THE CHILDREN'S SONG.
Tune.–"Wait for the Wagon." The world lies fair about us, and a friendly sky above; Our lives are full of sunshine, our homes are full of love; Few cares or sorrows sadden the beauty of our day; We gather simple pleasures like daisies by the way. Chorus.–Oh! sing with cheery voices, Like robins on the tree; For little lads and lasses As blithe of heart should be. The village is our fairyland: its good men are our kings; And wandering through its by-ways our busy minds find wings. The school-room is our garden, and we the flowers there, And kind hands tend and water us that we may blossom fair. Chorus.–Oh! dance in airy circles, Like fairies on the lee; For little lads and lasses As light of foot should be. There's the Shepherd of the sheepfold; the Father of the vines; The Hermit of blue Walden; the Poet of the pines; And a Friend who comes among us, with counsels wise and mild With snow upon his forehead, yet at heart a very child. Chorus.–Oh! smile as smiles the river, Slow rippling to the sea; For little lads and lasses As full of peace should be. There's not a cloud in heaven but drops its silent dew; No violet in the meadow but blesses with its blue; No happy child in Concord who may not do its part To make the great world better by innocence of heart. Chorus.–Oh! blossom in the sunshine Beneath the village tree; For little lads and lasses Are the fairest flowers we see.
AFTER such long and hard struggles, it is pleasant to find the diary for 1860 headed "A Year of Good Luck." The appointment of Mr. Alcott as Superintendent of Schools in Concord was a great happiness to the family. It was a recognition of his character and ability, and gave him congenial occupation and some small pecuniary compensation.
Louisa was writing for the "Atlantic," and receiving better pay for her work; Anna was happy; and May absorbed in her art.
In the summer Miss Alcott had an experience in caring for a young friend during a temporary fit of insanity, which she has partially reproduced in the touching picture of Helen in the story of "Work." It is a powerful lesson; but it is almost cruelly enforced, and is an artistic blemish in the book. While the great problem of heredity should be studied and its lessons enforced, it is yet a mystery, whose laws are not understood; and it is not wise to paint its possible effects in the lurid light of excited imagination, which may too often bring about the very evils which a wise and temperate caution might prevent. For the physician and teacher such investigations are important; but they are dangerous to the young and sensitive. 112
The following unusually long letter gives a pleasing picture of the family life at this time:–
To Mrs. Bond.
Apple Slump, Sept. 17, 1860.
Dear Auntie,–I consider this a practical illustration of one of Mother's naughty amended sayings, "Cast your bread upon the waters, and after many days it will return buttered;" and this "rule of three" don't "puzzle me," as the other did; for my venerable raiment went away with one if not two feet in the grave, and came back in the guise of three stout angels, having been resurrectionized by the spirit who lives on the other side of a Charles River Jordan. Thank you very much, and be sure the dreams I dream in them will be pleasant ones; for, whether you sewed them or not, I know they bring some of the Auntie influence in their strength, softness, and warmth; and, though a Vandal, I think any prayers I may say in them will be the better for the affectionate recollections that will clothe me with the putting on of these friendly gowns, while my belief in both heavenly and earthly providences will be amazingly strengthened by the knowledge of some lives here, whose beauty renders it impossible to doubt the existence of the life hereafter.
We were very glad to hear that the Papa was better; for when paternal "Richards" ain't "themselves," everybody knows the anxious state of the domestic realms.
I hope Georgie (last name disremembered) has recovered from the anguish of discontented teeth and berry-seeds, and that "the Mama" was as much benefited by the trip as the other parties were, barring the horse perhaps.
This amiable town is convulsed just now with a gymnastic fever, which shows itself with great violence in all 113 the schools, and young societies generally. Dr. Lewis has "inoculated us for the disease," and it has "taken finely;" for every one has become a perambulating windmill, with all its four sails going as if a wind had set in; and the most virulent cases present the phenomena of black eyes and excoriation of the knobby parts of the frame, to say nothing of sprains and breakage of vessels looming in the future.
The City Fathers approve of it; and the city sons and daughters intend to show that Concord has as much muscle as brain, and be ready for another Concord fight, if Louis Napoleon sees fit to covet this famous land of Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Alcott, & Co. Abby and I are among the pioneers; and the delicate vegetable productions clash their cymbals in private, when the beef-eating young ladies faint away and become superfluous dumb belles.
Saturday we had J. G. Whittier, Charlotte Cushman, Miss Stebbins the sculptress, and Mr. Stuart, conductor of the underground railroad of this charming free country. So you see our humble place of abode is perking up; and when the "great authoress and artist" are fairly out of the shell, we shall be an honor to our country and terror to the foe,–provided good fortune don't addle or bad fortune smash us.
Father continues to stir up the schools like a mild pudding-stick, Mother to sing Hebron among her pots and pans, Anna and the Prince Consort to bill and coo in the little dove-cot, Oranthy Bluggage to launch chips on the Atlantic and make a gigantic blot of herself in working the vessel, Abby to teach the fine arts and play propriety for the family, and the old house to put its best foot foremost and hoot at the idea of ever returning to the chaos from which it came. 114
This is a condensed history of "the pathetic family," which is also a "happy family," owing to the prevalence of friends and lots of kindness in the original packages, "which are always arriving" when the "Widow Cruise's oil-bottle" begins to give out.
You know I never could do anything in a neat and proper manner; so you will receive this topsy-turvy note as you do its writer, and with love to all from all, believe her, dear auntie,
Ever lovingly yours,
L. M. A.
This characteristic letter not only shows Louisa's affectionate feelings and gives a picture of her life, but indicates that "The Pathetic Family," which was the foundation of "Little Women," was already shaping itself in her mind.
Mr. Alcott's career as Superintendent of Schools was a gratifying success, and is still remembered by friends of education in the town. The year closed with a school festival, for which Louisa wrote a poem, and in which she took hearty delight.
In 1861 war was declared with the South. The Alcotts were all alive with patriotic enthusiasm, and Louisa took an active part in fitting off the boys for the army. But she also found time for much reading. Mr. Alcott, in his sonnet, uses the expression about Louisa–
"Hast with grave studies vexed a lively brain."
He may possibly have referred to this period, though she could never properly be called a student. 115 She was a rapid, intelligent reader, and her taste was severe and keen. From her childhood she had browsed in her father's library, full of the works of ancient philosophers and quaint English poets, and had imbibed from them great thoughts and noble sentiments; but her reading, like all her education, was immethodical. Occasionally she would lay out courses of reading, which she pursued for a time; but in general she followed the cravings of a healthy appetite for knowledge, reading what came in her way. Later in life she often read light literature in abundance, to drown the sensations of pain, and to pass away the hours of invalidism.
She read French easily, and learned to speak it when abroad; she also studied German, but did not acquire equal facility in that tongue. Of ancient languages she had no knowledge. History could not fail to interest such a student of life, and she loved Nature too well not to enjoy the revelations of science when brought to her notice; but she had never time to give to a thorough study of either.
In her journal at this time she speaks of her religious feelings, which the experiences of grief and despair and reviving hope had deepened. Louisa Alcott's was a truly religious soul; she always lived in the consciousness of a Higher Power sustaining and blessing her, whose presence was revealed to her through Nature, through the inspired words of great thinkers and the deep experiences of her own heart. She never held her life as an isolated possession which she was free to 116 use for her own enjoyment or glory. Her father truly called her "Duty's faithful child," and her life was consecrated to the duty she recognized as specially hers. But for outward forms and rites of religion she cared little; her home was sacred to her, and she found her best life there. She loved Theodore Parker, and found great strength and help from his preaching, and afterward liked to listen to Dr. Bartol; but she never joined any church. The Bible was not her favorite reading, though her father had read it much to her in her childhood, with his own peculiar charm of interpretation. Pilgrim's Progress was one of the few religious books which became dear to her in the same way.
Her sister Anna was married in May; this was of course a great event in the family. While fully rejoicing in her sister's happiness, Louisa felt her loss as a constant companion and confidant. The journal gives a sufficient description of the event. Her strong affection for her brother-in-law appears in "Little Women" and in "Jo's Boys." About this time her farce was brought out at the Howard Athenæum.
The story-writing continued, as it helped to pay the expenses of the family; but the continuous, hurried work had begun to affect her health, and she occasionally suffered from illness.
In the summer of 1861 Miss Alcott began to write her first novel, entitled "Moods;" this proved to be the least successful of her books, and yet like many an unfortunate child, it was the dearest to the mother's heart. It was not written for money, 117 but for its own sake, and she was possessed by the plot and the characters. Warwick represented her ideal of a hero, while her sister preferred the type of the amiable Moor; yet there is far less of her outward self revealed in this than in her other stories. It is full of her thoughts and fancies, but not of her life. The wilful, moody, charming Sylvia does not affect us like the stormy Jo, who is a real presence to us, and whom we take to our hearts in spite of her faults. The men are such as she found in books, but had never known herself, and, carefully as she has drawn them, have not the individuality of Laurie and Professor Bhaer. The action takes place in an unreal world; and though there are many pretty scenes, they have not the real flavor of New England life. The principal incident, of a young girl going up the river on a picnic-voyage for some days with her brother and two other young men, was so contrary to common ideas of decorum, that the motive hardly seems sufficient for the staid sister's consent; but in the simple, innocent life which the Alcotts lived in Concord such scruples were little felt.
Miss Alcott did not lay stress upon the marriage question as the principal feature of the book; she cared more to describe the wilful moods of a young girl, full of good feelings, and longing for a rich and noble life, but not established in convictions and principles. She meant to represent much of her own nature in Sylvia, for she was always a creature of moods, which her family learned to recognize and respect. But how 118 unlike was the discipline of family work and love, which saved Louisa from fatal caprices and fitful gusts of fancy called passion, to the lot of the wealthy and admired Sylvia. Miss Alcott says that the incidents of the marriage, although not drawn from life, were so close to an actual case that the wife asked her how she had known her secret; but such realism is a poor justification in art. It is that which becomes true to the imagination and heart through its vivid personation of character which is accepted, not the bare facts. The great question of the transcendental period was truth to the inward life instead of the outward law. But in "Moods" the marriage question is not stated strongly; it does not reach down to this central principle. It is only in tragedy that such a double relation could be endured, when the situation is compelled by fate,–the fate of character and overpowering circumstances,–and when there is no happy solution possible. But Sylvia's position is made only by her own weakness, and the love which stands in opposition to outward duty has no right of existence. If her love for Warwick could be overcome, there was no question of her duty; and when she accepts Faith's criticism of him, it is clear that it is a much lighter spell than love which has fascinated her. We do not accept the catastrophe which sacrifices a splendid life to make a comfortable solution of the practical difficulty, and to allow Sylvia to accept a happy home without a thorough regeneration of heart and mind. But these were the natural mistakes of youth and inexperience; 119 Louisa had known but little of such struggles. Love and marriage were rather uninteresting themes to her, and she had not yet found her true power.
Still the book has great literary merit. It is well written, in a more finished style than any of her other work, except "Modern Mephistopheles," and the dialogue is vigorous and sprightly. In spite of her careful revision and pruning, there is something left of youthful gush in it, and this perhaps touched the heart of young girls, who found in Sylvia's troubles with herself a reflection of their own.
The "golden wedding" scenes have some of her usual freedom and vivacity. She is at home with a troop of mothers and babies and noisy boys. But the "golden wedding" was a new importation from Germany, and not at home in the New England farmhouse. Why might it not have been a true wedding or a harvest feast?
Louisa never lost her interest in this early work, though it was the most unlucky of books, and subjected to severe handling. It was sent to and fro from publisher to author, each one suggesting some change. Redpath sent it back as being too long. Ticknor found it very interesting, but could not use it then. Loring liked it, but wanted it shorter. She condensed and altered until her author's spirit rebelled, and she declared she would change it no more.
After her other books had made her famous, "Moods" was again brought forward and republished as it was originally written. It met with warmer welcome than before, and a cheap edition 120 was published in England to supply the popular demand.
Miss Alcott learned the first painful lesson of over-work on this book. She was possessed by it, and for three weeks labored so constantly that she felt the physical effects keenly. Fortunately new household tasks (for the daughters of John Brown came to board with them), and the enthusiasm of the time, changed the current of her thoughts.
February, 1860.–Mr. –– won't have "M. L.," as it is antislavery, and the dear South must not be offended. Got a carpet with my $50, and wild Louisa's head kept the feet of the family warm.
March.–Wrote "A Modern Cinderella," with Nan for the heroine and John for the hero.
Made my first ball dress for May, and she was the finest girl at the party. My tall, blond, graceful girl! I was proud of her.
Wrote a song for the school festival, and heard it sung by four hundred happy children. Father got up the affair, and such a pretty affair was never seen in Concord before. He said, "We spend much on our cattle and flower shows; let us each spring have a show of our children, and begrudge nothing for their culture." All liked it but the old fogies who want things as they were in the ark.
April.–Made two riding habits, and May and I had some fine rides. Both needed exercise, and this was good for us. So one of our dreams came true, and we really did "dash away on horseback."
Sanborn was nearly kidnapped for being a friend of John Brown; but his sister and A. W. rescued him when 121 he was handcuffed, and the scamps drove off. Great ferment in town. A meeting and general flurry.
Had a funny lover who met me in the cars, and said he lost his heart at once. Handsome man of forty. A Southerner, and very demonstrative and gushing, called and wished to pay his addresses; and being told I didn't wish to see him, retired, to write letters and haunt the road with his hat off, while the girls laughed and had great fun over Jo's lover. He went at last, and peace reigned. My adorers are all queer.
Sent "Cinderella" to the "Atlantic," and it was accepted. Began "By the River," and thought that this was certainly to be a lucky year; for after ten years hard climbing I had reached a good perch on the ladder, and could look more hopefully into the future, while my paper boats sailed gaily over the Atlantic.
My farce was acted, and I went to see it. Not very well done; but I sat in a box, and the good Doctor handed up a bouquet to the author, and made as much as he could of a small affair.
Saw Anna's honeymoon home at Chelsea,–a little cottage in a blooming apple-orchard. Pretty place, simple and sweet. God bless it!
The dear girl was married on the 23d, the same day as Mother's wedding. A lovely day; the house full of sunshine, flowers, friends, and happiness. Uncle S. J. May married them, with no fuss, but much love; and we all stood round her. She in her silver-gray silk, with lilies of the valley (John's flower) in her bosom and hair. We in gray thin stuff and roses,–sackcloth, I called it, and ashes of roses; for I mourn the loss of my Nan, and am not comforted. We have had a little feast, sent by good Mrs. Judge Shaw; then the old 122 folks danced round the bridal pair on the lawn in the German fashion, making a pretty picture to remember, under our Revolutionary elm.
Then, with tears and kisses, our dear girl, in her little white bonnet, went happily away with her good John; and we ended our first wedding. Mr. Emerson kissed her; and I thought that honor would make even matrimony endurable, for he is the god of my idolatry, and has been for years.
June.–To Boston to the memorial meeting for Mr. Parker, which was very beautiful, and proved how much he was beloved. Music Hall was full of flowers and sunshine, and hundreds of faces, both sad and proud, as the various speakers told the life of love and labor which makes Theodore Parker's memory so rich a legacy to Boston. I was very glad to have known so good a man, and been called "friend" by him.
Saw Nan in her nest, where she and her mate live like a pair of turtle doves. Very sweet and pretty, but I'd rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.
August.–"Moods." Genius burned so fiercely that for four weeks I wrote all day and planned nearly all night, being quite possessed by my work. I was perfectly happy, and seemed to have no wants. Finished the book, or a rough draught of it, and put it away to settle. Mr. Emerson offered to read it when Mother told him it was "Moods" and had one of his sayings for motto.
Daresay nothing will ever come of it; but it had to be done, and I'm the richer for a new experience.
September.–Received $75 of Ticknor for "Cinderella," and feel very rich. Emerson praised it, and people wrote to me about it and patted me on the head. Paid bills, and began to simmer another. 123
October.–I went to B. and saw the Prince of Wales trot over the Common with his train at a review. A yellow-haired laddie very like his mother. Fanny W. and I nodded and waved as he passed, and he openly winked his boyish eye at us; for Fanny, with her yellow curls and wild waving, looked rather rowdy, and the poor little prince wanted some fun. We laughed, and thought that we had been more distinguished by the saucy wink than by a stately bow. Boys are always jolly,–even princes.
Read Richter, and enjoyed him very much.
Mother went to see Uncle S. J. May, and I was house-keeper. Gave my mind to it so energetically that I dreamed dip-toast, talked apple-sauce, thought pies, and wept drop-cakes. Read my book to Nan, who came up to cheer me in my struggles; and she laughed and cried over it and said it was "good." So I felt encouraged, and will touch it up when duty no longer orders me to make a burnt-offering of myself.
November.–Father sixty-one; L. aged twenty-eight. Our birthday. Gave Father a ream of paper, and he gave me Emerson's picture; so both were happy.
Wrote little, being busy with visitors. The John Brown Association asked me for a poem, which I wrote.
Kind Miss R. sent May $30 for lessons, so she went to B. to take some of Johnstone. She is one of the fortunate ones, and gets what she wants easily. I have to grub for my help, or go without it. Good for me, doubtless, or it wouldn't be so; so cheer up, Louisa, and grind away!
December.–More luck for May. She wanted to go to Syracuse and teach, and Dr. W. sends for her, thanks to Uncle S. J. May. I sew like a steam-engine for a week, and get her ready. On the 17th go to B. and see our 124 youngest start on her first little flight alone into the world, full of hope and courage. May all go well with her!
Mr. Emerson invited me to his class when they meet to talk on Genius; a great honor, as all the learned ladies go.
Sent "Debby's Debit" to the "Atlantic," and they took it. Asked to the John Brown meeting, but had no "good gown," so didn't go; but my "pome" did, and came out in the paper. Not good. I'm a better patriot than poet, and couldn't say what I felt.
A quiet Christmas; no presents but apples and flowers. No merry-making; for Nan and May were gone, and Betty under the snow. But we are used to hard times, and, as Mother says, "while there is a famine in Kansas we mustn't ask for sugar-plums."
All the philosophy in our house is not in the study; a good deal is in the kitchen, where a fine old lady thinks high thoughts and does kind deeds while she cooks and scrubs.
January, 1861.–Twenty-eight; received thirteen New Year's gifts. A most uncommon fit of generosity seemed to seize people on my behalf, and I was blessed with all manner of nice things, from a gold and ivory pen to a mince-pie and a bonnet.
Wrote on a new book–"Success" ["Work"]–till Mother fell ill, when I corked up my inkstand and turned nurse. The dear woman was very ill, but rose up like a phœnix from her ashes after what she gayly called "the irrepressible conflict between sickness and the May constitution."
Father had four talks at Emerson's; good people came, and he enjoyed them much; made $30. R. W. E. probably put in $20. He has a sweet way of bestowing gifts on the table under a book or behind a candle-stick, 125 when he thinks Father wants a little money, and no one will help him earn. A true friend is this tender and illustrious man.
Wrote a tale and put it away,–to be sent when "Debby" comes out. "F. T." appeared, and I got a dress, having mended my six-year old silk till it is more patch and tear than gown. Made the claret merino myself, and enjoyed it, as I do anything bought with my "head-money."
February.–Another turn at "Moods," which I remodelled. From the 2d to the 25th I sat writing, with a run at dusk; could not sleep, and for three days was so full of it I could not stop to get up. Mother made me a green silk cap with a red bow, to match the old green and red party wrap, which I wore as a "glory cloak." Thus arrayed I sat in groves of manuscripts, "living for immortality," as May said. Mother wandered in and out with cordial cups of tea, worried because I couldn't eat. Father thought it fine, and brought his reddest apples and hardest cider for my Pegasus to feed upon. All sorts of fun was going on; but I didn't care if the world returned to chaos if I and my inkstand only "lit" in the same place.
It was very pleasant and queer while it lasted; but after three weeks of it I found that my mind was too rampant for my body, as my head was dizzy, legs shaky, and no sleep would come. So I dropped the pen, and took long walks, cold baths, and had Nan up to frolic with me. Read all I had done to my family; and Father said: "Emerson must see this. Where did you get your metaphysics?" Mother pronounced it wonderful, and Anna laughed and cried, as she always does, over my works, saying, "My dear, I'm proud of you."
So I had a good time, even if it never comes to anything; 126 for it was worth something to have my three dearest sit up till midnight listening with wide-open eyes to Lu's first novel.
I planned it some time ago, and have had it in my mind ever so long; but now it begins to take shape.
Father had his usual school festival, and Emerson asked me to write a song, which I did. On the 16th the schools all met in the hall (four hundred),–a pretty posy bed, with a border of proud parents and friends. Some of the fogies objected to the names Phillips and John Brown. But Emerson said: "Give it up? No, no; I will read it." Which he did, to my great contentment; for when the great man of the town says "Do it," the thing is done. So the choir warbled, and the Alcotts were uplifted in their vain minds.
Father was in glory, like a happy shepherd with a large flock of sportive lambs; for all did something. Each school had its badge,–one pink ribbons, one green shoulder-knots, and one wreaths of pop-corn on the curly pates. One school to whom Father had read Pilgrim's Progress told the story, one child after the other popping up to say his or her part; and at the end a little tot walked forward, saying with a pretty air of wonder,–"And behold it was all a dream."
When all was over, and Father about to dismiss them, F. H., a tall, handsome lad came to him, and looking up confidingly to the benign old face, asked "our dear friend Mr. Alcott to accept of Pilgrim's Progress and George Herbert's Poems from the children of Concord, as a token of their love and respect."
Father was much touched and surprised, and blushed and stammered like a boy, hugging the fine books while the children cheered till the roof rung.
His report was much admired, and a thousand copies 127 printed to supply the demand; for it was a new thing to have a report, neither dry nor dull; and teachers were glad of the hints given, making education a part of religion, not a mere bread-making grind for teacher and an irksome cram for children.
April.–War declared with the South, and our Concord company went to Washington. A busy time getting them ready, and a sad day seeing them off; for in a little town like this we all seem like one family in times like these. At the station the scene was very dramatic, as the brave boys went away perhaps never to come back again.
I've often longed to see a war, and now I have my wish. I long to be a man; but as I can't fight, I will content myself with working for those who can.
Sewed a good deal getting May's summer things in order, as she sent for me to make and mend and buy and send her outfit.
Stories simmered in my brain, demanding to be writ; but I let them simmer, knowing that the longer the divine afflatus was bottled up the better it would be.
John Brown's daughters came to board, and upset my plans of rest and writing when the report and the sewing were done. I had my fit of woe up garret on the fat rag-bag, and then put my papers away, and fell to work at housekeeping. I think disappointment must be good for me, I get so much of it; and the constant thumping Fate gives me may be a mellowing process; so I shall be a ripe and sweet old pippin before I die.
May.–Spent our May-day working for our men,–three hundred women all sewing together at the hall for two days.
May will not return to S. after her vacation in July; and being a lucky puss, just as she wants something to do, 128 F. B. S. needs a drawing teacher in his school and offers her the place.
Nan found that I was wearing all the old clothes she and May left; so the two dear souls clubbed together and got me some new ones; and the great parcel, with a loving letter, came to me as a beautiful surprise.
Nan and John walked up from Cambridge for a day, and we all walked back. Took a sail to the forts, and saw our men on guard there. Felt very martial and Joan-of-Arc-y as I stood on the walls with the flag flying over me and cannon all about.
June.–Read a good deal; grubbed in my garden, and made the old house pretty for May. Enjoyed Carlyle's French Revolution very much. His earthquaky style suits me.
"Charles Auchester" is charming,–a sort of fairy tale for grown people. Dear old "Evelina," as a change, was pleasant. Emerson recommended Hodson's India, and I got it, and liked it; also read Sir Thomas More's Life. I read Fielding's "Amelia," and thought it coarse and queer. The heroine having "her lovely nose smashed all to bits falling from a post shay" was a new idea. What some one says of Richardson applies to Fielding, "The virtues of his heroes are the vices of decent men."
July.–Spent a month at the White Mountains with L. W.,–a lovely time, and it did me much good. Mountains are restful and uplifting to my mind. Lived in the woods, and revelled in brooks, birds, pines, and peace.
August.–May came home very tired, but satisfied with her first attempt, which has been very successful in every way. She is quite a belle now, and much improved,–a tall blond lass, full of grace and spirit. 129
September.–Ticknor sent $50. Wrote a story for C., as Plato needs new shirts, and Minerva a pair of boots, and Hebe a fall hat.
October.–All together on Marmee's birthday. Sewing and knitting for "our boys" all the time. It seems as if a few energetic women could carry on the war better than the men do it so far.
A week with Nan in the dove-cot. As happy as ever.
November and December.–Wrote, read, sewed, and wanted something to do.
In 1862, at the suggestion of Miss Peabody, Miss Alcott opened a Kindergarten school; but it was not successful, and she took a final leave of the teacher's profession, and returned to her writing, which she found to be her true calling. She wrote much; for "brain was lively, and work paid for readily." Besides the occasional stories in papers and magazines, her most important labor was the preparation of the story called "Work," or, as she originally named it, "Success." This story however was not published until ten years later. Here she took the road that was later to lead to fame and fortune, by writing from her own experience of life. Christie is Louisa herself under very thin disguise; and all her own experiences, as servant, governess, companion, seamstress, and actress are brought in to give vividness to the picture; while many other persons may be recognized as models for her skilful portraiture. The book has always been deservedly popular. 130
January, 1862.–E. P. Peabody wanted me to open a Kindergarten, and Mr. Barnard gave a room at the Warren Street Chapel. Don't like to teach, but take what comes; so when Mr. F. offered $40 to fit up with, twelve pupils, and his patronage, I began.
Saw many great people, and found them no bigger than the rest of the world,–often not half so good as some humble soul who made no noise. I learned a good deal in my way, and am not half so much impressed by society as before I got a peep at it. Having known Emerson, Parker, Phillips, and that set of really great and good men and women living for the world's work and service of God, the mere show people seem rather small and silly, though they shine well, and feel that they are stars.
February.–Visited about, as my school did not bring enough to pay board and the assistant I was made to have, though I didn't want her.
Went to lectures; saw Booth at the Goulds',–a handsome, shy man, glooming in a corner.
Very tired of this wandering life and distasteful work; but kept my word and tugged on.
Hate to visit people who only ask me to help amuse others, and often longed for a crust in a garret with freedom and a pen. I never knew before what insolent things a hostess can do, nor what false positions poverty can push one into.
April.–Went to and from C. every day that I might be at home. Forty miles a day is dull work; but I have my dear people at night, and am not a beggar.
Wrote "King of Clubs,"–$30. The school having no real foundation (as the people who sent didn't care for Kindergartens, and Miss P. wanted me to take pupils for nothing, to try the new system), I gave it up, as I 131 could do much better at something else. May took my place for a month, that I might keep my part of the bargain; and I cleaned house, and wrote a story which made more than all my months of teaching. They ended in a wasted winter and a debt of $40,–to be paid if I sell my hair to do it.
May.–School finished for me, and I paid Miss N. by giving her all the furniture, and leaving her to do as she liked; while I went back to my writing, which pays much better, though Mr. F. did say, "Stick to your teaching; you can't write." Being wilful, I said, "I won't teach; and I can write, and I'll prove it."
Saw Miss Rebecca Harding, author of "Margret Howth," which has made a stir, and is very good. A handsome, fresh, quiet woman, who says she never had any troubles, though she writes about woes. I told her I had had lots of troubles; so I write jolly tales; and we wondered why we each did so.
June, July, August.–Wrote a tale for B., and he lost it, and wouldn't pay.
Wrote two tales for L. I enjoy romancing to suit myself; and though my tales are silly, they are not bad; and my sinners always have a good spot somewhere. I hope it is good drill for fancy and language, for I can do it fast; and Mr. L. says my tales are so "dramatic, vivid, and full of plot," they are just what he wants.
September, October.–Sewing Bees and Lint Picks for "our boys" kept us busy, and the prospect of the first grandchild rejoiced the hearts of the family.
Wrote much; for brain was lively, and work paid for readily. Rewrote the last story, and sent it to L., who wants more than I can send him. So, between blue flannel jackets for "our boys" and dainty slips for Louisa Caroline or John B., Jr., as the case may be, I reel off 132 my "thrilling" tales, and mess up my work in a queer but interesting way.
War news bad. Anxious faces, beating hearts, and busy minds.
I like the stir in the air, and long for battle like a war-horse when he smells powder. The blood of the Mays is up!
After Anna's Marriage.
Sunday Morn, 1860.
My Dear Madam,–The news of the town is as follows, and I present it in the usual journalesque style of correspondence. After the bridal train had departed, the mourners withdrew to their respective homes; and the bereaved family solaced their woe by washing dishes for two hours and bolting the remains of the funeral baked meats. At four, having got settled down, we were all routed up by the appearance of a long procession of children filing down our lane, headed by the Misses H. and R. Father rushed into the cellar, and appeared with a large basket of apples, which went the rounds with much effect. The light infantry formed in a semi-circle, and was watered by the matron and maids. It was really a pretty sight, these seventy children loaded with wreaths and flowers, standing under the elm in the sunshine, singing in full chorus the song I wrote for them. It was a neat little compliment to the superintendent and his daughter, who was glad to find that her "pome" was a favorite among the "lads and lasses" who sang it "with cheery voices, like robins on the tree."
Father put the finishing stroke to the spectacle by going off at full speed, hoppity-skip, and all the babes followed in a whirl of rapture at the idea. He led them up and down and round and round till they were tired; 133 then they fell into order, and with a farewell song marched away, seventy of the happiest little ones I ever wish to see. We subsided, and fell into our beds with the new thought "Annie is married and gone" for a lullaby, which was not very effective in its results with all parties.
Thursday we set our house in order, and at two the rush began. It had gone abroad that Mr. M. and Mrs. Captain Brown were to adorn the scene, so many people coolly came who were not invited, and who had no business here. People sewed and jabbered till Mrs. Brown, with Watson Brown's widow and baby came; then a levee took place. The two pale women sat silent and serene through the clatter; and the bright-eyed, handsome baby received the homage of the multitude like a little king, bearing the kisses and praises with the utmost dignity. He is named Frederick Watson Brown, after his murdered uncle and father, and is a fair, heroic-looking baby, with a fine head, and serious eyes that look about him as if saying, "I am a Brown! Are these friends or enemies?" I wanted to cry once at the little scene the unconscious baby made. Some one caught and kissed him rudely; he didn't cry, but looked troubled, and rolled his great eyes anxiously about for some familiar face to reassure him with its smile. His mother was not there; but though many hands were stretched to him, he turned to Grandma Bridge, and putting out his little arms to her as if she was a refuge, laughed and crowed as he had not done before when she danced him on her knee. The old lady looked delighted; and Freddy patted the kind face, and cooed like a lawful descendant of that pair of ancient turtle doves.
When he was safe back in the study, playing alone at his mother's feet, C. and I went and worshipped in our own way at the shrine of John Brown's grandson, kissing 134 him as if he were a little saint, and feeling highly honored when he sucked our fingers, or walked on us with his honest little red shoes, much the worse for wear.
Well, the baby fascinated me so that I forgot a raging headache and forty gabbling women all in full clack. Mrs. Brown, Sen., is a tall, stout woman, plain, but with a strong, good face, and a natural dignity that showed she was something better than a "lady," though she did drink out of her saucer and used the plainest speech.
The younger woman had such a patient, heart-broken face, it was a whole Harper's Ferry tragedy in a look. When we got your letter, Mother and I ran into the study to read it. Mother read aloud; for there were only C., A., I, and Mrs. Brown, Jr., in the room. As she read the words that were a poem in their simplicity and happiness, the poor young widow sat with tears rolling down her face; for I suppose it brought back her own wedding-day, not two years ago, and all the while she cried the baby laughed and crowed at her feet as if there was no trouble in the world.
The preparations had been made for twenty at the utmost; so when forty souls with the usual complement of bodies appeared, we grew desperate, and our neat little supper turned out a regular "tea fight." A., C., B., and I rushed like comets to and fro trying to fill the multitude that would eat fast and drink like sponges. I filled a big plate with all I could lay hands on, and with two cups of tea, strong enough for a dozen, charged upon Mr. E. and Uncle S., telling them to eat, drink, and be merry, for a famine was at hand. They cuddled into a corner; and then, feeling that my mission was accomplished, I let the hungry wait and the thirsty moan for tea, while I picked out and helped the regular Antislavery set.
We got through it; but it was an awful hour; and 135 Mother wandered in her mind, utterly lost in a grove of teapots; while B. pervaded the neighborhood demanding hot water, and we girls sowed cake broadcast through the land.
When the plates were empty and the teapots dry, people wiped their mouths and confessed at last that they had done. A conversation followed, in which Grandpa B. and E. P. P. held forth, and Uncle and Father mildly upset the world, and made a new one in which every one desired to take a place. Dr. B., Mr. B., T., etc., appeared, and the rattle continued till nine, when some Solomon suggested that the Alcotts must be tired, and every one departed but C. and S. We had a polka by Mother and Uncle, the lancers by C. and B., and an étude by S., after which scrabblings of feast appeared, and we "drained the dregs of every cup," all cakes and pies we gobbled up, etc.; then peace fell upon us, and our remains were interred decently.
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