Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters, and Journals

by Louisa May Alcott

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Last Letters

Last Letters from Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters, and Journals

To Mr. Niles.

Sunday, 1886.

Dear Mr. Niles,–The goodly supply of books was most welcome; for when my two hours pen-work are over I need something to comfort me, and I long to go on and finish "Jo's Boys" by July 1st.

My doctor frowns on that hope, and is so sure it will do mischief to get up the steam that I am afraid to try, and keep Prudence sitting on the valve lest the old engine run away and have another smash-up.

I send you by Fred several chapters, I wish they were neater, as some were written long ago and have knocked 373 about for years; but I can't spare time to copy, so hope the printers won't be in despair.

I planned twenty chapters and am on the fifteenth. Some are long, some short, and as we are pressed for time we had better not try to do too much.

... I have little doubt it will be done early in July, but things are so contrary with me I can never be sure of carrying out a plan, and I don't want to fail again; so far I feel as if I could, without harm, finish off these dreadful boys.

Why have any illustrations? The book is not a child's book, as the lads are nearly all over twenty, and pretty pictures are not needed. Have the bas-relief if you like, or one good thing for frontispiece.

I can have twenty-one chapters and make it the size of "Little Men." Sixteen chapters make two hundred and sixteen pages, and I may add a page here and there later,–or if need be, a chapter somewhere to fill up.

I shall be at home in a week or two, much better for the rest and fine air; and during my quiet days in C. I can touch up proofs and confer about the book. Sha'n't we be glad when it is done?

Yours truly,

L. M. A.

To Mrs. Dodge.

June 29.

Dear Mrs. Dodge,–I will evolve something for December (D. V.) and let you have it as soon as it is done.

Lu and I go to Nonquit next week; and after a few days of rest, I will fire up the old engine and see if it will run a short distance without a break-down.

There are usually about forty young people at N., and I think I can get a hint from some of them. 374

Had a call from Mr. Burroughs and Mr. Gilder last eve. Mr. G. asked if you were in B., but I didn't know.

Father remains comfortable and happy among his books. Our lads are making their first visit to New York, and may call on "St. Nick," whom they have made their patron saint.

I should like to own the last two bound volumes of "St. Nicholas," for Lulu. She adores the others, and they are nearly worn out with her loving but careless luggings up and down for "more towries, Aunt Wee-wee." Charge to

Yours affectionately,

L. M. A.

P. S.–Wasn't I glad to see you in my howling wilderness of wearisome domestic worrits! Come again.

Concord, August 15.

Dear Mrs. Dodge,–I like the idea of "Spinning-Wheel Stories," and can do several for a series which can come out in a book later. Old-time tales, with a thread running through all from the wheel that enters in the first one.

A Christmas party of children might be at an old farm-house and hunt up the wheel, and grandma spins and tells the first story; and being snow-bound, others amuse the young folks each evening with more tales. Would that do? The mother and child picture would come in nicely for the first tale,–"Grandma and her Mother."

Being at home and quiet for a week or so (as Father is nicely and has a capable nurse), I have begun the serial, and done two chapters; but the spinning-tales come tumbling into my mind so fast I'd better pin a few while "genius burns." Perhaps you would like to 375 start the set Christmas. The picture being ready and the first story can be done in a week, "Sophie's Secret" can come later. Let me know if you would like that, and about how many pages of the paper "S. S." was written on you think would make the required length of tale (or tail?). If you don't want No. 1 yet, I will take my time and do several.

The serial was to be "Mrs. Gay's Summer School," and have some city girls and boys go to an old farm-house, and for fun dress and live as in old times, and learn the good, thrifty old ways, with adventures and fun thrown in. That might come in the spring, as it takes me longer to grind out yarns now than of old.

Glad you are better. Thanks for kind wishes for the little house; come and see it, and gladden the eyes of forty young admirers by a sight of M. M. D. next year.

Yours affectionately,

L. M. A.

31 Chestnut St., December 31.

Dear Mrs. Dodge,–A little cousin, thirteen years old, has written a story and longs to see it in print. It is a well written bit and pretty good for a beginner, so I send it to you hoping it may find a place in the children's corner. She is a grandchild of S. J. May, and a bright lass who paints nicely and is a domestic little person in spite of her budding accomplishments. Good luck to her!

I hoped to have had a Christmas story for some one, but am forbidden to write for six months, after a bad turn of vertigo. So I give it up and take warning. All good wishes for the New Year.

From yours affectionately,

L. M. Alcott.376

To Mr. Niles.


Dear Mr. Niles,–Sorry you don't like the bas-relief [of herself]; I do. A portrait, if bright and comely, wouldn't be me, and if like me would disappoint the children; so we had better let them imagine "Aunt Jo young and beautiful, with her hair in two tails down her back," as the little girl said.

In haste,

L. M. A.

To Mrs. Bond.

Concord, Tuesday, 1886.

Dear Auntie,–I want to find Auntie Gwinn, and don't know whom to ask but you, as your big motherly heart yearns over all the poor babies, and can tell them where to go when the nest is bare. A poor little woman has just died, leaving four children to a drunken father. Two hard-working aunts do all they can, and one will take the oldest girl. We want to put the two small girls and boy into a home till we can see what comes next. Lulu clothes one, and we may be able to put one with a cousin. But since the mother died last Wednesday they are very forlorn, and must be helped. If we were not so full I'd take one; but Lu is all we can manage now.

There is a home at Auburndale, but it is full; and I know of no other but good Auntie Gwinn's. What is her address, please? I shall be in town on Saturday, and can go and see her if I know where.

Don't let it be a bother; but one turns at once in such cases to the saints for direction, and the poor aunts don't known what to do; so this aunt comes to the auntie of all. 377

I had a pleasant chat with the Papa in the cars, and was very glad to hear that W. is better. My love to both and S.

Thanks for the news of portraits. I'll bear them in mind if G. H. calls. Lulu and Anna send love, and I am as always,


Louisa Alcott.

To Mrs. Dodge.

April 13, 1880.

Dear Mrs. Dodge,–I am glad you are going to have such a fine outing. May it be a very happy one.

I cannot promise anything, but hope to be allowed to write a little, as my doctor has decided that it is as well to let me put on paper the tales "knocking at the saucepan lid and demanding to be taken out" (like Mrs. Cratchit's potatoes), as to have them go on worrying me inside. So I'm scribbling at "Jo's Boys," long promised to Mr. Niles and clamored for by the children. I may write but one hour a day, so cannot get on very fast; but if it is ever done, I can think of a serial for "St. Nicholas." I began one, and can easily start it for '88, if head and hand allow. I will simmer on it this summer, and see if it can be done. Hope so, for I don't want to give up work so soon.

I have read "Mrs. Null," but don't like it very well,–too slow and colorless after Tolstoi's "Anna Karanina."

I met Mr. and Mrs. S. at Mrs. A.'s this winter. Mr. Stockton's child-stories I like very much. The older ones are odd but artificial.

Now, good-by, and God be with you, dear woman, and bring you safely home to us all.

Affectionately yours,

L. M. Alcott. 378

To Mrs. Bond.

Dunreath Place, Roxbury, March 15, 1887

Dear Auntie,–I have been hoping to get out and see you all winter, but have been so ill I could only live on hope as a relish to my gruel,–that being my only food, and not of a nature to give me strength. Now I am beginning to live a little, and feel less like a sick oyster at low tide. The spring days will set me up I trust, and my first pilgrimage shall be to you; for I want you to see how prettily my May-flower is blossoming into a fine off-shoot of the old plant.

Lizzy Wells has probably told you our news of Fred and his little bride, and Anna written you about it as only a proud mamma can.

Father is very comfortable, but says sadly as he looks up from his paper, "Beecher has gone now; all go but me." Please thank Mr. Bond for the poems, which are interesting, even to a poor, ignorant worm who does not know Latin. Mother would have enjoyed them very much. I should have acknowledged his kindness sooner; but as I am here in Roxbury my letters are forwarded, and often delayed.

I was sorry to hear that you were poorly again. Isn't it hard to sit serenely in one's soul when one's body is in a dilapidated state? I find it a great bore, but try to do it patiently, and hope to see the why by and by, when this mysterious life is made clear to me. I had a lovely dream about that, and want to tell it you some day.

Love to all.

Ever yours,

L. M. A.

Her publisher wished to issue a new edition of "A Modern Mephistopheles," and to add to it 379 her story "A Whisper in the Dark," to which she consented.

May 6, 1887.

Dear Mr. Niles.–This is about what I want to say. You may be able to amend or suggest something. I only want it understood that the highfalutin style was for a disguise, though the story had another purpose; for I'm not ashamed of it, and like it better than "Work" or "Moods."

Yours in haste,

L. M. A.

P. S.–Do you want more fairy tales?


"A Modern Mephistopheles" was written among the earlier volumes of the No Name Series, when the chief idea of the authors was to puzzle their readers by disguising their style as much as possible, that they might enjoy the guessing and criticism as each novel appeared. This book was very successful in preserving its incognito; and many persons still insist that it could not have been written by the author of "Little Women." As I much enjoyed trying to embody a shadow of my favorite poem in a story, as well as the amusement it has afforded those in the secret for some years, it is considered well to add this volume to the few romances which are offered, not as finished work by any means, but merely attempts at something graver than magazine stories or juvenile literature.

L. M. Alcott.

Fac-simile of Preface to "A Modern Mephistopheles."

Saturday a.m., May 7, 1887.

Dear Mr. Niles,–Yours just come. "A Whisper" is rather a lurid tale, but might do if I add a few lines to the preface of "Modern Mephistopheles," saying that this is put in to fill the volume, or to give a sample of Jo March's necessity stories, which many girls have asked for. Would that do?

It seems to me that it would be better to wait till I can add a new novel, and then get out the set. Meantime let "Modern Mephistopheles" go alone, with my name, as a summer book before Irving comes [Irving as Faust].

I hope to do "A Tragedy of To-day" this summer, and it can come out in the fall or next spring, with "Modern Mephistopheles," "Work," and "Moods."

A spunky new one would make the old ones go. "Hospital Sketches" is not cared for now, and is filled up with other tales you know....

Can that plan be carried out? I have begun my tragedy, and think it will be good; also a shorter thing called "Anna: An Episode," in which I do up Boston in a jolly way, with a nice little surprise at the end. It would do to fill up "Modern Mephistopheles," as it is not long, unless I want it to be.

I will come in next week and see what can be done.

Yours truly,

L. M. A.

To Mrs. Bond.

Sunday, Oct. 16, [1887].

Dear Auntie,–As you and I belong to the "Shut-in Society," we may now and then cheer each other by a line. Your note and verse are very good to me to-day, as I sit trying to feel all right in spite of the stiffness that won't walk, the rebel stomach that won't work, and the tired head that won't rest.

My verse lately has been from the little poem found under a good soldier's pillow in the hospital. 383

I am no longer eager, bold, and strong,–
All that is past;
I am ready not to do
At last–at last.
My half-day's work is done,
And this is all my part.
I give a patient God
My patient heart.

The learning not to do is so hard after being the hub to the family wheel so long. But it is good for the energetic ones to find that the world can get on without them, and to learn to be still, to give up, and wait cheerfully.

As we have "fell into poetry," as Silas Wegg says, I add a bit of my own; for since you are Marmee now, I feel that you won't laugh at my poor attempts any more than she did, even when I burst forth at the ripe age of eight.

Love to all the dear people, and light to the kind eyes that have made sunshine for others so many years.

Always your


To Mrs. Bond, with first copy of "Lulu's Library," second volume.

October, 1887.

Dear Auntie,–I always gave Mother the first author's copy of a new book. As her representative on earth, may I send you, with my love, the little book to come out in November?

The tales were told at sixteen to May and her playmates; then are related to May's daughter at five; and for the sake of these two you may care to have them for the little people.

I am still held by the leg, but seem to gain a little, and hope to be up by and by. Slow work, but part of 384 the discipline I need, doubtless; so I take it as well as I can.

You and I won't be able to go to the golden wedding of S. J. May. I have been alone so long I feel as if I'd like to see any one, and be in the good times again. L. W. reports you as "nicely, and sweet as an angel;" so I rejoice, and wish I could say the same of

Your loving


To Mrs. Dodge.

December 22, 1887.

Dear Mrs. Dodge,–I send you the story your assistant editor asked for. As it is needed at once I do not delay to copy it, for I can only write an hour a day and do very little. You are used to my wild manuscript, and will be able to read it. I meant to have sent the Chinese tale, but this was nearly done, and so it goes, as it does not matter where we begin.... I hope you are well, and full of the peace which work well done gives the happy doer.

I mend slowly, but surely, and my good Doctor says my best work is yet to come; so I will be content with health if I can get it. With all good wishes,

Yours affectionately,

L. M. A.

To Mrs. Bond.

February 7 [1888].

Dear Auntie,–My blessed Anna is so busy, and I can do so little to help her, I feel as if I might take upon me the pleasant duty of writing to you.

Father is better, and we are all so grateful, for just now we want all to be bright for our boy. 385

The end is not far off, but Father rallies wonderfully from each feeble spell, and keeps serene and happy through everything.

I don't ask to keep him now that life is a burden, and am glad to have him go before it becomes a pain. We shall miss the dear old white head and the feeble saint so long our care; but as Anna says, "He will be with Mother." So we shall be happy in the hope of that meeting.

Sunday he seemed very low, and I was allowed to drive in and say "good-by." He knew me and smiled, and kissed "Weedy," as he calls me, and I thought the drowsiness and difficulty of breathing could not last long. But he revived, got up, and seemed so much as usual, I may be able to see him again. It is a great grief that I am not there as I was with Lizzie and Mother, but though much better, the shattered nerves won't bear much yet, and quiet is my only cure.

I sit alone and bless the little pair like a fond old grandmother. You show me how to do it. With love to all,

Yours ever,


Her last note. To Mrs. Bond.

February 8, 1888.

Air,–"Haste to the Wedding."

Dear Auntie,–I little knew what a sweet surprise was in store for me when I wrote to you yesterday.

As I awoke this morning my good Doctor L. came in with the lovely azalea, her round face beaming through the leaves like a full moon.

It was very dear of you to remember me, and cheer up my lonely day with such a beautiful guest. 386

It stands beside me on Marmee's work-table, and reminds me tenderly of her favorite flowers; and among those used at her funeral was a spray of this, which lasted for two weeks afterward, opening bud after bud in the glass on her table, where lay the dear old "Jos. May" hymn book, and her diary with the pen shut in as she left it when she last wrote there, three days before the end, "The twilight is closing about me, and I am going to rest in the arms of my children."

So you see I love the delicate flower, and enjoy it very much.

I can write now, and soon hope to come out and see you for a few minutes, as I drive out every fine day, and go to kiss my people once a week for fifteen minutes.

Slow climbing, but I don't slip back; so think up my mercies, and sing cheerfully, as dear Marmee used to do, "Thus far the Lord has led me on!"

Your loving



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