Four little chests all in a row, Dim with dust and worn by time, All fashioned and filled long ago By children now in their prime. Four little keys hung side by side, With faded ribbons, brave and gay When fastened there with childish pride Long ago on a rainy day. Four little names, one on each lid, Carved out by a boyish hand; And underneath there lieth hid Histories of the happy band Once playing here, and pausing oft To hear the sweet refrain That came and went on the roof aloft In the falling summer rain. Four little chests all in a row, Dim with dust and worn by time: Four women, taught by weal and woe To love and labor in their prime; Four sisters parted for an hour,– None lost, one only gone before, Made by love's immortal power Nearest and dearest evermore. Oh! when these hidden stores of ours Lie open to the Father's sight, May they be rich in golden hours,– Deeds that show fairer for the light, Deeds whose brave music long shall ring Like a spirit-stirring strain, Souls that shall gladly soar and sing In the long sunshine, after rain.
THE years which followed the war and Miss Alcott's experience as a hospital nurse were rather sad and anxious from many causes. Louisa felt deeply the loss of one sister by death and the separation from another by marriage. The success of "Hospital Sketches" and a few other stories published about the same time had given her confidence in her powers and hopes of a successful future. But for nearly five years she accomplished nothing which met with equal favor. The reception of the novel "Moods," in which she thought she had expressed her best life, was not cheering to her; and she had become wholly dissatisfied with the sensational stories, which formed the most ready resource for earning money. Her health was seriously injured by the fever from which she suffered in the hospital, and she had no longer the physical energy to sustain the unceasing activity of her brain.
Under these difficulties she naturally desired a change of circumstances; and the old longing for a journey to Europe–which she had felt strongly in her youth, and which, like all Americans of culture, she felt more and more as time passed on–became her ruling desire. She was very fond of new scenes and variety of people, and she often expressed a wish to live many years in Europe.
The circumstances of the family were not yet such as to justify Louisa, in her own eyes, in taking her earnings for the desired trip. But in 1865 an opportunity was offered her to go to Europe as companion to an invalid lady. From her experience in nursing–for which she had a 172 natural gift–she and her friends thought her suited to the position, and advised her acceptance of the offer.
Although devotedly kind, unselfish, and generous, Louisa had not the temperament suited to the needs of a nervous invalid. She was impetuous and impatient, and her own life was too strong within her and too earnest in its cravings, for her to restrain her moods and actions within the narrow limits of a companion's service. She found even what she recognized as fair services wearisome and distasteful, and sometimes chafed severely under what seemed unnecessary demands on her time, strength, and patience. Looking back on this experience in later years, she recognized these facts, and wrote in 1885: "Now, being a nervous invalid myself, I understand what seemed whims, selfishness, and folly in others."
Louisa finally decided to leave her companions and go on alone to Paris and England, where she would find many of her own and her father's friends. At Vevay she had made the acquaintance of a young Polish lad, whom she found very interesting, and who was the original of the charming Laurie in "Little Women." He met her again in Paris, and contributed greatly to the pleasure of her stay there. He afterwards came to America, and visited her; but finally returned to his own country.
The journal gives a sufficient account of her life while on this journey. I have no letters written at this time, as she wished all her family letters destroyed. Her few weeks in London passed very happily. Her wide reading in English history 173 and in contemporary fiction, especially the works of Dickens and Thackeray, filled London with interesting associations, and she enjoyed thoroughly her free rambles through the old city, as well as the interesting people, who received her with great kindness.
That Louisa might have these few weeks of entire relaxation and enjoyment, her mother had been obliged to borrow means for the support of the family; and Louisa was very anxious to clear off this debt like all others. She was very exact in pecuniary matters. Money to her was not an end, but a most necessary means. She paid every debt that her father had incurred, even though outlawed by time. It is often asked whether she ever sold her beautiful hair, as represented in "Little Women." The deed was never really done; but she and her sisters always held this treasure as a possible resource in case of need; and Louisa once says in her journal, "I will pay my debts, if I have to sell my hair to do it." She even went so far as to inquire of a barber as to its money value.
1865.–Mr. W., hearing that I was something of a nurse and wanted to travel, proposed my going with his invalid daughter. I agreed, though I had my doubts. But every one said "Go;" so after a week of worry I did go. On the 19th we sailed in the "China." I could not realize that my long-desired dream was coming true; and fears that I might not see all the dear home faces when I came back made my heart very full as we steamed down the harbor and Boston vanished. 174
Was not very sick, but uncomfortable all the way, and found the Ladies' Saloon my only refuge till we were nearly across; enjoyed intervals of quiet, and had many fine glimpses of the sea in its various moods, sunsets and sunrises, fogs, icebergs, rain-storms, and summer calms. No very pleasant people on board; so I read, took notes, and wiled away the long days as I best could.
We had a very quiet and quick passage of nine days, and on Saturday, the 29th, steamed up the Mersey at dawn, and got to Liverpool at nine. I was heartily glad to set my feet on the solid earth, and thought I'd never go to sea again; rested, and looked about a little.
August.–Went up to London, and there spent four dull, drizzly days. I amused myself in my usual way, looking well about me, and writing down all I saw in my pocket-diary or letters. Went to the parks, Westminster Abbey, and some of the famous streets. I felt as if I'd got into a novel while going about in the places I'd read so much of; saw no one I knew, and thought English weather abominable.
On the 5th to Dover through a lovely green country; took steamer there to Ostende; but was ill all the way, and saw nothing but a basin; spent two days at a queer hotel near the fine promenade, which was a very foreign and brilliant scene. To Brussels on the 7th. Here I enjoyed much, for the quaint old city was full of interesting things. The ancient square, where the statues of Egmont and Horn stand, was my delight; for the old Dutch houses were still standing, and everything was so new and strange I wanted to stay a month.
To Cologne on the 9th, and the country we passed through was like a big picture-book. The city was very hot, dirty, and evil-smelling. We saw the Cathedral, got eau de Cologne, and very gladly left after three days. 175
On the 12th began a lovely voyage up the Rhine. It was too beautiful to describe, so I shall not try; but I feel richer and better for that memorable day. We reached Coblenz at sunset, and I was up half the night enjoying the splendid view of the fortress opposite the town, the moonlit river with its bridges of boats, and troops crossing at midnight.
A second day, still more charming, took us through the famous parts of the Rhine, and filled my head with pictures that will last all my life.
Before we reached Bieberich we stopped at a queer little Dutch town, and had a queer time; for no one spoke English, and we only a little bad French. Passed the night there, and next day reached Schwalbach after many trials and tribulations.
The place is a narrow valley shut in by high hills, the town being divided into two parts: the lowest is the original town–queer ale-houses, churches, and narrow streets; the upper part, near the springs, is full of fine hotels, pleasure-grounds, and bath-houses.
We took lodgings with Madame Genth, wife of the Forestmeister (forest master),–two rooms,–and began the water under Dr. Genth's care.
We walked a little, talked a little, bathed and rode a little, worried a good deal, and I grubbed away at French, with no master and small success.
September.–Still at Schwalbach, A. doing her best to get well, and I doing mine to help her. Rather dull days,–bathing, walking, and quiddling about.
A letter from home on the 20th. All well and happy, thank God. It touched and pleased me very much to see how they missed me, thought of me, and longed to have me back. Every little thing I ever did for them is now so tenderly and gratefully remembered; and my absence 176 seems to have left so large a gap that I begin to realize how much I am to them in spite of all my faults. The letters made me very happy, and everything brightened immensely. A. got stronger, and when G. came on the 28th was able to start off next day on the way to Vevay, where we are to pass some weeks before we are to go to Nice.
Went to Wiesbaden first, a pleasant, gay place, full of people. Saw the gambling hall and people playing, the fine grounds and drives, and then went on to Frankfort. Here I saw and enjoyed a good deal. The statues of Goethe, Schiller, Faust, Gutenberg, and Schaeffer are in the squares. Goethe's house is a tall, plain building, with each story projecting over the lower, and a Dutch roof; a marble slab over the front door recording the date of Goethe's birth. I took a look at it and wanted to go in, as it was empty, but there was no time. Some Americans said, "Who was Goethe, to fuss about?"
Frankfort is a pleasant old city on the river, and I'm glad to have been there.
October.–On to Heidelberg, a charming old place surrounded by mountains. We went to the Castle and had a fine time roving about the ruins, looking at the view from the great terrace, admiring the quaint stone images of knights, saints, monsters, and angels, and visiting the big tun in the cellar by torchlight.
The moon rose while we were there and completed the enchantment of the scene.
The drive home was like looking at a picture-book, for the street was narrow, the carriage high, and we looked in at the windows, seeing pretty scenes. Here, men drinking beer in a Dutch-looking room; there, little children going to bed; a pair of lovers with a pot of flowers between them; an old woman brooding over the fire like a 177 witch; and in one room some one lay dead surrounded by candles.
From H. we went to Baden-Baden, a very fashionable place. The old château was my delight, and we passed a morning going up and down to visit it. Next to Freiburg, where the Cathedral delighted me extremely, being full of old carved images and grotesque designs; the market-place with the fountains, statues, water running beside the streets, and queer costumes.
Basle came next, and a firemen's fête made the city very gay. The hotel was on the river, and moonlight made a Venetian scene for me with the lighted bridge, covered with gondola-like boats and music from both shores. I walk while A. rests, and enjoy sights from my window when she is asleep, as I cannot leave her at night.
On our way to Berne I caught my first glimpse of the Alps, October 8th, mother's birthday. Tall, white, spectral-looking shapes they were, towering above the green hills and valleys that lay between. Clouds half hid them, and the sun glittered on the everlasting snow that lay upon their tops. Sharp, strange outlines against the sky they became as night came on, and in the morning I had a fine view of the Jungfrau, the Blümlis, the Wetterhorn, and Mönch from the terrace at Berne.
B. was a queer old city, but I saw little of it except the bears and shops. No time.
Freiburg No. 2 was the most romantic place we have been in. The town is built in a wide crevice or valley between two steep hills, so that suspension bridges are hung from height to height over a winding river and the streets of the town. Watch-towers stand all about on the hills, and give a very romantic air to the place. The hotel overhung the valley, and from our rooms we went out 178 along a balcony to a wide, paved platform with a fountain in the middle, an aviary, and flowers all about. The view down the valley was charming,–the airy bridges, green or rocky slopes, busy squares below, cows and goats feeding on the hills, the towers, the old church, and a lovely blue sky overhead. I longed to sketch it.
At Lausanne we stopped at the Hotel Gibbon and saw the garden where the great historian wrote his history. The view of the lake was lovely, with rocky mountains opposite, little towns at their feet, vineyards along the hillsides, and pretty boats on the lake, the water of which was the loveliest blue.
To Vevay at last,–a pleasant hour's sail to a very pleasant place. We took rooms at the Pension Victoria.
Our landlady was an English woman who had married a French courier. Very kind sort of people: rooms comfortable, meals good, and surroundings agreeable. Our fellow-boarders varied from time to time,–an English doctor and wife, a fine old lady with them who looked like Marie Antoinette; two Scotch ladies named Glennie, very pleasant, well-bred ladies who told me about Beattie who was their grandfather, and Walter Scott whom they knew; Colonel –– and family, rebels, and very bitter and rude to us. Had queer times with them.
I did not enjoy the life nor the society after the first novelty wore off, for I missed my freedom and grew very tired of the daily worry which I had to go through with.
November.–(Laurie) Took some French lessons with Mademoiselle Germain and learned a little, but found it much harder than I thought, and often got discouraged, I was so stupid. A. got much better, and some new people came. The doctor and his set left, and in their place came a Russian family, an Irish lady and daughter, and a young Pole with whom we struck up a friendship. 179 Ladislas Wisinewski (Laurie) was very gay and agreeable, and being ill and much younger we petted him. He played beautifully, and was very anxious to learn English, so we taught him that and he taught us French.
On my birthday A. gave me a pretty painting of Chillon. Ladislas promised me the notes of the Polish National Hymn, and played me his sweetest airs as a present after wishing me "All good and happiness on earth, and a high place in Heaven as my reward." It was a mild, windy day, very like me in its fitful changes of sunshine and shade. Usually I am sad on my birthday, but not this time; for though nothing very pleasant happened, I was happy and hopeful and enjoyed everything with unusual relish. I feel rather old with my thirty-three years, but have much to keep me young, and hope I shall not grow older in heart as the time goes on. I thought much of dear father on this his sixty-sixth birthday, and missed the little ceremony that always takes place on these occasions. Hope I shall be safely at home before another November comes.
December.–Laurie very interesting and good. Pleasant walks and talks with him in the château garden and about Vevay. A lovely sail on the lake, and much fun giving English and receiving French lessons. Every one very kind, and the house quite home-like. Much indecision about going to Nice owing to the cholera. At last we decided to go, and started on the 6th to meet G. at Geneva. L. went with us to Lausanne, kissed our hands at parting, and went back to V. disconsolate. Sad times for all, but we journeyed away to Nice and tried to forget our troubles. A flat uninteresting country till we approached the sea.
Nice very pleasant, climate lovely, and sea beautiful. We lived in our own rooms, and saw no one but the 180 doctor and Consul and a few American callers. A pleasant drive every day on the Promenade,–a wide curving wall along the bay with hotels and Pensions on one side and a flowery walk on the other. Gay carriages and people always to be seen; shops full of fine and curious things; picturesque castles, towers, and walls on one hill; a lighthouse on each point of the moon-shaped bay; boats and our fleet on the water; gardens, olive and orange-trees, queer cacti, and palms all about on the land; monks, priests, soldiers, peasants, etc.
A dull Christmas within doors, though a lovely day without. Windows open, roses blooming, air mild, and city gay. With friends, health, and a little money how jolly one might be in this perpetual summer.
January, 1866.–Nice. Rained all New Year's day, and I spent it sewing, writing, and reading an American newspaper which came in the morning, my only present. I hoped for letters but got none, and was much disappointed. A. was ill, so I had to receive in American style. Mr. Perkins, Cooper, and the Consul called. At dinner we drank the healths of all at home, and did not forget Laddie (Laurie).
A quiet, dull time generally, driving sometimes, walking little, and writing letters. Now and then I got a pleasant walk by myself away among the vineyards and olive-trees or down into the queer old city. I soon tired of the fashionable Promenade, for every one was on exhibition. Sometimes before or after the fashionable hour I walked there and enjoyed the sea and sky.
A ball was given at our Pension and we went. A queer set,–Russians, Spaniards, French, English, Americans, Italians, Jews, and Sandwich Islanders. They danced wildly, dressed gayly, and sounded as if the 181 "confusion of tongues" was come again. A few pleasant Americans called on us, but we were very lonely and uncomfortable.
Decided to take an apartment No. 10 Rue Geoffredo, paying six hundred francs for ten weeks, six rooms, all large and handsome. Dr. P. got us a good maid, and on the 17th we went to our new quarters. Madame Rolande was French governess for six years to Victoria's children, and was a funny old party.
Couldn't sleep at all for some nights, and felt very poorly, for my life didn't suit me and the air was too exciting.
February.–Got on excellently with our housekeeping, for Julie proved a treasure and we were very comfortable. Had many lovely drives, and saw something of Nice and its beauties. To Cimies, an old Franciscan monastery near the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. The convent stands where a temple of Diana once stood, and is surrounded by ancient ilex trees. A monk in his cowl, brown robe, sandals, and rope girdle did the honors of the church, which was dark and full of bad pictures. San Andre with its château and grotto, Villa Franca in a lovely little bay, the wood of Var where the daisies grew, Valrosa, a villa in a rose garden, and the Porte were all interesting. Also Castle Hill, which overlooks the town.
I decided to go home in May, though A. wants me to stay. I'm tired of it, and as she is not going to travel, my time is too valuable to be wasted.
The carnival occurred. Funny, but not so fine a sight as I expected. Also went to the theatre to see "Lady Tartuffe." Had a pleasant time, though I couldn't understand much. The acting was so natural and good that I caught the plot, and with a little telling from Hosmer knew what was going on. 182
Wrote a little on three stories which would come into my head and worry me till I gave them a "vent."
Good letters from home. All well and busy, and longing for me in the spring.
March.–A tedious month, which might have been quite the reverse had I been free to enjoy it in my own way. Read French, walked to my favorite places, and wrote letters when I found time.
Went often to Valrosa, a lovely villa buried in roses. Got a wheeled chair and a man to draw it, then with books, lunch, and work, I tempted A. out into the woods, and we had some pleasant hours.
April.–Went to the Cathedral to see the Easter ceremonies. Fine music, the Gloria was sung, a Franciscan monk preached, the Bishop blessed every one, and was fussed over like a great doll. A very splendid scene.
Saw Ristori twice, once in "Medea" and once in "Elizabeth." Never saw such acting; especially in Queen Bess, it was splendid, as she changes from the young, violent, coquettish woman to the peevish old crone dying with her crown on, vain, ambitious, and remorseful.
May.–On the first day of the month left A. and Nice and started alone for Paris, feeling as happy as a freed bird.
A pleasant journey, Laddie waiting for me in Paris to take me to my room at Madame Dyne's. A very charming fortnight here; the days spent in seeing sights with my Laddie, the evenings in reading, writing, hearing "my boy" play, or resting. Saw all that I wished to see in a very pleasant way, and on the 17th reluctantly went to London.
Passed a fortnight at a lovely old place on Wimbledon Common with the Conways, going to town with them to see the lions, Royal Exhibition, Hampton Court, Kensington 183 and British Museums, Crystal Palace, and many other pleasant places. But none were lovelier to me than the old farm-house with the thatched roof, the common of yellow gorse, larks going up in the morning, nightingales flying at night, hawthorne everywhere, and Richmond Park full of deer close by. Also Robin Hood's barn.
June.–Passed the first ten days of the month at Aubrey House with the Peter Taylors. A lovely English home with kind, pure, and friendly people. Saw many interesting persons,–Miss Cobbe, Jean Ingelow, Dr. Garrett, Madame Bodichon, Matilde Blinde, Mill, Bright, Gladstone, Hughes, and the rest at the House of Commons where Mr. T. took me.
Went to a dinner-party or two, theatres, to hear Dickens read, a concert, conversazione and receptions, seeing English society, or rather one class of it, and liking what I saw.
On the 11th went to board with Mrs. Travers in Westbourne Grove Terrace. A pleasant little room, plain living, and for society Mrs. T. and daughter, two sisters from Dublin, and ten young men,–barristers, clerks, ministers, and students. A guinea a week.
Very free and jolly, roaming about London all day, dining late and resting, chatting, music, or fun in the evening.
Saw the Tower, Windsor, Parks, Gardens, and all manner of haunts of famous men and women,–Milton's house, Johnson's in Bolt Court, Lamb's, Sairy Gamp's, Saracen's Head, the Charter House where Thackeray was when a lad, Furnival's Inn where Dickens wrote Pickwick, Bacon's Walk, and endless memorable sights. St. Paul's I liked better than Notre Dame.
July.–At Mrs. Travers's till the 7th. Saw Routledge about "Moods." He took it, would like another book, 184 and was very friendly. Said good-by all round, and at six a.m. on the 7th left for Liverpool with Mr. W., who saw to my luggage and went part way. Reached the "Africa" safely.
A trip of fourteen stormy, dull, long, sick days, but at last at eleven at night we sailed up the harbor in the moonlight, and I saw dear John waiting for me on the wharf. Slept on board, and next day reached home at noon to find Father at the station, Nan and babies at the gate, May flying wildly round the lawn, and Marmee crying at the door. Into her arms I went, and was at home at last.
Happy days, talking and enjoying one another. Many people came to see me, and all said I was much improved; of which I was glad, as there was, is, and always will be room for it.
Found Mother looking old, sick, and tired; Father as placid as ever; Nan poorly, but blest in her babies; May full of plans, as usual; Freddy very stout and loving; and my Jack the dearest, prettiest, merriest baby boy that ever kissed and loved everybody.
August.–Soon fell to work on some stories, for things were, as I expected, behindhand when the money-maker was away. Found plenty to do, as orders from E., L., "Independent," "U. S. C. S. Magazine," and several other offers waited for me. Wrote two long tales for L. and got $200 for them. One for E. for which he paid $75, also a bit of poetry for $5. He wanted a long story in twenty-four chapters, and I wrote it in a fortnight,–one hundred and eighty-five pages,–besides work, sewing, nursing, and company.
Sent S. E. S. the first $100 on my account; could have sent $300, but it was needed, so I gave it up unwillingly, and must work away for the rest. Mother borrowed the 185 money that I might stay longer and see England, as I had missed much while condemned to "hard work and solitary confinement for nine months," as she expressed it.
September.–Mother sick, did little with my pen. Got a girl, and devoted myself to Mother, writing after she was abed. In this way finished a long tale. But E. would not have it, saying it was too long and too sensational!
November.–Mother slowly mending. A sensible Western woman "rubbed" her, and did her a great deal of good. She left her room and seemed more like herself. I never expect to see the strong, energetic Marmee of old times, but, thank the Lord! she is still here, though pale and weak, quiet and sad; all her fine hair gone, and face full of wrinkles, bowed back, and every sign of age. Life has been so hard for her, and she so brave, so glad to spend herself for others. Now we must live for her.
On Miss Alcott's return from Europe in July, 1866, she devoted herself as earnestly as ever to the personal care of her mother and to story-writing for the support of the family. She agreed to write a fifty-dollar tale once a month, and besides this wrote many short stories for other publishers. Her father's return from the West with two hundred dollars, earned on his western trip, gave her some relief; and she was cheered by hearing that "Moods" was selling well in Europe. But she was not well, and she felt anxious and troubled about many things. Her journal of these months is very meagre; and January, 1867, opens with the statement that she is "sick from too hard work." Yet the account of stories furnished to publishers continues till August, when she went to Clark's Island for a few weeks of recreation. Here her 186 spirits returned, and she spent, as she says, "a harem-scarem fortnight," which must have given her great refreshment. She says: "Got to work again after my long vacation, for bills accumulate and worry me. I dread debt more than anything."
In the journal occurs this slight notice of the first step in one of the most important achievements of her life, of which I shall speak more fully hereafter:–
September, 1867.–Niles, partner of Roberts, asked me to write a girls' book. Said I'd try.
F. asked me to be the editor of "Merry's Museum." Said I'd try.
Began at once on both new jobs; but didn't like either.
The Radical Club met at Sargent's. Fine time. Bartol inspired; Emerson chairman; Alcott on his legs; strong-minded ladies out in full force; æsthetic tea for refreshment.
October.–Agreed with F. to be editor for $500 a year. Read manuscripts, write one story each month and an editorial. On the strength of this engagement went to Boston, took a room–No. 6 Hayward Place–furnished it, and set up housekeeping for myself. Cannot keep well in C., so must try Boston, and not work too hard.
On the 28th rode to B. on my load of furniture with Fred, feeling as if I was going to camp out in a new country; hoped it would prove a hospitable and healthy land.
This incident appears in "The Old-fashioned 187 Girl" (p. 153), where the country girl goes into the city in a farmer's cart, with a squash pie in her hand given her at parting by an old friend. Her sister May had a drawing class at her room every day, which gave Louisa the pleasure of companionship.
Miss Alcott was an enthusiastic admirer of Dickens, and she entered into the humor of his homely characters most heartily. She acted "Mrs. Jarley displaying her waxwork" nine times this winter, and was always successful in giving life and variety to the representation. She was constantly called upon to act for charity. She enjoyed the fun, and as she could not give money, it satisfied her generous nature to be able to help in any way.
She wrote an article for Mr. B., called "Happy Women," in which she gratified her love of single life by describing the delightful spinsters of her acquaintance. Her sketches are all taken from life, and are not too highly colored. The Physician, the Artist, the Philanthropist, the Actress, the Lawyer, are easily recognizable. They were a "glorious phalanx of old maids," as Theodore Parker called the single women of his Society, who aided him so much in his work.
To her Mother.
Things look promising for the new year. F. $20 for the little tales, and wrote two every month; G. $25 for the "Bells;" L. $100 for the two "Proverb" stories. L. takes all I'll send; and F. seems satisfied.
So my plan will work well, and I shall make my $1,000 188 this year in spite of sickness and worry. Praise the Lord and keep busy, say I.
I am pretty well, and keep so busy I haven't time to be sick. Every one is very clever to me; and I often think as I go larking round, independent, with more work than I can do, and half-a-dozen publishers asking for tales, of the old times when I went meekly from door to door peddling my first poor little stories, and feeling so rich with $10.
It's clear that Minerva Moody is getting on, in spite of many downfalls, and by the time she is a used up old lady of seventy or so she may finish her job, and see her family well off. A little late to enjoy much maybe; but I guess I shall turn in for my last long sleep with more content, in spite of the mortal weariness, than if I had folded my hands and been supported in elegant idleness, or gone to the devil in fits of despair because things moved so slowly.
Keep all the money I send; pay up every bill; get comforts and enjoy yourselves. Let's be merry while we may, and lay up a bit for a rainy day.
With which gem from Aristotle, I am, honored Madam, your dutiful and affectionate
L. M. Alcott.
Regards to Plato. Don't he want new socks? Are his clothes getting shiny?
Although, as I have said, little direct European influence is observable in Miss Alcott's writings from her journeys in Europe, yet this first visit had a marked effect upon her life and writings. She was unfavorably situated to gain the refreshment she sorely needed; and yet she did get a great deal from the entire change of surroundings, from the larger horizon into which she entered, from her rich enjoyment of scenery, and from the variety 189 of companions she met. Probably she looked through new spectacles at her own work, as she describes herself as looking through those of Professor Bhaer, and she saw all the defects of the pot-boiling stories which she had been pouring out one after another, without strong purpose, or regard for artistic excellence. She had also the chance to look upon her own early life and home from a distance; and as she thought of the incidents of those years they grouped into more harmonious lines, and she saw how much they contained of real life, of true poetry and humor, as well as moral significance. So the old idea of "The Pathetic Family" took shape anew in her mind.
In July, 1863, the enterprising firm of Roberts Brothers asked her for the publication in book form of "Hospital Sketches," which were then appearing in the "Commonwealth" newspaper, being struck by their intense reality and originality. At the time, as she states in her journal, she preferred to allow Mr. Redpath to publish them. Later, in September, 1867, Roberts Brothers asked her to write a girls' book for them, and in May, 1868, they repeated the request through her father, who had brought to them a collection of short stories for publication.
Miss Alcott's fancy had always been for depicting the life of boys rather than girls; but she fortunately took the suggestion of the publisher, and said, like Col. Miller, "I'll try, sir." The old idea of "The Pathetic Family" recurred to her mind; and she set herself to describe the early life of her home. The book was finished in July, named 190 "Little Women," and sent to the publishers, who promptly accepted it, making Miss Alcott an outright offer for the copyright, but at the same time advising her not to part with it. It was published in October, and the result is well known. She was quite unconscious of the unusual merit of the book, thinking, as she says, the first chapters dull, and so was quite surprised at her success. "It reads better than I expected," she says; and she truly adds, "We really lived most of it, and if it succeeds, that will be the reason of it."
But that is not the whole secret of its success. Through many trials and many failures Louisa had learned her literary art. By her experience in melodrama she had proved the emptiness of sensational writing, and knew how to present the simple and true,–seemingly without art, but really with the nicest art of discrimination and emphasis. All her previous training and experience were needed to fit her for the production of her masterpiece; for in spite of all the good work she did later, this remains her masterpiece, by which she will be remembered and loved. Already twenty-one years have passed, and another generation has come up since she published this book, yet it still commands a steady sale; and the mothers who read it in their childhood renew their enjoyment as they watch the faces of their little girls brighten with smiles over the theatricals in the barn, or moisten with tears at the death of the beloved sister. One of the greatest charms of the book is its perfect truth to New England life. But it is not merely local; it touches the universal heart deeply. 191
The excitement of the children was intense; they claimed the author as their own property, and felt as if she were interpreting their very lives and thoughts. The second series was anticipated with the eagerness of a bulletin from the war and the stock market. But unlike Miss Alcott herself, the children took especial interest in the love-story, and when poor Laurie was so obstinately refused by Jo, "they wept aloud, and refused to be comforted," and in some instances were actually made ill by grief and excitement.
Miss Alcott had now secured publishers in whom she placed perfect confidence, and who henceforth relieved her of the worry of business matters, dealing directly and fairly by her, and consulting her interests as well as their own. This is abundantly shown by her private journals and letters.
The success of "Little Women" was so well assured that Miss Alcott at once set about preparing the second part, which was eagerly demanded by the little women outside, who wanted all the girls to marry, and rather troubled her by wishing to settle matters their own way. She finished writing the sequel, which had been rapid work, Jan. 1, 1869.
The success of "Little Women" was not confined to this country. The book was translated into French, German, and Dutch, and has become familiarly known in England and on the Continent. In Holland the first series was published under the title "Under the Mother's Wings," and the second part as "On Their Own Wings;" and these two 192 books with "Work" established her fame among the children, who still continue to read her stories with fresh delight.
It is hardly necessary to analyze or criticise this happy production. It is a realistic transcript of life, but idealized by the tenderness of real feeling. It teaches the lessons of every-day conduct and inculcates the simplest virtues of truth, earnest effort, and loving affection. There is abundant humor, but no caricature, and tender, deep feeling without sentimentality.
Miss Alcott herself did not wish her representative, Jo, to marry; but the demand of the publisher and the public was so imperative that she created her German professor, of whom no prototype existed. While some of her romantic young readers were not satisfied at Jo's preferring him to the charming Laurie, he is certainly a genuine, warm-hearted man, who would probably have held her affections by his strong moral and intellectual traits. That he became a very living personality to the author is evident from his reappearance in "Jo's Boys," where he has the same strong, cheery influence in the school and home that she found from him in her girlhood. The style of the book is thoroughly easy and colloquial; and the girls talk and act like girls, and not like prim little women. The influence of the book has been wide and deep, and has helped to make a whole generation of girls feel a deeper sense of family love and the blessings to be gained from lives of earnest effort, mutual sacrifice, and high aims.
Much interest has been expressed in regard to 193 the originals of the characters in "Little Women." This is the author's own statement:–
Facts in the stories that are true, though often changed as to time and place:–
"Little Women"–The early plays and experiences; Beth's death; Jo's literary and Amy's artistic experiences; Meg's happy home; John Brooke and his death; Demi's character. Mr. March did not go to the war, but Jo did. Mrs. March is all true, only not half good enough. Laurie is not an American boy, though every lad I ever knew claims the character. He was a Polish boy, met abroad in 1865. Mr. Lawrence is my grandfather, Colonel Joseph May. Aunt March is no one.
January, 1868. Gamp's Garret, Hayward Place, Boston.–The year begins well and cheerfully for us all. Father and Mother comfortable at home; Anna and family settled in Chelsea; May busy with her drawing classes, of which she has five or six, and the prospect of earning $150 a quarter; also she is well and in good spirits.
I am in my little room, spending busy, happy days, because I have quiet, freedom, work enough, and strength to do it. F. pays me $500 a year for my name and some editorial work on Merry's Museum; "The Youth's Companion" pays $20 for two short tales each month; L. $50 and $100 for all I will send him; and others take anything I have. My way seems clear for the year if I can only keep well. I want to realize my dream of supporting the family and being perfectly independent. Heavenly hope! 194
I have written twenty-five stories the past year, besides the fairy book containing twelve. Have earned $1,000, paid my own way, sent home some, paid up debts, and helped May.
For many years we have not been so comfortable: May and I both earning, Annie with her good John to lean on, and the old people in a cosey home of our own.
After last winter's hard experience, we cannot be too grateful.
To-day my first hyacinth bloomed, white and sweet,–a good omen,–a little flag of truce, perhaps, from the enemies whom we have been fighting all these years. Perhaps we are to win after all, and conquer poverty, neglect, pain, and debt, and march on with flags flying into the new world with the new year.
Thursday, 7th.–A queer day. Up early, and had my bread and milk and baked apples. Fed my doves. Made May a bonnet, and cut out a flannel wrapper for Marmee, who feels the cold in the Concord snowbanks. Did my editorial work in the p.m., and fixed my dresses for the plays. L. sent $50, and F. $40, for tales. A. and boys came.
To Dorchester in evening, and acted Mrs. Pontifex, in "Naval Engagements," to a good house. A gay time, had flowers, etc. Talked half the night with H. A. about the fast ways of young people nowadays, and gave the child much older-sisterly advice, as no one seems to see how much she needs help at this time of her young life.
Dreamed that I was an opera dancer, and waked up prancing.
Wednesday, 15th.–Wrote all day. Did two short tales for F. In the evening with A. M. to hear Fanny Kemble read "The Merchant of Venice." She was a whole stock company in herself. Looked younger and 195 handsomer than ever before, and happy, as she is to be with her daughters now. We went to supper afterwards at Mrs. Parkman's, and saw the lioness feed. It was a study to watch her face, so full of varying expression was it,–always strong, always sweet, then proud and fierce as she sniffed at nobodies who passed about her. Being one, I kept away, and enjoyed the great creature afar off, wondering how a short, stout, red woman could look so like a queen in her purple velvet and point lace.
Slipped behind a door, but Dr. Holmes found me out, and affably asked, "How many of you children are there?" As I was looking down on the top of his illustrious head, the question was funny. But I answered the little man with deep respect, "Four, sir." He seemed to catch my naughty thought, and asked, with a twinkle in his eye, looking up as if I were a steeple, "And all as tall as you?" Ha! ha!
18th.–Played again at D., and had a jolly time. Home early, and putting off my fine feathers, fell to work on my stories. F. seems to expect me to write the whole magazine, which I did not bargain for.
To Nan's in p. m., to take care of her while the Papa and Freddie went to C. The dear little man, so happy and important with his bit of a bag, six pennies, and a cake for refreshment during the long journey of an hour.
We brooded over Johnny as if he were a heavenly sort of fire to warm and comfort us with his sunny little face and loving ways. She is a happy woman! I sell my children; and though they feed me, they don't love me as hers do.
Little Tranquillity played alone all day, and made a pretty picture sitting in "marmar's" lap in his night-gown, talking through the trumpet to her. She never heard his sweet little voice in any other way. Poor Nan! 196
Wednesday, 22d.–To the Club with Father. A good paper on the "Historical View of Jesus." Father spoke finely. It amuses me to see how people listen and applaud now what was hooted at twenty years ago.
The talk lasted until two, and then the hungry philosophers remembered they had bodies and rushed away, still talking.
[Hard to feed.–L. M. A.]
Got a snow-slide on my bonnet, so made another in the p.m., and in the evening to the Antislavery Festival. All the old faces and many new ones. Glad I have lived in the time of this great movement, and known its heroes so well. War times suit me, as I am a fighting May.
24th.–My second hyacinth bloomed pale blue, like a timid hope, and I took the omen for a good one, as I am getting on, and have more than I can do of the work that I once went begging for. Enjoyed the little spring my little flower made for me, and Buzzy, my pet fly, moved into the sweet mansion from his hanging garden in the ivy pot.
Acted in Cambridge, Lucretia Buzzard and Mrs. Jarley.
Sunday, 31st.–Last day of the month, but I'm not satisfied with my four weeks' work. Acting for charity upsets my work. The change is good for me, and so I do it, and because I have no money to give.
Four tales this month. Received $70; sent $30 home. No debts.
February 1st.–Arranged "Hospital Sketches and War Stories" for a book. By taking out all Biblical allusions, and softening all allusions to rebs., the book may be made "quite perfect," I am told. Anything to suit customers. 197
Friday, 14th.–My third hyacinth bloomed this a.m., a lovely pink. So I found things snug, and had a busy day chasing––who dodged. Then I wrote my tales. Made some shirts for my boys, and went out to buy a squash pie for my lonely supper. It snowed; was very cold. No one paid, and I wanted to send some money home. Felt cross and tired as I trudged back at dusk. My pie turned a somersault, a boy laughed, so did I, and felt better. On my doorstep I found a gentleman who asked if Miss A. lived here. I took him up my winding stair and found him a very delightful fly, for he handed me a letter out of which fell a $100 bill. With this bait Mr. B. lured me to write "one column of Advice to Young Women," as Mrs. Shaw and others were doing. If he had asked me for a Greek oration I would have said "yes." So I gave a receipt, and the very elegant agent bowed himself away, leaving my "'umble" bower full of perfume, and my soul of peace.
Thriftily taking advantage of the enthusiastic moment, I planned my article while I ate my dilapidated pie, and then proceeded to write it with the bill before me. It was about old maids. "Happy Women" was the title, and I put in my list all the busy, useful, independent spinsters I know, for liberty is a better husband than love to many of us. This was a nice little episode in my trials of an authoress, so I record it.
So the pink hyacinth was a true prophet, and I went to bed a happy millionaire, to dream of flannel petticoats for my blessed Mother, paper for Father, a new dress for May, and sleds for my boys.
Monday, 17th.–Father came full of plans about his book. Went with him to the Club. P. read a paper, and the Rabbi Nathan talked. A curious jumble of 198 fools and philosophers. The Club should be kept more select, and not be run by one person.
Tuesday, 25th.–Note from Lady Amberly as I sat sewing on my ninepenny dress. She wanted to come and see me, and I told her to do so, and I'd show her how I lived in my sky-parlor,–spinning yarns like a spider. Met her at the Club, and liked her, so simple and natural.
Acted for Mr. Clarke's Church Fair in the evening. Did Mrs. Jarley three times. Very hoarse with a cold, but kept my promise.
"Proverb Stories" suggested, and "Kitty's Class-Day" written.
Friday, 28th.–Packed for home, as I am needed there, and acted Jarley for the third evening. Have done it nine times this week, and my voice is gone.
I am sorry to leave my quiet room, for I've enjoyed it very much.
Written eight long tales, ten short ones, read stacks of manuscripts, and done editorial work. Acted for charity twelve times.
Not a bad two months' work. I can imagine an easier life, but with love, health, and work I can be happy; for these three help one to do, to be, and to endure all things.
March, April, and May.–Had the pleasure of providing Marmee with many comforts, and keeping the hounds of care and debt from worrying her. She sits at rest in her sunny room, and that is better than any amount of fame to me.
May, 1868.–Father saw Mr. Niles about a fairy book. Mr. N. wants a girls' story, and I begin "Little Women." Marmee, Anna, and May all approve my plan. So I plod away, though I don't enjoy this sort 199 of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.
[Good joke.–L. M. A.]
June.–Sent twelve chapters of "L. W." to Mr. N. He thought it dull; so do I. But work away and mean to try the experiment; for lively, simple books are very much needed for girls, and perhaps I can supply the need.
Wrote two tales for Ford, and one for F. L. clamors for more, but must wait.
July 15th.–Have finished "Little Women," and sent it off,–402 pages. May is designing some pictures for it. Hope it will go, for I shall probably get nothing for "Morning Glories."
Very tired, head full of pain from overwork, and heart heavy about Marmee, who is growing feeble.
[Too much work for one young woman. No wonder she broke down. 1876.–L. M. A.]
August.–Roberts Bros. made an offer for the story, but at the same time advised me to keep the copyright; so I shall.
[An honest publisher and a lucky author, for the copyright made her fortune, and the "dull book" was the first golden egg of the ugly duckling. 1885.–L. M. A.]
August 26th.–Proof of whole book came. It reads better than I expected. Not a bit sensational, but simple and true, for we really lived most of it; and if it succeeds that will be the reason of it. Mr. N. likes it better now, and says some girls who have read the manuscripts say it is "splendid!" As it is for them, they are the best critics, so I should be satisfied. 200
September.–Father's book ["Tablets"] came out. Very simple outside, wise and beautiful within. Hope it will bring him praise and profit, for he has waited long.
No girl, Mother poorly, May busy with pupils, Nan with her boys, and much work to be done. We don't like the kitchen department, and our tastes and gifts lie in other directions, so it is hard to make the various Pegasuses pull the plan steadily.
October 8th.–Marmee's birthday; sixty-eight. After breakfast she found her gifts on a table in the study. Father escorted her to the big red chair, the boys prancing before blowing their trumpets, while we "girls" marched behind, glad to see the dear old Mother better and able to enjoy our little fête. The boys proudly handed her the little parcels, and she laughed and cried over our gifts and verses.
I feel as if the decline had begun for her; and each year will add to the change which is going on, as time alters the energetic, enthusiastic home-mother into a gentle, feeble old woman, to be cherished and helped tenderly down the long hill she has climbed so bravely with her many burdens.
October 26th.–Came to Boston, and took a quiet room in Brookline Street. Heard Emerson in the evening. Sent a report of it to A. P. for the "Standard" at his desire.
Anna is nicely settled in her new house, and Marmee is with her. Helped put down carpets and settle things.
30th.–Saw Mr. N. of Roberts Brothers, and he gave me good news of the book. An order from London for an edition came in. First edition gone and more called for. Expects to sell three or four thousand before the New Year.
Mr. N. wants a second volume for spring. Pleasant 201 notices and letters arrive, and much interest in my little women, who seem to find friends by their truth to life, as I hoped.
November 1st.–Began the second part of "Little Women." I can do a chapter a day, and in a month I mean to be done. A little success is so inspiring that I now find my "Marches" sober, nice people, and as I can launch into the future, my fancy has more play. Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman's life. I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please any one.
Monday, 16th.–To the Club for a change, as I have written like a steam engine since the 1st. Weiss read a fine paper on "Woman Suffrage." Good talk afterward. Lunched with Kate Field, Celia Thaxter, and Mr. Linton. Woman's Club in p.m.
17th.–Finished my thirteenth chapter. I am so full of my work, I can't stop to eat or sleep, or for anything but a daily run.
29th.–My birthday; thirty-six. Spent alone, writing hard. No presents but Father's "Tablets."
I never seem to have many presents, as some do, though I give a good many. That is best perhaps, and makes a gift very precious when it does come.
December.–Home to shut up the house, as Father goes West and Mother to Anna's. A cold, hard, dirty time; but was so glad to be off out of C. that I worked like a beaver, and turned the key on Apple Slump with joy.
May and I went to the new Bellevue Hotel in Beacon Street. She doesn't enjoy quiet corners as I do, so we took a sky-parlor, and had a queer time whisking up and down in the elevator, eating in a marble café, and sleeping on a sofa bed, that we might be genteel. It did not suit 202 me at all. A great gale nearly blew the roof off. Steam pipes exploded, and we were hungry. I was very tired with my hard summer, with no rest for the brains that earn the money.
January, 1869.–Left our lofty room at Bellevue and went to Chauncey Street. Sent the sequel of "L. W." to Roberts on New Year's Day. Hope it will do as well as the first, which is selling finely, and receives good notices. F. and F. both want me to continue working for them, and I shall do so if I am able; but my head-aches, cough, and weariness keep me from working as I once could, fourteen hours a day.
In March we went home, as Mother was restless at Nan's, and Father wanted his library. Cold and dull; not able to write; so took care of Marmee and tried to rest.
Paid up all the debts, thank the Lord!–every penny that money can pay,–and now I feel as if I could die in peace. My dream is beginning to come true; and if my head holds out I'll do all I once hoped to do.
April.–Very poorly. Feel quite used up. Don't care much for myself, as rest is heavenly even with pain; but the family seem so panic-stricken and helpless when I break down, that I try to keep the mill going. Two short tales for L., $50; two for Ford, $20; and did my editorial work, though two months are unpaid for. Roberts wants a new book, but am afraid to get into a vortex lest I fall ill.
To her Publishers.
Boston, Dec. 28, 1869.
Many thanks for the check which made my Christmas an unusually merry one.
After toiling so many years along the uphill road,–always 203 a hard one to women writers,–it is peculiarly grateful to me to find the way growing easier at last, with pleasant little surprises blossoming on either side, and the rough places made smooth by the courtesy and kindness of those who have proved themselves friends as well as publishers.
With best wishes for the coming year,
I am yours truly,
L. M. Alcott.
Dear Mr. Niles,–Many thanks for the fortune and the kind note accompanying it. Please hand the money to S. E. S., and he will put it somewhere for me....
You are very kind to find a minute out of your hurried day to attend to this affair.... I'm not sure but I shall try Dr. B. if my present and ninth doctor fails to cure my aching bones. I haven't a bit of faith in any of them; but my friends won't let me gently slip away where bones cease from troubling, so I must keep trying.
Very gratefully your friend,
L. M. A.
Written in 1871, just after the publication of "Little Men":–
Dear Mr. Niles,–Thanks for the parcel and notes.
... The letters were very gushing from Nellie and Dollie and Sallie Somebody asking for pictures, autographs, family history, and several new books right away.
I must give Dr. R. a fair trial, and if he fails I'll try Dr. B., just to make up the number of doctors to a round ten.
"Happy Thoughts" is very funny, especially the trip to Antwerp.
L. M. A.
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