A little kingdom I possess, Where thoughts and feelings dwell, And very hard I find the task Of governing it well; For passion tempts and troubles me, A wayward will misleads, And selfishness its shadow casts On all my words and deeds. How can I learn to rule myself, To be the child I should, Honest and brave, nor ever tire Of trying to be good? How can I keep a sunny soul To shine along life's way? How can I tune my little heart To sweetly sing all day? Dear Father, help me with the love That casteth out my fear, Teach me to lean on thee, and feel That thou art very near, That no temptation is unseen, No childish grief too small, Since thou, with patience infinite, Doth soothe and comfort all. I do not ask for any crown But that which all may win, Nor seek to conquer any world Except the one within. Be thou my guide until I find, Led by a tender hand, Thy happy kingdom in myself, And dare to take command.
IN 1842 Mr. Alcott went to England. His mind was very much exercised at this time with plans for organized social life on a higher plane, and he found like-minded friends in England who gave him sympathy and encouragement. He had for some years advocated a strictly vegetarian diet, to which his family consented from deference to him; consequently the children never tasted meat till they came to maturity. On his return from England he was accompanied by friends who were ready to unite with him in the practical realization of their social theories. Mr. Lane resided for some months in the Alcott family at Concord, and gave instruction to the children. Although he does not appear to have won their hearts, they yet reaped much intellectual advantage from his lessons, as he was an accomplished scholar.
In 1843 this company of enthusiasts secured a farm in the town of Harvard, near Concord, which with trusting hope they named Fruitlands. Mrs. Alcott did not share in all the peculiar ideas of her husband and his friends, but she was so utterly devoted to him that she was ready to help him in carrying out his plans, however little they commended themselves to her better judgment.
She alludes very briefly to the experiment in her diary, for the experience was too bitter to dwell upon. She could not relieve her feelings by bringing out the comic side, as her daughter did. Louisa's account of this colony, as given in her story called "Transcendental Wild Oats," is very close to the facts; and the mingling of pathos and humor, the reverence and ridicule with which she 34 alternately treats the personages and the notions of those engaged in the scheme, make a rich and delightful tale. It was written many years later, and gives the picture as she looked back upon it, the absurdities coming out in strong relief, while she sees also the grand, misty outlines of the high thoughts so poorly realized. This story was published in the "Independent," Dec. 8, 1873, and may now be found in her collected works ("Silver Pitchers," p. 79).
Fortunately we have also her journal written at the time, which shows what education the experience of this strange life brought to the child of ten or eleven years old.
The following extract from Mr. Emerson proves that this plan of life looked fair and pleasing to his eye, although he was never tempted to join in it. He was evidently not unconscious of the inadequacy of the means adopted to the end proposed, but he rejoiced in any endeavor after high ideal life.
July, 8, 1843.
Journal.–The sun and the evening sky do not look calmer than Alcott and his family at Fruitlands. They seemed to have arrived at the fact,–to have got rid of the show, and so to be serene. Their manners and behavior in the house and in the field were those of superior men,–of men at rest. What had they to conceal? What had they to exhibit? And it seemed so high an attainment that I thought–as often before, so now more, because they had a fit home, or the picture was fitly framed–that these men ought to be maintained in their place by the country for its culture. 35
Young men and young maidens, old men and women, should visit them and be inspired. I think there is as much merit in beautiful manners as in hard work. I will not prejudge them successful. They look well in July; we will see them in December. I know they are better for themselves than as partners. One can easily see that they have yet to settle several things. Their saying that things are clear, and they sane, does not make them so. If they will in very deed be lovers, and not selfish; if they will serve the town of Harvard, and make their neighbors feel them as benefactors wherever they touch them,–they are as safe as the sun.
Early Diary kept at Fruitlands, 1843.
Ten Years Old.
September 1st.–I rose at five and had my bath. I love cold water! Then we had our singing-lesson with Mr. Lane. After breakfast I washed dishes, and ran on the hill till nine, and had some thoughts,–it was so beautiful up there. Did my lessons,–wrote and spelt and did sums; and Mr. Lane read a story, "The Judicious Father": How a rich girl told a poor girl not to look over the fence at the flowers, and was cross to her because she was unhappy. The father heard her do it, and made the girls change clothes. The poor one was glad to do it, and he told her to keep them. But the rich one was very sad; for she had to wear the old ones a week, and after that she was good to shabby girls. I liked it very much, and I shall be kind to poor people.
Father asked us what was God's noblest work. Anna said men, but I said babies. Men are often bad; babies never are. We had a long talk, and I felt better after it, and cleared up.
We had bread and fruit for dinner. I read and walked and played till supper-time. We sung in the evening. As I went to bed the moon came up very brightly and looked at me. I felt sad because I have been cross to-day, and did not mind Mother. I cried, and then I felt better, and said that piece from Mrs. Sigourney, "I must not tease my mother." I get to sleep saying poetry,–I know a great deal.
Thursday, 14th.–Mr. Parker Pillsbury came, and we talked about the poor slaves. I had a music lesson with Miss F. I hate her, she is so fussy. I ran in the wind and played be a horse, and had a lovely time in the woods with Anna and Lizzie. We were fairies, and made gowns and paper wings. I "flied" the highest of all. In the evening they talked about travelling. I thought about Father going to England, and said this piece of poetry I found in Byron's poems:–
"When I left thy shores, O Naxos, Not a tear in sorrow fell; Not a sigh or faltered accent Told my bosom's struggling swell."
It rained when I went to bed, and made a pretty noise on the roof.
Sunday, 24th.–Father and Mr. Lane have gone to N. H. to preach. It was very lovely.... Anna and I got supper. In the eve I read "Vicar of Wakefield." I was cross to-day, and I cried when I went to bed. I made good resolutions, and felt better in my heart. If I only kept all I make, I should be the best girl in the world. But I don't, and so am very bad.
[Poor little sinner! She says the same at fifty.–L. M. A.] 37
October 8th.–When I woke up, the first thought I got was, "It's Mother's birthday: I must be very good." I ran and wished her a happy birthday, and gave her my kiss. After breakfast we gave her our presents. I had a moss cross and a piece of poetry for her.
We did not have any school, and played in the woods and got red leaves. In the evening we danced and sung, and I read a story about "Contentment." I wish I was rich, I was good, and we were all a happy family this day.
Thursday, 12th.–After lessons I ironed. We all went to the barn and husked corn. It was good fun. We worked till eight o'clock and had lamps. Mr. Russell came. Mother and Lizzie are going to Boston. I shall be very lonely without dear little Betty, and no one will be as good to me as mother. I read in Plutarch. I made a verse about sunset:–
Softly doth the sun descend To his couch behind the hill, Then, oh, then, I love to sit On mossy banks beside the rill.
Anna thought it was very fine; but I didn't like it very well.
Friday, Nov. 2nd.–Anna and I did the work. In the evening Mr. Lane asked us, "What is man?" These were our answers: A human being; an animal with a mind; a creature; a body; a soul and a mind. After a long talk we went to bed very tired.
[No wonder, after doing the work and worrying their little wits with such lessons.–L. M. A.]
A sample of the vegetarian wafers we used at Fruitlands:–
Vegetable diet and sweet repose. Animal food and nightmare. Pluck your body from the orchard; do not snatch it from the shamble. Without flesh diet there could be no blood-shedding war. Apollo eats no flesh and has no beard; his voice is melody itself. Snuff is no less snuff though accepted from a gold box.
Tuesday, 20th.–I rose at five, and after breakfast washed the dishes, and then helped mother work. Miss F. is gone, and Anna in Boston with Cousin Louisa. I took care of Abby (May) in the afternoon. In the evening I made some pretty things for my dolly. Father and Mr. L. had a talk, and father asked us if we saw any reason for us to separate. Mother wanted to, she is so tired. I like it, but not the school part or Mr. L.
Eleven years old. Thursday, 29th.–It was Father's and my birthday. We had some nice presents. We played in the snow before school. Mother read "Rosamond" when we sewed. Father asked us in the eve what fault troubled us most. I said my bad temper.
I told mother I liked to have her write in my book. She said she would put in more, and she wrote this to help me:–
Dear Louy,–Your handwriting improves very fast. Take pains and do not be in a hurry. I like to have you make observations about our conversations and your own thoughts. It helps you to express them and to understand your little self. Remember, dear girl, that a diary should be an epitome of your life. May it be a record of pure thought and good actions, then you will indeed be the precious child of your loving mother.
December 10th.–I did my lessons, and walked in the afternoon. Father read to us in dear Pilgrim's Progress. Mr. L. was in Boston, and we were glad. In the eve father and mother and Anna and I had a long talk. I was very unhappy, and we all cried. Anna and I cried in bed, and I prayed God to keep us all together.
[Little Lu began early to feel the family cares and peculiar trials.–L. M. A.]
I liked the verses Christian sung and will put them in:–
"This place has been our second stage, Here we have heard and seen Those good things that from age to age To others hid have been. "They move me for to watch and pray, To strive to be sincere, To take my cross up day by day, And serve the Lord with fear."
[The appropriateness of the song at this time was much greater than the child saw. She never forgot this experience, and her little cross began to grow heavier from this hour.–L. M. A.]
Concord, Sunday.–We all went into the woods to get moss for the arbor Father is making for Mr. Emerson. I miss Anna so much. I made two verses for her:–
Sister, dear, when you are lonely, Longing for your distant home, And the images of loved ones Warmly to your heart shall come, Then, mid tender thoughts and fancies, Let one fond voice say to thee, "Ever when your heart is heavy, Anna, dear, then think of me." Think how we two have together Journeyed onward day by day, Joys and sorrows ever sharing, While the swift years roll away. Then may all the sunny hours Of our youth rise up to thee, And when your heart is light and happy, Anna, dear, then think of me.
[Poetry began to flow about this time in a thin but copious stream.–L. M. A.]
Wednesday.–Read Martin Luther. A long letter from Anna. She sends me a picture of Jenny Lind, the great singer. She must be a happy girl. I should like to be famous as she is. Anna is very happy; and I don't miss her as much as I shall by and by in the winter.
I wrote in my Imagination Book, and enjoyed it very much. Life is pleasanter than it used to be, and I don't care about dying any more. Had a splendid run, and got a box of cones to burn. Sat and heard the pines sing a long time. Read Miss Bremer's "Home" in the eve. Had good dreams, and woke now and then to think, and watch the moon. I had a pleasant time with my mind, for it was happy.
[Moods began early.–L. M. A.]
January, 1845, Friday.–Did my lessons, and in the p.m. mother read "Kenilworth" to us while we sewed. It is splendid! I got angry and called Anna mean. Father told me to look out the word in the Dic., and it meant "base," "contemptible." I was so ashamed to have called my dear sister that, and I cried over my bad tongue and temper.
We have had a lovely day. All the trees were covered 41 with ice, and it shone like diamonds or fairy palaces. I made a piece of poetry about winter:–
The stormy winter's come at last, With snow and rain and bitter blast; Ponds and brooks are frozen o'er, We cannot sail there any more. The little birds are flown away To warmer climes than ours; They'll come no more till gentle May Calls them back with flowers. Oh, then the darling birds will sing From their neat nests in the trees. All creatures wake to welcome Spring, And flowers dance in the breeze. With patience wait till winter is o'er, And all lovely things return; Of every season try the more Some knowledge or virtue to learn.
[A moral is tacked on even to the early poems.–L. M. A.]
I read "Philothea," by Mrs. Child. I found this that I liked in it. Plato said:–
"When I hear a note of music I can at once strike its chord. Even as surely is there everlasting harmony between the soul of man and the invisible forms of creation. If there were no innocent hearts there would be no white lilies.... I often think flowers are the angel's alphabet 42 whereby they write on hills and fields mysterious and beautiful lessons for us to feel and learn."
[Well done, twelve-year-old! Plato, the father's delight, had a charm for the little girl also.–L. M. A.]
Wednesday.–I am so cross I wish I had never been born.
Thursday.–Read the "Heart of Mid-Lothian," and had a very happy day. Miss Ford gave us a botany lesson in the woods. I am always good there. In the evening Miss Ford told us about the bones in our bodies, and how they get out of order. I must be careful of mine, I climb and jump and run so much.
I found this note from dear mother in my journal:–
My dearest Louy,–I often peep into your diary, hoping to see some record of more happy days. "Hope, and keep busy," dear daughter, and in all perplexity or trouble come freely to your
Dear Mother,–You shall see more happy days, and I will come to you with my worries, for you are the best woman in the world.
L. M. A.
A Sample of our Lessons.
"What virtues do you wish more of?" asks Mr. L.
Patience, Love, Silence, Obedience, Generosity, Perseverance, Industry, Respect, Self-denial. "What vices less of?" Idleness, Wilfulness, Vanity, Impatience, Impudence, Pride, Selfishness, Activity, Love of cats.
Mr. L. L. Socrates. Alcibiades.
How can you get what you need? By trying.
How do you try? By resolution and perseverance.
How gain love? By gentleness.
What is gentleness? Kindness, patience, and care for other people's feelings.
Who has it? Father and Anna.
Who means to have it? Louisa, if she can.
[She never got it.–L. M. A.]
Write a sentence about anything. "I hope it will rain; the garden needs it."
What are the elements of hope? Expectation, desire, faith.
What are the elements in wish? Desire.
What is the difference between faith and hope? "Faith can believe without seeing; hope is not sure, but tries to have faith when it desires."
What are the most valuable kinds of self-denial? Appetite, temper.
How is self-denial of temper known? If I control my temper, I am respectful and gentle, and every one sees it.
What is the result of this self-denial? Every one loves me, and I am happy.
Why use self-denial? For the good of myself and others.
How shall we learn this self-denial? By resolving, and then trying hard.
What then do you mean to do? To resolve and try.
[Here the record of these lessons ends, and poor little Alcibiades went to work and tried till fifty, but without any very great success, in spite of all the help Socrates and Plato gave her.–L. M. A.]
Tuesday.–More people coming to live with us; I wish we could be together, and no one else. I don't 44 see who is to clothe and feed us all, when we are so poor now. I was very dismal, and then went to walk and made a poem.
Silent and sad, When all are glad, And the earth is dressed in flowers; When the gay birds sing Till the forests ring, As they rest in woodland bowers. Oh, why these tears, And these idle fears For what may come to-morrow? The birds find food From God so good, And the flowers know no sorrow. If He clothes these And the leafy trees, Will He not cherish thee? Why doubt His care; It is everywhere, Though the way we may not see. Then why be sad When all are glad, And the world is full of flowers? With the gay birds sing, Make life all Spring, And smile through the darkest hours.
Louisa Alcott grew up so naturally in a healthy religious atmosphere that she breathed and worked in it without analysis or question. She had not suffered from ecclesiastical tyranny or sectarian bigotry, and needed not to expend any time or strength in combating them. She does not appear to have suffered from doubt or questioning, but to have gone on her way fighting all the real evils that were presented to her, trusting in a sure power of right, and confident of victory.
Concord, Thursday.–I had an early run in the woods before the dew was off the grass. The moss was like velvet, and as I ran under the arches of yellow and red leaves I sang for joy, my heart was so bright and the world so beautiful. I stopped at the end of the walk and saw the sunshine out over the wide "Virginia meadows."
It seemed like going through a dark life or grave into heaven beyond. A very strange and solemn feeling came over me as I stood there, with no sound but the rustle of the pines, no one near me, and the sun so glorious, as for me alone. It seemed as if I felt God as I never did before, and I prayed in my heart that I might keep that happy sense of nearness all my life.
[I have, for I most sincerely think that the little girl "got religion" that day in the wood when dear mother Nature led her to God.–L. M. A., 1885.]
One of Louisa's strongest desires at this time was for a room of her own, where she might have the solitude she craved to dream her dreams and work out her fancies. These sweet little notes and an extract from her journal show how this desire was felt and gratified.
Dearest Mother,–I have tried to be more contented, and I think I have been more so. I have been 46 thinking about my little room, which I suppose I never shall have. I should want to be there about all the time, and I should go there and sing and think.
But I'll be contented With what I have got; Of folly repented, Then sweet is my lot.
From your trying daughter, Louy.
My dear Louisa,–Your note gave me so much delight that I cannot close my eyes without first thanking you, dear, for making me so happy, and blessing God who gave you this tender love for your mother.
I have observed all day your patience with baby, your obedience to me, and your kindness to all.
Go on "trying," my child; God will give you strength and courage, and help you fill each day with words and deeds of love. I shall lay this on your pillow, put a warm kiss on your lips, and say a little prayer over you in your sleep.
My Louy,–I was grieved at your selfish behavior this morning, but also greatly pleased to find you bore so meekly Father's reproof for it. That is the way, dear; if you find you are wrong, take the discipline sweetly, and do so no more. It is not to be expected that children should always do right; but oh, how lovely to see a child penitent and patient when the passion is over.
I thought a little prayer as I looked at you, and said in my heart, "Dear God, sustain my child in this moment of trial, that no hasty word, no cruel look, no angry action may add to her fault." And you were helped. I know that you will have a happy day after the storm and 47 the gentle shower; keep quiet, read, walk, but do not talk much till all is peace again.
Dear,–I am glad you put your heart in the right place; for I am sure all true strength comes from above. Continue to feel that God is near you, dear child, and He never will forsake you in a weak moment. Write me always when you feel that I can help you; for, though God is near, Mother never forgets you, and your refuge is her arms.
Patience, dear, will give us content, if nothing else. Be assured the little room you long for will come, if it is necessary to your peace and well-being. Till then try to be happy with the good things you have. They are many,–more perhaps than we deserve, after our frequent complaints and discontent.
Be cheerful, my Louy, and all will be gayer for your laugh, and all good and lovely things will be given to you when you deserve them.
I am a busy woman, but never can forget the calls of my children.
Dearest,–I am sure you have lived very near to God to-day, you have been so good and happy. Let each day be like this, and life will become a sweet song for you and all who love you,–none so much as your
Thirteen Years Old.
March, 1846.–I have at last got the little room I have wanted so long, and am very happy about it. It 48 does me good to be alone, and Mother has made it very pretty and neat for me. My work-basket and desk are by the window, and my closet is full of dried herbs that smell very nice. The door that opens into the garden will be very pretty in summer, and I can run off to the woods when I like.
I have made a plan for my life, as I am in my teens and no more a child. I am old for my age, and don't care much for girl's things. People think I'm wild and queer; but Mother understands and helps me. I have not told any one about my plan; but I'm going to be good. I've made so many resolutions, and written sad notes, and cried over my sins, and it doesn't seem to do any good! Now I'm going to work really, for I feel a true desire to improve, and be a help and comfort, not a care and sorrow, to my dear mother.
Fifteen Years Old.
Sunday, Oct. 9, 1847.–I have been reading to-day Bettine's correspondence with Goethe.
She calls herself a child, and writes about the lovely things she saw and heard, and felt and did. I liked it much.
[First taste of Goethe. Three years later R. W. E. gave me "Wilhelm Meister," and from that day Goethe has been my chief idol.–L. M. A., 1885.]
The experiment at Fruitlands was (outwardly) an utter failure, and had exhausted Mr. Alcott's resources of mind, body, and estate. Louisa has not exaggerated the collapse which followed. But the brave, loving mother could not give way to despondency, for she had her young to care for. After a few days Mr. Alcott rose from his despair, 49 and listened to her counsel. They lived a short time at Still River, and then returned to Concord; but not to the happy little cottage.
Mr. Alcott sought such work as he could find to do with his hands; but it was scanty and insufficient. Mrs. Alcott subdued her proud heart to the necessity of seeking help from friends. They had a few rooms in the house of a kind neighbor, who welcomed them to her house, in addition to her own large family; and there they struggled with the poverty which Louisa for the first time fully realized.
Yet her journal says little of the hardships they endured, but is full of her mental and moral struggles. It was characteristic of this family that they never were conquered by their surroundings. Mr. Alcott might retire into sad and silent musing, Mrs. Alcott's warm, quick temper, might burst out into flame, the children might be quarrelsome or noisy; but their ideal of life always remained high, fresh, and ennobling. Their souls always "knew their destiny divine," and believed that they would find fitting expression in life some time. "Chill penury" could not repress "their noble rage," nor freeze "the genial current" of their souls.
The children escaped from the privations of daily life into a world of romance, and in the plays in the old barn revelled in luxury and splendor. This dramatic tendency was very strong in Louisa, and she never outgrew it. It took various shapes and colors, and at one time threatened to dominate her life.
The education of the children was certainly desultory 50 and insufficient; but it was inspiring, and brought out their powers. They learned to feel and to think justly, and to express their thoughts and feelings freely and forcibly, if they did not know well the rules of grammar and rhetoric. Mr. Alcott always loved the study of language, and became a master of it; while Mrs. Alcott had a rich and well-chosen vocabulary, gained from the intelligent companions of her youth and the best literature, which she read freely. Mr. Alcott made great use of the study of language in his teaching, and often employed the definition of a word to convey a lesson or a rebuke. The children were encouraged, and even required, to keep their journals regularly, and to write letters. Their efforts at poetry or the drama were not laughed at, but treasured by their parents as indications of progress. Mr. Alcott's records of his own theory and practice in the education of children are full of valuable suggestion, and much yet remains buried in his journals. The girls had full freedom to act out their natures, with little fear of ridicule or criticism. An innate sense of dignity and modesty kept them from abusing this liberty; and perhaps nowhere in the world could it have been more safely indulged than in the simple life of Concord, whose very atmosphere seemed then filled with a spiritual presence which made life free, pure, and serene.
Louisa gives this interesting anecdote of their life at that time:–
People wondered at our frolics, but enjoyed them, and droll stories are still told of the adventures of those days. 51 Mr. Emerson and Margaret Fuller were visiting my parents one afternoon, and the conversation having turned to the ever interesting subject of education, Miss Fuller said:–
"Well, Mr. Alcott, you have been able to carry out your methods in your own family, and I should like to see your model children."
She did in a few moments, for as the guests stood on the door-steps a wild uproar approached, and round the corner of the house came a wheelbarrow holding baby May arrayed as a queen; I was the horse, bitted and bridled, and driven by my elder sister Anna; while Lizzie played dog, and barked as loud as her gentle voice permitted.
All were shouting and wild with fun, which, however, came to a sudden end as we espied the stately group before us; for my foot tripped, and down we all went in a laughing heap; while my mother put a climax to the joke by saying, with a dramatic wave of the hand,–
"Here are the model children, Miss Fuller."
They were undoubtedly very satisfactory to Miss Fuller, who partook largely of the educational views of that time, and who loved to tell anecdotes of this family. One of the sisters writes in her diary: "She said prayers; but I think my resolutions to be good are prayers."
In 1841 Colonel May, Mrs. Alcott's father, died and left her a small amount of property. Mrs. Alcott decided to purchase with this a house in Concord, and the addition of five hundred dollars from Mr. Emerson, who was always the good Providence of the family, enabled her in 1845 to buy the place in Concord known as Hillside. This 52 house is on the road to Lexington, about one third of a mile from Mr. Emerson's home. It was afterward occupied by Mr. Hawthorne.
In this house the girlish life of Louisa was passed, which she has represented so fully in "Little Women," and of which she speaks in her journal as the happiest time of her life. Yet she was not unmindful of the anxiety of her parents; and the determined purpose to retrieve the fortunes of the family and to give to her mother the comfort and ease which she had never known in her married life became the constant motive of her conduct. It is in the light of this purpose alone that her character and her subsequent career can be fully understood. She naturally thought of teaching as her work, and had for a short time a little school in the barn for Mr. Emerson's children and others.
It was indeed a great comfort to be sure of the house over their heads, but there were still six mouths to be fed, six bodies to be clothed, and four young, eager minds to be educated. Concord offered very little opportunity for such work as either Mr. or Mrs. Alcott could do, and at last even the mother's brave heart broke down. She was painfully anxious about the support of her household. A friend passing through Concord called upon her, and Mrs. Alcott could not hide the traces of tears on her face. "Abby Alcott, what does this mean?" said the visitor, with determined kindness. The poor mother opened her heart to her friend, and told the story of their privations and sufferings. 53
"Come to Boston, and I will find you employment," said the friend.
The family removed to Boston in 1848, and Mrs. Alcott became a visitor to the poor in the employ of one or more benevolent societies, and finally kept an intelligence office. Her whole heart went into her work; and the children, as well as the mother, learned many valuable lessons from it. Her reports of her work are said to have been very interesting, and full of valuable suggestion.
Mr. Alcott began to hold conversations in West Street. He attracted a small circle of thoughtful men and women about him, who delighted in the height of his aspirations and the originality of his thoughts. It was congenial occupation for him, and thus added to the happiness of the family, though very little to its pecuniary resources. His price of admission was small, and he freely invited any one who would enjoy the meetings although unable to pay for them. He was a great and helpful influence to young minds. Besides the morally pure and spiritually elevated atmosphere of thought to which they were introduced by him, they found a great intellectual advantage in the acquaintance with ancient poets and philosophers, into whose life he had entered sympathetically. His peculiar theories of temperament and diet never failed to call out discussion and opposition. One of my earliest recollections of Louisa is on one of these occasions, when he was emphasizing his doctrine that a vegetable diet would produce unruffled sweetness of temper and disposition. I heard a voice behind me saying to her neighbor: "I don't know 54 about that. I've never eaten any meat, and I'm awful cross and irritable very often."
On her fourteenth birthday her mother wrote her the following poem, with a present of a pen. It was a prophetic gift, and well used by the receiver.
Oh, may this pen your muse inspire, When wrapt in pure poetic fire, To write some sweet, some thrilling verse; A song of love or sorrow's lay, Or duty's clear but tedious way In brighter hope rehearse. Oh, let your strain be soft and high, Of crosses here, of crowns beyond the sky; Truth guide your pen, inspire your theme, And from each note joy's music stream.
[Original, I think. I have tried to obey.–L. M. A., 1885.]
In a sketch written for a friend, Louisa gives this account of the parents' influence on the children:–
When cautious friends asked mother how she dared to have such outcasts among her girls, she always answered, with an expression of confidence which did much to keep us safe, "I can trust my daughters, and this is the best way to teach them how to shun these sins and comfort these sorrows. They cannot escape the knowledge of them; better gain this under their father's roof and their mother's care, and so be protected by these experiences when their turn comes to face the world and its temptations." Once we carried our breakfast to a starving family; once lent our whole dinner to a neighbor suddenly taken unprepared by distinguished guests. Another time, one snowy Saturday night, when our wood was very low, a poor child came to beg a little, as the baby was 55 sick and the father on a spree with all his wages. My mother hesitated at first, as we also had a baby. Very cold weather was upon us, and a Sunday to be got through before more wood could be had. My father said, "Give half our stock, and trust in Providence; the weather will moderate, or wood will come." Mother laughed, and answered in her cheery way, "Well, their need is greater than ours, and if our half gives out we can go to bed and tell stories." So a generous half went to the poor neighbor, and a little later in the eve, while the storm still raged and we were about to cover our fire to keep it, a knock came, and a farmer who usually supplied us appeared, saying anxiously, "I started for Boston with a load of wood, but it drifts so I want to go home. Wouldn't you like to have me drop the wood here; it would accommodate me, and you needn't hurry about paying for it." "Yes," said Father; and as the man went off he turned to Mother with a look that much impressed us children with his gifts as a seer, "Didn't I tell you wood would come if the weather did not moderate?" Mother's motto was "Hope, and keep busy," and one of her sayings, "Cast your bread upon the waters, and after many days it will come back buttered."
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