« PreviousContinue »
NE of the most curious phases in the life of
the New England people, and one that must puzzle the future historian of letters, is their sudden intellectual growth or blossoming, half a century ago. Emerson says; “The children of New England between 1820 and 1840 were born with knives in their brains;” and this would seem to be true as far as their literary, or thought life is concerned, since, during, or very near that time were born the majority of our best writers and thinkers, those who have so well and finally answered the question so scornfully asked by an unknown English writer, “Who reads an American book ? ” This period can hardly be called the renaissance or revival of letters, since American authors had no name in history; the founders of the country having as yet had very little time for the expression of their thoughts, being perhaps too busy in living them, or in getting a scanty subsistance, or in meeting the exceptional hardships of their lives. The seeds of this intellectual growth came suddenly, as if blown from some far off cultured land and were sown broad-cast. They fell not only in high but also in shady places and in most unpromising ground. Some found a resting-place in a little corner of New England where were gathered together many young women, daughters of the Puritans, who came there for the purpose of earning their daily bread. The books of our American writers, particularly the poets, then publishing, were read eagerly; those women began to feel the intellectual impetus, and amid their long days work in the cotton mill, they thought over and digested what they had read and some of them were impelled to put in writing their own thoughts. The poets-Bryant, Longfellow, Emerson, John Pierpont, Mrs. Sigourney, Lowell and Whittier had great influence over the young people of the day. We loved those poets well, and no one can over-estimate the value of their books in bringing an ideal element into our hitherto prosaic New England life.
It was in this atmosphere that Lucy Larcom received the lasting incentive to her life-work. In speaking of the love of poetry as felt in that early time, in her “New England Girlhood” she says: “It was the greatest blessing to me, in the long days of toil to which I was shut in much earlier than most young girls are, that the poetry I held in my memory breathed its enchanted atmosphere through me and around me, and touched even dull drudgery with its sunshine."
The birthplace of Lucy Larcom, was Beverly,
Mass., one of the earliest settled coast towns in the state. Her father was a sea-captain, who died while she was a child, and her mother, taking with her this daughter and two or three others of her younger children, removed to Lowell, Mass. The year 1835 found her, a girl of about ten years, in one of the Lowell grammar schools, where her education went on until it became necessary for her to earn her living, which she began to do very early as an operative in a cotton factory. In her “Idyl of Work” and also in "A New England Girlhood,” Miss Larcom has well described her early life, and from these books as from the writers own experience, this little sketch is drawn.
My first recollection of Miss Larcom is as a precocious writer of verses in the Lowell Casket, and that the editor in his notice of them said they were written under the inspiratin of the nurses,' a misprint, of course, for muses, although as the author was only about ten or twelve years old at that time, the mistake was not so very far wrong. This however was not Miss Larcom's first attempt at versemaking, for she began to write while a child of seven in the attic of her early home in Beverly.
The last two years of her Lowell life, which covered in all a period of about ten years, were spent in the same room, not in measuring cloth, but as book-keeper, recording the number of pieces and bales. There she pursued her studies in intervals of leisure. Some texts-book in mathematics, grammar, English and German literature usually lay open on her desk, awaiting a spare moment. The Lowell Offering, a magazine whose editors and contributors were “female operatives in the Lowell mills," was published in 1842, and soon after Miss Larcom became one of its corps of writers. One of her first poems was “The River," and many of her verses and essays, both grave and gay, may be found in its bound volumes. Some of these Lowell Offering essays appeared afterwards in a little volume called “Similitudes." This
her first published work. Since then Lucy Larcom's name has found an honored place among the women poets of America. Of late her writings have assumed a deeply religious tone, in which the faith of her whole life finds complete expression. Among her earlier and best known poems may be mentioned “Hannah Binding Shoes,” and “The Rose Enthroned," Miss Larcom's earliest contribution to the Atlantic Monthly, when the poet Lowell was its editor, a poem that in the absence of signature was attributed to Emerson by one reviewer, and “A Loyal Woman's No." The last-named is a patriotic lyric, which attracted attention during the Civil War. During much of her earlier life Miss Larcom was teacher in some of the
The rill is blessing in her talk
What half she held a wrong, The happy trouble of the rock
That makes her life a song.
principal young women's seminaries of her native State. While Our Young Folks magazine was published she was connected with it, part of the time as associate, and part of the time as leading editor. She has written at length of her own youthful workingdays at Lowell in an article published in The Atlantic Monthly, about 1881 since entitled; “Among Lowell Mill Girls.” Of late she has turned her attention somewhat more than formerly to prose writing. Miss Larcom has always been inclined to write on religious themes, and has made two volumes of compilations from the world's great religious thinkers, “Breathings of a Better Life” and “Beckonings,” a Calendar of Thought. Her last book, issued in 1891, is entitled “As it is in Heaven," and embodies much of her own thought on matters concerning the deepest spiritual life
H. H. R.
ROCK AND RILL.
APPLE-BLOSSOMs, budding, blowing,
In the soft May air;
From the happy trees;
Are ye not like these?
Needs the heart of spring;
All she may not bring.
Blossoms of good-will.
Cramped and stinted still.
On the tide of May,
To give life away.
Into the sunshine out of shade!”
The rill has heard the call, And, babbling low, her answer made,
A laugh, 'twixt slip and fall.
Out from her cradle-roof of trees,
Over the free, rough ground! The peaceful blue above she sees;
The cheerful green around.
A pleasant world for running streams
To steal unnoticed through, At play with all the sweet sky-gleams,
And nothing else to do!