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Notices & Reviews of Wool-Gathering, by “Gail Hamilton” [Abigail Dodge] (1867)

Wool-Gathering was Gail Hamilton’s seventh book, and reviewers knew what to expect. Hours at Home called her “that racy and entertaining writer”; The Independent said that the book was “[c]lever as either of its predecessors”; the American Phrenological Journal called Hamilton “this high-pressure female writer”. Most reviewers focused their brief reviews on the book, calling it “droll,” “sprightly,” and “racy,” and reminding us that when it was published the book was simply a travel book, instead of the historical document it has become.

But there were dissections of the author, too. “We like Gail Hamilton, though we can remember when we did not,” the Universalist Quarterly admitted. The Albany Evening Journal apotheosized her. None, however, outdid The Independent, which included an offhand paragraph or two about Wool-Gathering in a long discussion of Hamilton, her work, and her influence. For the Independent, she is a thorn bush, a kitten, and Judy Smallweed, “shaking up” passive, traditional women as Judy shakes up her grandparents in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

Gender also lurks at the heart of the Christian Advocate’s review, which took issue with not only Hamilton, but the fact that “Gail Hamilton” was a pseudonym, referring to her as a “clever, egotistical, spirited, and not always amiable woman” and her pen-name as a “false name”—something other reviewers didn’t feel compelled to announce. The reviewer was … puzzled. The book itself is “a very readable book, made so by its earnest, rushing, rattling, rollicking style, and for its good sense and good humor”. But what to say about the writing? “It is difficult to criticise such a book, or rather any book written by a woman and not specially after a woman’s style of thinking, and expressing thoughts not yet like other people’s,” the reviewer explains. This “unwomanly” book by a woman shouldn’t be judged on the basis of gender; this work by “a gifted but somewhat ‘original’ lady” can’t be evaluated by the standards of the typical genres. So the Advocate gave advice to an imaginary writer instead.

Albany Evening Journal. 8 August 1867

American Literary Gazette. 15 August 1867

Christian Advocate. 22 August 1867

Flag of Our Union. 24 August 1867

The Independent. 29 August 1867

Hours at Home. September 1867

American Phrenological Journal. September 1867

The Universalist Quarterly and General Review. October 1867

Review. Albany Evening Journal 8 August 1867: 2.

—“Wool Gathering,” by Gail Hamilton. We have no admiration for those writers, who, under the cover of smart sayings, are continually finding fault with the world, without doing anything to make it better. Such persons evidently pickle their hearts in vinegar, and dip their pens in the same kind of liquid. They should be compelled to take one constant introspective view, until they are haunted with the nightmare of their own imperfections.

But Gail Hamilton ranks far above this class of scribblers. Possessing a heart which is keenly alive to suffering, a philanthropy as wide as the world, a soul which is indeed poetic, and an insight into human nature which penetrates to the origin of motives, she speaks her thoughts, not like a cynic, but as one who would encourage struggling humanity, and point it to higher attitudes of goodness. Her satire is sometimes keen; but it is like the words of a teacher whom we hold in holy remembrance, who was accustomed to sternly rebuke us and immediately smile upon us.

“Wool Gathering” is but another name for a journey of observation and pleasure from New England to Minnesota, the South, and thence to New England again. And a very pleasant journey, too! Pleasant, if one has the soul of enjoyment and the gumption to read lessons in every day experiences. Listen to Gail:

“By the time your series of observations are conducted to a satisfactory conclusion, you are in Albany, the Capital of the State of New York, the seat of a Legislature remarkable, in an age of general uprightness, for the purity of its morals and the incorruptibility of its legislation.”

Ah! we wonder if there is not the least bit of sarcasm in these lines. There certainly must be if she reads the papers. But see how easily she glides from a political observation to a great moral truth:

“The deference which men show to women is no mere chance, civility, custom, or compliment, however they may intend it. It is instinctive, and it shows where woman has vantage ground to work upon humanity. When she fails to meet this outcoming reverence with a corresponding worthiness, her failure is man’s loss. Gentle or vulgar, his soul is wounded in its most tender susceptibilities, although he may not know it. The harsh blow blunts his sensibility to the soft touch.”

The book is filled with reflections of great value. Now she reads a lesson while waiting in an uncomfortable, dingy railway station; now she discovers a threading of gold in the society of Southern Illinois; now her mind sweeps a circle of lofty thoughts as she floats over the waters of the Mississippi; and now she comprehends the philosophy of the civil war as she stands on the top of Lookout Mountain and takes in the view of surrounding battle fields, as well as the scene of the conflict which once raged around and upon the spot on which she stands. She says of the brave hosts who made that memorable ascent:

Up and up they go, into the clouds, beyond the clouds, and now through a rift the bright banners gleam higher and always higher as they hurtle against the foe, driving him before them by the fury of their onset, and hurling him headlong over the dizzy heights down into the jaws of death. Swelling up the eastern slope the tide of victory meets another sea surging up the west, the mingling waves roll on higher and higher through night and darkness, whelming every foe, breaking over every barrier, raging around the mountain’s crest till the false flag is swept away forever and forever, and the morning sun rises upon the banner of freedom, waving in triumph and beauty from the peaceful summit of Lookout.

This is poetic description worthy of a Homer, through which glows a spirit of patriotism and loyalty worth of—an American woman!

We pay no servile homage to Gail Hamilton. Probably she does not ask it. As an essayist and moralist, she has faults, but fewer of them than we might reasonably expect. And we truly believe that many a tired soul has been strengthened by her words, and sustained by her strong sympathies. Published by Ticknor & Fields, and for sale by S. R. Gray.

Review. American Literary Gazette 9 (15 August 1867): 213.

Wool Gathering. By Gail Hamilton. pp. vii., 335. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

A trip through some of the Northwestern and the Southern States is the occasion which produced the present volume. It consists of observations and brief narratives suggested by the persons, places, manners, and incidents met with during the journey. The style is marked by the same merits and demerits in book-making which characterize the author’s previous works.

Review. Christian Advocate 41 (22 August 1867): 267.

Wool Gathering. By Gail Hamilton. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

The clever, egotistical, spirited, and not always amiable woman, who writes and publishes under the false name of “Gail Hamilton,” has just sent forth to the reading world through the press of Ticknor & Fields, yet another book, with the brief and oracular title of “Wool Gathering.” By reading it, it is found to be a narrative of a journey to the northwest, as far as the Upper Mississippi, and southward as far as Chattenooga, Chickamauga, and Lookout Mountain, with notes by the way, and characteristic observations on things seen and heard. These are spirited, piquant, often severely just, and not unfrequently exquisitely droll. Compared with the writer’s former works, this has less oil of vitriol in it, though the tang of the cask is still easily perceptible. It is of course a very readable book, made so by its earnest, rushing, rattling, rollicking style, and for its good sense and good humor, bating some things not too much so.

It is difficult to criticise such a book, or rather any book written by a woman and not specially after a woman’s style of thinking, and expressing thoughts not yet like other people’s. If we say “Gail Hamilton’s” books are not womanly in style and manner, we are told that they should be judged not by the sex of the writer, but by their intrinsic merit. If we criticise their style of narrative, which is neither history nor romance, neither sober matter of fact nor yet merely poetical dreaming, we are reminded that our criticisms must not be too exacting respecting the works of a gifted but somewhat “original” lady. We will not then criticise this book at all, but were the writer of the “sterner sex” (and surely she is stern enough) we would tell him that, in detailing an overland journey among the cities and villages, railroads and steamboats, prairies and forests of the West, a style of narrative less stilted, and more soberly natural, would have been more to our taste; but de gustibus, et cetera.

Review. Flag of Our Union 22 (24 August 1867): 536.

Wool-Gathering. By Gail Hamilton, author of “Country Living and Country Thinking,” “Gala Days,” etc. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

Playful, sprightly, eccentric, yet always shrewd and observing, this work describes a journey to the West, whither the writer had gone professedly to secure the product, in interest money, of the wool of twenty-five sheep ($22 50), and the return, the record crammed with incidents of travel of the most varied character. The delightful humor, that “speaks itself” in all she writes, glows in its pages, and the most happifying influence breathes from every line. We regard the book as likely to be the most acceptable of any she has published, to the mass of readers, and certainly as a book of travel it is so full of movement, so observant of the incidents that make up the sum of life, and so keen in its description of them, that we, at the time when a pleasant book is most wanted, adopt the general sentiment and commend “Wool-Gathering.”

Review. The Independent 19 (29 August 1867): 2.

The announcement of a new book by Gail Hamilton is a peal of joy-bells, calling one to an out-door festival such as only she can give. To city readers her pages are a warranty-deed of limitless ownership in boundless skies, in unfenced fields, in universal air, and flooding sunshine. Only in New England was Gail Hamilton possible; and all New England she holds in solution in her costly wine of life, and pours out with unsparing hand.

If the metaphors of a hoary reviewer become somewhat mixed, there is the mad example of this daring Donna Quixotta to plead in excuse; an example so altogether bewitching that the sober and stately virtue of Addisonian English is less to be desired than the rhetorical pranks of the Hamiltonian tongue.

It is impossible to think of the author of the half-dozen volumes of essays, from “Gala Days” to “Wool Gathering,” which followed each other with such marvelous rapidity, as we think of any other woman. The name of Mrs. Barbauld at once invests a feminine figure with appropriate features and sober apparel. Mrs. Stowe is but suggested when an honest, strong face and rich attire array themselves in symmetry. Harriet Prescot becomes a vision of wonderful eyes, and illumined face, and chorded colors, and odorous, splendid presence. Rebecca Davis is a wraith of a woman, statuesque, still with a power in her face, in her slow movement, in her speech, which compels silence and admiration.

But Gail Hamilton is Protean. Just at present she is a thorn bush, with glossy, perfect leaves, with straight, strong stem, with healthiest juices, with red, red berries, and with the longest, the sharpest, the most rigorous thorns, which catch the wool from the wandering sheep till they are thoroughly sheared—a bit raggedly sometimes—and the fleece on the fair branches hangs out to the sunshine. In her last transmigration, before she was Gail Hamilton, she was a kitten. She has added to her feline sum, immense humanity, a great soul, the Westminster Catechism, and the public library. The final product is unique and thoroughly delightful. Kittenish she is, and always must be, with an untamable frisk, and dash—and scratch, inherited from her wild ancestors. Her grace is inimitable, her frolic in infectious. It is quite worth while to trail along some string of a foible, to roll some ball of a weakness, national or private, to see this creature dash at it, seize it, humiliate it, make light of it, and leave it contemptuously behind, when it has served her purpose. She is cunning, too. She purrs along, page after page, and, as you grow complacent, you fancy that she grows confidential, when—slap comes the velvet paw, five sharp, white claws unsheath, two rows of dainty teeth glance, and the red drops of your vanity trickle! She goes into the closets and shut places of your heart with footfall so stealthy as to give no warning; and if there be a saved-up folly of the past, a frayed end of some hidden gaud of silliness, a lame top spun long ago in some mad game of fashion or selfishness, down it comes, and is buffeted about till you are quite ashamed to take it up again and confess it yours. She is a discriminating kitten, too. It is only the false and flashy things that she tears. All your little treasures of pure sentiment, of tender memory, of blessed hope, she leaves quite alone.

That is, as a kitten she leaves them alone. But as a woman she touches them gently. Your sorrows, that were hidden away and told to none, she has found out; for though, in her delicacy, she has no speech, there is an odor of roses about them when she has passed, and the roses are sweeter than the wormwood was bitter. The aspiration in you for better things climbs on her strong counsel to an effort for better things. The vague contempt you had for the falsities of daily life she turns into words: into a vigorous protest against falsities, which you echo, and try to set your deeds atune with your new belief.

What she has done for women only a woman’s pen can tell. No petition to Congress for civil rights, no appeal to the common laws for redress, no lectures, no eloquent pleading for withheld privileges, have availed so much as these gospels of Gail Hamilton, which are written straight to their womanliness, from which vantage ground alone any real elevation can be gained. When women out of their earnestness demand scope and freedom, and out of their worthiness compel it, their disabilities will fall away. At present it is quite certain that the great body of women are less ready to ask a larger liberty than the more intelligent men are to grant it. Mrs. Stanton and Miss Anthony, and Mrs. Dall and Anna Dickinson, have hard work to draw after them the very class whom they seek to serve. Too many women are petty, weak, ignoble, unfit to exercise functions they are too indolent or too self-absorbed to demand. Gail Hamilton says nothing about suffrage, never hints at the vice-presidency, apotheosizes babies. But she is a very Judy Smallweed at “shaking up” all feeble-minded and feeble-souled girls, all inert and tamely-enslaved women. She holds traditional womanliness, conventional softness, negative femininity, up to the candle of clear truth, where they first shrivel into empty masks, and then blaze into ashes. She insists on thoroughness, on courage, on decision, on opinions, on ideas, on soul, and mind, and heart, as elements of a womanly woman. A positive vice or two she might forgive, or transmute into virtue; but a namby-pamby condition of being her soul loathes. Orthodox is she, and would fight with scissors and pen for the “Westminster Catechism,” while she flouts St. Paul and decries Timothy. If a woman would learn anything, let her ask of her husband at home—provided he happen to know more of that subject than she does, which is not often to be expected, interprets this doughty damsel. Quality, quality, she insists on; circumstances being trusted to take care of themselves in large measure. And her reform, beginning at the center, gives promise of fruit. We are delighted when we hear that another edition of “A New Atmosphere,” or “Skirmishes and Sketches,” is called for. So many women and girls must have seen themselves in the glass which this pert and wise, and witty and tricksy sprite held up; and they are not at all likely to go their way and straightway forget what manner of women they were.

This volume—for we were near forgetting that we had a text for the sermon—is the record of a journey through the West and Southwest. Clever as either of its predecessors, it reveals a deeper feeling, a riper thought. The author chatters through three hundred and thirty-five pages of charming monologue. She preaches, she prays, she laughs, she makes faces, she sings; she falls into liquid, musical, flowing cadence, which utters the glory of field, and sky, and river; she intones a dirge for those fallen in battle, and follows it with a stately choral of victory, whose echo is not lost before her scolding drowns it. She comes frisking home after a nine weeks’ pilgrimage, to tell us all she saw, for which we may all be heartily obliged to her.

A book a year, with magazine work and other literary labor, is quite too much for anybody to attempt—except Gail Hamilton. But the oft-repeated warning that she would write herself out was a croak without cause. She is quite as bright as she was seven years ago, and seven years thoughtfuller. “Has she no faults, then?” asks the intelligent reader. O, fatuous, intelligent reader, said we not she was charming? Of course, she has scores of them! “Will we be kind enough to indicate those faults?” By no means! Is not the moon as large as a dinner-plate to one man, and huger than a cart-wheel to another? Let the intelligent reader buy the book and discover the faults for himself. He cannot go “wool-gathering” in better company.

Review. Hours at Home 5 (September 1867): 480.

Wool Gathering is the novel title of the latest work by that racy and entertaining writer, Gail Hamilton. This popular authoress, it seems, about a year ago came into possession of a fortune amounting precisely to one hundred and twenty-five dollars. One hundred and twelve dollars and fifty cents of this sum was invested in sheep in Minnesota, and the first year’s “clip” yielded the magnificent return of twenty-two dollars and fifty cents—not a bad speculation. Like her predecessor, Jason, Gail Hamilton determined to go in search of her Golden Fleece, and in this volume we have a lively, gossipy, and rattling account of the incidents of her journey westward, and of a subsequent detour through Tennessee. Many trivial incidents are unduly magnified, and sometimes the fun is far-fetched, but the book is exceedingly entertaining.

Review. American Phrenological Journal 46 (September 1867): 114.

Wool-Gathering. By Gail Hamilton. 1 vol. 12mo, pp. 335. Price, $2. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

A quaint title of a very racy book by this high-pressure female writer. Gail has been out West. She traveled precisely as other folks do, by railway, steamboat, and stage. She “saw sights;” women with crying babies, band-boxes, and bundles; selfish men and women who occupied more than one seat, etc. She pushed on West to Minnesota, and gives vivid pictures of real incidents, which make her book something of a traveler’s guide. After going over ground quite familiar to all who have been to St. Paul and St. Anthony, she went down the Mississippi, and up into Tennessee, and across the country via Washington home to Boston, and this is what she calls “Wool-Gathering.” Gail will pardon us for quoting the last three lines of her book. She says: “And yet, O reader, gentle but just, if you should whisper that there is great cry and little wool—alas! I can not gainsay you.”

Review. The Universalist Quarterly and General Review October 1867: 502-503.

We like Gail Hamilton, though we can remember when we did not. It is not simply sparkle, but steady light, not wit only but wis-

p. 503

dom, which gives such a charm to her pages. This book is racy, piquant and informing; enriched with passages of most picturesque description of scenery, full of common sense, abounding in sharp and needed, but good-natured and amusing criticisms of men and manners, of hotels, steamboats and cars, their management, and the people you meet in them. It is impossible not to laugh sometimes, but you feel, when the laugh is over, that you have found also something to think about, some fault to correct, some foolish or offensive habit to shake off, or some evil spirit to exorcise.

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