 18). Not only has Child reconstituted the village environment of "Louisa Preston," with its communal ethic binding rich and poor; she has actually converted the two classes into one big family in which all have their proper places. Significantly, she cements the union of rich and poor through the ritual that had epitomized the communal ethic in the Medford of her childhood. Every Thanksgiving, brother and sister sit down together at her "plain, but plentiful table," which symbolizes their reciprocal relations ("CG" n.s. 1: 18-19).

The difference the story does not succeed in bridging is that of gender. As in "The Industrious Family," Child cannot realistically provide male and female siblings with the same opportunities for advancement. No amount of schooling can permit a girl to become an engineer or manufacturer. By taking her urban orphan out of the city and marrying her off to a farmer, Child implies what a number of feminist historians have argued—that most women were better off under the domestic economy of the past, in which they controlled many remunerative activities, than they were under industrial capitalism.60 Child's solution to the problem of urban workingwomen's immiseration is thus to restore them to their previous status as productive members of self-sufficient rural households. This solution becomes especially obvious in "Rosy O'Ryan," which ends with a catalog of the productive occupations in which Mrs. Wood and her adopted daughter engage on the farm: Mrs. Wood "made many hundred pounds of butter for the market; and when she was too old to do that, she sat in her rocking-chair, sewing woolen mats, or knitting stockings for all the family…. Rosy was too busy to attend much to a flower garden; but she would find time to put a few seed in the ground" so as to enjoy the sight of flowers "while she was skimming milk in her pantry" ("Rosy" 188-89).

In their very celebration of bourgeois ideology, stories like "The Cottage Girl," "Rosy O'Ryan," "Louisa Preston," "The Brothers," and "The Industrious Family" repeatedly betray that ideology's contradictions. Promising all citizens equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of American democracy, the stories distribute opportunities and benefits unequally among men and women, rich and poor. Serving to socialize children into an industrial capitalist society, they repudiate the consequences of capitalist development and resurrect the rural past. Extolling individualism and self-reliance, they re-create class relations of mutual dependency. Blaming poverty on idleness and hymning the rewards of hard work and self-denial, they depict a world in which the poor die of overwork and the rich pay others a pittance to do their cleaning, washing, and sewing. Yet these stories also convey the power and persuasiveness of the ideology they promulgate. It is easy to understand why Child's juvenile readers and their parents found the magazine so compelling.

The organs of the cultural establishment provide ample evidence of how highly Child's contemporaries valued the ideological work the Juvenile Miscellany performed. The prestigious North American Review, while admitting that children's literature lay "beyond our jurisdiction," made a special point of recommending the Miscellany and expressing "respect for an accomplished lady, to whom we have been indebted for entertainment in former times." Sarah Hale's Ladies' Magazine reviewed several numbers and urged "every family where there are children" to subscribe. Indeed, wrote Hale, "grown people would not find their time misspent while perusing its pages, which is more than we would be willing to say in favor of, at least, one half of the new publications that are thronging us…. " Perhaps the most telling index of the Miscellany's cultural significance is the amount of exposure it received in the American Traveller, a gossipy, widely circulated Boston newspaper with an attractive literary page. The Traveller greeted each issue of the Miscellany as it appeared, occasionally reprinted selections from it, and singled out "The Cottage Girl" for special praise as a story set in "this city" and "calculated to rivet the attention, please the fancy and improve the mind." This newspaper's many enthusiastic reviews best sum up the achievement of the magazine it hailed as the '"Children's North American'":

The fair editor … has a peculiar tact for extracting the pith from subjects, dry and obscure in themselves, though important and useful, and presenting it to her youthful readers in the most pleasing and attractive forms.

Miss Francis, with the aid of several lady contributors of high literary attainments, succeeds, beyond the anticipations of her friends, in sustaining the popular character of the Juvenile Miscellany; and each successive number … presents us with something new, something palatable, and something to gratify and instruct the tender juvenile mind.

[T]he whole [is] adapted to the juvenile capacity, and eminently calculated to give a proper direction to the expanding passions and sympathies of the heart…. [T]he useful lessons and valuable principles of "Aunt Maria," will hereafter, we are confident, in many instances, be remembered as the first incentives to distinction and usefulness.61

Within a year of founding the Miscellany, Child had achieved her goal of professional independence. The magazine was not only winning universal acclaim, but clearing $300 a year in profits for its editor—more than enough to support her. Child was leading an extraordinarily busy, productive life—teaching school for six hours a day; carrying on an extensive correspondence with contributors, printers, and subscribers; writing her share of each bimonthly number; continuing to submit fiction to the gift books through which she sought to maintain her literary reputation; and enjoying the attention being lavished on her by a large circle of admirers.62 But whether or not she suspected it, her freedom as a single woman was drawing to a close.


1 C[aroline] [Howard] G[ilman], "A Family Scene," Juvenile Miscellany n.s. 3: (Nov. 1829] 215-16. The abbreviation JM is used in subsequent references to the magazine.

2 The Library of Entertaining Knowledge was one of Child's principal sources for informational articles in the Miscellany. For excellent studies of nineteenth-century American children's literature and its cultural mission, see Anne Scott MacLeod, A Moral Tale: Children's Fiction and American Culture, 1820-1860 (Hamden, Conn: Archon, 1975); and R. Gordon Kelly, Mother Was a Lady: Self and Society in Selected American Children's Periodicals, 1865-1890 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood P, 1974). I am indebted to Kelly for stimulating my interest in The Juvenile Miscellany and children's literature and to both books for teaching me to read this literature with sensitivity to its cultural implications.

3 In 1820 Caroline Howard Gilman's husband, Samuel, a clergyman, had taken a Unitarian pulpit in Charleston. An ardent southern sympathizer by the 1830s, when she and Child broke with each other, Gilman actually sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Child probably met the Gilmans through Samuel's sister Louisa Gilman, with whom she was already intimate by 1827 (see LMC to Louisa Gilman, 4 June [1827?], CC 1/24). Louisa's future husband, Ellis Loring, mentioned in the same letter, became a member of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, along with David Lee Child, and the two couples remained close friends throughout their lives.

4 See John C. Crandall, "Patriotism and Humanitarian Reform in Children's Literature, 1825-1860," American Quarterly 21 (Spring 1969): 3-22.

5 Caroline Healey Dall, "Lydia Maria Child and Mary Russell Mitford," Unitarian Review 19 (June 1883): 519-34. Quotations in this and following paragraphs on 525-26.

6 "The Orphans," Juvenile Miscellany 4 (July 1828): 314-26. The heroine, Lucy Mann, like Jo March, has "long, thick, and glossy" hair of "an uncommon colour" (though "golden brown," rather than chestnut, as in Jo's case). Lucy, too, gets the idea of selling her hair from a story she reads (about an English girl). After an agonizing conflict between her desire to "make her [grandmother] comfortable" and her attachment to her "pretty hair," she performs the sacrifice. Child moralizes that Lucy's hair is not important for its own sake, since it might have had to be cut if Lucy had become ill and since it would eventually turn gray anyway; "but it was a great thing for her own character, whether she allowed vanity, to overcome her sense of duty…. If she had indulged her vanity in this particular, it would have grown stronger, and been harder to overcome, the next time she was tempted; and perhaps, when she became a young lady, she would be tempted to do some very wicked thing, to gratify her vanity …" (314-16). In A Hunger for Home: Louisa May Alcott's Place in American Culture [New Brunswick, N.J.; Rutgers UP, 1987) 36, Sarah Elbert has also pointed out an episode in Little Men where Alcott dramatizes a method of punishment Child had suggested in The Mother's Book (1831). Alcott's mother, Abba, an intimate friend of Child's, had applied it to Louisa when she was six years old. For Child's reminiscenes of Abba May Alcott and assessment of Louisa, see LMC to Sarah Shaw, 18 June 1876, SL 534-35, partially quoted in chap. 21 below; and LMC to Louisa May Alcott, 19 June 1878, CC 90/2398.

7 Lucy Larcom, A New England Girlhood, Outlined from Memory (1889; New York: Corinth, 1961) 169-75. Child was one of the first writers Larcom solicited for contributions to Our Young Folks on its inauguration. See "Freddy's New-Year's Dinner," "Grandfather's Chestnut-Tree," and "The Two Christmas Evenings," which Larcom featured as lead stories in the July and Oct. 1865 and Jan. 1866 issues of Our Young Folks.

8 Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "Lydia Maria Child" (1868), Contemporaries, vol. 2 of The Writings of Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1900) 108, 116.

9 See Isaac Kramnick, "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology: Observations on Culture and Industrial Capitalism in the Later Eighteenth Century," Culture and Politics: From Puritanism to the Enlightenment, ed. Perez Zagorin (Berkeley: U of California P, 1980) 213-14. For a statement of this point of view by a writer of Child's generation, see [Sarah Josepha Hale], review of The Juvenile Souvenir, for 1828, and of The Juvenile Miscellany, vol. 3, Ladies' Magazine 1 (Jan. 1828): 47. Hale comments on the "intellectual and moral" superiority of these volumes (both edited by Child) to "the absurd tales of fairy enchantment, and the foolish chimes of 'rhymes for the nursery'" hitherto offered to children: "The worthless volumes, in the perusal of which, our childhood was wasted, have now given place to a class, which, though happily adapted to the comprehension of the youngest, may both amuse and instruct the oldest."

10 The best summary of these developments is Kramnick's "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology," in Zagorin, ed., Culture and Politics 203-40. See also Philippe Ariès's classic study, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, trans. Robert Baldick (New York: Vintage, 1962); the essays by Mary Lynn Stevens Heininger, Karin Calvert, and Harvery Green in A Century of Childhood, 1820-1920 (Rochester, N.Y.: Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum, 1984); Jacqueline S. Reinier, "Rearing the Republican Child: Attitudes and Practices in Post-Revolutionary Philadelphia," William and Mary Quarterly 39 (Jan. 1982): 150-63; and the early chapters of Carl N. Degler's At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (New York: Oxford UP, 1980). The following paragraphs are based on these sources, esp. Kramnick.

11 For historical analyses of these developments, see Louise A. Tilly and Joan Scott, Women, Work and Family (New York: Holt, 1978), esp. chaps. 4 and 6; Heidi Hartmann, "Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Job Segregation by Sex," The SIGNS Reader: Women, Gender and Scholarship, ed. Elizabeth Abel and Emily K. Abel (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983) 193-226, esp. 203-10; Mary Lynn McDougall, "Working-Class Women During the Industrial Revolution, 1780-1914," and Theresa M. McBride, "The Long Road Home: Women's Work and Industrialization," both in Becoming Visible: Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz (Boston: Houghton, 1977) 255-79, 280-95. For studies focusing on American women, see Gerda Lerner, "The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson," Midcontinent American Studies Journal 10 (Spring 1969): 5-15; Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 1977), esp. chaps. 1-3; and Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States (New York: Oxford UP, 1982), esp. chap. 3 on "Industrial Wage Earners and the Domestic Ideology."

12 Ariès is particularly illuminating on this point. See his chapter "From Immodesty to Innocence," Centuries of Childhood, 100-127.

13 See Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (1905, 1920; New York: Scribner's, 1958) chap. 4, "The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism" 98-128. Also extremely useful are the section on Benjamin Franklin in "The Spirit of Capitalism" and the entire chapter "Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism" 48-54, 115-83.

14 Kramnick, "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology" 205.

15 Kramnick, "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology" 205, 209, 215, 221, 227-28.

16 [Lydia Maria Child], Evenings in New England. Intended for Juvenile Amusement and Instruction. By an American Lady (Boston: Cummings, Hilliard, 1824) iii. Further page references are given parenthetically in the text.

17 Review of Evenings in New England, NAR 20 (Jan. 1825): 230-31.

18 Kramnick, "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology" 228.

19 [Anna Letitia Barbauld], Evenings at Home; or, The Juvenile Budget Opened. Consisting of a Variety of Miscellaneous Pieces, for the Instruction and Amusement of Young Persons, 6 vols. (London: J. Johnson, 1792) 1: 51-52, 55.

20 Barbauld, Evenings at Home 1: 86, 94.

21 Kramnick, "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology" 225. See Barbauld, "The Kidnappers," 2: 79-86, discussed below, in which Mr. B. reads a chapter from Churchill's Voyages to his son and daughter and discusses the issue it raises. Also "The Cost of a War," 5: 54-63, in which the father uses Louis XIV's conquest of the Palatinate to make the point that war is evil.

22 Barbauld, "The Kidnappers," Evenings at Home 2: 80-82.

23 Barbauld, Evenings at Home 2: 81.

24 For a more extended discussion of early antislavery ideology and the process by which radical abolitionists like Garrison and Child came to question its premises, see chap. 8 below.

25 I am grateful to Jean Fagan Yellin for pointing out the significance of Haiti, rather than Liberia, as a haven for emancipated slaves. Among the early antislavery advocates who favored Haiti were Frances Wright and the Quaker Benjamin Lundy. Child and her fellow abolitionists would agitate vociferously for U.S. recognition of Haiti.

26 LMC to Mary Francis Preston, undated, CC 1/15, as quoted in Anna D. Hallowell, "Lydia Maria Child, Medford Historical Register 3 (July 1900): 100.

27 Review of Evenings in New England, NAR 20 (Jan. 1825): 231.

28 LMC to Mary Francis Preston, [28 Aug. 1826], CC 1/19, as quoted in Hallowell, "Lydia Maria Child" 100.

29 Benjamin Rush, "Thoughts Upon Female Education," quoted in Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1980) 229.

30 See William Charvat, "The Conditions of Authorship in 1820," The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870: The Papers of William Charvat, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1968) 29-48. Irving wrote histories, including Astoria, financed by the millionaire John Jacob Astor. Longfellow and Hawthorne took up children's literature, and Hawthorne filled two political appointments. Emerson and Melville lectured, and Melville repeatedly attempted to procure a political appointment, finally succeeding in 1866.

31 LMC to Mary Francis Preston, 6 Jan. 1827, SL 8; and [1826], CC 1/22, as quoted in Hallowell, "Lydia Maria Child" 101.

32 For other overviews of The Juvenile Miscellany, see Alice M. Jordan, "The Juvenile Miscellany' and Its Literary Ladies," in From Rollo to Tom Sawyer and Other Papers (Boston: Horn Book, 1948) 46-60; and Ruth K. MacDonald, "The Juvenile Miscellany: For the Instruction and Amusement of Youth, " Children's Periodicals of the United States, ed. R. Gordon Kelly (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood P, 1984) 258-62.

33 Willis launched a "Prospectus" of the magazine, consisting of a sample number, on 16 Apr. 1827, but the Youth's Companion (hereinafter referred to as YC) did not actually begin appearing on a regular basis until 6 June. For an overview of YC, see David L. Greene, "The Youth's Companion, " Children's Periodicals of the United States, ed. Kelly, 507-14.

34 Compare "The Elephant," YC 1 (31 Aug. 1827): 55 with "Wonders of the Deep," JM 1 (Jan. 1827): 66-80. Quotation on 73. Barbauld, a member of Priestley's circle, uses natural history in the same way as Child, who probably drew her inspiration from the natural history articles in Evenings at Home. See also the section "Defining the True Revelation" in Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason, ed. Philip S. Foner (1794; Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel P, 1974) 68-70.

35 The earliest borrowing I have found is the poem "Ellen's May Day," signed W., 1 (14 Sept. 1827): 64. Gilman's and Sigourney's selections appear in the Companion, 11 Jan. (1: 132) and 6 June (2: 5-6) 1828, respectively; the three sketches: sketches: 18 July, 1 and 8 Aug. 1828 (2: 29-30, 39, 43). And the two stories cited appeared 19 Sept. and 31 Oct. 1828 (2: 65-66, 89-90). In the issue containing "The Cottage Girl," Willis reviewed the Miscellany, describing it as "well worthy of the attention of our young friends" (2: 68). All borrowings are attributed to the Miscellany. Initially sporadic, borrowings become regular by March 1828. They are most frequent right after the publication of each bimonthly issue of the Miscellany and seem to taper off as Willis runs out of material he considers worth reprinting. In his "Prospectus," Willis had pledged to avoid "every thing frivolous." He had also objected to magazines of "mere amusement, whose influence is unfavorable to religion and morals" (1: 1).

36 A typical example is "Pious Negro," YC 1 (27 July 1827) 34, reprinted from the Scottish Children's Friend. It tells of a young girl who must refuse an old Negro's pleas for charity because she has "nothing with her that could be of use to him," but who reads him an extract from the New Testament instead and prays for his conversion. The anecdote ends with his pious death. See also "Seneca Mission," YC 7 (22 Feb. 1834) 157, on the achievements of Indian converts and the need for greater efforts to spread the gospel among Indian tribes.

37 Paul Faler, "Cultural Aspects of the Industrial Revolution: Lynn, Massachusetts, Shoemakers and Industrial Morality, 1826-1860," Labor History 15 (Summer 1974): 367-94, describes the campaign of Lynn shoe manufacturers to disseminate the new industrial morality among their workers. Quotation on 367. I am grateful to Dorothy Ross for bringing this article to my attention. It is fascinating to note that the Lynn Society for the Promotion of Industry, Frugality, and Temperance was founded the same year as the Juvenile Miscellany, in 1826. In A Shopkeepers' Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837, Paul E. Johnson describes a similar campaign. On the British precedent, see Kramnick, "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology."

38 Kramnick, "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology" 230. The instance he cites is from Barbauld's Evenings at Home 6: 250.

39 Weber, Protestant Ethic 48-53.

40 See the opening paragraph of Franklin's Autobiography and the first section of Book 2.

41 "Value of Time," JM 1 (Jan. 1827): 103-5. See also the dialogue "Time and Money," by "Mater," JM n.s. 2 (July 1829): 218-26. To explain the dictum "time is money" to her daughter, Mother uses the example of bees, who "spend their time in making honey; which is sold for money" (224). She, too, goes on to say: "If time is money, time is knowledge, too; and knowledge in connexion with virtue, is the best means of happiness, as well as usefulness." The biblical metaphor she cites evaluates knowledge in monetary terms as well: "It is among the treasures 'that neither moth nor rust corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal'" (225).

42 Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Chapters from a Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1896) 182-83.

43 "Benjamin Franklin," JM 2 (Mar. 1827): 18-23. Quotations on 20-21. Child adopted a similar strategy when she used the proceeds from The Freedmen's Book to buy more copies for free distribution to former slaves. For reminiscences of Child that describe her self-sacrificing charity, see Hallowell, "Lydia Maria Child" 115; and James Russell Lowell, "A Fable for Critics," The Poetical Works of James Russell Lowell. Household Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1895) 142-44.

44 Kramnick, "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology" 224, 232.

45 Obviously, the biographical sketches serve patriotic purposes as well. Thus, except for foreign heroes of the American Revolution, their subjects are all Americans. In 1831, however, Child introduced a new biographical series, "Remarkable Boys," that featured a number of European child prodigies. The sketches of Isaac Newton and James Ferguson are typical in attributing their scientific achievements to the "habits of thought and attention," "industry and perseverance" that each developed at a young age (n.s. 6 [Mar./Apr. 1831] 32, 34).

46 "The American Traveller," JM 1 (Sept. 1826): 14-20; "Sir Benjamin West," JM 1 (Jan. 1827): 19-25.

47 No selections in the first issue are signed, suggesting that Child may have written all or most of them and then solicited contributors who could follow the models she provided. At the end of the second issue she apologizes in a note for not printing a contribution from an "anonymous correspondent" because it was too similar to a selection that had already been included (1 [Nov. 1826]: 108). And in the third issue, she apologizes for errors "to be attributed to the carelessness of the editor—not to the writer of the article on botany" (1 [Jan. 1827]: 108). This would seem to indicate that she initially rewrote unsigned articles contributed by others. By the third issue, the series "Mother and Eliza" is signed by "A.B.F.," and the initials of other regular contributors begin to appear. And by the fourth, a note "To Correspondents" announces that "The editor of the Juvenile Miscellany has, as usual, received a number of excellent communications. That they are so numerous, must be an excuse for deferring some which deserve immediate notice" (2 [Mar. 1827]: 108).

48 "Mother and Eliza," JM 1 (Sept. 1826): 45-47. Eleven years later, the women's rights advocate Sarah Grimke would translate this critique of girls' upbringing into explicit feminist terms. See her Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Woman (1837-38), esp. Letter 8.

49 "The Industrious Family," JM n.s. 6 (July/Aug. 1831): 217-30; Lydia Maria Child, The Mother's Book (Boston: Carter, Hendee, and Babcock, 1831) 91.

50 "The Industrious Family," JM n.s. 6: 218-19. Child had been emphasizing the importance of manual labor in her "Hints to Persons of Moderate Fortune," appended to the 2nd ed. of The Frugal Housewife.

51 Kramnick points out that books like Edgeworth's Harry and Lucy and Barbauld's Evenings at Home were "important vehicle[s] in transmitting the sexual stereotypes emergent in the new notion of the family—the superiority and usefulness of men." He adds: "Things were much more exciting … for the young boy readers" of Edgeworth and Barbauld, since these authors were "concerned with providing new heroes for the young male reader"—inventors, manufacturers, and engineers, rather than "'kings, lords, generals, prime ministers.'" See 225, 229.

52 "The Affectionate Brother," JM 4 (July 1828): 276-93. Quotations in this paragraph on 276 and 289.

53 Kramnick, "Children's Literature and Bourgeois Ideology" 217.

54 "Louisa Preston," JM 4 (Mar. 1828): 56-81.

55 "The Brothers, or … The Influence of Example," JM 3 (Nov. 1827): 209-26. Quotation on 211.

56 See Faler, "Cultural Aspects of the Industrial Revolution" 390-91; also Johnson, A Shopkeepers' Millennium 120-26. Quotations in this paragraph are from Faler.

57 Faler, "Cultural Aspects of the Industrial Revolution" 391-92.

58 "The Cottage Girl," JM n.s. 1 (Sept. 1828) 3-19; "Rosy O'Ryan," A New Flower for Children (For Children from Eight to Twelve Years Old) (New York: C. S. Francis, 1856) 158-89.

59 See Weber, Protestant Ethic 174-75.

60 See, for example, Hartmann, "Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Job Segregation by Sex" 193-225, esp. 203-7.

61 W. B. O. Peabody, "Origin and Progress of the Useful Arts," review of The Frugal Housewife, NAR 33 (July 1831): 81; reviews of Juvenile Souvenir and Juvenile Miscellany, Ladies' Magazine 1 (Jan. and July 1828): 47-48, 336, and 2 (Sept. 1829): 440; reviews of Juvenile Miscellany, American Traveller 29 Dec. 1826, p. 2; 11 July 1828, p. 2; 5 Sept. 1828, p. 2. A dialogue on "Coral Reefs" from the Miscellany, Nov. 1826, is reprinted in the Traveller, 7 Nov. 1826, p. 4. I am grateful to Deborah Clifford for directing my attention to the American Traveller.

62 LMC to Mary Francis Preston, 6 Jan. 1827, SL 8; LMC to Lydia Bigelow Child, 14 Jan. [1829], SL 13.


Principal Works


Further Reading