[To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read”]

Books I Best Remember

From October 1898 to March 1899, the New York Times gave space to writers reminiscing about books they had read when they were young (and not so young). Given that a number of the writers were born early in the nineteenth century, their pieces provide a glimpse of the reading of early-American children and teenagers who grew up to become minor literary figures.

Glimpse. Several writers—most notably Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood—took the opportunity to wax nostalgic about almost every book they had read to that point. The result is a mishmash of books they’d read as a child and books they’d read as a teenager and books they’d read a week ago.

Still, there are mentions of the Rollo books and Peter Parleys and other early books for children. (It won’t surprise historians of children’s literature that Fox’s Book of Martyrs wasn’t a particular favorite.) Three readers mention Margaret, Sylvester Judd’s novel published in 1845 and then in a revised version in 1851. (The revision may be what Mary Sherwood means by the novel being “disinterred.”) Joel Benton gives a charming snapshot of a child learning to read from The American Spelling Book (probably not this edition), and William James Williams describes the making of quill pens. One of the delights of the pieces is J. Perkins Tracy’s description of San Francisco right after the Gold Rush.

Besides essays by professional writers, the series inspired installations from readers of the Times. Transcribed here are those pieces by essayists clearly old enough to have read as children before 1872. Birth dates appear after the author’s name when I’ve been able to uncover it; however, I was unable to identify two authors who signed only with initials.


Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood [b. 1826]

Joel Benton [b. 1832]

Martha Bockee Flint [b. 1841]

Cicero Willis Harris [b. 1857]

William James Williams [b. 1828]

J. Perkins Tracy [b. 1853]

S. A. M.

Cassie Moncure Lyne [b. 1845]

A. E. D.


“Books I Best Remember,” by Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood [b. 1826] (New York Times 22 October 1898; Book Review p. 702)

Ever since I left off my fairy stories and got beyond “The Yellow Dwarf” and “The Goose Girl,” I have had a bad habit of reading novels and memoirs. Fortunately I fell upon Miss Austen early, and my passion for her quiet and assured elegance saved me from being swamped by Bulwer’s sentimentality, Disraeli’s excess, and Capt. Marryat’s rather coarse fun—not to speak of Mrs. Gore, whose stories of London society had a great fascination for the little girl in many a New Hampshire Winter, who was apt to be shut up in a library with a good fire and a very miscellaneous crop of the latest products of the London press, no matter what they were.

During that time of literary license I read “Ernest Maltravers,” by Bulwer, which I still think a most fascinating novel, although I have heard that it is immoral. I read also with great pleasure Disraeli’s “Vivian Grey” and Bulwer’s “Pelham,” and I wish some one would write anything as good as these seemed then. I read “Henrietta Temple,” the most romantic and absurd love story ever written, and later on I read “Coningsby” and “Lothair.” Mr. Howells and everybody else may say they are in “poor style.” I do not agree with these views. I think those were beautiful stories. As for “Zanoni,” to a young and romantic girl that was what Rossini’s music was to the lover of melodies before Wagner came. Bulwer (a most unequal writer) need only have given “The Last Days of Pompeii” to the world to prove that he was a man of genius, and his “Kenelm Chillingly” is a novel which I am willing to be shut up with in a country inn, of a rainy day, any time.

Walter Scott was the basis of my education, and I had the further instruction of dear Miss Austen, whose “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma,” “Persuasuion,[”] and “Sense and Sensibility” might well console a life prisoner. Also I read the witty Miss Ferrier, whose novels of “Marriage” and “The Inheritance” Walter Scott said he would gladly have written. How I turn back to them now—those witty and wise character sketches—when my few moments of leisure leave me time to reread a novel! I turn to them when the slip-shop of the present day (with a few glorious exceptions) comes in my way, and I begin to feel that the art of the portrait painter and the novelist belonged to those past celebrities, and that they hold a sceptre which has not descended to modern hands.

I read in those days Carlyle’s “Sartor Resartus” with great delight, and I dare say I did not understand a word of it; but it was a book, and something told me that it was great. I was like the rustic who was brought in to the dinner of the great lord who had a famous French cook, and who devoured “filet de boeuf” and pate de foie gras” with the same zest with which he had eaten plain boiled beef, to the disgust of the educated gourmet, who said, “Pearls before swine.” Perhaps the poor fellow did not enjoy the boiled beef as well afterward.

Every week then in my youth brought us a little green-covered book, by one Charles Dickens, and a little yellow-covered book by one Thackeray. Presently Thackeray began to make fun of Bulwer, and I perceived that there was a possibility that my favorite author, my “Ernest Maltravers,” was a little too fond of “The Beautiful,” with a large B, and when “Vanity Fair” came out I dropped my Bulwer for awhile, and I have never since been able to read with as much pleasure the sentimentalities of either Bulwer or Disraeli while that powerful satirist lies on the table.

“Vanity Fair” is reading for all time and all conditions of men. It is an epigram from cover to cover. It is the embodied wisdom of the worldly life, while the books of Dickens contrasted with it are the poems of humanity, the protest of poverty, the cry of the heart.

How I wish I could read “Master Humphrey’s Clock” once more with the heart of fourteen, the eager, uneducated, spasmodic vision of that day when, no longer a child and not yet a woman, I stood with “reluctant feet, where the brook and river meet.” Perhaps for the reason that I did read it then I love it better than all the greater works of the great novelist. I see myself the little shivering girl, sitting in the window which looked west, to catch the last rays of the wintry sun which feebly struggled through the snowflakes, as Quilp pursued the hapless pair who were to be rescued by Kit, God bless him!

But there was coming along the more intense delight of a plunge into love’s mysteries, and “Jane Eyre” rose like a comet above the serene heaven. This great book, one of the greatest ever written in any language, was to me the introduction into a new world. For a time it swept away everything else. I trembled over it. I do still. I read it once a year for its clear, pellucid English, its tranquil English landscape, its tragic and eloquent secret, its surprises, and its Eastern wealth of passion. How I should like to go even now and help Rochester with his horse! Surely no horse ever slipped so exactly in the right place.

And here let me make a protest against the writers of romance who leave all romance out of their books. All men love a lover; some of us also love a gentleman. All young hearts have a right to their romantic dream. Better a thousand volumes of Bulwer and Disraeli and Mrs. Gore and other sentimentalists than the starvation oatmeal, boiled mutton school which some writers prepare for us now.

Charlotte Brontë’s three novels, “Jane Eyre,” “Shirley,” and “Villette,” are all masterpieces. They never tire; they give one a healthy excitement, a generous glow. Nothing prettier in its way than Caroline Helstone’s love for Robert or his for her ever illuminated the dreary wastes of an English manufacturing district. Nothing more breezy than Shirley, a sort of lady Gay Spanker, ever caressed her dogs and horses. The novel of “Villette” in the French pension is even more artistic, and it would be invaluable for its portrait of Rachel, under the name of Vashti, even if it had not the more noble portrait of its own author. I am sure “Jane Eyre” (as I love to call Charlotte Brontë) had read Miss Austen. Of course she had! What intelligent Engloish girl had not? Otherwise she could never have given us these pictures of English life, which are the aquarelles in the midst of a great city on fire, which occur in her novels. She was the more passionate and stormy genius of the two, but not so consummate an artist—who was?

George Sand came into my life early. “Consuelo” was the first novel of hers which I read, and I bowed to its power and beauty. “Indiana” came next—dangerous, like playing with fire. After that I went on reading every French novel I could get. Thanks to Jane Austen, they did not hurt me. I remember especially “Gerfaut,” a most interesting novel, and “La Lys dans la Vallée” is beautiful—most beautiful.

Then I took to translating Balzac to learn French, and one might as well attempt to describe the plays of Shakespeare and the works of Milton as to talk of this great writer of whom other men have written volumes. I think Henry James’s paper on Balzac, written twenty years ago, the best description of this great profoundly sad, and most delicate analyst which I remember.

I should like to mention many works of Cherbuliez, especially “Jean Teterol’s Idea,” a wonderful book, a picture of what has led to the making of modern France. It is one of the books which I especially remember and recommend.

There was a great deal of fun in Capt. Marryat, and I remember “Charles O’Malley” with gratitude. It took me over a dull stage ride during three days on the Alleghany Mountains. The cheerful Irishman who jumped his horse over his intimate friend was a pleasant companion. There is also a girlish gratitude for the memory of G. P. R. James, the precursor of Stanley J. Weyman. His two horsemen got to be somewhat commonplace, but they were always “going” somewhere and took us with them—healthy, hearty English novels.

The stories of Poe, transcendently terrible, and the novels of Eugene Sue came along together. There is no more interesting novel than “The Mysteries of Paris.” It would not hurt anybody to read it to-day, and had not Victor Hugo (gigantic story teller) come in so soon after, Eugene Sue would not have been forgotten. But “Notre Dame de Paris” is so much more powerful with little dwarf Quasimodo swinging from the bells, that it swept everything out of the way. In my list of novels which “must be read” I should place “Notre Dame de Paris” among the first six.

There were some boys in our family, and they brought in Alexandre Dumas, and Athos, Porthos, and Aramis became my glittering heroes. The later novels of Dumas which placed the house of Valois so conspicuously before me have been an invaluable help to French history. Dumas and Victor Hugo! We should place them within reach of the prisoners of poverty, of illness, of injustice, for they surround the reader with an atmosphere of radiant interest and delight. Hugo’s “The Man Who Laughs” and the “Toilers of the Sea” remain in my memory brilliantly stamped in letters of—not exactly diamonds, but rhinestones, at the very least.

Then came the highly metaphysical day of George Eliot. “Adam Bede” was an event. I disliked Dinah instinctively. There seemed a false note somewhere, but the wit and wisdom, its Mrs. Pyser, would have redeemed a worse book, and I grew up to Maggie Tolliver. “Middlemarch” is delicious. The way its author hates Rosamond is stunning. I can no more help reading George Eliot than water can help running down hill; but I do not feel very comfortable while reading her. Perhaps she is too great; perhaps, as a witty critic says: “I prefer to take my metaphysic straight.” At any rate, the world’s favorite is not mine. Yet I could not give up her little by-play of humor; that at least is sincere; that is Shakespearean.

What a day that was when the first great Hawthorne book was laid on the table! I had been an infantile reader of his short stories of the juvenile miscellany order, and owe my first knowledge of the high empyrean to his “Tanglewood Tales.” His sketch of Proserpine as she comes back from “gloomy Dis,” always occurs to me as I see the first dandelion. “Ceres was so delighted to recover her first daughter that she made the grass green and the flowers start wherever she put her blessed foot.” Oh! great master of the English tongue! Who has ever said anything half so sweet as that about Spring? Who has from behind the veil of an impenetrable melancholy peeped with such appreciative eyes on the glee of childhood, the joyous greeting of the flowers? Who has ever sketched young girlhood as he has done in “The House of the Seven Gables”? Take it for all and all that is my favorite of his novels, although it is asking too much of a Hawthorne worshipper to say which is the favorite.

At a country house lately we all attempted to make lists of our favorite novels, and declared bravely that we would not go to bed until the list was completed. Sunrise and cock crow found us at it, and there they all lie now unfinished. Tolstoï, Tourgenieff, Alphonsse Daudet, William Black, Mrs. Olyphant, all have their patrons. Tolstoï tears you all to pieces. He is not a novelist, he is an earthquake.

I should leave “Robinson Crusoe,” “The Arabian Nights,” “Don Quixote,” Scott’s novels, Miss Austen, and Harper’s Family Library of 1848 in the track of every child, and let him or her pick up what he wanted. I should also put a bound volume of the Penny Magazine of that date on the same table. This delightful old thing (I have examined one lately) is a perfect mine of information. It was edited by Charles Mackay, profusely illustrated, and it had everything in it from the Houses of Westminster to the Ruins of Baelbeck. It was the first of the illustrated magazines to reach my infantile mind, and if I have ever been worth anything I owe it to these instructive pages. To be sure, Darwin wrote for it, and Sir John Bowring, and other budding geniuses of that day. It was my privilege to see its aged editor in London in 1869 and to thank him for it.

Mrs. Norton wrote some very pretty stories and some beautiful poems. I talked with Robert Browning about her, and he told me that he owed much to her poetry. The “Bingen on the Rhine” is almost all that survives of that beauty and genius. Browning helped to stamp her out, he and Tennyson, with their colossal feet, the feet of Hercules. No novelist or poet could stand that tramp, tramp of the oncoming iconoclasts of the early Victorian era—Thackeray and Dickens, Tennyson and Browning. Mrs. Norton, however, has helped to make one of the most delightful of memoirs, that of the Sheridans, her illustrious race. Memoirs have, next to novels, been my favorite amusement in reading. I fear that I prefer them to all the novels excepting the old ones. James Lowell said that when he had a disagreeable duty to perform he always sneaked up stairs and locked the door and read “The Vicar of Wakefield,” which he considered the best novel ever written—read it by stealth and with all the joy with which as a boy he had played hookey at school. One of his brothers, by the way, the Rev. Robert Lowell, wrote a delightful book called “The New Priest of Conception Bay,” as salt as the sea, as refreshing as the breezes at Bar Harbor. Miss Howard’s novel of “Guenn” somehow reminded me of it. I was one of the first readers of “Margaret”—Mr. Judd’s curiously disinterred novel. It owed much to Darby’s [sic] drawings, Chilion being especially beautiful. Charles Reade’s “Christie Johnstone” is one of the salt sea wave novels, and a herring fishery in it is described in a most masterly way. All his novels, “Griffith Gaunt” especially, remain to me as live books. Then there came Thomas Hardy’s “Bathsheba” and “Far from the Madding crowd.” Would that they had no such successors as “Tess” or the terrible “Jude.”

As for the Trollopes, Anthony may be put on the shelf except for “Barchester Towers” and “Mrs. Proudie”; but his brother, T. Adolphus Trollope, should be read if one wishes to know Italian cities. His novel of “Marietta” is a most delightful picture of Florence (not the fine old triptich [sic] of “Romola,” which is three novels and a life of Savanarola [to] boot,) but the Florence which you and I know a little, and wish we knew better. His novel “A Siren” is a perfect picture of Ravenna, with its Pineta and old mosaics. His “Gemma” gives us that Italian life which forms the groundwork of the tragedies of Alfieri, and all that he touched became a photograph. Why these admirable and most interesting books have been lost to the reading world I do not comprehend. The publishers who have saved to us Miss Ferrier’s “Marriage” should resuscitate T. Adolphus Trollope, who also wrote some delightful memoirs. Following him was Miss Tincker, whose “Signor Monaldini’s Niece” is a most perfect picture of modern Rome.

I had the pleasure of reading Ouida’s “Ariadne” in Rome. That and her “Friendship,” a picture of Florence, give us the American and the English colony somewhat, seen through the eyes of an angry woman of genius, a writer of immense force. All her scoldings cannot blot out Ouida’s power of making a book interesting. I pay them the compliment of remembering them, every word of them, although I have since had the greater pleasure of reading Marion Crawford’s much more perfect work.

Some anonymous novels which have interested the world (as impenetrable as the secret of the author of Junius) come back to me. There was “The Bread Winners” and “Democracy,” attributed to John Hay, and although he has persistently denied the authorship, no one has ever believed him. Although our present Secretary of State is a truthful man, is a diplomatist and “called indifferent honest,” we may all have our little private corner for our favorite impressions. They are both interesting, especially “Democracy.” I shall never forget the almost disingenuous disgust of the late Senator Anthony at the revelation of some drawing room secrets in that powerful sketch of our fugitive Washington civilization.

Modern American novel writing is becoming almost as fearful in its increase as that which threatens England, and we have some powerful hands at work. None as yet quite as commanding as that of Mrs. Ward. No “Marcella” has sprung from the presses of New York or Boston or Chicago, but in the novels of Mrs. V. R. Cruger and Mrs. Spencer Trask I see the lambent power which can one day give us a “Marcella.” That, it strikes me, is the great need of this day and generation—a novel which boldly shows forth the evils of our society without being either didactic or immoral; a novel which does not forget that its first business is to amuse and to elevate, while it instructs and improves.

There have been terrible disappointments on the road of the novel reader. “Helbeck of Bannisdale” is one of these, but the great “Quo Vadis” is a recompense if one must have the religious novel. We have leaped from “Henry Esmond” to Rudyard Kipling since I began to read novels, and between them what a “sea of change”! What a variety! As for memoirs, Greville and Henry Crabbe Robertson have had so many followers that they are now relegated to the back shelf with Guizot’s “History of Civilization,” “The Two Noble Lives,” by Augustus Hare, and “The Memoirs of Lady Eastlake” (delightful) are all I remember of the fifty books which crowded my table last Winter. Who in going through a forest remembers every wildflower? Who in walking through the splendid parterre of a modern luxurious place can enumerate the cannas from Japan, the orchids from Borneo, the Victoria regia from Australia, the roses from England, the lilies from the isles of the sea after he has left them?

And yet, plucking one little violet from the ground, he gratefully bears it away in his hand and blesses it for its fragrance. And so with our favorite book. It may not be great, but it is precious.

[Transcriber’s note: “Darby”: Margaret was illustrated by F. O. C. Darley (not Darby).


“Books I Best Remember,” by Joel Benton [b. 1832] (New York Times 29 October 1898; Book Review p. 720)

Under the title “Books I Best Remember,” arangements have been made by The Times’s Saturday Review for a short series of papers by writers of experience and repute, who have read widely in the current literature of their times. The wish of the editor has been to show through these articles which books have best survived in the recollections of readers who have all their lives been in contact with current literature. Readers of The Saturday Review with recollections embracing the same periods it is hoped will find these recollections interesting for comparison with their own. The first paper in the series was published in the issue of Oct. 22. It was written by Mrs. Sherwood.

“I love to lose myself in other men’s minds. When I am not walking I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think for me. * * * I can read anything which I call a book.”—Charles Lamb.

So many things have been said in praise of books that merely to name these eulogia would require almost the space of an Alexandrian Library. I suppose that the true account for this multiplicity of reference is to be found in the fact that nothing material is so allied to human kinship as is a book. Out of all these varied ascriptions of conspiring homage and gratitude, few can be chosen that offer a more pungent or pictorial report than Emily Dickinson’s startlingly vivid lines, where she says:

“There is no frigate like a book

To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page

Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of toll;

How frugal is the chariot

That bears a human soul!”

I think the first complete volume—and it was in board covers—that could be called a book to which my attention was directed was Webster’s American Spelling Book. In this, at two and a half years of age, (for I had learned the alphabet earlier,) a teacher pointed out to me the perpendicular columns of words and taught me to read the adjacent sentences into which they were simply formed. There were pictures there to give interest to the text, and, to this day, I clearly recall a certain strange sensation and delight which a book first made upon me, just because it was a book, and not particularly because it was that book.

I perceived that it was something different from the teacher’s chair and table, though when closed it seemed no less material. It had ideas and a spiritual content, and it told me something. When I got to the pictured story of “The Milkmaid” and “The Boys in the Farmer’s Apple Tree”—the good farmer who made first pellets of grass with which to drive them out before he tried what virtue there might be in stones—I saw fully what books and reading meant. Of course there was a high flavor of moral teaching mixed with its attempts at entertainment and literary instruction, but this was by no means ill-planned. When the English Reader, made by the good old Quaker, Lindley Murray, came along as a close second to it, the didactic element was overpowering and at high tide.

This book would be thought far too advanced now for a child of five or six; but it was in those early years, as well as much later, that I read it, and was thus introduced to Pope and Johnson and Addison and Goldsmith, as well as to other names of conspicuous note in English literature. The book would be called antiquated now, but if the effect of reading it could be traced and summarized, I doubt if the mental stimulus and culture it has afforded to thousands would not be shown to be equal to that of any one book among those which have worked to drive it out of recent use.

I confess it lifted my mind up on tiptoe, so to speak, at first; it was too strong meat for the adolescent mind to assimilate all at once—but it all became clear and lucid in later years. Those sonorous sentences that had long become permanent fixtures in the memory, though not clearly comprehended in the days of their introduction, were a blaze of light at last. For thirty years the book, perhaps, has had no living existence, but the children who were nurtured upon it, though they live three times thirty years, will not fail to remember its far-away reverberations. Some of us doubted, as children, that selected passage from Goldsmith’s “Animated Nature” where he rather credulously remarked of Niagara Falls that, notwithstanding their great height, “it is said that the Indians sometimes went down it in their canoes in safety.” We know now that whoever may have been Goldsmith’s informant on this matter it was certainly not one of the Indians who had tried that experiment.

As evidence of the book’s enormous seriousness there is in one of its editions a footnote by Murray apologizing for the insertion of a passage that seemed to him to border upon levity, and he seems to shrink from the responsibility of it as if he had committed a cardinal sin. But what is amusing about the apology is that no one is so tenderly conscienced to-day as to be able to detect any particular levity in the passage whatever. In spite of these minor matters, the English Reader was one of the mind-shaping books of its era, and they are still a numerous people who acknowledge its influence and who both remember and reverence it.

A book that gave you boundless delight, and which was thumbed more and cherished more highly than were any of my toys, was the one given to me in my sixth year, if not earlier. The particular edition of it was titled, “Mother Goose’s Quarto Book of Melodies.” To step out of the dignified and stately Engllish Reader, where to smile was almost to commit a crime, into this metaphorical circus tent, with its various Punch and Judy like characters, where all was roistering levity and general “high jinks”—with no more thought of sin or moral obligation than there is in conic sections or the chapters on the binomial theorem—was to enter an entirely new world. For me the world was a radiant fairy land, an enchanted, wondermaking domain. Whether it was “Old Mother Hubbard,” “Ding-Dong Bell,” “The Old Cow That Jumped Over the Moon,” “Bobby Shaftoe,” “Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son,” or “Humpty-Dumpty” that I read, or whatever else in that savory and never-to-be-forgotten melange, the door of romance was opened and life was changed on that book’s parentally permitted arrival. I wonder if Lindley Murray ever saw it. I am sure William D. Howells thanks his stars that he saw and enjoyed it before he laid down the realistic edict as the rule for literature.

None of Mother Goose’s readers, perhaps, could have explained how

“Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,

Had a wife and couldn’t keep her.”

And afterward how

“He put her in a pumpkin shell,

And there he kept her very well.”

But it all tickled the fancy and gave inexplicable delight. To the child who has no long experience to set against such relations, Mother Goose was true enough. How could he who is so fresh born and expecting wonders—in fact, meeting wonders daily—doubt that these might be true somewhere? There was, at any rate, a vraisemblance in their telling that even the grown reader cannot quite quit himself of. The coming down of the Man in the Moon, the man who jumped into the bramble bush, with such sorrow at first and such success on the repetition, and the death and burial of Cock Robin, were not, of course, according to the ordinary way of things; but the story of Jack Sprat and his wife and the old woman who lived only upon victuals and drink, which “were the chief of her diet,” as well as many others of the collection, were merely grotesque—not impossible.

What a medley of nonsense they all made—and yet was there ever anything more stimulating and delicious? It must be a sad child, and a rare child, who must go through life without feeling their hypnotic spell. My copy of Mother Goose was square, and covered by yellow-papered boards, and I have never since—to my regret—been able to find its exact duplicate. The palpable error, started early in this century, which says that Mother Goose was a real personage, who lived in Boston the century previous, has stuck to its foothold with surprising tenacity, but it has no show now in any intelligent court. The etiology of Mother Goose’s tales is too distant to trace. The stories no doubt came from the table lands of Asia and from the far-back Aryan race. They were probably in various forms told to children the world over many thousands of years ago, and have a date and lineage similar to those that belong to the well-known and similarly universal children’s games.

The Rollo Books and others of a close kinship to them I remember as fairly entertaining, but they did not waken my boyish enthusiasm or make a deep mental imprint upon me. I much preferred Mungo Park’s “Travels in Africa,” which was alive with a delightfully strange and indomitably heroic experience. A book that was never very noted which Paraclete Potter of Poughkeepsie published in 1810 lingered in my grandfather’s garret far past its day and fell into my hands when I was six years old. I still recall its primitive simplicity and its antique flavor. Its hold upon my memory, though, comes from the fact that it furnished me the first piece I was ever taught to declaim.

I read the “Arabian Nights” very early, and somewhat clandestinely, for I found the book from time to time was moved about to be out of my reach. It was doubtless not an exactly fit mental pablum for those very early days, when the world is all before one; but I am sure it brought me no permanent harm. What it did bring me was breathless pleasure, the spirit of the Orient, and a sense of the richness of human aspiration that were all a revelation. The magic of Aladdin’s lamp, the story of the Forty Thieves—how they still stir and excite the youthful mind! The atmosphere of the Nights’ stories was far enough away from the New England and Middle States environment, and when you woke up from their absorbing spell the day’s routine and even the landscape’s perspective became dun-colored and tame and prosy enough. You had been reveling in its doctrine of hedonism and unrestricted liberty, and then were plunged back into the chill realities that belong with stern tasks and dutiful living—with no mental hashish at hand for their mitigation.

In the way of humor there were still existent upon the library shelves available to me Sam Slick’s works, but I heard them read and quoted by older people oftener than I opened them. Then, too, there was an odd little book—of no known paternity, so far as I am aware—entitled, “Thinks I to Myself: A Serio-Comic Tragedy,” which was not a little naïve and amusing, and full of touches of a certain keen anatomy of mental human nature. Every once in a while this little, long duodecimo, in boards, may be seen in some old bookstall; so that it would seem there was quite a large edition of it called for in its prosperous days. But how sad and solemn an old book that has outlived its generation, and is obsolete to the next, appears! If the book was once humorous, there will be no more smiles between its covers—only dust and mold upon them.

I believe that the first book of literary criticism that engaged my serious attention was “The Living Authors of America,” by Thomas Powell. It was not great criticism—it was even thin and superficial, and not always intelligent; but its great importance to me was its introduction to my notice of several authors of whom I knew little. Here in extracts I got my first taste of Emerson, my early knowledge of Margaret Fuller as a literary personality, and some extended acquaintance with Poe, Longfellow, Bryant, Cooper, and other notabilities.

But there was still another book of poems that stirred me deeply, partly because it came at an impressible period of my life, and partly because it had some truly poetic worth, and bespoke large things. This book, in that chocolate-colored cloth under which the Ticknor & Fields house have stored such immeasurable literary wealth, was Alexander Smith’s “Life Drama.” On its appearance The London Times, The Spectator, and other English critical voices made for it a hearty acclaim. They said it was Shakespearean, and gave it other adjectives of but little less magnitude. After a little time there came a reaction from this praise; Sydney Dobell, a real poet, and other with Smith were satirized in a group as the “Spasmodic School” of poets—particularly in a poem built on the lines of the “Life Drama” and titled “Firmillian.”

In spite of all this, I have always preserved a certain fondness for Alexander Smith. He wrote more than a few good lines, as these are which linger in my memory, from which I quote wholly:

“Although its heart is filled with gold and ores,

The sea complains upon a thousand shores.

All things have something more than barren use,

There is a scent upon the briar;

A tremulous splendor fills the Autumn dews,

Cold moons are fringed with fire.”

But there were certain extravagances in the “Life Drama,” like the following quatrain, which made it easy to caricature it and make it seem ridiculous. This quatrain is part of a lyric addressed to a young lady:

“My soul leaped up beneath thy timid kiss,

What then to me were groans,

Or pain, or death? Earth was a round of bliss,

I seemed to walk on thrones.”

Alexander Smith died young, but he left besides his verses some books of prose, one of which, a series of essays titled “Dreamthorp,” is a very delightful production. I shall always keep this volume among the books that deserve not to die, and the “Life Drama” not far away—the latter as a reminiscence provoker of past pleasure.

I should have said at an earlier point than this that the bound volumes of the old Penny Magazine, as well as the Chambers Miscellany, made very attractive books when they were more current than either of them can be again, and that my indebtedness to the former especially is very great. The Hans Christian Andersen stories I enjoyed also when they came somewhat later. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “The Origin of Species” were epoch-making books in their respective ways, but, heretical as it may be to say it, I never could read the very famous one first named a second time—it was so helplessly unliterary, and, it seemed to me, in certain chapters so half-sickly melodramatic. William Blake’s poetry, especially his “Songs of Innocence,” had for me a rare charm from my first acquaintance with them. His song of “The Tiger” is one of the truly inspired poems—not less so, in fact, than Coleridge’s “The Ancient Mariner.” What a stupendous and startling though he embodies in this line:

“did he who made the Lamb, make thee?”

There were two books, not altogether unallied in their spiritual content, that I read at about the same date, which wrought an unforgetable effect. I mean that tenderly introspective book, titled, “Thorndale,” and the “Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli.” Filled were both of them with a dreamy seriousness and deliciously poetic reverie. The former has its echo in “Amiel’s Journal” and its counterpart in Matthew Arnold’s favorite “Obermann.”

Can any one forget the urbane and gentle and dignified “Spectator” of Addison and stele? I have never been able to do so. Nor have I lost the remembrance of the charm of a multitude of Oriental works such as the “Sakuntala” of Kalidasa. This author has been called “The Shakespeare of India.” The “Tripataka,” the “Shammapada,” and the “Zenda Vesta” have passages that often come to mind, as do some of Mahommed’s sayings in his so-called “Table Talk.” It was Theodore Parker’s liability to take his text from some of these writings that caused Lowell, when describing in his “Fable for Critics” the condition of one who should go to hear this preacher, to write as follows:

“You won’t know beforehand

Whether you are to be Bibled or Koraned.”

I must dismiss Omar Kháyyám the Elder, Edda, Gulliver, and Munchausen, and Evelyn and Pepys to not be carried too far a-field.

To speak of Joubert is to take us to one of the keenest sentence makers of France, but both the English and American editions of his maxims fail to render more than a part of his work. Among isolated books here and there that were impressive, I may name Hamerton’s “The Painter’s Camp,” Judd’s “Margaret,” that idyllic New England story; Thoreau’s “Walden” and “Week,” and Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” But I could never, as some seem impelled to do, while seeing the latter’s literary worth, and not affected by its portentous form, make of it the basis for a religious cult. But, chacun a son gout. Rossetti’s volume, that brought the “Blessed Damozel,” added a new pleasure to life.

If Landor is so famous as to be outlawed from this company I have summoned, he is so little read as to deserve admittance to it. For years I have kept close at hand, while having his other writings accessible, Stedman’s and Aldrich’s “Cameos,” which is an admirably well-chosen selection (as the authorship would guarantee) of Landor’s verse. If a Greek of the classic aqge could come back to us—one of eminent literary genius, and should express himself in our tongue—he would not be more Greek or more classic than was Landor.

But as memories of books thicken, there seems to them no end. Even Blackstone beckons in the backward perspective as having had literary and thought-inspiring significance. It is best, perhaps, to shut out here the clamoring figures that make a call to be named. I feel in laying down the pen and dismissing the topic as if I had gone partly through an immeasurable forest and touched only here and there a tree.


“What One Child in a Lone Household Read,” by Martha Bockee Flint [b. 1841] (New York Times 7 January 1899; Saturday Review section, p. 12.)

Charles Lamb’s advice for the education of a girl—to “turn her loose in a good library and let her browse”—I think still holds good, even in this specialist-ridden age of higher training. The remembrance of the keen delight in such browsing and the later sense of its formative power deepen with the passing years. Therewith comes a strong conviction of the devitalizing effect of the present deluge of children’s books and of “juvenile literature.” A true child’s book, one which stands the test of its young censors, has its eternal interest and an equal, or greater, charm for grown-up people, but there can be no more stultifying influence than a restriction to the books which result from writing down to the supposed capacity of children. Rather than languish under such exhausted receivers, let them breathe the ozone on the mountain peaks of literature. A child will understand something of every book, the effort of comprehension is good exercise, and the proud sense of companionship with great minds direct and tonic. “He shoots higher that threatens the moon than he that aims at a tree,” was the holy George Herbert’s counsel to his country parson, and it is as true to-day. We may, in later life, sometimes justify ourselves for indulgence in literary syllabubs and confections when we seek diversion from severe study and wish something to lull the mind into needed inaction, but to a child should be given only wholesome, tissue-making food.

I write of a little girl growing up, the one child in a lonely household, in Winter, often isolated for weeks in “the tumultuous privacy of storm.” Her amusements and occupations were naturally those of her elders, a family who were constant and critical readers. The one child’s book, which she remembers with pleasure, and which at five years old she felt to be real, was Peter Parley’s “Universal History.” A true friend of children was S. G. Goodrich, and one is glad that just now there seems to be a tardy recognition of his worth. The platitudes of the Rollo and the Lucy books were wearisome, and their mechanical morality resented. So the child found her entertainment in whatever was on the centre table, or foraged for herself on the lower shelves in the old-fashioned library. The books within her reach were, in one sense at least, the most ponderous works, but she was skillful in picking out the semblance of a story. In “The Rambler” and “The Spectator,” the first literary test applied, was a page well sprinkled with capital letters, the proper names promising a touch of human interest. old plays supplied a series of fantastic names for her kittens, and the rest did no harm. “The Citizen of the World” and “Gulliver’s Travels” were read and reread with an enjoyable faith in their reality. A sunny glade in which clumps of cinnamon fern reared their long fronds was named the “Lilliput Woods.”

Robertson’s history of the Spanish conquest of America struck the chord which was to vibrate later to Prescott’s touch, and awakened a fierce patriotism, centred chiefly in regrets that “the whole boundless continent” was not our own. Theodore Irving’s almost forgotten “Conquest of Florida” was another favorite book, memories of which long years after gave a note of pathos and of tragedy to Southern travel and its rambles through forest and swamp. So, too, “The Mutineers of the Bounty” hung vivid pictures in the mind’s gallery, scenes whose drooping palms and blue lagoons are still unfaded. Mrs. Opie’s “Illustrations of Lying” was a permitted “Sunday book” on account of the excellent moral appended to each story, but, as the morals were conveniently separated, they did not destroy the interest in the exposition of “The lie of Politeness,” “The Lie of Convenience,” or “The lie of Vanity,” as the case might be. The publication of “Jane Eyre” is the first literary event distinctly remembered, perhaps impressed by the discussions it excited and sympathy for the unhappy children at Lowood. No books are remembered with more pleasure than “Our Village,” by Miss Mitford, and Miss Manning’s charming stories of Margareta More, of Mary Powell and of Deborah milton, two or three years later, published in Littell’s Living Age. The diaries were accepted as genuine, and made the model of many attempts at keeping a journal, then the literary ambition of every clever child. Miss Mitford’s faithful rendering of English scenery had perhaps as permanent influence as any book ever read, and made the unseen primroses and bluebells as much a part of one’s life as our own familiar flowers. Miss Susan Fenimore Cooper’s “Rural hours” was published about this time and found an interested but very critical reader, whose foot being there upon her native heath, had courage to correct, to add, and to mark unstinted approval when the observations tallied with her own.

But the one of all writers who held supreme sway over the child was Walter Scott. One cannot resist a feeling of pity for those who have not grown up under his magic power and for the young people of to-day, who have no time to discover his charm. The Waverley Novels were familiar, in fragments from reading aloud, or from the stories told therefrom, from her earliest recollection. One day she was found crying bitterly, and when persuaded to tell the cause, it was “because she had no Scotch blood!” She lived in an ideal Scotland; its names were scattered over every neighboring hill and rock and stream; tableau vivants and private theatricals were always from the novels or the poems. “The Lady of the Lake” was early known by heart, and “The Lay of the Last Minstrel” and “Marmion” were read with almost equal fervor. Di Vernon and Flora MacIvor were the beloved heroines, and with many another noble woman, surely gave better companionship than the “Susies” and “Elsies” forced upon the friendship of too many a child fitted for better things. It is just this sense of companionship and of discrimination therein which a child needs most to learn from books, and hence only the worthiest should be at hand. Those books which have impressed us before ten years old remain to us like old friends, ingrained with the very fibre of our souls. The mature mind is a palimpsest written over with successive records. One reads and sifts, retaining only what he sees a use for. the child assimilates everything which he can understand. For the building up of his character, then, and the training of his taste, let him be given only “A good Booke, the precious life-blood of a Master-spirit imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a Life beyond Life.”


“Early Favorites That are Favorites Still,” by Cicero Willis Harris [b. 1857] (New York Times 7 January 1899; Saturday Review section, p. 12.)

I take it that the title “Books I Best Remember” refers as much to general impressions as to the particular contents. It has always seemed to me that the guiding books of one’s life are not always the ones that can be quoted from readily or those whose facts or arguments could be presented clearly on call. I know that some of the works that have at certain periods of my life impressed me most deeply have left with me merely vague notions of what their power really consisted in.

In my own case, certainly, a few of the early favorites have continued favorites to this day. Before I was nine years old I had read extensively in our Revolutionary history and biography for a youth, for I had not only studied school histories of the United States, but had become deeply interested in Botta’s “American Revolution,” (two octavo volumes,) so highly praised by John Quincy Adams; Irving’s and Frost’s “Lives of Washington,” Headley’s “Life of Washington,” Frost’s “Lives of Distinguished American Military Officers,” a history of the Mexican and South American revolutions, a history of the Mexican war, histories of the Indian wars, and the war of 1812. I also had read some general history. My first historical books were Botta’s work, just mentioned, which, I think, I read before I was eight years old, and Goodrich’s “Peter Parley’s History of the World.” The Botta had been the property of my mother’s brother. Among other works which she had, and which I prized highly, were a Sunday school story entitled “Early Impressions,” and a small volume (I remember that the color was green) containing the complete poems of Gray and Goldsmith. Even the readings from the Norse I read greedily in those days. Gray’s “Bard,” “Progress of poesy,” ”Elegy,” and “ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” were ever prime favorites. At least once a year I read the first two, along with some other noble poetry with which I became familiar at a later period.

Among the few books owned by my father were such religious treatises as Boston’s “Four-Fold State,” “Mission of Inquiry to the Jews,” and Baxter’s “Call to the Unconverted,” with a small biography, published separately, of the author. But before I proceed let me add that my mother’s little collection was a perfect storehouse for me, for it contained a dozen copies of The Southern Literary Messenger of 1842-3, Campbell’s poems, Mrs. Sigourney’s poems, Hervey’s “Meditations,” and an abridged edition of Jeremy Taylor’s “Holy Living and Dying.” The battle pieces of Campbell were my first poetical favorites—Gray came later, and Collins. I think I can repeat half of “Hohenlinden” even now, and snatches from “The Battle of the Baltic” and “The Meteor Flag of England.” I was nine or ten when my father bought a small library that belonged to one of his clerks. It contained a book which I devoured, d’Aubigné’s “History of the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland.” for a long while the best idea I had of the sixteenth century I obtained from this ecclesiastical historian. Here I learned to reverence the scholarly, heroic Zwingle. As a boy I gloried in his going out to fight, dressed in armor and carrying the standard of his canton, and his untimely death perhaps gave me my earliest poignant grief, after the death of my grandfather. I date my leanings to political liberty and to Presbyterianism from about that time. At that time I came into possession of Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs.”

In later life the books that have had most charm were these and a few others that I fail at the moment to recall: In theology—Walker’s “Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation,” read several times when I was a boy. In science—Hugh Miller’s “Testimony of the Rocks,” Guion’s “The Comet,” McCosh’s “Intuitions of the Mind.” In history—Prescott’s “Conquest of Mexico,” Robertson’s “America” and “Charles V.,” Motley’s “Rise of the Dutch Republic,” Green’s “England,” Macaulay, and parts of Gibbon; Martin’s account of the reign of Louis XIV, and the decline of the French monarchy, Schiller’s “Thirty Years’ War,” guizot’s “Civilization,” Stubb’s “Constitutional History of England,” some of Bancroft, especially the last volumes dealing with the formation and adoption of the Constitution. Perhaps also I should mention Leckey’s “European Morals” and “England in the Eighteenth Century.” Possibly to me Curtis’s “Life of Webster” is, next to Irving’s “Washington” and Rives’s “Madison,” the most valuable American biography. Of writers in political science, I have read Aristotle once. Montesquieu is at once the most elegant and the most philosophical of those moderns which I have read, and I have only read about one-third of his great book on the “Spirit of Laws.” Of the Americans, the Federalist authors Calhoun and Sage are favorites. Sir Henry Maine’s works are learned, and the “Ancient Law” is a classic. To me the best modern English poetry is found in a few of Wordsworth’s short poems, in scattered passages from Byron, in Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, and the best of Tennyson. Lyrics like the ode on the “Intimations” compare with the shorter works of Milton, and with Gray’s odes. Poe is the only American poet who impresses me as having the weird power of Coleridge in the “Ancient Mariner” and “Christabel.”

Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” is one of the greatest poems written by an American. It interested me when I was a boy. It moves me still as no other poem on death ever does, even “Lycidas” not excepted. To me, as to Paul Hayne, Timrod is the greatest Southern poet, but james R. Randall and Dr. Ticknor have written some truly fine things. Much of Lanier’s poetry I have not read.

I have saved fiction for the last. My first book, “Robinson Crusoe,” was a large, sumptuous edition, full of good pictures. I and my brothers read it and reread it until it dropped to pieces in our hands. Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” was first read when I was about eight or nine years old. Among the books purchased for me by my father were Miss Cummins’s “Lamplighter,” another moral story, “The Watchman,” and Miss Yonge’s “Heir of Redclyffe.” “Ernest Linwood,” by Mrs. Caroline Lee Hentz, was a story in my collection. I think I read it two or three times. Miss Yonge’s book I have enjoyed since those days, although it is by no means so complete a success as Mrs. Gaskell’s “Cranford” or Halévey’s “Abbé Constantine.” In my grandfather’s library, after his death, I perused “Saratoga,” a tale of the Revolution; “Ivanhoe,” and one volume of “Woodstock.” Later in life Scott continued my prime choice, but I shared him, to some extent, with Balzac, Hugo, Dickens—superseded by Thackeray and George Eliot at a later stage—Manzoni, Hawthorne, Dumas, Charles Reade, Bjornson, Spitelhagen. I liked Bret Harte’s earlier short stories of California life, Poe’s tales of the weird and grotesque, and some of Paul Heyse’s tales. These are merely a few of the books best remembered. To-morrow I may think of one or two of far more value than the bulk of these.


“On a New England Farm,” by William James Williams [b. 1828] (New York Times 28 January 1899; Saturday Review section, p. 60-61.)

Books written when the soul is at spring-tide,

When it is laden like a groaning sky

Before a thunderstorm, are power and gladness

And majesty and beauty. They seize the reader

As tempests seize a ship, and bear him on

With a wild joy.

The writer of these lines has been deeply interested in the recent papers in The Times’s Saturday Review on “Books I Best Remember,” the recent one by Arthur Wentworth Eaton being highly interesting, awakening memories and reminiscences that had been long slumbering in the unused recesses of the brain.

I, too, am from the land of the Mayflower, a descendant of the Plymouth Pilgrims, but was born several decades before Mr. Eaton, and when educational facilities and privileges were very limited and primitive, particularly in the sparsely settled farming districts. Then schools were few and books scarce. Our household library consisted of a dozen or two books, and was the largest in the neighborhood. This was over seventy years ago. The “library” comprised the Bible and New Testament, Hervey’s “Meditations,” Young’s “Night Thoughts,” Sterne’s “Sentimental Journey,” “Pilgrim’s Progress,” “Sir Charles Grandison,” a society book, written in the grandiloquent and stilted style of the time; Goldsmith’s “History of Rome,” “A History of New Brunswick,” “Jane Shore,” “The Horrible Revenge,” and a few others whose titles I cannot now recall.

The hamlet also owned a small library, among whose possessions I can only remember “Josephus” and “Fox’s Book of Martyrs,” the latter fully illustrated with scenes of the horrible atrocities committed in the name of religion in Queen Mary’s time.

School was kept for a few months in Winter, and only the three R’s were taught, and very little of them. The schoolbooks for our family of boys were the New Testament, which was always read at the opening of the school; an arithmetic, Murray’s “Spelling Book,” “Introduction to the English Reader,” and “The English Reader,” slate and pencils, and paper for copy books.

We had no “made” copy books, such as the schools are now so profusely provided with. The scholar ruled the paper with a “plummet,” which he hammered out of a piece of lead, and the master set the copy. Quill pens were used. The boys plucked the geese for the quills, clarified them by boiling in oil, and the master made and mended the pens. In some families there were only three or four books among several children, and in some there was none at all. School paraphernalia was dear, money was scarce, the people were poor, and children were taught to be careful of their books.

I have now in my possession the Goldsmith’s History that was in my father’s library and “The English Reader,” from which I learned to read, and from which I obtained my first insight into English literature. It was not a very deep draught, but it created a desire for a deeper one. I began to read in it in 1833, when I was five years old, and continued to use it until 1839, when I left the school, the farm, and the mill for a printing office, where I was apprenticed to learn the “art, trade, and mystery of printing”—“the art preservative of all arts.” I have retained these two books through all the changes and vicissitudes of a long life, and they are both in an excellent state of preservation. They are printed on the coarse paper of the time and bound in sheep, and the paper is yellow

-----
p. 61

with age. Both books are of the same size. (small 16mo.) The title page of the history is as follows:

Goldsmith’s
ROMAN HISTORY.
Abridged by Himself
for the
Use of Schools.

Fifth American Edition.

NEW YORK.
Published by Evert Duyckinck,
No. 110 Pearl Street.
J. C. Totten, Printer.
1810.

The first six pages of the “Reader” have been lost, but as the books are exactly alike in appearance, I think they were published about the same time, and by the same publisher. The covers are slightly marred by long usage, but the leather seems as sound as when it was put on.

The “Reader” is made up of selections of the best essayists of the time, and includes Dr. Johnson, Blair, Aikin, Akenside, Milton, Addison, Cowper, Pope, Goldsmith, Young, Ogilvie, &c. The subjects are philosophical, historical, religious, moral, romantic, and humorous, treated in the purest and simplest and most attractive language, adapted to the understanding of youth, designed to impress upon them the necessity of virtue, obedience, and reverence, and to stimulate the desire to improve their minds.

Among the poetical selections were those of the grandest hymns to be found in our language, viz.: Addison’s “Spacious Firmament on High,” alluded to by Mr. Upton; Pope’s “Universal Prayer,” “Father of All in Every Age,” and Ogilvie’s “Begin, My Soul, the Exalted Lay.” These, with nearly all other parts of the book, were committed to memory, and have never been forgotten. In my early days they impressed me deeply with the infinity, power, grandeur, and goodness of the Creator, and the youthful impression had deepened as time has sped on.

Goldsmith wrote charming essays, but in the geography of North America he was rather weak. In one of them in the English Reader, a description of Niagara Falls, he says this “amazing fall of water is made by the river St. Lawrence in its passage from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The St. Lawrence is one of the largest rivers in the world, yet the whole of its waters is discharged in this place by a fall of 150 feet perpendicular. A river, extremely deep and rapid, that serves to drain the waters of almost all North America into the Atlantic Ocean, is here poured down a ledge of rocks that rise like a wall across the whole bed of the stream. * * * It will reasonably be supposed that such a cataract entirely destroys the navigation of the stream, and yet some Indians in their canoes, it is said, have ventured down with safety.”

During the Winter of 1837-8 I struggled through a large part of “Josephus,” a ponderous quarto tome, and gained some knowledge of Jewish history; went through the horrors and atrocities of Foxe’s “book of Martyrs”; read a Sunday school book called “Groggy Harbor,” an imaginary haven on the coast of Massachusetts where the dwellers consumed an enormous quantity of Medford rum, and in which the evils of intemperance were set forth in lurid terms. Another little book I obtained at the time had about a dozen pictures, only two of which I can now remember—the first John Rogers being burned at the stake, with his wife and children looking on, and the other a man climbing a tree, with the legend underneath—

“Zaccheus climbed a tree

His Lord for to see.”

During the Winter I obtained a copy of Dick’s “Philosophy,” which I read very carefully, and from which I derived much instruction and improvement.

My entrance into the printing office in 1839 opened a new world to me, and brought me into association with newspapers, books, and intelligent people. A book store connected with the office furnished me with all the reading I needed, and I soon became a voracious and indiscriminate reader. With little elementary education, with no literary training, and with no knowledge of what or how to read, and with no one to advise, it is needless to say that I wasted precious time, and that most of the reading did me very little permanent good. It was years before I learned the lesson that should be early taught the young: Select only good and useful books, and read them until they are thoroughly understood. An old writer says that “books, like personal friends, should be few and well chosen, and then, like true friends, we shall return to them again and again, knowing they will never fail us, never cease to instruct, never become tiresome.” Hazlitt wrote: “I hate to read new books; there are twenty or thirty volumes that I read over and over again, and these are the only ones I have any desire to read at all. When I look up a book I have read before I know what to expect; the satisfaction is not lessened by being anticipated. I shake hands with and look our old, tried friend in the face, compare notes, and chat the hours away.”

Good books are more plentiful now than they were in Hazlitt’s day. If he were here now he would hardly be content with twenty or thirty volumes, but, comparatively, his rule is a good one. Better know well a few volumes than have only a smattering of many. Books are the ties that bind the past to the present. Bulwer wrote:

“the past but lives in words; a thousand ages

Were blank if books had not evoked their ghosts

And kept the pale embodied shades to warn us

from fleshless lips.”

The first and most attractive books that fell into my hands in the book store were “Robinson Crusoe,” the “Arabian Nights,” “Gulliver’s Travels,[”] and the “Narrative of John R. Jewett,” a New Bedford whaler or trader, whose vessel was captured in Nootka Sound, South Sea Islands, and all the crew save Jewett were murdered and eaten by the natives who are cannibals. Jewett’s life was spared, and he lived many years with the tribe, finally making his escape. This book created a decided taste in me for the sea stories. Next came the “Life of Silvio Pellico,” the Italian patriot and dramatist, who suffered untold horrors in an Austrian dungeon. The next was the “Children of the Abbey,” and over these two books I shed tears enough to float Jewett’s ship.

Just here, for a boyish escapade, I was compelled by my employer, as an object lesson, to read the “Life of George Barnwell,” the story of a bad boy, a vicious young man who went through the whole curriculum of vice and crime, finally landing in the State Prison. Had I been a bad boy, the effect of the book would have been pernicious. I did not then nor do I now believe in the theory of similia similibus curantur, particularly in morals.

Bulwer and Scott followed in rapid succession, sandwiched with “Tupper’s proverbial Philosophy,” which I believe now I scarcely comprehended then. “Night and Morning,” “Eugene Aram,” and “Paul Clifford” of Bulwer, and “Ivanhoe,” “The Heart of Midlothian,” and the “Pirate,” of Scott, were my favorites of these authors.

Then followed Cooper’s works. I had a strong partiality for historical novels, and all of these were read with avidity, the “Spy” creating the deepest impression. it was from the pages of this book that I acquired my first knowledge of Revolutionary history—the treason of Arnold, the capture and execution of André, and the thrilling and patriotic part that the Hudson River Valley, withits “Sons of the Revolution” and its “Cow Boys,” played in the war around New York.

Washington Irving was my next venture, and the “Sketch Book” was a great treat. It was among the romantic hills and glens of Westchester, with which I have become familiar in the “Spy,” that irving discovered Sleepy Hollow, became familiar with the legendary superstitions of its people and their folk-lore, fell a victim to the drowsy, witching influence that pervaded the atmosphere, and while under its magic spell gave to the world that charming prose poem, the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and made Ichabod Crane, Gunpowder, and the Headless horseman as famous as Tam o’ Shanter and his gray mare Meg. And it was on the other side of the river, too, just where the Palisades melt into the misty blue and purple of the Kaatskills that the same illustrious explorer discovered “a little village of great antiquity,” whose eminent citizen was “a good-natured fellow named Rip Van Winkle,” whose history, related in Irving’s inimitable style, and the comedy founded on it, have afforded infinite pleasure and amusement to the English speaking world, and made the reputation and fortune of many an actor.

In 1839 Same Slick (Judge Halliburton) began in the columns of The Halifax Nova Scotian the publication of “The Clockmaker,” his inimitable word pictures of Yankee character attracting the attention of literary people in the United States, as well as at home, for he was the only littérateur of note that the province had produced. I was almost too young then to appreciate his humor, for at tht time I hardly knew what a Yankee was. Nor have I ever learned to like dialect stories or satire. But I liked the Judge. He was on the bench of the Supreme Court, and made the circuit of the province Spring and Fall, and always on horseback. He was then about forty, had a round, ruddy face, sparkling, black, deep-set eyes, and a wonderfully genial countenance. There was very little crime in the province in those days, and the old English custom prevailed of presenting the presiding Judge a pair of white gloves when there wer no cases on the docket. Many a time have I seen the celebrated author and jurist take his seat on the bench, adjourn court, and accept the white gloves.

Punch and The Illustrated London News were regularly received at the newspaper office, as well as American papers. The first afforded a great deal of instruction and amusement, though I was too young to be sufficiently familiar with English politics and society to appreciate the humor and satire of many of Punch’s cartoons. The earliest insight I had into American politics came to me through our exchanges during the Harrison Log Cabin campaign of 1840, and I heartily enjoyed such songs as “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!”

Along with Dickens came a host of writers, most of whose works I read, but the only ones that are now “to memory dear” are Dr. Warren’s “Diary of a Physician” and Lever’s “Charles O’Malley.” Over the robust, rollicking fun of the hero and Mickey Free I always linger with delight. I have a tender spot still for “Oliver Twist” and “nicholas Nickleby,” but no such feeling for “Martin Chuzzlewit” and the “American Notes,” both of which were coarse and vulgar.

Other books that I remember with pleasure and profit as the years have passed are Macaulay’s History of England and Essays, “Vestiges of Creation,” Headley’s “Life of Washington,” and his “Napoleon and His Marhsals,” Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter,” Parkman’s histories, “John Halifax,” “Put Yourself in His Place,” “Felix Holt,” “Adam Bede.”

I have read nearly all the British poets from Spenser’s “Faery Queene” to Kipling’s “Truce of the Bear,” and am familiar with many of the finest parts of each, Byron, Moore, and Campbell being my favorites. I think Byron the greatest poet of the century. I have read and reread “Childe Harold,” “Don Juan,” and “Mazeppa” until I know them almost by heart. Byron’s vivid description is seen at its best in “Mazeppa.”

When I have a fit of the “blues” I always rush to “The Pleasures of Hope,” and they are soon exorcised. Campbell’s patriotic ballads will always be remembered.

I believe I never read a line of Shakespeare until after I had seen Junius Brutus Booth (the great Booth—old Booth) in Richard III, at the Federal Street Theatre in Boston in 1846 or 1847. The genius of Booth opened my eyes to the marvelous power of Shakespeare as a delineator of human character and human passions. Since then I have been a reader but not a close student of the great dramatist, and during the last fifty years have seen nearly all the great actors in his plays. Those that have impressed me most are “Richard,” “Hamlet,” “othello,” “Macbeth,” and “As You Like it.”


“In San Francisco in the Early Fifties,” by J. Perkins Tracy [b. 1853] (New York Times 11 February 1899; Saturday Review of Books p. 90)

The reading of books when I came into this world, in San Francisco, in the early fifties, may perhaps be termed a lost art in that particular part of the globe. The gold fever was then at its height. The canvas and wooden city of scarce four years’ growth was teaming with the newly arrived from the East and elsewhere. Every steamer was bringing its full complement of treasure-seekers, and as many more were slowly wending their perilous way across the plains. Excitement sizzed [sic] in the air, for in addition to the golden epidemic which seemed no respecter of age or social condition, the Vigilance Committee was getting in its fine work upon the more desperate class of adventurers, who for a time had been running affairs to their own liking.

The execution of James P. Casey for the murder of Editor James King William was a notable event of the time. An immense crowd viewed the spectacle, and, strange as it may seem, I, though a mere child of very tender years was present, owing to the gruesome curiosity of my father’s nephew, the companion and protector of my childhood. Of course I have no recollection fo the affair. however, I possess a constant reminder of those stirring days in my father’s certificate, which hangs in my dining room, setting froth that “In the name of the people this is to certify that Capt. James Lawrence Tracy, No. 3930, is a member of the Committee of Vigilance of the City of San Francisco, and a member of 26th Company infantry of the Military Organization thereof. James T. Coleman, President.” I have also a valued relic in a rude engraving, drawn from life, representing the ill-fated Casey being removed from the old one-story jail on upper Broadway, the city prison of that day, at the point of the bayonet by the Vigilantes. He was taken thence in a closed hack to the headquarters of the committee in one of the warehouses on Battery Street, fronting on the bay. The building was protected by a sort of sandbag fortification constantly patrolled by sentries. Casey was given a fair trial, was found guilty, and, within a brief time, was hanged from a beam which projected from above one of the warehouse windows, a vast crowd thronging the street and clinging to every point of vantage.

My father, though a Forty-niner, was one of the few who resisted the alluring temptation of going to the “diggings.” He adopted the slower but more certain method of attending to business in San Francisco. He fortified his resolution by sending East for his wife. She came out by the Nicaragua Isthmus route, and enjoyed the distinction of being one of the earlier women residents of the Golden Gate. Then, in due course, I came on the scene.

I was five years old when a fat copy of Mother Goose’s Melodies was placed in my hands. It was my first book. People were then awakening to the fact that there was something else in life besides gold, and bookstores were beginning to do business. I suppose there never was a child who was not delighted with Mother Goose. I know I was. I soon had many of the quaint rhymes by heart, and I retain most of them to this day. Literally it is the book I best remember.

At that delightful epoch of my life we lived in a small one-story frame house, fronting on the East India docks, with Battery Street wharf on the left, and Telegraph Hill looming up like a second Gibraltar behind. This dwelling had been built in Massachusetts, then taken apart and shipped to the coast, and its new location was one of the first really presentable houses erected in San Francisco. The kitchen was an after thought, and consisted of a commodious ship’s galley, taken from one of my father’s storeships when several of these vessels, having passed their day of usefulness, were sunk to make the foundation for a dock. The whole was surrounded by a picket fence. A small garden jutted on to the planks of Battery Street. This bit of the picturesque in surroundings otherwise extremely commonplace required constant attention, as its foundation was frequently menaced and sapped by the encroaching waters of the bay, particularly during the prevalent “northers” or heavy blows.

What boy has not read “Robinson Crusoe”? I must have been ten when this treasure came to me in company with “Pilgrim’s Progress.” I remember my little library then consisted of the well-known Roll[o] Books, Franconia Stories, and others of this class. De Foe’s masterpiece, however, was a revelation to me. I need not dwell upon the amazing interest with which I followed the adventures of the shipwrecked hero. Robinson and his man Friday, and the rascally Atkins, and the cannibals were real people to my fancy. I thrilled and shuddered and sympathized by turns, and many a night, I am sure, I must have reproduced the more exciting parts in my dreams. The “Arabian Nights” followed close upon Robsinson, and for many weeks I reveled in an orietnal atmosphere with “Aladin and His Wonderful Lamp,” “Sindbad [sic] the Sailor,” the “Forty Thieves,” and the mysterious genii whose enchantments formed the basis of nearly every tale.

Before this time the city of my infancy had so expanded that our family had abandoned the simple cottage of the water front for a more suitable house which my father had built upon the ruins of the Mission Street sand hills in the suburbs—a spot now in the very heart of the lower business section or the metropolis of the West. Business had developed amazingly. California had recovered from its paroxysm of gold dust dissipation, everything had been shaken into its proper place, and the machinery of enterprise, like a well-regulated mill, was humming pleasantly. My father had gathered quite a tolerable library. His prime favorites were Dickens, Lever, and Lover. He was a good reader, and at least two evenings a week the family were entertained with the adventures of “Charles O’Malley,” or “Handy Andy,” or “Oliver Twist.”

The war of the rebellion was now well on, but only the echoes of the great battles, vivified by the pictures in Harper’s and Leslie’s weeklies, reached us, who were tranquilly living far beyond the fringe of the conflict. However, we had our spasms of excitement and enthusiasm, for we were loyal to the old flag. The first occasion was the departure of the famous California Hundred, as the regiment was called, under Col. Baker. Then came our grief, when that gallant officer was killed on the fatal field of Ball’s Bluff. His body was returned to the coast and was given a magnificent funeral. What bonfires we boys had over the great Federal victories, and what a torchlight procession greeted the surrender of lee and the close of the war! But the assassination of Lincoln nearly precipitated a riot. Federal troops had to be sent into the city to maintain order, but this was not effected before the contents of one or two Copperhead newspaper offices had been thrown out of windows.

Cooper’s “Spy” and the “Last of the Mohicans” I read during my first year at Santa Clara College. Also Scott’s “Ivanhoe,” which gave me my first peep into the chivalry of England. Later “Don Quixote” and “Gil Blas” introduced me to Spain. My first real sup of the horrors came about through a friend loaning me Mrs. Radcliff’s old-fashioned, creepy romance, “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” which I read into the witching hours and then sneaked to bed like a criminal pursued by the intangible phantoms of a guilty conscience. One more book at that time greatly impressed me. It was the “Scottish Chiefs.” I could not reconcile myself to the cowardly murder of Wallace’s wife in the early chapter.

Capt. Marryat, in one of those confidential chats with his readers that crop out here and there through his novels, said he ascribed the germ of his authorship to the involuntary excursions he was so often compelled to make to the masthead as a punishment for some juvenile delinquency in the days of his naval apprenticeship. He confessed that of the six years he served as a midshipman a full four were passed upon that elevated perch, whose monotony he put to flight by taking along a book of adventure or travel. If this be true, then the world of later date owes a debt of gratitude to the martinets under whom this naval genius served his country. I myself touch my hat to them, for surely I shall never forget “Peter Simple,” or “Mr. Midshipman Easy,” or the mysterious “Phantom Ship,” or even “Jacob Faithful.”

I am also an admirer of Clark Russell. Perhaps this penchant for the sea is due to the fact that I was born on the water. Not exactly on the blue depths off soundings, but within the land-locked bay of San Francisco, which I have found from early experience has as many humors as a lady of uncertain temperament. It is taciturn in a fog; capricious in its squalls; joyous when the breeze capers over its wavelets kissed by the sunshine, and dreamy and voluptuous at night, when like a sheet of burnished silver it lies shimmering in the moonlight, the distant foothills of the coast range rising shadowy through a thin veil of mist. Then it resembles the Bay of Naples at its best. What finer description of a ship in a dead calm than Mr. Russell writes: “The burnished sea pale blue under a white-hot sky sloping into the dim distance, with a long-drawn swell running out of the stanant recesses like a sigh, with a response aloft in a drowsy beat of canvas. Then the image of the ship as it were, in colors, with your own face looking full up at you out of the wet blue-black back of a shark.” This and the like niceties of Mr. Russell’s marine descriptions, I am afraid, are not appreciated by the shore-going reader, simply because they are utterly unintelligible. All his novels are attractive to me, but the “Wreck of the Grosvenor” I remember the best.

As a purely imaginative writer—a genius for intricacy of plot and its clever development—I believe Wilkie Collins to have been pre-eminent in his day. I found his “Moonstone” a mystery par excellence; its dénouement—as dénouements should be—unexpected, but satisfying. He knew how to arrange his matter to the best advantage, and he certainly possessed to perfection the art of holding the attention of the reader from the first chapter until the last page of a completed climax.

Years ago on one of my periodical trips across the Continent I read “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Its companionship relieved the tedium of a flying landscape already tiresome from too close acquaintanceship. After that I was not satisfied until I had read the “Three Guardsmen” Series. It was natural for me than to turn to other French authors, and Sue’s “Mysteries of Paris” and Hugo’s “Notre Dame” are what I remember of that time.

After all, the books that have the greatest charm for me are the works of Washington Irving. I came to know him early through “The Sketch Book.” This collection of stories fascinated me, the bright particular gems of which are “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” creations that surely never will be forgotten. I also recall with pleasure his “Tales of a Traveler.” Of the longer volumes I think the “Chronicles of Granada” the most delightful story of old Spain in the English language.


“Schoolday Recollections,” by S. A. M. (New York Times 11 February 1899; Saturday Review pp. 90-91)

Of my first book I remember just one word—owl. I had learned my letters, and was relearning them in connection with the names of various objects of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and had advanced alphabetically as far as O. I could not or would not remember what o-w-l spelled, and was told to remain in the schoolroom at recess. The threatened punishment, an hour or less in the future, seems to have made no impression on my three-and-a-half-years old mind, for I went out with the other children and returned with them when the bell rang; and I do not remember that I was punished for my disobedience.

Two years later I went to live in a distant town, and there was sent to what would have been called a “dame school” a few years earlier. Miss Charlotte, the teacher, was the respected daughter of a deceased clergyman. What her “system” was, of which she talked much, her pupils were probably too young to discover. Their parents, not without reasons, thought it was all vacation and recess; and at the end of three months we were sent to the public school. We acquired at Miss Charlotte’s a greater familiarity with the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Sermon on the Mount. The oldest girl pupil read the “Arabian Nights” to us during school hours while we sat on the stone wall back of the schoolhouse, eating apples, throwing the cores at each other, and having a good time generally.

At the public school, when others of my class were promoted to the study of geography, I was thought not prepared, because I did not know the word mosquito in the reading lesson; at least that was all the reason I remember. I went into the mental arithmetic class with a feeling that I was lifted to a high intellectual plane. The word “mental” was an awesome one to me, I imagining it something entirely beyond its meaning. Children were not expected or encouraged to ask questions in those days. What we did not understand was left to chance or experience. I think I must have been a dull child, with occasional bright streaks; and it was probably the illuminated moments that carried me successfully through the examinations of the primary and intermediate grades into the grammar school at eleven years of age. The master was called a great disciplinarian, which meant that he thrashed the boys well and made horrid faces at the girls as they stood trembling before him.

Up to this time my favorite books were the Rollo Books, “Robinson Crusoe,” Mrs. Barbauld’s “Evenings at Home,” “Peter Parley’s histories,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the bound copies of The Youth’s Companion, and a book about the early colonists and the Indians—name forgotten. I read also some of the books that my elders read, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Baxter’s “Saints’ Rest,” Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs,” (horrible book;) Lock’s “Treatise on Education,” “Peveril of the Peak,” and “Children of the Abbey.” I did not understand these books, I know, but I read them, skipping the hard words, and I approved what Locke wrote about whipping a boy to master his will, and I laughed at the sentimentality in “The Children of the Abbey.” I read Jane Austen when too young to appreciate her books. Quite recently I read “Pride and Prejudice,” and I think it is chiefly interesting as being an example of correct English of the time when it was written. Miss Edgeworth’s Tales I was never tired of.

For poetry I cared little, although I read all the poetry written for children that came in my way, and I learned many hymns. The latter were given to me for a punishment for not keeping quite on the Sabbath day.

“The Sabbath,” said Mrs. Whiston to Margaret, (Judd’s Margaret,) “was a despit, pinched up sort of a time, as if God was asleep, and we had to go tip-toe all day and couldn’t speak above our breath for fear of waking Him.”

It was an inexpressibly wearisome day in my childhood for children in many households. I do not remember why for a time I was allowed to stay at home from meeting many Sunday afternoons in succession, or how I found amusement in doing what on other days of the week was a disagreeable task. With Testament in hand I hid behind the big canopied bed in the best bedroom, and there I sewed seams of patchwork while learning verses from the Gospels. I was a firm believer in the personality of the Evil One in those days, and I gave frequent and fearsome glances upward, half expecting to see his Satanic Majesty peering down at me.

We had a half holiday at the grammar school on Saturday. The morning was devoted to compositions and recitations. To give us “confidence” was the reason assigned why we should go forward to the platform, read our compositions, and be criticised. Sometimes the girls recited poems from the American Fifth Reader, and the boys “declaimed” patriotic speeches from the same book. We were patriotic in a narrow way. From memorizing the Fifth Reader poems, I began to have a taste for poetry. Many pleasant afternoons, after school hours, I sat on the distorted branch of an old cedar tree in the clover field back of our house, learned and recited poems to the birds that built their nests in the cedar. The field was a famous place for snakes of a harmless kind, and they used to sun themselves in numbers on a moss-covered rock near the tree. A few years before I learned addition and subtraction in pelting the snakes with “cedar apples” while sitting in the tree.

Bryant became my favorite poet. I had an odd fancy about Bryant. I imagined he looked like his pen picture of Freedom, “a bearded man, armed to the teeth.” I thought then that his poem “To the Evening Wind” was the most beautiful poem ever written, and I think now it is one of the most beautiful. Longfellow’s inspiring, poetical sermon, “The Psalm of Life.” I did not appreciate it as I do now, but the birds heard it often. I am sure it must have helped many a one over life’s hard places.

I had very little time for reading after

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my lessons were learned. I can recall only three books that I read during the three years I attended the grammar school. “The Lamplighter” I was particularly interested in, because I had once seen the author. Writers of books were not so plentiful in those days, and I thought it a great honor to look at Miss Cummings. “Waverley” and “Amy Herbert” were the other two books.

A year or two after being graduated from the grammar school I went to a “finishing” school, where the pupils were taught to think for themselves. I did not get my love of books at this school, but I began to read with a new understanding. Besides the British poets, some of Shakespeare’s plays, and selections from English and American prose writers that I read at school, my reading of this period is inextricably intermingled with books read a little later. But Wood’s “Natural History,[”] “Don Quixote,” Judd’s “Margaret,” “Pickwick Papers”—that I only enjoyed when read to me—two or three of Cooper’s earliest novels, Elizabeth Wetherell’s “Wide, Wide World,” and “Queechy,” the first three volumes of Gibbon’s “Rome,” and Kinglsey’s “Hypatia” were some of the books I read about this time.

Biographies and travels were always as interesting to me as novels; and the last biography read I usually think the best. The last was Howell’s “My Year in a Log Cabin: A Bit of Autobiography,” a charming little book.

Dawkins, Gelkie, (prehistoric,) Motley, Parkman, Fiske, Prescott, Bancroft, Irving, Green, Gibbon, and Lecky—who can ask for better reading than their histories?

“Irma,” a translation from the German, (author forgotten,) was a favorite of my youth. Another book that gave me great pleasure was Baldwin’s “Prehistoric Nations.” And still others were Isaac Disraeli’s “Curiosities of Literature,” Hue’s “Travels in Tartary and in China,” Darwin’s “Naturalist’s Voyage Around the World,” and Perry’s “Political Economy.” A little later I read Emerson and Thoreau, and still read them. I have read a great many novels, but as they have never taken the place of other reading I do not think they ever did me otherwise than good.

If one wishes to read a master of the English language whose beautiful use of the language and purity of style are acknowledged by all critics, there is the elder Hawthorne.

Thackeray, Scott, Dickens, George Eliot, Black, Barrie, Weyman, Doyle, Crawford, Holmes, Howells, Hawthorne, George W. Cable, Thomas Nelson Page, Beatrice, Harraden, Warner, Mark Twain, and other writers of standard fiction are benefactors of the human race.

In looking over the admirable lists of books in The Times’s Book Review one longs for that spirit of “contented ignorance” advocated by a prominent educator many years ago. We shall soon be talking of the mad rush for books as we now talk of the mad rush for wealth.

Among the novels given I did not see “How Thankful Was Bewitched,” by Dr. J. K. Hosmer. It should be read after Parkman’s histories. “Mito Yashiki: A Tale of Old Japan,” by Arthur C. Macley, is another I missed.

And did I see Miss Hale’s “Men and Manners of the Eighteenth Century”? I have been asked more than once what book has influenced me most. I should think that would be as difficult for most people to answer as to decide which are the ten best books. I cannot think of any one book that influenced me most. When asked, I always think of that frivolous teacher at a school convention who responded to this question: “My pocketbook.”

The best in literature; the books that lift from, not shift, the shadows of the mind; that send penetrating rays into the gloom ahead and guide us onward on the development of what is best in us—those are the books that influence most.


“In an Old Virginia Colonial House,” by Cassie Moncure Lyne [b. 1845] (New York Times 11 February 1899; Saturday Review p. 91)

“I remember, I remember, the house where I was born”—that was among the first poems I ever learned. “The house where I was born” affected my taste for books, for the wall paper in the hall represented the battles of Edward I., the “Hammer of the Scots.” What awe-inspiring scenes those were! Stirling Castle towered above line after line of fierce-looking soldiers. The Scots in their bright plaids were my favorites. I recall distinctly that in one of the castle windows sat a large cat. Why that cat was there was never questioned. She was as much a part of the picture as Bruce’s spider could have been. Perhaps the designer intended the cat as symbolic of home and the hearth and as an index that the Scots were struggling for their “altars and their fires.” Nevertheless those pictures were open history, the spring which nourished my taste for Scotch life in literature.

The first book that was ever my own, for I never possessed a “Mother Goose,” was a collection of ballads. The opening one began:

“Who taught you to sing, my sweet, pretty bird?

Who tuned your beautiful throat?”

I have forgotten the rest, but I recall the picture was neither a mocking bird nor nightingale, but a woodpecker. The last ballad in this little book was “The Lullaby” from “The Princess.” And those verses—

“Sweet and low, sweet and low,

Winds of the Western sea”—

got into my head then, when I was seven years old, and there they remained, like jewels in a toad’s head, for not until my sixteenth year did I learn that Tennyson was the casket whence they were taken. My mother used to hush us to sleep with songs whose authors proved as great revelations. One was “Lord Ullin’s Daughter”; another, “What Are the Wild Waves Saying,” and when I was old enough to read about Florence and Paul for myself the contrast of my own childhood enhanced my sympathy for those motherless children in their loneliness.

The bugbears of my early life were the Hymn Book and Gray’s “Elegy,” which I had to “learn by heart.” That majestic supplication

“Guide me, O! Thou Great Jehovah”

was my especial detestation, and Gray’s “Elegy” was so long! That line, “Save where the beetle wheels its droning flight” was very puzzling. I knew of no bugs but June bugs that made a noise, and the definitions of Gray’s beetle and Dickens’s beadles used to change places in my vocabulary, causing much confusion.

In our family, to promote and encourage a taste for good literature, standard works were read aloud. Particularly do I remember “Guy Mannering,” “Rob Roy,” and “The Lady of the Lake.” How I wished to speak Gaelic in those days, so as to better understand the Highlanders. I sued to listen attentively, and apply my knowledge, and as I was only ten years old, dolls and drawing were my amusements. one of my dolls was Meg Merriles, another was alternately Helen MacGregor or Ellen Douglas. how envious I used to feel of Harry Bertram’s wearing that little velvet bag containing the astrologer’s predictions! The only bag I ever wore about my neck contained—as a preventive to nursery diseases—asafetida, which I would gladly have swapped with him, for childhood is not philosophic enough “to bear the ills we have, than fly to others which we know not of.” Then another regret! Our pets numbered many cats and one setter, but no terriers like Dandy Dinmont’s Pepper and Mustard. The ballad:

“The dark shall be made light,

And the wrong made right

* * * *

When Bertram’s might

Shall meet on Ellengowan height,”

inspired me with a desire to draw “Ellengowan.” To humor me, my teacher furnished a picture of a castle for me to copy, but it was not my conception, so without her assistance I drew “Ellengowan” after my own heart. That was a wonderful picture! I knew nothing of castles, but my ideal associated all ruins with ivy, so ivy I drew. Then in the distance, though hardly perspective, was a smuggler’s boat, with Capt. Dirk Hatterick aboard.

For some time I was a vassal to Rob Roy, but later Rhoderick Dhu became my liege lord. However, the love of my life in literature is English—Dickens introduced me to him when I was very young and impressible: and to me as a to “Daisy,” Steerforth was a hero. I was too young to understand his relations with Little Em’ly, too young to appreciate Ham’s sterling qualities, and that page which tells of Steerforth’s being “drowndead” on the Yarmouth shore, and found with his arm above his head as he used to sleep at school, that page was saturated with tears. His life had been misguided, his end was a shipwreck1 Augusta Evans would have “shorn him of his locks” and priested him. I prefer him as he was, “a law unto himself.”

When I was twelve years old Poe’s tales fell into my hands. All Southern children are inoculated with superstition by the negro nurses, to which Poe’s tales are no balm. many nights after reading this book did I lie awake watching for “The Black Cat,” or dreading a fate similar to “The Murder in the Rue Morgue.” But the book of books which I regret reading most is “Vanity Fair.” I tried to read it when I was sixteen—tried, for no girl of sixteen can understand it. “Books, like friends, should be well-chosen,” and Becky Sharp is no fit associate for the girl in her teens. When God made male and female, the comment was, “very good.” In the erudition of after events, Solomon the Wise adds, “but they have sought out many inventions.” But Thackeray focuses the X rays on woman, and bids the world look. He will not let his readers view Rebecca Sharp as a bright, clever woman making the most of her opportunities, but his pen is the scalpel of an anatomist, and for the interest of iconoclasts, he dissects. His wit ties up every vein of charity; his sarcasm opens every artery of selfishness, his forceps rake in and out the vanities and vexations of tissue and ligaments, until, when the book is closed, one feels as if leaving a dissecting table on which lies Kipling’s Vampire. Of all misnomers that “Makepeace” should be the name of the author of “Vanity Fair”—when he is a guerrilla belligerent against “faith in the show of things.”

There is nothing truer in the Bible than “Of making many books there is no end.” Literature is a labyrinth, in which it is best to take time-proved guides. In these days when Americans are seeking nobility, Sir Walter Scott can introduce one to some very respectable people. He is also a friend to those who wish to travel, for his landscape painting shows the beautiful in Scotch scenery without the inconvenience of an ocean voyage; his masterpiece, “Ivanhoe,” will hang in the gallery of chivalry long after “The Bonnie Brier Bush” has lost its fragrance.

If one wishes to go “slumming,” there is no better detective than Dickens; he knows the dives. In his great kindergarten there is a humanity which is only graduated in Shakespeare. Dickens is an artist, too, but draws his characters in charcoal—some ludicrous, some pathetic—whatever they are, we recognize them immediately, and laugh over Mr. Pickwick, cry over Tiny Tim, or shrink from Uriah Heep—but Shakespeare etches his Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth—which it takes the connoisseur to appreciate. Many are “the books of the hour,” but Scott, Dickens, and Shakespeare are the triumvirate which rules English literature; their works are “the books for all times.”


“Read By a Little Girl in Sleepy Hollow,” by A. E. D. (New York Times 25 March 1899; Book Review p. 188)

These simple recollections of books read by an old-fashioned little girl before she was eight years old are not of a very lively character, for when she was small there was not, as now, the great number of bright, entertaining books, especially for children, and in a strictly serious family light literature for the young was almost as scarce as sugar-coated pills then were. But rarity enhances the value of things, and our few books—some of them valuable as antiques—were all the more highly prized. In reference to sugar-coated pills—years ago there were not so many patent medicines, consequently almanacs had both a literary and money value as books, and were read and paid for, and the lively scramble by the small fry for these annual oracles after they had been consulted by the grave and reverend seignors marks one of these early recollections with a peculiar dash. Though happily there is no remembrance of learning to read, the First Primer had an individual character of its own not easily forgotten; for on its bright orange cover was seated a queer-looking old gentleman drowsily smoking a long-stemmed Dutch pipe. This was one of the famous Knickerbocker family whose distinguished qualities were afterward learned from Washington Irving.

This simple pleasant hornbook was presumably gotten up especially for Sleepy Hollow children, and after an easy passage through it “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Babes in the Woods” supplied more dramatic reading. Then came sturdy Goody Two Shoes trudging along more sensibly shod than Cinderella in Glass Slippers, with Pattie Primrose, and the Blackberry Girl, and a long procession of bucolic natives putting to shame, in their honest endeavors to acquit themselves worthily, the silly Milkmaid, who, in reckoning her chickens before they were hatched, lost, like many another imaginative speculator, her small capital irretrievably. Bringing up the rear was Little Henry and His Bearer from far-away India, the touching fidelity of the heathen Hindu servant to his little Christian master refuting the libel proclaimed “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains” about Ceylon’s Isle, making it impossible to believe that there only man was vile, at least Little Henry’s bearer was a noble exception. Fairy tales were a rare treat, and when the scanty stock ran out a long-felt want was supplied by some small Grimm, or Hans Andersen, of a home-made sort, quite as satisfactory as the imported kind. Apropos, when the Old-Fashioned Little Girl was the story teller she had such an affectionate feeling for truth she always assured her listeners that her story was “foundered” on fact. Carroll, Coxe, and Kipling, who were not then thought of, have no such conscientious scruples. “The Arabian Nights Tales” were not considered quite orthodox for a religious child, and “Robinson Crusoe” was too wild in his exaggeration of facts to agree with a sedate strictness for veracity. But the true story of Alexander Selkirk was read, and those “Lines Supposed to Be Composed” by him were learned by heart; and the harrowing picture conjured up of the awful homesickness and lonesomeness of the solitary exile doomed to eternal banishment on a desolate island in midocean [sic] made his punishment seem even worse than that of “the everlasting bonfire” in the company misery loves; and to make it worse, it was not deserved just for a mere hot-tempered spat with his commander, whose very name of Straddling was synonymous to overbearing tyranny.

Though not permitted to read “The Arabian Nights,” a little spice of romance seasons the early recollection of this famous Oriental classic. We had an old gardener who lived by himself in a little gray cottage that was a veritable curiosity shop to us children, and one day in rummaging his cubby hole, a small marauder found a well-thumbed, dog-eared little book minus of covers, that looked promising to a feast of forbidden fruit. This she carried off smuggled in her bosom to keep till the time was propitious for more deliberate digestion. It happened soon after than an act of disobedience sent her up to the rambling old garret to bed for punishment while the sun was yet high. This frequent sort of correction was never enjoyed before, but now the little sinner had a most delightful time making the acquaintance of Sindbad the Sailor and the Forty Thieves, and of that mysterious genie whose enchantments formed the basis of nearly every tale, till at last she fell asleep to continue the intercourse in dreams. When she woke in the morning the book was gone, and she never saw or heard of it afterward. A horrible suspicion haunts her to this day that Sindbad and the Forty Thieves were cremated, and their ashes scattered to the four winds. But there was one delightful romance in which the small child was permitted to revel to her heart’s content. This was “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” which was read and reread with ever increasing interest. Nothing in the concluding parts of a certain old brown, leather-covered dictionary giving a “succinct account”—in old-fashioned s’s—“of the gods and goddesses of heathen mythology,” could compare for prowess with the deeds of those doughty Christian warriors against their giant adversaries, and for the battles they fought with such heat against Apollyon and other persistent emissaries of evil. The earliest recollection of the Bible is of hearing it read to her by an old nurse after she had tucked her away for the night in a great, high feather bed, where she lay and watched, with a species of fascination, the contortions of her mouth, and marveled at the ease and fluency with which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego escaped from it.

One of the relics exhumed from a particularly musty old book closet was “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,” over the horrors of which the gentle reader thrilled and shuddered, and sympathized by turns, and which had in the end the effect, for which she concluded the book was intended, of strengthening her determination to suffer all the tortures endured with such appalling heroism by those wretched victims of religious bigotry rather than to deny her faith when she should be put to the test, which she firmly believed she would be at no distant day, and for which its founders and their disciples had suffered divers persecutions in times past. It was pretty awful to think of, but while bracing up for the ordeal a crumb of comfort was given by a little co-religionist with the assurance that when worse came to worst the hand of Providence spread all over us would render us insensible to pain! thus far these early recollections are also the records of religious experiences, and if there were not others their recorder might agree with that learned body of educators recently in conclave, who gave out the emphatic decision that no child should be taught to read before it was eight or ten years old. But the many other remembered books of a more cheerful character made a goodly hoard for Memory’s treasure house. Gay rhymes, and funny stories that brought tears of laughter, fables having a caustic wit or a dry humor, pithy proverbs and wise saws, read with zest and appreciation, and ghost stories that made the hair stand on end, and had a horrible fascination! Stories of birds and animals, of which all children are fond, or should be; some of the nicest kind about Tabby cats, and the many in which dogs were the heroes; that one known to all the world, of Prince Llewellyn’s faithful hound Gellert, a tragedy that as often as it was read ended in a heart-breaking sob. Stirring tales of American history, especially of the Revolutionary War, heightened by the realism given them by old Gaffer Slosson, a nonogenarian, [sic] who in his stalwart youth had “fit and bled,” and whose limping gait bore eloquent testimony of honorable scars received in the service of his country, whose battles he now fought over again with bloodless triumph, in a red flannel wraprascal and a white cotton nightcap, his crutch stick now the only carnal weapon with which to do battle against “them pesky Britishers.” Stories of Indians, both good and bad, contrasts in light and shade, showing the virtues of the noble savage, and the revengeful character of the treacherous red man, as portrayed by Cooper. Tears bedewed “Gertrude of Wyoming”—not Campbell’s poem of that little white captive, but a prose story, finely illustrated.

Having a big brother who had gone to sea with the expectation of becoming an Admiral in Uncle Sam’s Navee, gave a strong relish to the adventures of bold young sailors, whose perils, hardships, and hardtack were overbalanced by the vast opportunities and advantages of visiting strange foreign lands, whence they brought to their old maiden aunts presents of Persian cats, profane pollparrots, and mischievous monkeys, and to their sweethearts the finer merchandise of Orient pearls and attar of roses. Among such heroes Jack Halyard stands conspicuously aloft. Dana’s “Two years Before the Mast” was nothing to the experience of this bold sea rover, and Marryat’s Peter Simple, Jacob Faithful, and Mr. Midshipman Easy, met afterward, seemed vulgar, orn’ry seamen utterly unlike dear Jack Halyard, whom I fear Clark Russell knows nothing about, or he would make mention of him in his yarns of the foc’sle. Darwin’s Coral Isle, presumably a part of the account of the voyage of the Beagle (?) was as fascinating as the most romantic fiction to the little group of eager listeners around the evening lamp. Irving’s “Sketch Book” divided the honors with Hawthorne’s tales. Even now a musical ripple runs through the memory from that sparkling “Rill from a Town Pump,” with its exhilarating invitation to “walk up and take a drink of the unadulterated ale of Father Adam, better than cognac, Medford rum, Schiedam schnapps, Bourbon whiskey, champagne, or wine, at any price, and not a cent to pay!” It was from the tale of this historic rill, from which the dusky aborigines and their dark-eyed squaws slaked their thirst, that the meaning of firewater and its disastrous effect on the simple children of the forest was impressed on the plastic mind. Longfellow was a favorite for his shorter poems, best suited to tender years. How refreshing was his “Rain in Summer,” especially in hot July that did not always bring

“Cooling showers,

Apricots and gilly flowers,”

and his

“Perfect day,

Wherein no man shall work but play,”

had the right ring to a little Lazybones groaning under the burden of irksome tasks.

It goes without saying that every little maiden knew Tennyson’s “May Queen,” but that charming little belle, who came to an untimely end, perchance by her vanity in dancing on the dewy green in thin slippers, had not the sympathetic interest felt for Byron’s “Prisoner of Chillon,” nor the weird charm of Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner.” The poems yet more impressive were those three that secured a permanent fame to the delightful humorist, Thomas Hood—“The Dream of Eugene Aram,” “The Bridge of Sighs,” and that Iliad [sic] of the needle, “The Song of the Shirt.” Southey and Wordsworth are pleasantly remembered, and the Ettrick Shepherd for his delightful “Bird of the Wilderness,” that beautiful salute to the cuckoo. “Hail! beauteous stranger of the wood,” comes like an echo from a long-vanished Spring; and one more, that forms a wreath of immortelles preserved in a little manuscript book, with pansies from the school garden, “A Hymn to the Flowers,” by Alexander Smith, a minor English poet.

Of the oldest and most famous of all poets, blind old Homer, some lines are remembered, parsed from the first simple grammar of Lindley Murray. What a sonoroous ring they give forth! time will not permit to speak of books that influence. One, “A Kiss for a Blow,” by an English Quaker with the appropriate name of Wright, for the sweet spirit of love that pervaded its every story and its lessons of toleration, forbearance, and forgiveness of injury, and the moral fragrance it imparted, which yet remains after all these years, like the lingering perfume of incense. Its fit companion, “The Law of Kindness,” by its sweetly affecting illustrations of the power of kindness in reclaiming the wrongdoer, in helping the weak and tempted, and also showing it beneficent and grateful effect on the lower animals. Todd’s “Lectures to Young Children,” for its one keenly pathetic narrative depicting the sorrow and remorse of a little white-haired boy for telling a falsehood to his dear dying father, and more impressive in its lesson than exhortation or sermon against the sin of Ananias. last, but by no means least, the singing books, for in our childhood’s training great value was attached to singing as a means of dispersing ill-humors, and in putting to rout a quarrelsome spirit that molested the peace of others; it was also a form of worship, in which the spirit of a child had freest expression and its newly fledged wings the highest flight heavenward. But only one of these, the best remembered and best beloved, that taught a happy little child to sing can be recalled here. Many of its songs were those her dear mother sang when she was a happy child, and which she taught her children, whoin their turn afterward taught their little ones to sing. Glad were the young voices that then swelled on glee and roundelay, and on such inspiriting songs as “Up the Hills on a Bright Sunny Morn” and “A Life on the Ocean Wave.” And now how “oft in the Stilly Night” come fond memories of “Auld Lang Syne” and “Long, long Ago”! It was from this singing book that the little chorister learned her first patriotic song, and though the sentiments are not quite as broad as those of the cosmopolitan philanthropist of to-day, the love of country the song inspired her with at the age of five years has never abated. The climax of patriotic fervor was reached in the last verse:

“To all the world I give my hand,

My heart I give my native land,

I seek her good, her glory;

I honor every nation’s name,

Respect their fortune and their fame,

But I love the land that bore me.”

Remembered books that followed rapidly after eight years up to twelve would make a long and varies list of more interest in the realm of fiction and in the softer emotions of the love story, but, as these do not pertain to the early recollections, only two—“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Dred; or, the Dismal Swamp”—against slavery, shall intrude to prolong these rambling reminiscences.

Copyright 1999-2019, Pat Pflieger
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