IN MEMORIUM Lines written by Louisa M. Alcott on the death of her mother.
Mysterious death! who in a single hour Life's gold can so refine, And by thy art divine Change mortal weakness to immortal power! Bending beneath the weight of eighty years, Spent with the noble strife Of a victorious life, We watched her fading heavenward, through our tears. But ere the sense of loss our hearts had wrung, A miracle was wrought; And swift as happy thought She lived again,–brave, beautiful, and young. Age, pain, and sorrow dropped the veils they wore And showed the tender eyes Of angels in disguise, Whose discipline so patiently she bore. The past years brought their harvest rich and fair; While memory and love, Together, fondly wove A golden garland for the silver hair. How could we mourn like those who are bereft, When every pang of grief Found balm for its relief In counting up the treasures she had left?– Faith that withstood the shocks of toil and time; Hope that defied despair; Patience that conquered care; And loyalty, whose courage was sublime; The great deep heart that was a home for all,– Just, eloquent, and strong In protest against wrong; Wide charity, that knew no sin, no fall; The spartan spirit that made life so grand, Mating poor daily needs With high, heroic deeds, That wrested happiness from Fate's hard hand. We thought to weep, but sing for joy instead, Full of the grateful peace That follows her release; For nothing but the weary dust lies dead. Oh, noble woman! never more a queen Than in the laying down Of sceptre and of crown To win a greater kingdom, yet unseen; Teaching us how to seek the highest goal, To earn the true success,– To live, to love, to bless,– And make death proud to take a royal soul.
THE history of the next six years offers little variety of incident in Miss Alcott's busy life. She could not work at home in Concord as well as in some quiet lodging in Boston, where she was more free from interruption from visitors; but she spent her summers with her mother, often taking charge of the housekeeping. In 1872 she wrote "Work," one of her most successful books. She had begun it some time before, and originally called it "Success." It represents her own personal experience more than any other book. She says to a friend: "Christie's adventures are many of them my own; Mr. Power is Mr. Parker; Mrs. Wilkins is imaginary, and all the rest. This was begun at eighteen, and never finished till H. W. Beecher wrote to me for a serial for the 'Christian Union' in 1872, and paid $3,000 for it."
Miss Alcott again sent May to Europe in 1873 to finish her studies, and herself continued writing stories to pay the expenses of the family. The mother's serious illness weighed heavily on Louisa's heart, and through the summer of 1873 she was devoted to the invalid, rejoicing in her partial recovery, though sadly feeling that she would never be her bright energetic self again. Mrs. Alcott was able, however, to keep her birthday (October 8) pleasantly, and out of this experience came a story called "A Happy Birthday." This little tale paid for carriages for the invalid. It is included in "Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag."
Louisa and her mother decided to spend the winter in Boston, while Mr. Alcott was at the West. Her thoughts dwell much upon her father's life, and she is not content that he has not all the recognition and enjoyment that she would gladly give him. She helps her mother to perform the sacred duty of placing a tablet on Colonel May's grave, and the dear old lady recognizes that her life has gone down into the past, and says, "This isn't my Boston, and I never want to see it any more."
Louisa was at this time engaged in writing for "St. Nicholas" and "The Independent."
The return of the young artist, happy in her success, brings brightness to the home-circle. In the winter of 1875 Miss Alcott takes her old place at the Bellevue, where May can have her drawing-classes. She was herself ill, and the words, "No sleep without morphine!" tell the story of nervous suffering.
July, 1872.–May makes a lovely hostess, and I fly round behind the scenes, or skip out of the back window when ordered out for inspection by the inquisitive public. Hard work to keep things running smoothly, for this sight-seeing fiend is a new torment to us.
August.–May goes to Clark's Island for rest, having kept hotel long enough. I say "No," and shut the door. People must learn that authors have some rights; I can't entertain a dozen a day, and write the tales they demand also. I'm but a human worm, and when walked on must turn in self-defence.
Reporters sit on the wall and take notes; artists sketch me as I pick pears in the garden; and strange women interview Johnny as he plays in the orchard.
It looks like impertinent curiosity to me; but it is called "fame," and considered a blessing to be grateful for, I find. Let 'em try it.
September.–To Wolcott, with Father and Fred. A quaint, lovely old place is the little house on Spindle Hill, where the boy Amos dreamed the dreams that have come true at last.
Got hints for my novel, "The Cost of an Idea," if I ever find time to write it.
Don't wonder the boy longed to climb those hills, and see what lay beyond.
October.–Went to a room in Allston Street, in a quiet, old-fashioned house. I can't work at home, and need to be alone to spin, like a spider.
Rested; walked; to the theatre now and then. Home once a week with books, etc., for Marmee and Nan. Prepared "Shawl Straps" for Roberts.
November.–Forty on the 29th. Got Father off for the West, all neat and comfortable. I enjoyed every penny spent, and had a happy time packing his new trunk with warm flannels, neat shirts, gloves, etc., and seeing the dear man go off in a new suit, overcoat, hat, and all, like a gentleman. We both laughed over the pathetic old times with tears in our eyes, and I reminded him of the "poor as poverty, but serene as heaven" saying.
Something to do came just as I was trying to see what to take up, for work is my salvation. H. W. Beecher sent one of the editors of the "Christian Union" to ask for a serial story. They have asked before, and offered $2,000, which I refused; now they offered $3,000, and I accepted.
Got out the old manuscript of "Success," and called it "Work." Fired up the engine, and plunged into a vortex, with many doubts about getting out. Can't work slowly; the thing possesses me, and I must obey till it's done. One thousand dollars was sent as a seal on the bargain, so I was bound, and sat at the oar like a galley-slave.
F. wanted eight little tales, and offered $35 apiece; used to pay $10. Such is fame! At odd minutes I wrote the short ones, and so paid my own expenses. "Shawl Straps," Scrap-Bag, No. 2, came out, and went well.
Great Boston fire; up all night. Very splendid and terrible sight.
December.–Busy with "Work." Write three pages at once on impression paper, as Beecher, Roberts, and Low of London all want copy at once.
[This was the cause of the paralysis of my thumb, which disabled me for the rest of my life.–L. M. A.]
Nan and the boys came to visit me, and break up the winter. Rested a little, and played with them.
Father very busy and happy. On his birthday had a gold-headed cane given him. He is appreciated out there.
During these western trips, Mr. Alcott found that his daughter's fame added much to the warmth of his reception. On his return he loved to tell how he was welcomed as the "grandfather of 'Little Women.'" When he visited schools, he delighted the young audiences by satisfying their curiosity as to the author of their favorite book, and the truth of the characters and circumstances described in it.
Dear Marmee,–Had a very transcendental day yesterday, and at night my head was "swelling wisibly" with the ideas cast into it.
The club was a funny mixture of rabbis and weedy old ladies, the "oversoul" and oysters. Papa and B. flew clean out of sight like a pair of Platonic balloons, and we tried to follow, but couldn't.
In the p.m. went to R. W. E.'s reading. All the literary birds were out in full feather. This "'umble" worm was treated with distinguished condescension. Dr. B. gave me his noble hand to press, and murmured compliments with the air of a bishop bestowing a benediction. Dear B. beamed upon me from the depths of his funny little cloak and said, "We are getting on well, ain't we?" W. bowed his Jewish head, and rolled his fine eye at me. Several dreadful women purred about me, and I fled.
M. said what I liked,–that he'd sent my works to his mother, and the good old lady told him to tell me that she couldn't do a stroke of work, but just sat and read 'em right through; she wished she was young so as to have a long life in which to keep on enjoying such books. The peacock liked that.
I have paid all my own expenses out of the money earned by my little tales; so I have not touched the family income.
Didn't mean to write; but it has been an expensive winter, and my five hundred has made me all right. The $500 I lent K. makes a difference in the income; but I could not refuse her, she was so kind in the old hard times.
At the reading a man in front of me sat listening and knitting his brows for a time, but had to give it up and go to sleep. After it was over some one said to him, "Well, what do you think of it?" "It's all very fine I have no doubt; but I'm blessed if I can understand a word of it," was the reply....
The believers glow when the oracle is stuck, rustle and beam when he is audible, and nod and smile as if they understood perfectly when he murmurs under the desk! We are a foolish set!
January, 1873.–Getting on well with "Work;" have to go slowly now for fear of a break-down. All well at home.
A week at Newport with Miss Jane Stewart. Dinners, balls, calls, etc. Saw Higginson and "H. H." Soon tired of gayety, and glad to get home to my quiet den and pen.
Roberts Brothers paid me $2,022 for books. S. E. S. invested most of it, with the $1,000 F. sent. Gave C. M. $100,–a thank-offering for my success. I like to help the class of "silent poor" to which we belonged for so many years,–needy, but respectable, and forgotten because too proud to beg. Work difficult to find for such people, and life made very hard for want of a little money to ease the necessary needs.
February and March.–Anna very ill with pneumonia; home to nurse her. Father telegraphed to come home, as we thought her dying. She gave me her boys; but the dear saint got well, and kept the lads for herself. Thank God!
Back to my work with what wits nursing left me.
Had Johnny for a week, to keep all quiet at home. Enjoyed the sweet little soul very much, and sent him back much better.
Finished "Work,"–twenty chapters. Not what it should be,–too many interruptions. Should like to do one book in peace, and see if it wouldn't be good.
April–The job being done I went home to take May's place. Gave her $1,000, and sent her to London for a year of study. She sailed on the 26th, brave and happy and hopeful. I felt that she needed it, and was glad to be able to help her.
I spent seven months in Boston; wrote a book and ten tales; earned $3,250 by my pen, and am satisfied with my winter's work.
May.–D. F. wanted a dozen little tales, and agreed to pay $50 apiece, if I give up other things for this. Said I would, as I can do two a day, and keep house between times. Cleaned and grubbed, and didn't mind the change. Let head rest, and heels and feet do the work.
Cold and dull; but the thought of May free and happy was my comfort as I messed about.
June and July.–Settled the servant question by getting a neat American woman to cook and help me with the housework.
Peace fell upon our troubled souls, and all went well. Good meals, tidy house, cheerful service, and in the p.m. an intelligent young person to read and sew with us.
It was curious how she came to us. She had taught and sewed, and was tired, and wanted something else; decided to try for a housekeeper's place, but happened to read "Work," and thought she'd do as Christie did,–take anything that came.
I was the first who answered her advertisement, and when she found I wrote the book, she said, "I'll go and see if Miss A. practises as she preaches."
She found I did, and we had a good time together. My new helper did so well I took pale Johnny to the seaside for a week; but was sent for in haste, as poor Marmee was very ill. Mental bewilderment came after one of her heart troubles (the dropsy affected the brain), and for three weeks we had a sad time. Father and I took care of her, and my good A. S. kept house nicely and faithfully for me.
Marmee slowly came back to herself, but sadly feeble,–never to be our brave, energetic leader any more. She felt it, and it was hard to convince her that there was no need of her doing anything but rest.
August, September, October.–Mother improved steadily. Father went to the Alcott festival in Walcott, A. and boys to Conway for a month; and it did them all much good.
I had quiet days with Marmee; drove with her, and had the great pleasure of supplying all her needs and fancies.
May busy and happy in London. A merry time on Mother's birthday, October 8. All so glad to have her still here; for it seemed as if we were to lose her.
Made a little story of it for F.,–"A Happy Birthday."–and spent the $50 in carriages for her.
November and December.–Decided that it was best not to try a cold, lonely winter in C., but go to B. with Mother, Nan, and boys, and leave Father free for the West.
Took sunny rooms at the South End, near the Park, so the lads could play out and Marmee walk. She enjoyed the change, and sat at her window watching people, horse-cars, and sparrows with great interest. Old friends came to see her, and she was happy. Found a nice school for the boys; and Nan enjoyed her quiet days.
January, 1874.–Mother quite ill this month. Dr. Wesselhoeft does his best for the poor old body, now such a burden to her. The slow decline has begun, and she knows it, having nursed her mother to the same end.
Father disappointed and rather sad, to be left out of so much that he would enjoy and should be asked to help and adorn. A little more money, a pleasant house and time to attend to it, and I'd bring all the best people to see and entertain him. When I see so much twaddle going on I wonder those who can don't get up something better, and have really good things.
When I had the youth I had no money; now I have the money I have no time; and when I get the time, if I ever do, I shall have no health to enjoy life. I suppose it's the discipline I need; but it's rather hard to love the things I do and see them go by because duty chains me to my galley. If I come into port at last with all sail set that will be reward perhaps.
Life always was a puzzle to me, and gets more mysterious as I go on. I shall find it out by and by and see that it's all right, if I can only keep brave and patient to the end.
May still in London painting Turners, and doing pretty panels as "pot-boilers." They sell well, and she is a thrifty child. Good luck to our mid-summer girl.
February.–Father has several conversations at the Clubs and Societies and Divinity School. No one pays anything; but they seem glad to listen. There ought to be a place for him.
Nan busy with her boys, and they doing well at school,–good, gay, and intelligent; a happy mother and most loving little sons.
I wrote two tales, and got $200. Saw Charles Kingsley,–a pleasant man. His wife has Alcott relations, and likes my books. Asked us to come and see him in England; is to bring his daughters to Concord by and by.
March.–May came home with a portfolio full of fine work. Must have worked like a busy bee to have done so much.
Very happy in her success; for she has proved her talent, having copied Turner so well that Ruskin (meeting her in the National Gallery at work) told her that she had "caught Turner's spirit wonderfully." She has begun to copy Nature, and done well. Lovely sketches of the cloisters in Westminster Abbey, and other charming things.
I write a story for all my men, and make up the $1,000 I planned to earn by my "pot-boilers" before we go back to C.
A tablet to Grandfather May is put in Stone Chapel, and one Sunday a.m. we take Mother to see it. A pathetic sight to see Father walk up the broad aisle with the feeble old wife on his arm as they went to be married nearly fifty years ago. Mother sat alone in the old pew a little while and sung softly the old hymns; for it was early, and only the sexton there. He asked who she was and said his father was sexton in Grandfather's time.
Several old ladies came in and knew Mother. She broke down thinking of the time when she and her mother and sisters and father and brothers all went to church together, and we took her home saying, "This isn't my Boston; all my friends are gone; I never want to see it any more."
[She never did.–L. M. A.]
April and May.–Back to Concord, after May and I had put all in fine order and made the old house lovely with her pictures. When all were settled, with May to keep house, I went to B. for rest, and took a room in Joy Street.
The Elgin Watch Company offered me a gold watch or $100 for a tale. Chose the money, and wrote the story "My Rococo Watch" for them.
October.–Took two nice rooms at the Hotel Bellevue for the winter; May to use one for her classes. Tried to work on my book, but was in such pain could not do much. Got no sleep without morphine. Tried old Dr. Hewett, who was sure he could cure the woe....
November.–Funny time with the publishers about the tale; for all wanted it at once, and each tried to outbid the other for an unwritten story. I rather enjoyed it, and felt important with Roberts, Low, and Scribner all clamoring for my "'umble" works. No peddling poor little manuscripts now, and feeling rich with $10. The golden goose can sell her eggs for a good price, if she isn't killed by too much driving.
December.–Better and busier than last month.
All well at home, and Father happy among his kind Westerners. Finish "Eight Cousins," and get ready to do the temperance tale, for F. offers $700 for six chapters,–"Silver Pitchers."
January, 1875.– ... Father flourishing about the Western cities, "riding in Louisa's chariot, and adored as the grandfather of 'Little Women,'" he says.
February.–Finish my tale and go to Vassar College on a visit. See M. M., talk with four hundred girls, write in stacks of albums and school-books, and kiss every one who asks me. Go to New York; am rather lionized, and run away; but things look rather jolly, and I may try a winter there some time, as I need a change and new ideas.
March.–Home again, getting ready for the centennial fuss.
April.–On the 19th a grand celebration. General break-down, owing to an unwise desire to outdo all the other towns; too many people....
Miss Alcott was very much interested in the question of Woman Suffrage, and exerted herself to get up a meeting in Concord. The subject was then very unpopular, and there was an ill-bred effort to destroy the meeting by noise and riot. Although not fond of speaking in public, she always put herself bravely on the side of the unpopular cause, and lent to it all the argument of her heroic life. When Mrs. Livermore lectured at Concord, Miss Alcott sat up all night talking with her on the great question. She had an opportunity of trying which was most exhausting, abuse or admiration, when she went to a meeting of the Women's Congress at Syracuse, in October. She was introduced to the audience by Mrs. Livermore, and the young people crowded about her like bees about a honeycomb. She was waylaid in the streets, petitioned for autographs, kissed by gushing young maidens, and made emphatically the lion of the hour. It was all so genial and spontaneous, that she enjoyed the fun. No amount of adulation ever affected the natural simplicity of her manners. She neither despised nor overrated her fame; but was glad of it as a proof of success in what she was ever aiming to do. She spent a few weeks in New York enjoying the gay and literary society which was freely opened to her; but finding most satisfaction in visiting the Tombs, Newsboys' Home, and Randall's Island, for she liked these things better than parties and dinners.
June, July, August, 1875.–Kept house at home, with two Irish incapables to trot after, and ninety-two guests in one month to entertain. Fame is an expensive luxury. I can do without it. This is my worst scrape, I think. I asked for bread, and got a stone,–in the shape of a pedestal.
September and October, 1875.–I go to Woman's Congress in Syracuse, and see Niagara. Funny time with the girls.
Write loads of autographs, dodge at the theatre, and am kissed to death by gushing damsels. One energetic lady grasped my hand in the crowd, exclaiming, "If you ever come to Oshkosh, your feet will not be allowed to touch the ground: you will be borne in the arms of the people! Will you come?" "Never," responded Miss A., trying to look affable, and dying to laugh as the good soul worked my arm like a pump-handle, and from the gallery generations of girls were looking on. "This, this, is fame!"
November, December.–Take a room at Bath Hotel, New York, and look about me. Miss Sally Holly is here, and we go about together. She tells me much of her life among the freedmen, and Mother is soon deep in barrels of clothes, food, books, etc., for Miss A. to take back with her.
See many people, and am very gay for a country-mouse. Society unlike either London or Boston.
Go to Sorosis, and to Mrs. Botta's, O. B. Frothingham's, Miss Booth's, and Mrs. Croly's receptions.
Visit the Tombs, Newsboys' Home, and Randall's Island on Christmas Day with Mrs. Gibbons. A memorable day. Make a story of it. Enjoy these things more than the parties and dinners.
To Mrs. Dodge.
New York, Oct. 5, 1875.
Dear Mrs. Dodge,–So far, New York seems inviting, though I have not seen or done much but "gawk round" as the country folks do. I have seen Niagara, and 278 enjoyed my vacation very much, especially the Woman's Congress in Syracuse. I was made a member, so have the honor to sign myself,
L. M. Alcott, M. C.
To her Father.
New York, Nov. 26, 1875.
Dear Seventy-six,–As I have nothing else to send you on our joint birthday, I'll despatch a letter about some of the people I have lately seen in whom you take an interest.
Tuesday we heard Gough on "Blunders," and it was very good,–both witty and wise, earnest and sensible. Wednesday eve to Mr. Frothingham's for his Fraternity Club meeting. Pleasant people. Ellen F.; Abby Sage Richardson, a very lovely woman; young Putnam and wife; Mrs. Stedman; Mattie G. and her spouse, Dr. B., who read a lively story of Mormon life; Mrs. Dodge; O. Johnson and wife, and many more whose names I forget.
After the story the given subject for discussion was brought up,–"Conformity and Noncomformity." Mr. B., a promising young lawyer, led one side, Miss B. the other, and Mr. F. was in the chair. It was very lively; and being called upon, I piped up, and went in for nonconformity when principle was concerned. Got patted on the head for my remarks, and didn't disgrace myself except by getting very red and talking fast.
Ellen F. was very pleasant, and asked much about May. Proudly I told of our girl's achievements, and E. hoped she would come to New York. Mrs. Richardson was presented, and we had some agreeable chat. She is a great friend of O. B. F., and is lecturing here on "Literature." Shall go and hear her, as she is coming to see me.
O. B. F. was as polished and clear and cool and witty as usual; most gracious to the "'umble" Concord worm; and Mrs. F. asked me to come and see them.
Yesterday took a drive with Sally H. in Central Park as it was fine, and she had no fun on her Thanksgiving. I dined at Mrs. Botta's, for she kindly came and asked me. Had a delightful time, and felt as if I'd been to Washington; for Professor Byng, a German ex-consul, was there, full of Capitol gossip about Sumner and all the great beings that there do congregate. Mr. Botta you know,–a handsome, long-haired Italian, very cultivated and affable.
Also about Lord H., whom B. thought "an amiable old woman," glad to say pretty things, and fond of being lionized. Byng knew Rose and Una, and asked about them; also told funny tales of Victor Emmanuel and his Court, and queer adventures in Greece, where he, B., was a consul, or something official. It was a glimpse into a new sort of world; and as the man was very accomplished, elegant, and witty, I enjoyed it much.
We had music later, and saw some fine pictures. Durant knew Miss Thackeray, J. Ingelow, and other English people whom I did, so we had a good dish of gossip with Mrs. Botta, while the others talked three or four languages at once.
It is a delightful house, and I shall go as often as I may, for it is the sort of thing I like much better than B. H. and champagne.
To-night we go to hear Bradlaugh; to-morrow, a new play; Sunday, Frothingham and Bellows; and Monday, Mrs. Richardson and Shakespeare.
But it isn't all play, I assure you. I'm a thrifty butterfly, 280 and have written three stories. The "G." has paid for the little Christmas tale; the "I." has "Letty's Tramp;" and my "girl paper" for "St. Nick" is about ready. Several other papers are waiting for tales, so I have a ballast of work to keep me steady in spite of much fun.
Mr. Powell has been twice to see me, and we go to visit the charities of New York next week. I like to see both sides, and generally find the busy people most interesting.
So far I like New York very much, and feel so well I shall stay on till I'm tired of it. People begin to tell me how much better I look than when I came, and I have not an ache to fret over. This, after such a long lesson in bodily ails, is a blessing for which I am duly grateful.
Hope all goes well with you, and that I shall get a line now and then. I'll keep them for you to bind up by and by instead of mine....
We can buy a carriage some other time, and a barn likewise, and a few other necessities of life. Rosa has proved such a good speculation we shall dare to let May venture another when the ship comes in. I am glad the dear "rack-a-bones" is a comfort to her mistress, only don't let her break my boy's bones by any antics when she feels her oats.
I suppose you are thinking of Wilson just now, and his quiet slipping away to the heavenly council chambers where the good senators go. Rather like Sumner's end, wasn't it? No wife or children, only men and servants. Wilson was such a genial, friendly soul I should have thought he would have felt the loneliness very much. Hope if he left any last wishes his mates will carry them out faithfully....
Now, dear Plato, the Lord bless you, and keep you serene and happy for as many years as He sees fit, and me likewise, to be a comfort as well as a pride to you.
Ever your loving
To her Nephews.
New York, Dec. 4, 1875.
Dear Fred and Donny,–We went to see the news-boys, and I wish you'd been with us, it was so interesting. A nice big house has been built for them, with dining-room and kitchen on the first floor, bath-rooms and school-room next, two big sleeping-places,–third and fourth stories,–and at the top a laundry and gymnasium. We saw all the tables set for breakfast,–a plate and bowl for each,–and in the kitchen great kettles, four times as big as our copper boiler, for tea and coffee, soup, and meat. They have bread and meat and coffee for breakfast, and bread and cheese and tea for supper, and get their own dinners out. School was just over when we got there, and one hundred and eighty boys were in the immense room with desks down the middle, and all around the walls were little cupboards numbered. Each boy on coming in gives his name, pays six cents, gets a key, and puts away his hat, books, and jacket (if he has 'em) in his own cubby for the night. They pay five cents for supper, and schooling, baths, etc., are free. They were a smart-looking set, larking round in shirts and trousers, barefooted, but the faces were clean, and the heads smooth, and clothes pretty decent; yet they support themselves, for not one of them has any parents or home but this. One little chap, only six, was trotting round as busy as a bee, locking up his small shoes and ragged jacket as if they were great treasures. I asked about little Pete, and the man told us his brother, only nine, supported him and took care of him entirely; and wouldn't let Pete be sent away to any home, because he wished to have "his family" with him.
Think of that, Fred! How would it seem to be all alone in a big city, with no mamma to cuddle you; no two grandpa's houses to take you in; not a penny but what you earned, and Donny to take care of? Could you do it? Nine-year-old Patsey does it capitally; buys Pete's clothes, pays for his bed and supper, and puts pennies in the savings-bank. There's a brave little man for you! I wanted to see him; but he is a newsboy, and sells late papers, because, though harder work, it pays better, and the coast is clear for those who do it.
The savings-bank was a great table all full of slits, each one leading to a little place below and numbered outside, so each boy knew his own. Once a month the bank is opened, and the lads take out what they like, or have it invested in a big bank for them to have when they find homes out West, as many do, and make good farmers. One boy was putting in some pennies as we looked, and I asked how much he had saved this month. "Fourteen dollars, ma'am," says the thirteen-year-older, proudly slipping in the last cent. A prize of $3 is offered to the lad who saves the most in a month.
The beds upstairs were in two immense rooms, ever so much larger than our town hall,–one hundred in one, and one hundred and eighty in another,–all narrow beds with a blue quilt, neat pillow, and clean sheet. They are built in long rows, one over another, and the upper boy has to climb up as on board ship. I'd have liked to see one hundred and eighty all in their "by-lows" at once, and I asked the man if they didn't train when all were in. "Lord, ma'am, they're up at five, poor little chaps, and are so tired at night that they drop off right away. Now and then some boy kicks up a little row, but we have a watchman, and he soon settles 'em."
He also told me how that very day a neat, smart young man came in, and said he was one of their boys who went West with a farmer only a little while ago; and now he owned eighty acres of land, had a good house, and was doing well, and had come to New York to find his sister, and to take her away to live with him. Wasn't that nice? Lots of boys do as well. Instead of loafing round the streets and getting into mischief, they are taught to be tidy, industrious, and honest, and then sent away into the wholesome country to support themselves.
It was funny to see 'em scrub in the bath-room,–feet and faces,–comb their hair, fold up their old clothes in the dear cubbies, which make them so happy because they feel that they own something.
The man said every boy wanted one, even though he had neither shoes nor jacket to put in it; but would lay away an old rag of a cap or a dirty tippet with an air of satisfaction fine to see. Some lads sat reading, and the man said they loved it so they'd read all night, if allowed. At nine he gave the word, "Bed!" and away went the lads, trooping up to sleep in shirts and trousers, as nightgowns are not provided. How would a boy I know like that,–a boy who likes to have "trommin" on his nighties? Of course, I don't mean dandy Don! Oh, dear no!
After nine [if late in coming in] they are fined five cents; after ten, ten cents; and after eleven they can't come in at all. This makes them steady, keeps them out of harm, and gives them time for study. Some go to the theatre, and sleep anywhere; some sleep at the Home, but go out for a better breakfast than they get there, as the swell ones are fond of goodies, and live well in their funny way. Coffee and cakes at Fulton Market is "the tip-top grub," and they often spend all their day's earnings in a play and a supper, and sleep in boxes or cellars after it.
Lots of pussies were round the kitchen; and one black one I called a bootblack, and a gray kit that yowled loud was a newsboy. That made some chaps laugh, and they nodded at me as I went out. Nice boys! but I know some nicer ones. Write and tell me something about my poor Squabby.
To her Family.
Saturday Evening, Dec. 25, 1875.
Dear Family,– ... I had only time for a word this a.m., as the fourth letter was from Mrs. P. to say they could not go; so I trotted off in the fog at ten to the boat, and there found Mr. and Mrs. G. and piles of goodies for the poor children. She is a dear little old lady in a close, Quakerish bonnet and plain suit, but wide-awake and full of energy. It was grand to see her tackle the big mayor and a still bigger commissioner, and tell them what ought to be done for the poor things on the Island, as they are to be routed; for the city wants the land for some dodge or other. Both men fled soon, for the brave little woman was down on 'em in a way that would have made Marmee cry "Ankore!" and clap her dress-gloves to rags.
When the rotundities had retired, she fell upon a demure priest, and read him a sermon; and then won the heart of a boyish reporter so entirely that he stuck to us all day, and helped serve out dolls and candy like a man and a brother. Long life to him!
Mr. G. and I discussed pauperism and crime like two old wiseacres; and it was sweet to hear the gray-headed couple say "thee" and "thou," "Abby" and "James," to one another, he following with the bundles wherever the little poke-bonnet led the way. I've had a pretty good variety of Christmases in my day, but never one like this before. First we drove in an old ramshackle hack to the chapel, whither a boy had raced before us, crying joyfully to all he met, "She's come! Miss G.–she's come!" And all faces beamed, as well they might, since for thirty years she has gone to make set after set of little forlornities happy on this day.
The chapel was full. On one side, in front, girls in blue gowns and white pinafores; on the other, small chaps in pinafores likewise; and behind them, bigger boys in gray suits with cropped heads, and larger girls with ribbons in their hair and pink calico gowns. They sang alternately; the girls gave "Juanita" very well, the little chaps a pretty song about poor children asking a "little white angel" to leave the gates of heaven ajar, so they could peep in, if no more. Quite pathetic, coming from poor babies who had no home but this.
The big boys spoke pieces, and I was amused when one bright lad in gray, with a red band on his arm, spoke the lines I gave G.,–"Merry Christmas." No one knew me, so I had the joke to myself; and I found afterward that I was taken for the mayoress, who was expected. Then we drove to the hospital, and there the heart-ache began, for me at least, so sad it was to see these poor babies, born of want and sin, suffering every sort of deformity, disease, and pain. Cripples half blind, scarred with scrofula, burns, and abuse,–it was simply awful and indescribable!
As we went in, I with a great box of dolls and the young reporter with a bigger box of candy, a general cry of delight greeted us. Some children tried to run, half-blind ones stretched out their groping hands, little ones crawled, and big ones grinned, while several poor babies sat up in their bed, beckoning us to "come quick."
One poor mite, so eaten up with sores that its whole face was painted with some white salve,–its head covered with an oilskin cap; one eye gone, and the other half filmed over; hands bandaged, and ears bleeding,–could only moan and move its feet till I put a gay red dolly in one hand and a pink candy in the other; then the dim eye brightened, the hoarse voice said feebly, "Tanky, lady!" and I left it contentedly sucking the sweetie, and trying to see its dear new toy. It can't see another Christmas, and I like to think I helped make this one happy, even for a minute.
It was pleasant to watch the young reporter trot round with the candy-box, and come up to me all interest to say, "One girl hasn't got a doll, ma'am, and looks so disappointed."
After the hospital, we went to the idiot house; and there I had a chance to see faces and figures that will haunt me a long time. A hundred or so of half-grown boys and girls ranged down a long hall, a table of toys in the middle, and an empty one for Mrs. G.'s gifts. A cheer broke out as the little lady hurried in waving her handkerchief and a handful of gay bead necklaces, and "Oh! Ohs!" followed the appearance of the doll-lady and the candy man.
A pile of gay pictures was a new idea, and Mrs. G. told me to hold up some bright ones and see if the poor innocents would understand and enjoy them. I held up one of two kittens lapping spilt milk, and the girls began 287 to mew and say "Cat! ah, pretty." Then a fine horse, and the boys bounced on their benches with pleasure; while a ship in full sail produced a cheer of rapture from them all.
Some were given out to the good ones, and the rest are to be pinned round the room; so the pictures were a great success. All wanted dolls, even boys of nineteen; for all were children in mind. But the girls had them, and young women of eighteen cuddled their babies and were happy. The boys chose from the toy-table, and it was pathetic to see great fellows pick out a squeaking dog without even the wit to pinch it when it was theirs. One dwarf of thirty-five chose a little Noah's ark, and brooded over it in silent bliss.
Some with beards sucked their candy, and stared at a toy cow or box of blocks as if their cup was full. One French girl sang the Marseillaise in a feeble voice, and was so overcome by her new doll that she had an epileptic fit on the spot, which made two others go off likewise; and a slight pause took place while they were kindly removed to sleep it off.
A little tot of four, who hadn't sense to put candy in its mouth, was so fond of music that when the girls sang the poor vacant face woke up, and a pair of lovely soft hazel eyes stopped staring dully at nothing, and went wandering to and fro with light in them, as if to find the only sound that can reach its poor mind.
I guess I gave away two hundred dolls, and a soap-box of candy was empty when we left. But rows of sticky faces beamed at us, and an array of gay toys wildly waved after us, as if we were angels who had showered goodies on the poor souls.
Pauper women are nurses; and Mrs. G. says the babies die like sheep, many being deserted so young nothing can be hoped or done for them. One of the teachers in the idiot home was a Miss C., who remembered Nan at Dr. Wilbur's. Very lady-like, and all devotion to me. But such a life! Oh, me! Who can lead it, and not go mad?
At four, we left and came home, Mrs. G. giving a box of toys and sweeties on board the boat for the children of the men who run it. So leaving a stream of blessings and pleasures behind her, the dear old lady drove away, simply saying, "There now, I shall feel better for the next year!" Well she may; bless her!
She made a speech to the chapel children after the Commissioner had prosed in the usual way, and she told 'em that she should come as long as she could, and when she was gone her children would still keep it up in memory of her; so for thirty years more she hoped this, their one holiday, would be made happy for them. I could have hugged her on the spot, the motherly old dear!
Next Wednesday we go to the Tombs, and some day I am to visit the hospital with her, for I like this better than parties, etc.
I got home at five, and then remembered that I'd had no lunch; so I took an apple till six, when I discovered that all had dined at one so the helpers could go early this evening. Thus my Christmas day was without dinner or presents, for the first time since I can remember. Yet it has been a very memorable day, and I feel as if I'd had a splendid feast seeing the poor babies wallow in turkey soup, and that every gift I put into their hands had come back to me in the dumb delight of their unchild-like faces trying to smile.
After the pleasant visit in New York, Miss Alcott returned to Boston, where she went into society 289 more than usual, often attending clubs, theatres, and receptions. She was more lionized than ever, and had a natural pleasure in the attention she received.
The summer of 1876 she spent at Concord, nursing her mother, who was very ill. She here wrote "Rose in Bloom," the sequel to "Eight Cousins," in three weeks. It was published in November.
Louisa was anxious that her sister should have a home for her young family. Mrs. Pratt invested what she could of her husband's money in the purchase, and Louisa contributed the rest. This was the so-called Thoreau House on the main street in Concord, which became Mrs. Pratt's home, and finally that of her father.
Louisa spent the summer of 1877 in Concord. Her mother's illness increased, and she was herself very ill in August. Yet she wrote this summer one of her brightest and sweetest stories, "Under the Lilacs." Her love of animals is specially apparent in this book, and she records going to the circus to make studies for the performing dog Sanch.
During the winter of 1877, Miss Alcott went to the Bellevue for some weeks, and having secured the necessary quiet, devoted herself to the writing of a novel for the famous No Name Series published by Roberts Brothers. This book had been in her mind for some time, as is seen by the journal. As it was to appear anonymously, and was not intended for children, she was able to depart from her usual manner, and indulge the weird and lurid fancies which took possession of her in her dramatic days, and when writing sensational stories. She was much interested, and must have written it very rapidly, as it was published in April. She enjoyed the excitement of her incognito, and was much amused at the guesses of critics and friends, who attributed the book to others, and were sure Louisa Alcott did not write it, because its style was so unlike hers.
It certainly is very unlike the books Miss Alcott had lately written. It has nothing of the home-like simplicity and charm of "Little Women," "Old-Fashioned Girl," and the other stories with which she was delighting the children, and, with "Moods," must always be named as exceptional when speaking of her works. Still, a closer study of her life and nature will reveal much of her own tastes and habits of thought in the book; and it is evident that she wrote con amore, and was fascinated by the familiars she evoked, however little charm they may seem to possess to others. She was fond of Hawthorne's books. The influence of his subtle and weird romances is undoubtedly perceptible in the book, and it is not strange that it was attributed to his son. She says it had been simmering in her brain ever since she read "Faust" the year before; and she clearly wished to work according to Goethe's thought,–that the Prince of Darkness was a gentleman, and must be represented as belonging to the best society.
The plot is powerful and original. A young poet, with more ambition than genius or self-knowledge, finds himself, at nineteen, friendless, penniless, and hopeless, and is on the point of committing suicide. He is saved by Helwyze, a middle-aged man, who has been severely crippled by a terrible fall, and his heart seared by the desertion of the woman he loved. A man of intellect, power, imagination, and wealth, but incapable of conscientious feeling or true love, he is a dangerous savior for the impulsive poet; but he takes him to his home, warms, feeds, and shelters him, and promises to bring out his book. The brilliant, passionate woman who gave up her lover when his health and beauty were gone, returned to him when youth had passed, and would gladly have devoted herself to soothing his pain and enriching his life. Her feeling is painted with delicacy and tenderness.
But Helwyze's heart knew nothing of the divine quality of forgiveness; for his love there was no resurrection; and he only valued the power he could exercise over a brilliant woman, and the intellectual entertainment she could bring him. A sweet young girl, Olivia's protegee, completes the very limited dramatis personæ.
The young poet, Felix Canaris, under the guidance of his new friend, wins fame, success, and the young girl's heart; but his wayward fancy turns rather to the magnificent Olivia. The demoniac Helwyze works upon this feeling, and claims of Olivia her fair young friend Gladys as a wife for Felix, who is forced to accept her at the hands of his master. She is entirely responsive to the love which she fancies she has won, and is grateful for her fortunate lot, and devotes herself to the comfort and happiness of the poor invalid who delights in her beauty and grace. For a time Felix 292 enjoys a society success, to which his charming wife, as well as his book, contribute. But at last this excitement flags. He writes another book, which he threatens to burn because he is dissatisfied with it. Gladys entreats him to spare it, and Helwyze offers to read it to her. She is overcome and melted with emotion at the passion and pathos of the story; and when Helwyze asks, "Shall I burn it?" Felix answers, "No!" Again the book brings success and admiration, but the tender wife sees that it does not insure happiness, and that her husband is plunging into the excitement of gambling.
The demon Helwyze has complete control over the poet, which he exercises with such subtle tyranny that the young man is driven to the dreadful thought of murder to escape from him; but he is saved from the deed by the gentle influence of his wife, who has won his heart at last, unconscious that it had not always been hers.
Helwyze finds his own punishment. One being resists his power,–Gladys breathes his poisoned atmosphere unharmed. He sends for Olivia as his ally to separate the wife from her husband's love. A passion of curiosity possesses him to read her very heart; and at last he resorts to a strange means to accomplish his purpose. He gives her an exciting drug without her knowledge, and under its influence she speaks and acts with a rare genius which calls forth the admiration of all the group. Left alone with her, Helwyze exercises his magnetic power to draw forth the secrets of her heart; but he reads there only a pure and true love for her husband, and fear of the unhallowed passion which he is cherishing. The secret of his power over the husband is at last revealed. Canaris has published as his own the work of Helwyze, and all the fame and glory he has received has been won by deceit, and is a miserable mockery.
The tragic result is inevitable. Gladys dies under the pressure of a burden too heavy for her,–the knowledge of deceit in him she had loved and trusted; while the stricken Helwyze is paralyzed, and lives henceforth only a death in life.
With all the elements of power and beauty in this singular book, it fails to charm and win the heart of the reader. The circumstances are in a romantic setting, but still they are prosaic; and tragedy is only endurable when taken up into the region of the ideal, where the thought of the universal rounds out all traits of the individual. In Goethe's Faust, Margaret is the sweetest and simplest of maidens; but in her is the life of all wronged and suffering womanhood.
The realism which is delightful in the pictures of little women and merry boys is painful when connected with passions so morbid and lives so far removed from joy and sanity. As in her early dramas and sensational stories, we do not find Louisa Alcott's own broad, generous, healthy life, or that which lay around her, in this book, but the reminiscences of her reading, which she had striven to make her own by invention and fancy.
This note refers to "A Modern Mephistopheles":–
Dear Mr. Niles,–I had to keep the proof longer than I meant because a funeral came in the way.
The book as last sent is lovely, and much bigger than I expected.
Poor "Marmee," ill in bed, hugged it, and said, "It is perfect! only I do wish your name could be on it." She is very proud of it; and tender-hearted Anna weeps and broods over it, calling Gladys the best and sweetest character I ever did. So much for home opinion; now let's see what the public will say.
May clamors for it; but I don't want to send this till she has had one or two of the others. Have you sent her "Is That All?" If not, please do; then it won't look suspicious to send only "M. M."
I am so glad the job is done, and hope it won't disgrace the series. Is not another to come before this? I hope so; for many people suspect what is up, and I could tell my fibs about No. 6 better if it was not mine.
Thanks for the trouble you have taken to keep the secret. Now the fun will begin.
L. M. A.
P. S.–Bean's expressman grins when he hands in the daily parcel. He is a Concord man.
By Louisa's help the younger sister again went abroad in 1876; and her bright affectionate letters cheered the little household, much saddened by the mother's illness.
January, 1876.–Helped Mrs. Croly receive two hundred gentlemen.
A letter from Baron Tauchnitz asking leave to put my book in his foreign library, and sending 600 marks to pay for it. Said, "Yes, thank you, Baron."
Went to Philadelphia to see Cousin J. May installed in Dr. Furness's pulpit. Dull place is Philadelphia. Heard Beecher preach; did not like him....
Went home on the 21st, finding I could not work here. Soon tire of being a fine lady.
February and March.–Took a room in B., and fell to work on short tales for F. T. N. wanted a centennial story; but my frivolous New York life left me no ideas. Went to Centennial Ball at Music Hall, and got an idea.
Wrote a tale of "'76," which with others will make a catchpenny book. Mother poorly, so I go home to nurse her.
April, May, and June.–Mother better. Nan and boys go to P. farm. May and I clean the old house. It seems as if the dust of two centuries haunted the ancient mansion, and came out spring and fall in a ghostly way for us to clear up.
Great freshets and trouble.
Exposition in Philadelphia; don't care to go. America ought to pay her debts before she gives parties. "Silver Pitchers," etc., comes out, and goes well. Poor stuff; but the mill must keep on grinding even chaff.
June.–Lovely month! Keep hotel and wait on Marmee.
Try to get up steam for a new serial, as Mrs. Dodge wants one, and Scribner offers $3,000 for it. Roberts Brothers want a novel; and the various newspapers and magazines clamor for tales. My brain is squeezed dry, and I can only wait for help.
July, August.–Get an idea and start "Rose in Bloom," though I hate sequels.
September.–On the 9th my dear girl sails in the "China" for a year in London or Paris. God be with her! She has done her distasteful duty faithfully, and deserved a reward. She cannot find the help she needs here, and is happy and busy in her own world over there.
[She never came home.–L. M. A.]
November.–"Rose" comes out; sells well.
... Forty-four years old. My new task gets on slowly; but I keep at it, and can be a prop, if not an angel, in the house, as Nan is.
December.–Miss P. sends us a pretty oil sketch of May,–so like the dear soul in her violet wrapper, with yellow curls piled up, and the long hand at work. Mother delights in it.
She (M.) is doing finely, and says, "I am getting on, and I feel as if it was not all a mistake; for I have some talent, and will prove it." Modesty is a sign of genius, and I think our girl has both. The money I invest in her pays the sort of interest I like. I am proud to have her show what she can do, and have her depend upon no one but me. Success to little Raphael! My dull winter is much cheered by her happiness and success.
January, February, 1877.–The year begins well. Nan keeps house; boys fine, tall lads, good and gay; Father busy with his new book; Mother cosey with her sewing, letters, Johnson, and success of her "girls."
Went for some weeks to the Bellevue, and wrote "A Modern Mephistopheles" for the No Name Series. It has been simmering ever since I read Faust last year. Enjoyed doing it, being tired of providing moral pap for the young. Long to write a novel, but cannot get time enough.
May's letters our delight. She is so in earnest she will not stop for pleasure, rest, or society, but works away like a Trojan. Her work admired by masters and mates for its vigor and character.
March.–Begin to think of buying the Thoreau place for Nan. The $4,000 received from the Vt. and Eastern R. Rs. must be invested, and she wants a home of her own, now the lads are growing up.
Mother can be with her in the winter for a change, and leave me free to write in B. Concord has no inspiration for me.
April.–May, at the request of her teacher, M. Muller, sends a study of still life to the Salon. The little picture is accepted, well hung, and praised by the judges. No friend at court, and the modest work stood on its own merits. She is very proud to see her six months' hard work bear fruit. A happy girl, and all say she deserves the honor.
"M. M." appears and causes much guessing. It is praised and criticised, and I enjoy the fun, especially when friends say, "I know you didn't write it, for you can't hide your peculiar style."
Help to buy the house for Nan,–$4,500. So she has her wish, and is happy. When shall I have mine? Ought to be contented with knowing I help both sisters by my brains. But I'm selfish, and want to go away and rest in Europe. Never shall.
May, June.–Quiet days keeping house and attending to Marmee, who grows more and more feeble. Helped Nan get ready for her new home.
Felt very well, and began to hope I had outlived the neuralgic worries and nervous woes born of the hospital fever and the hard years following.
May living alone in Paris, while her mates go jaunting,–a solitary life; but she is so busy she is happy and safe. A good angel watches over her. Take pleasant drives early in the a.m. with Marmee. She takes her comfort in a basket wagon, and we drive to the woods, picking flowers and stopping where we like. It keeps her young, and rests her weary nerves.
July.–Got too tired, and was laid up for some weeks. A curious time, lying quite happily at rest, wondering what was to come next.
August.–As soon as able began "Under the Lilacs," but could not do much.
Mrs. Alcott grew rapidly worse, and her devoted daughter recognized that the final parting was near. As Louisa watched by the bedside she wrote "My Girls," and finished "Under the Lilacs."
The journal tells the story of the last days of watching, and of the peaceful close of the mother's self-sacrificing yet blessed life. Louisa was very brave in the presence of death. She had no dark thoughts connected with it; and in her mother's case, after her long, hard life, she recognized how "growing age longed for its peaceful sleep."
The tie between this mother and daughter was exceptionally strong and tender. The mother saw all her own fine powers reproduced and developed in her daughter; and if she also recognized the passionate energy which had been the strength and the bane of her own life, it gave her only a more constant watchfulness to save her child from the struggles and regrets from which she had suffered herself.
September, 1877.–On the 7th Marmee had a very ill turn, and the doctor told me it was the beginning of the end. [Water on the chest.] She was so ill we sent for Father from Walcott; and I forgot myself in taking care of poor Marmee, who suffered much and longed to go.
As I watched with her I wrote "My Girls," to go with other tales in a new "Scrap Bag," and finished "Under the Lilacs." I foresaw a busy or a sick winter, and wanted to finish while I could, so keeping my promise and earning my $3,000.
Brain very lively and pen flew. It always takes an exigency to spur me up and wring out a book. Never have time to go slowly and do my best.
October.–Fearing I might give out, got a nurse and rested a little, so that when the last hard days come I might not fail Marmee, who says, "Stay by, Louy, and help me if I suffer too much." I promised, and watched her sit panting life away day after day. We thought she would not outlive her seventy-seventh birthday, but, thanks to Dr. W. and homœopathy, she got relief, and we had a sad little celebration, well knowing it would be the last. Aunt B. and L. W. came up, and with fruit, flowers, smiling faces, and full hearts, we sat round the brave soul who faced death so calmly and was ready to go.
I overdid and was very ill,–in danger of my life for a week,–and feared to go before Marmee. But pulled through, and got up slowly to help her die. A strange month.
November.–Still feeble, and Mother failing fast. On the 14th we were both moved to Anna's at Mother's earnest wish.
A week in the new home, and then she ceased to care for anything. Kept her bed for three days, lying down after weeks in a chair, and on the 25th, at dusk, that rainy Sunday, fell quietly asleep in my arms.
She was very happy all day, thinking herself a girl again, with parents and sisters round her. Said her Sunday hymn to me, whom she called "Mother," and smiled at us, saying, "A smile is as good as a prayer." Looked often at the little picture of May, and waved her hand to it, "Good-by, little May, good-by!"
Her last words to Father were, "You are laying a very soft pillow for me to go to sleep on."
We feared great suffering, but she was spared that, and slipped peacefully away. I was so glad when the last weary breath was drawn, and silence came, with its rest and peace.
On the 27th it was necessary to bury her, and we took her quietly away to Sleepy Hollow. A hard day, but the last duty we could do for her; and there we left her at sunset beside dear Lizzie's dust,–alone so long.
On the 28th a memorial service, and all the friends at Anna's,–Dr. Bartol and Mr. Foote of Stone Chapel. A simple, cheerful service, as she would have liked it.
Quiet days afterward resting in her rest.
My duty is done, and now I shall be glad to follow her.
December.–Many kind letters from all who best knew and loved the noble woman.
I never wish her back, but a great warmth seems gone out of life, and there is no motive to go on now.
My only comfort is that I could make her last years comfortable, and lift off the burden she had carried so bravely all these years. She was so loyal, tender, and true; life was hard for her, and no one understood all she had to bear but we, her children. I think I shall soon 301 follow her, and am quite ready to go now she no longer needs me.
January, 1878.–An idle month at Nan's, for I can only suffer.
Father goes about, being restless with his anchor gone. Dear Nan is house-mother now,–so patient, so thoughtful and tender; I need nothing but that cherishing which only mothers can give.
May busy in London. Very sad about Marmee; but it was best not to send for her, and Marmee forbade it, and she has some very tender friends near her.
February.–... Wrote some lines on Marmee.
To Mrs. Dodge.
Concord, June 3 .
Dear Mrs. Dodge,–The tale goes slowly owing to interruptions, for summer is a busy time, and I get few quiet days. Twelve chapters are done, but are short ones, and so will make about six or seven numbers in "St. Nicholas."
I will leave them divided in this way that you may put in as many as you please each month; for trying to suit the magazine hurts the story in its book form, though this way does no harm to the monthly parts, I think.
I will send you the first few chapters during the week for Mrs. Foote, and with them the schedule you suggest, so that my infants may not be drawn with whiskers, and my big boys and girls in pinafores, as in "Eight Cousins."
I hope the new baby won't be set aside too soon for my illustrations; but I do feel a natural wish to have one story prettily adorned with good pictures, as hitherto artists have much afflicted me.
I am daily waiting with anxiety for an illumination of some sort, as my plot is very vague so far; and though I don't approve of "sensations" in children's books, one must have a certain thread on which to string the small events which make up the true sort of child-life.
I intend to go and simmer an afternoon at Van Amburg's great show, that I may get hints for the further embellishment of Ben and his dog. I have also put in a poem by F. B. S.'s small son, and that hit will give Mrs. Foote a good scene with the six-year-old poet reciting his verses under the lilacs.
I shall expect the small tots to be unusually good, since the artist has a live model to study from. Please present my congratulations to the happy mamma and Mr. Foote, Jr.
L. M. A.
August 21, 1879.
Dear Mrs. Dodge,–I have not been able to do anything on the serial.... But after a week at the seaside, to get braced up for work, I intend to begin. The Revolutionary tale does not seem to possess me. I have casually asked many of my young folks, when they demand a new story, which they would like, one of that sort or the old "Eight Cousin" style, and they all say the latter. It would be much the easier to do, as I have a beginning and a plan all ready,–a village, and the affairs of a party of children. We have many little romances going on among the Concord boys and girls, and all sorts of queer things, which will work into "Jack and Jill" nicely. Mrs. Croly has been anxious for a story, and I am trying to do a short one, as I told her you had the refusal of my next serial. I hope you will not be very much disappointed about the old-time tale. It would take study to do it well, and leisure is just what I have not got, and I shall never have, I fear, when writing is to be done. I will send you a few chapters of "Jack and Jill" when in order, if you like, and you can decide if they will suit. I shall try to have it unlike the others if possible, but the dears will cling to the "Little Women" style.
I have had a very busy summer, but have been pretty well, and able to do my part in entertaining the four hundred philosophers.
L. M. A.
September 17 .
Dear Mrs. Dodge,–Don't let me prose. If I seem to be declining and falling into it, pull me up, and I'll try to prance as of old. Years tame down one's spirit and fancy, though they only deepen one's love for the little people, and strengthen the desire to serve them wisely as well as cheerfully. Fathers and mothers tell me they use my books as helps for themselves; so now and then I like to slip in a page for them, fresh from the experience of some other parent, for education seems to me to be the problem in our times.
Jack and Jill are right out of our own little circle, and the boys and girls are in a twitter to know what is going in; so it will be a "truly story" in the main.
Such a long note for a busy woman to read! but your cheery word was my best "starter;" and I'm, more than ever,
L. M. A. 304
MAY ALCOTT NIERIKER.
Born at Concord, July, 1840. Died in Paris, December, 1879.
This younger sister became so dear to Louisa, and through the legacy which she left to her of an infant child, exercised so great an influence over the last ten years of her life, that it will not be uninteresting to trace out the course of her life and the development of her character. May was born before the experiments at Fruitlands, and her childhood passed during the period when the fortunes of the family were at the lowest ebb; but she was too young to feel in all their fulness the cares which weighed upon the older sisters. Her oldest sister–the affectionate, practical Anna–almost adopted May as her own baby, and gave her a great deal of the attention and care which the mother had not time for amid her numerous avocations. The child clung to Anna with trust and affection; but with her quick fancy and lively spirit, she admired the brilliant qualities of Louisa. Hasty in temperament, quick and impulsive in action, she quarrelled with Louisa while she adored her, and was impatient with her rebukes, which yet had great influence over her. She had a more facile nature than the other sisters, and a natural, girlish love of attention, and a romantic fondness for beauty in person and style in living. Graceful in figure and manners, with a fine complexion, blue eyes, and a profusion of light wavy hair, she was attractive in appearance; and a childish frankness, and acceptance of sympathy or criticism, disarmed those who were disposed to find fault with her.
May is very truly described in "Little Women," and her character is painted with a discerning but loving hand: "A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young lady mindful of her manners." Many little touches of description show the consciousness of appearance and love of admiration which she innocently betrayed, and illustrate the relation of the sisters: "'Don't stop to quirk your little finger and prink over your plate, Amy,' cried Jo." Her mother says of this daughter in her diary: "She does all things well; her capabilities are much in her eyes and fingers. When a child, I observed with what ease and grace she did little things."
According to Louisa, "If anybody had asked Amy what the greatest trial of her life was, she would have answered at once, 'My nose.' No one minded it but herself, and it was doing its best to grow; but Amy felt deeply the want of a Grecian nose, and drew whole sheets of handsome ones to console herself." "Little Raphael," as the sisters called her, very early developed a love and talent for drawing which became the delight of her life. She covered her books with sketches, but managed to escape reprimand by being a model of deportment. Always having in her mind an ideal of elegant life, the many little trials of their times of poverty were of course severe mortifications to her; and the necessity of wearing dresses which came to her from others, and which were ugly in themselves 306 or out of harmony with her own appearance, caused her much affliction. She was always generous and easily reconciled after a quarrel, and was a favorite with her companions, and the heroine of those innocent little love episodes which, as Tennyson says,–
"Are but embassies of love To tamper with the feelings, ere he found Empire for life."
While May was too young to take the part in the support of the family which fell to Anna and Louisa, she was yet a blessing and comfort by her kind, bright nature. After the death of Elizabeth in 1858, her mother speaks of "turning to the little May for comfort," and her father's letters show how dear she was to him, although she never entered into his intellectual life.
May shared in the blessing of Louisa's first success, for she went to the School of Design in 1859 for the lessons in her art, for which she longed so eagerly. In 1860 an old friend sent her thirty dollars for lessons in drawing, and she had the best instruction she could then receive in Boston.
In 1863, Louisa procured for her the great advantage of study with Dr. Rimmer, who was then giving his precious lessons in art anatomy in Boston. Under his instructions, May gave some attention to modelling, and completed an ideal bust. Although she did not pursue this branch of art, it was undoubtedly of great service in giving her more thorough knowledge of the head, and a bolder and firmer style of drawing than she would have gained in any other way.
As will be seen from Louisa's journal, May was frequently with her in Boston, engaged in studying or teaching. By the kindness of a friend, she went to Europe in 1870, when Louisa accompanied her. Louisa sent her to Europe for a year of study in 1873, and again in 1877. In London and Paris she had good opportunities for study, and improved rapidly in her art. She made some admirable copies from Turner which attracted the attention of Ruskin; and a picture from still life was accepted at the Paris Salon, which event gave great happiness to the family circle and friends at home.
May was very generous in giving to others help in the art she loved. While at home, in the intervals of her studies in Europe, she tried to form an art centre in Concord, and freely gave her time, her instruction, and the use of her studio to young artists. She wrote a little book to aid them in prosecuting their studies abroad, called "Studying Art Abroad, and How to do it Cheaply."
Like the rest of the family, May composed with great ease, and sometimes wrote little stories. Her letters are very sprightly and agreeable.
While residing in London, May had become acquainted with a young Swiss gentleman, whose refined and artistic tastes were closely in unison with her own. During the sad days of bereavement caused by her mother's death he was a kind and sympathetic friend, soothing her grief and cheering her solitude by his music. Thus, frequently together, their friendship became love, and they were betrothed. The course of this true love, which for a time ran swiftly and smoothly, is most exquisitely depicted in May's letters to her family. The charming pictures of herself and her young lover are so like Amy and her Laurie in his happiest moods, that we almost feel as if Miss Alcott had been prophetic in her treatment of these characters in "Little Women."
I wish I could give her own natural, frank account of this event. May had the secret of perpetual youth, at least in spirit; and in reading her letters, one has no consciousness that more than thirty years had passed over her head, for they had taken no drop of freshness from her heart.
The union of this happy pair was not a surprise to the friends at home, who had read May's heart, revealed in her frank, innocent letters, more clearly than she had supposed. When the claims of business called Mr. Nieriker from London, the hearts of the young couple quailed before the idea of separation, and they decided to be married at once, and go together. The simple ceremony was performed in London, March 22, 1878; and May started on her journey, no longer alone, but with a loving friend by her side.
May's letters are full of the most artless joy in her new life. The old days of struggle and penury are gone; the heart-loneliness is no more; the world is beautiful, and everybody loving and kind. Life in the modest French home is an idyllic dream, and she writes to her sisters of every detail of her household. The return of her husband at sunset is a feast, and the evening is delightful with poetry and music. Her blue dress, her crimson furniture, satisfy her artistic sense. She does not neglect her art, but paints with fresh inspiration, and waits for his criticism and praise. She says, "He is very ambitious for my artistic success, and is my most severe critic." In the morning she finds her easel set out for her, a fire burning ready for her comfort, and her husband in the big arm-chair waiting to read to her, or to take his violin and pose for his picture in gray velvet paletot and red slippers.
For the time conjugal love is all sufficient, and May wonders at herself that the happiness of the moment can so drown every remembrance of sorrow. Yet a pathetic note is occasionally heard, as she mourns for the mother who is gone, or yearns for the sister who has been such a strength to her through life. The picturesqueness and ease of French life make America look stupid and forlorn, and she has no wish to go home, but only to have her dear ones share in her happiness. Her work in art was successful; and the money she received for it was not unacceptable, although her husband's income sufficed for their modest wants. She was justified in her grateful feeling that she was singularly blessed. Her husband's family were German-Swiss of high standing, artistic temperament, and warm affections. His mother and sister came to visit them, and took May to their hearts with cordial love.
Among the pictures painted by May at this time the most remarkable is the portrait of a negro girl, which is a very faithful study from life, and gives the color and characteristic traits of a beautiful negro without exaggeration. The expression of the eyes is tender and pathetic, well-suited to the fate of a slave girl. Such earnest study would have borne richer fruit if longer life had been hers.
May's own nature seems to have blossomed out like a flower in this sunny climate. In her youth at home she was impulsive, affectionate, and generous, but quick in temper and sometimes exacting; but the whole impression she made upon her husband and his family was of grace and sweetness, and she herself declares that her sisters at home would not recognize her, she has "become so sweet in this atmosphere of happiness."
We would gladly linger over these records of a paradisiacal home where Adam and Eve renewed their innocent loves and happy labors. When musing over the sorrows of humanity it refreshes us to know that such joy is possible, and needs only love and simple hearts to make it real.
May's note of happiness is touchingly echoed from the heart of her bereaved father, who recalls the days of his own courtship. He cherished every tender word from her; and the respectful and loving words of his new son, to whom he responds affectionately, were like balm to his stricken heart.
May's joy was heightened by the expectation of motherhood. Her health was excellent, and she had the loving care of her new mother and sister. The anxious family at home received the news of the birth of a daughter with heartfelt delight. It was a great disappointment to Louisa that she could not be with her sister at this time; but her health was not equal to the voyage, and she felt that May had most loving and sufficient care. An American friend in Paris kindly wrote to Louisa full details of the little niece and of the mother's condition. "It is difficult," she says, "to say which of that happy household is the proudest over that squirming bit of humanity."
For about two weeks all seemed well; but alarming symptoms began to appear, and the mother's strength failed rapidly. The brain was the seat of disease; and she was generally unconscious, although she had intervals of apparent improvement, when she recognized her friends. She passed away peacefully December 29, 1879.
An American clergyman in Paris took charge of the funeral service, which according to May's expressed desire was very simple, and she was laid in the tranquil cemetery of Montrouge outside of the fortifications.
Foreseeing the possibility of a fatal termination to her illness, May had made every preparation for the event, and obtained a promise from her sister-in-law that she would carry the baby to Louisa to receive the devoted care that she knew would be given it. The child became a source of great comfort to Miss Alcott as will be seen from the journals. After her death Mr. Nieriker visited his little girl in America, and in June, 1889, her aunt took her to his home in Zurich, Switzerland.
Before the sad letters describing May's illness could reach America, came the cable message of her death. It was sent to Mr. Emerson, the never-failing friend of the family, who bore it to Louisa, her father being temporarily absent. His thoughtfulness softened the blow as much as human tenderness could, but still it fell with crushing weight upon them all.
The father and sister could not sleep, and in the watches of the night he wrote that touching ode, the cry of paternal love and grief entitled "Love's Morrow."
To Mrs. Bond.
Concord, Jan. 1, 1880.
Dear Auntie,–It is hard to add one more sorrow to your already full heart, particularly one of this sort, but I did not want you to hear it from any one but us. Dear May is dead. Gone to begin the new year with Mother, in a world where I hope there is no grief like this. Gone just when she seemed safest and happiest, after nearly two years of such sweet satisfaction and love that she wrote us, "If I die when baby comes, remember I have been so unspeakably happy for a year that I ought to be content...."
And it is all over. The good mother and sister have done everything in the most devoted way. We can never repay them. My May gave me her little Lulu, and in the spring I hope to get my sweet legacy. Meantime the dear grandma takes her to a home full of loving friends and she is safe. I will write more when we know, but the cruel sea divides us and we must wait.
Bless you dear Auntie for all your love for May; she never forgot it, nor do we.
Dear Auntie,–I have little further news to tell, but it seems to comfort me to answer the shower of tender sympathetic letters that each mail brings us....
So we must wait to learn how the end came at last, where the dear dust is to lie, and how soon the desolate little home is to be broken up. It only remains for May's baby to be taken away to fill our cup to overflowing. But perhaps it would be best so, for even in Heaven with Mother, I know May will yearn for the darling so ardently desired, so tenderly welcomed, bought at such a price.
In all the troubles of my life I never had one so hard to bear, for the sudden fall from such high happiness to such a depth of sorrow finds me unprepared to accept or bear it as I ought.
Sometime I shall know why such things are; till then must try to trust and wait and hope as you do.... Sorrow has its lonely side, and sympathy is so sweet it takes half its bitterness away.
After May's marriage and death Louisa remained awhile in Concord, trying to forget her grief in care for others. She went to the prison in Concord, and told a story to the prisoners which touched their hearts, and was long remembered by some of them.
She wrote some short stories for "St Nicholas," among them "Jimmy's Cruise in the Pinafore," called out by the acting of the popular opera of that name by a juvenile troupe.
She spent some weeks at Willow Cottage, Magnolia, which she has described in her popular story of "Jack and Jill." The scene of the story is mostly laid in Concord, or "Harmony" as she calls it, and she has introduced many familiar scenes and persons into the book.
This summer, too, the long-dreamed of School of Philosophy was established. The opening of the School was a great event to Mr. Alcott, as it was the realization of the dream of years. Louisa enjoyed his gratification, and took pains to help him to reap full satisfaction from it. She carried flowers to grace the opening meeting, and was friendly to his guests. She occasionally attended lectures given by her friends,–Dr. Bartol, Mrs. Howe, and others,–and she could not fail to enjoy meeting many of the bright people who congregated there; but she did not care for the speculative philosophy. Her keen sense of humor led her to see all that was incongruous or funny or simply novel in the bearing of the philosophers. She felt that her father had too much of the trying details, and perhaps did not appreciate how much joy of recognition it brought him. She had not much faith in the practical success of the experiment. Philosophy was much associated in her mind with early poverty and suffering, and she did not feel its charms. She was usually at the seashore at this season, as she suffered from the heat at Concord. Frequent allusions to the school appear in her journal. The following anecdote is given by a friend.
"It was at Concord on Emerson day. After a morning with Bartol and Alcott and Mrs. Howe, I lunched with the Alcotts', who had for guest the venerable Dr. McCosh. Naturally the conversation turned on the events of the morning. 'I was thinking,' said the Doctor, 'as I looked among your audience, that there were no young men; and that with none but old men your school would soon die with them. By the way, madam,' he continued, addressing Miss Alcott, 'will you tell me what is your definition of a philosopher?'
"The reply came instantly, 'My definition is of a man up in a balloon, with his family and friends holding the ropes which confine him to earth and trying to haul him down.'
"The laugh which followed this reply was heartily joined in by the philosopher himself."
March, 1878.–A happy event,–May's marriage to Ernest Nieriker, the "tender friend" who has consoled her for Marmee's loss, as John consoled Nan for Beth's. He is a Swiss, handsome, cultivated, and good; an excellent family living in Baden, and E. has a good business. May is old enough to choose for herself, and seems so happy in the new relation that we have nothing to say against it.
They were privately married on the 22d, and went to Havre for the honeymoon, as E. had business in France; so they hurried the wedding. Send her $1,000 as a gift, and all good wishes for the new life.
April.–Happy letters from May, who is enjoying life as one can but once. E. writes finely to Father, and is a son to welcome I am sure. May sketches and E. attends to his business by day, and both revel in music in the evening, as E. is a fine violin player.
How different our lives are just now!–I so lonely, sad, and sick; she so happy, well, and blest. She always had the cream of things, and deserved it. My time is yet to come somewhere else, when I am ready for it.
Anna clears out the old house; for we shall never go back to it; it ceased to be "home" when Marmee left it.
I dawdle about, and wait to see if I am to live or die. If I live, it is for some new work. I wonder what?
May.–Begin to drive a little, and enjoy the spring. Nature is always good to me.
May settles in her own house at Meudon,–a pretty apartment, with balcony, garden, etc.... I plan and hope to go to them, if I am ever well enough, and find new inspiration in a new life. May and E. urge it, and I long to go, but cannot risk the voyage yet. I doubt if I ever find time to lead my own life, or health to try it.
June and July.–Improving fast, in spite of dark predictions and forebodings. The Lord has more work for me, so I am spared.
Tried to write a memoir of Marmee; but it is too soon, and I am not well enough.
May has had the new mother and brother-in-law with her, and finds them most interesting and lovable. They seem very proud of her, and happy in her happiness. Bright times for our youngest! May they last!
[They did.–L. M. A.]
Got nicely ready to go to May in September; but at the last moment gave it up, fearing to undo all the good this weary year of ease has done for me, and be a burden on her. A great disappointment; but I've learned to wait. I long to see her happy in her own home.
Nan breaks her leg; so it is well I stayed, as there was no one to take her place but me. Always a little chore to be done.
October, November.–Nan improved. Rode, nursed, kept house, and tried to be contented, but was not. Make no plans for myself now; do what I can, and should be glad not to have to sit idle any longer.
On the 8th, Marmee's birthday, Father and I went to Sleepy Hollow with red leaves and flowers for her. A cold, dull day, and I was glad there was no winter for her any more.
November 25th.–A year since our beloved Marmee died. A very eventful year. May marries, I live instead of dying, Father comes to honor in his old age, and Nan makes her home our refuge when we need one.
December.–A busy time. Nan gets about again. I am so well I wonder at myself, and ask no more.
Write a tale for the "Independent," and begin on an art novel, with May's romance for its thread. Went to B. for some weeks, and looked about to see what I could venture to do....
So ends 1878,–a great contrast to last December. Then I thought I was done with life; now I can enjoy a good deal, and wait to see what I am spared to do. Thank God for both the sorrow and the joy.
January, 1879.–At the Bellevue in my little room writing.
Got two books well started, but had too many interruptions to do much, and dared not get into a vortex for fear of a break-down.
Went about and saw people, and tried to be jolly. Did Jarley for a fair, also for Authors' Carnival at Music Hall. A queer time; too old for such pranks. A sad heart and a used-up body make play hard work, I find.
Read "Mary Wollstonecraft," "Dosia," "Danieli," "Helène," etc. I like Gréville's books.
Invest $1,000 for Fred's schooling, etc. Johnny has his $1,000 also safely in the bank for his education and any emergency.
February.–Home to Concord rather used up. Find a very quiet life is best; for in B. people beset me to do things, and I try, and get so tired I cannot work. Dr. C. says rest is my salvation; so I rest. Hope for Paris in the spring, as May begs me to come. She is leading what she calls "an ideal life,"–painting, music, love, and the world shut out. People wonder and gossip; but M. and E. laugh and are happy. Wise people to enjoy this lovely time!
Went to a dinner, at the Revere House, of the Papyrus Club. Mrs. Burnett and Miss A. were guests of honor. Dr. Holmes took me in, and to my surprise I found myself at the president's right hand, with Mrs. B., Holmes, Stedman, and the great ones of the land. Had a gay time. Dr. H. very gallant. "Little Women" often toasted with more praise than was good for me.
Saw Mrs. B. at a lunch, and took her and Mrs. M. M. Dodge to Concord for a lunch. Most agreeable women.
A visit at H. W.'s. Mission time at Church of the Advent. Father Knox-Little preached, and waked up the sinners. H. hoped to convert me, and took me to see Father K.-L., a very interesting man, and we had a pleasant talk; but I found that we meant the same thing, though called by different names; and his religion had too much ceremony about it to suit me. So he gave me his blessing, and promised to send me some books.
[Never did.–L. M. A.]
Pleasant times with my "rainy-day friend," as I call Dr. W. She is a great comfort to me, with her healthy common-sense and tender patience, aside from skill as a doctor and beauty as a woman. I love her much, and she does me good.
Happy letters from May. Her hopes of a little son or daughter in the autumn give us new plans to talk over. I must be well enough to go to her then.
April.–Very poorly and cross; so tired of being a prisoner to pain. Long for the old strength when I could do what I liked, and never knew I had a body. Life not worth living in this way; but having over-worked the wonderful machine, I must pay for it, and should not growl, I suppose, as it is just.
To B. to see Dr. S. Told me I was better than she ever dreamed I could be, and need not worry. So took heart, and tried to be cheerful, in spite of aches and nerves. Warm weather comforted me, and green grass did me good.
Put a fence round A.'s garden. Bought a phaeton, so I might drive, as I cannot walk much, and Father loves to take his guests about.
May and June.–Go to B. for a week, but don't enjoy seeing people. Do errands, and go home again. Saw "Pinafore;" a pretty play.
E.'s looked at the Orchard House and liked it; will hire it, probably. Hope so, as it is forlorn standing empty. I never go by without looking up at Marmee's window, where the dear face used to be, and May's, with the picturesque vines round it. No golden-haired, blue-gowned Diana ever appears now; she sits happily sewing baby-clothes in Paris. Enjoyed fitting out a box of dainty things to send her. Even lonely old spinsters take an interest in babies.
June.–A poor month. Try to forget my own worries, and enjoy the fine weather, my little carriage, and good friends. Souls are such slaves to bodies it is hard to keep up out of the slough of despond when nerves jangle and flesh aches.
Went with Father on Sunday to the prison, and told the men a story. Thought I could not face four hundred at first; but after looking at them during the sermon, I felt that I could at least amuse them, and they evidently needed something new. So I told a hospital story with a little moral to it, and was so interested in watching the faces of some young men near me, who drank in every word, that I forgot myself, and talked away "like a mother." One put his head down, and another winked hard, so I felt that I had caught them; for even one tear in that dry, hard place would do them good. Miss McC. and Father said it was well done, and I felt quite proud of my first speech. [Sequel later.]
July.–Wrote a little tale called "Jimmy's Cruise in the Pinafore," for "St. Nicholas;" $100.
14th.–The philosophers begin to swarm, and the buzz starts to-morrow. How much honey will be made is still doubtful, but the hive is ready and drones also.
On the 15th, the School of Philosophy began in the study at Orchard House,–thirty students; Father, the dean. He has his dream realized at last, and is in glory, with plenty of talk to swim in. People laugh, but will enjoy something new in this dull old town; and the fresh Westerners will show them that all the culture of the world is not in Concord. I had a private laugh when Mrs. –– asked one of the new-comers, with her superior air, if she had ever looked into Plato. And the modest lady from Jacksonville answered, with a twinkle at me, "We have been reading Plato in Greek for the past six years." Mrs. –– subsided after that.
[Oh, wicked L. M. A., who hates sham and loves a joke.–L. M. A.]
Was the first woman to register my name as a voter.
August.–To B. with a new "Scrap Bag." "Jimmy" to the fore. Wrote a little tale.
The town swarms with budding philosophers, and they roost on our steps like hens waiting for corn. Father revels in it, so we keep the hotel going, and try to look as if we liked it. If they were philanthropists, I should enjoy it; but speculation seems a waste of time when there is so much real work crying to be done. Why discuss the "unknowable" till our poor are fed and the wicked saved?
A young poet from New York came; nice boy.
Sixteen callers to-day. Trying to stir up the women about suffrage; so timid and slow.
Happy letters from May. Sophie N. is with her now. All well in the Paris nest.
Passed a week in Magnolia with Mrs. H. School ended for this year. Hallelujah!
September.–Home from the seaside refreshed, and go to work on a new serial for "St. Nicholas,"–"Jack and Jill." Have no plan yet but a boy, a girl, and a sled, with an upset to start with. Vague idea of working in Concord young folks and their doings. After two years of rest, I am going to try again; it is so easy to make money now, and so pleasant to have it to give. A chapter a day is my task, and not that if I feel tired. No more fourteen hours a day; make haste slowly now.
Drove about and drummed up women to my suffrage meeting. So hard to move people out of the old ruts. I haven't patience enough; if they won't see and work, I let 'em alone, and steam along my own way.
May sent some nice little letters of an "Artist's Holiday," and I had them printed; also a book for artists abroad,–very useful, and well done.
Eight chapters done. Too much company for work.
October 8th.–Dear Marmee's birthday. Never forgotten. Lovely day. Go to Sleepy Hollow with flowers. Her grave is green; blackberry vines with red leaves trail over it. A little white stone with her initials is at the head, and among the tall grass over her breast a little bird had made a nest; empty now, but a pretty symbol of the refuge that tender bosom always was for all feeble and sweet things. Her favorite asters bloomed all about, and the pines sang overhead. So she and dear Beth are quietly asleep in God's acre, and we remember them more tenderly with each year that brings us nearer them and home.
Went with Dr. W. to the Woman's Prison, at Sherburne. A lovely drive, and very remarkable day and night. Read a story to the four hundred women, and heard many interesting tales. A much better place than Concord Prison, with its armed wardens, and "knock down and drag out" methods. Only women here, and they work wonders by patience, love, common-sense, and the belief in salvation for all.
First proof from Scribner of "Jack and Jill." Mrs. D. likes the story, so I peg away very slowly. Put in Elly D. as one of my boys. The nearer I keep to nature, the better the work is. Young people much interested in the story, and all want to "go in." I shall have a hornet's nest about me if all are not angels.
Father goes West.
I mourn much because all say I must not go to May; not safe; and I cannot add to Mamma Nieriker's cares at this time by another invalid, as the voyage would upset me, I am so sea-sick.
Give up my hope and long-cherished plan with grief. May sadly disappointed. I know I shall wish I had gone; it is my luck.
November.–Went to Boston for a month, as some solace for my great disappointment. Take my room at the Bellevue, and go about a little. Write on "J. and J." Anxious about May.
8th.–Little Louisa May Nieriker arrived in Paris at 9 p. m., after a short journey. All doing well. Much rejoicing. Nice little lass, and May very happy. Ah, if I had only been there! Too much happiness for me.
25th.–Two years since Marmee went. How she would have enjoyed the little granddaughter, and all May's romance! Perhaps she does.
Went home on my birthday (forty-seven). Tried to have a little party for Nan and the boys, but it was rather hard work.
Not well enough to write much, so give up my room. Can lie round at home, and it's cheaper.
December.–May not doing well. The weight on my heart is not all imagination. She was too happy to have it last, and I fear the end is coming. Hope it is my nerves; but this peculiar feeling has never misled me before.
Invited to the breakfast to O. W. H. No heart to go.
8th.–Little Lu one month old. Small, but lively. Oh, if I could only be there to see,–to help! This is a penance for all my sins. Such a tugging at my heart to be by poor May, alone, so far away. The N.'s are devoted, and all is done that can be; but not one of her "very own" is there.
Father came home.
29th.–May died at 8 a. m., after three weeks of fever and stupor. Happy and painless most of the time. At Mr. W.'s funeral on the 30th, I felt the truth before the news came.
Wednesday, 31st.–A dark day for us. A telegram from Ernest to Mr. Emerson tells us "May is dead." Anna was gone to B.; Father to the post-office, anxious for letters, the last being overdue. I was alone when Mr. E. came. E. sent to him, knowing I was feeble, and hoping Mr. E. would soften the blow. I found him looking at May's portrait, pale and tearful, with the paper in his hand. "My child, I wish I could prepare you; but alas, alas!" There his voice failed, and he gave me the telegram.
I was not surprised, and read the hard words as if I knew it all before. "I am prepared," I said, and thanked him. He was much moved and very tender. I shall remember gratefully the look, the grasp, the tears he gave me; and I am sure that hard moment was made bearable by the presence of this our best and tenderest friend. He went to find Father but missed him, and I had to tell both him and Anna when they came. A very bitter sorrow for all.
The dear baby may comfort E., but what can comfort us? It is the distance that is so hard, and the thought of so much happiness ended so soon. "Two years of perfect happiness" May called these married years, and said, "If I die when baby comes, don't mourn, for I have had as much happiness in this short time as many in twenty years." She wished me to have her baby and her pictures. A very precious legacy! Rich payment for the little I could do for her. I see now why I lived,–to care for May's child and not leave Anna all alone.
January 1st, 1880.–A sad day mourning for May. Of all the trials in my life I never felt any so keenly as this, perhaps because I am so feeble in health that I cannot bear it well. It seems so hard to break up that happy little home and take May just when life was richest, and to leave me who had done my task and could well be spared. Shall I ever know why such things happen?
Letters came telling us all the sad story. May was unconscious during the last weeks, and seemed not to suffer. Spoke now and then of "getting ready for Louy," and asked if she had come. All was done that love and skill could do, but in vain. E. is broken-hearted, and good Madame N. and Sophie find their only solace in the poor baby.
May felt a foreboding, and left all ready in case she died. Some trunks packed for us, some for the N. sisters. Her diary written up, all in order. Even chose the graveyard where she wished to be, out of the city. E. obeys all her wishes sacredly.
Tried to write on "J. and J." to distract my mind; but the wave of sorrow kept rolling over me, and I could only weep and wait till the tide ebbed again.
February.–More letters from E. and Madame N. Like us, they find comfort in writing of the dear soul gone, now there is nothing more to do for her. I cannot make it true that our May is dead, lying far away in a strange grave, leaving a husband and child whom we have never seen. It all reads like a pretty romance, now death hath set its seal on these two happy years; and we shall never know all that she alone could tell us.
Many letters from friends in France, England, and America, full of sympathy for us, and love and pride and gratitude for May, who was always glad to help, forgive, and love every one. It is our only consolation now.
Father and I cannot sleep, but he and I make verses as we did when Marmee died. Our grief seems to flow into words. He writes "Love's Morrow" and "Our Madonna."
Lulu has gone to Baden with Grandmamma.
Finish "J. and J." The world goes on in spite of sorrow, and I must do my work. Both these last serials were written with a heavy heart,–"Under the Lilacs" when Marmee was failing, and "Jack and Jill" while May was dying. Hope the grief did not get into them.
Hear R. W. E. lecture for his one hundredth time. Mary Clemmer writes for a sketch of my life for a book of "Famous Women." Don't belong there.
Read "Memoirs of Madame de Rémusat." Not very interesting. Beauties seldom amount to much. Plain Margaret Fuller was worth a dozen of them. "Kings in Exile," a most interesting book, a very vivid and terrible picture of Parisian life and royal weakness and sorrow.
Put papers, etc., in order. I feel as if one should be ready to go at any moment....
March.–A box came from May, with pictures, clothes, vases, her ornaments, a little work-basket, and, in one of her own sepia boxes, her pretty hair tied with blue ribbon,–all that is now left us of this bright soul but the baby, soon to come. Treasures all.
A sad day, and many tears dropped on the dear dress, the blue slippers she last wore, the bit of work she laid down when the call came the evening Lulu was born. The fur-lined sack feels like May's arms round me, and I shall wear it with pleasure. The pictures show us her great progress these last years.
To Boston for a few days on business, and to try to forget. Got gifts for Anna's birthday on the 16th,–forty-nine years old. My only sister now, and the best God ever made. Repaired her house for her.
Lulu is not to come till autumn. Great disappointment; but it is wiser to wait, as summer is bad for a young baby to begin here.
29th.–Town meeting. Twenty women there, and voted first, thanks to Father. Polls closed,–in joke, we thought, as Judge Hoar proposed it; proved to be in earnest, and we elected a good school committee. Quiet time; no fuss.
January 20, 1880.
Dear Mrs. Dodge,–I have been so bowed down with grief at the loss of my dear sister just when our anxiety was over that I have not had a thought or care for anything else.
The story is done; but the last chapters are not copied, and I thought it best to let them lie till I could give my mind to the work.
I never get a good chance to do a story without interruption of some sort. "Under the Lilacs" was finished by my mother's bedside in her last illness, and this one when my heart was full of care and hope and then grief over poor May.
I trust the misery did not get into the story; but I'm afraid it is not as gay as I meant most of it to be.
I forgot to number the pages of the last two chapters, and so cannot number these. I usually keep the run, but this time sent off the parcel in a hurry. Can you send me the right number to go on with in chapter seventeen? I can send you four more as soon as I hear.
I don't believe I shall come to New York this winter. May left me her little daughter for my own; and if she comes over soon, I shall be too busy singing lullabies to one child to write tales for others, or go anywhere, even to see my kind friends.
A sweeter little romance has just ended in Paris than any I can ever make; and the sad facts of life leave me no heart for cheerful fiction.
L. M. Alcott.
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