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- The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe - 4/82 -
with her, when her brothers started off on long excursions, refusing to take her with them, or in any other childish sorrow, she had only to curl herself up in some snug corner and sail forth on her bit of enchanted carpet into fairyland to forget all her griefs.
In recalling her own child-life Mrs. Stowe, among other things, describes her father's library, and gives a vivid bit of her own experiences within its walls. She says: "High above all the noise of the house, this room had to me the air of a refuge and a sanctuary. Its walls were set round from floor to ceiling with the friendly, quiet faces of books, and there stood my father's great writing-chair, on one arm of which lay open always his Cruden's Concordance and his Bible. Here I loved to retreat and niche myself down in a quiet corner with my favorite books around me. I had a kind of sheltered feeling as I thus sat and watched my father writing, turning to his books, and speaking from time to time to himself in a loud, earnest whisper. I vaguely felt that he was about some holy and mysterious work quite beyond my little comprehension, and I was careful never to disturb him by question or remark.
"The books ranged around filled me too with a solemn awe. On the lower shelves were enormous folios, on whose backs I spelled in black letters, 'Lightfoot Opera,' a title whereat I wondered, considering the bulk of the volumes. Above these, grouped along in friendly, social rows, were books of all sorts, sizes, and bindings, the titles of which I had read so often that I knew them by heart. There were Bell's Sermons, Bonnett's Inquiries, Bogue's Essays, Toplady on Predestination, Boston's Fourfold State, Law's Serious Call, and other works of that kind. These I looked over wistfully, day after day, without even a hope of getting something interesting out of them. The thought that father could read and understand things like these filled me with a vague awe, and I wondered if I would ever be old enough to know what it was all about.
"But there was one of my father's books that proved a mine of wealth to me. It was a happy hour when he brought home and set up in his bookcase Cotton Mather's 'Magnalia,' in a new edition of two volumes. What wonderful stories those! Stories too about my own country. Stories that made me feel the very ground I trod on to be consecrated by some special dealing of God's Providence."
[Illustration: BIRTHPLACE AT LITCHFIELD, CONNECTICUT.]
In continuing these reminiscences Mrs. Stowe describes as follows her sensations upon first hearing the Declaration of Independence: "I had never heard it before, and even now had but a vague idea of what was meant by some parts of it. Still I gathered enough from the recital of the abuses and injuries that had driven my nation to this course to feel myself swelling with indignation, and ready with all my little mind and strength to applaud the concluding passage, which Colonel Talmadge rendered with resounding majesty. I was as ready as any of them to pledge my life, fortune, and sacred honor for such a cause. The heroic element was strong in me, having come down by ordinary generation from a long line of Puritan ancestry, and just now it made me long to do something, I knew not what: to fight for my country, or to make some declaration on my own account."
When Harriet was nearly six years old her father married as his second wife Miss Harriet Porter of Portland, Maine, and Mrs. Stowe thus describes her new mother: "I slept in the nursery with my two younger brothers. We knew that father was gone away somewhere on a journey and was expected home, therefore the sound of a bustle in the house the more easily awoke us. As father came into our room our new mother followed him. She was very fair, with bright blue eyes, and soft auburn hair bound round with a black velvet bandeau, and to us she seemed very beautiful.
"Never did stepmother make a prettier or sweeter impression. The morning following her arrival we looked at her with awe. She seemed to us so fair, so delicate, so elegant, that we were almost afraid to go near her. We must have appeared to her as rough, red-faced, country children, honest, obedient, and bashful. She was peculiarly dainty and neat in all her ways and arrangements, and I used to feel breezy, rough, and rude in her presence.
"In her religion she was distinguished for a most unfaltering Christ- worship. She was of a type noble but severe, naturally hard, correct, exact and exacting, with intense natural and moral ideality. Had it not been that Doctor Payson had set up and kept before her a tender, human, loving Christ, she would have been only a conscientious bigot. This image, however, gave softness and warmth to her religious life, and I have since noticed how her Christ-enthusiasm has sprung up in the hearts of all her children."
In writing to her old home of her first impressions of her new one, Mrs. Beecher says: "It is a very lovely family, and with heartfelt gratitude I observed how cheerful and healthy they were. The sentiment is greatly increased, since I perceive them to be of agreeable habits and some of them of uncommon intellect."
This new mother proved to be indeed all that the name implies to her husband's children, and never did they have occasion to call her aught other than blessed.
Another year finds a new baby brother, Frederick by name, added to the family. At this time too we catch a characteristic glimpse of Harriet in one of her sister Catherine's letters. She says: "Last week we interred Tom junior with funeral honors by the side of old Tom of happy memory. Our Harriet is chief mourner always at their funerals. She asked for what she called an _epithet_ for the gravestone of Tom junior, which I gave as follows:--
"Here lies our Kit, Who had a fit, And acted queer, Shot with a gun, Her race is run, And she lies here."
In June, 1820, little Frederick died from scarlet fever, and Harriet was seized with a violent attack of the same dread disease; but, after a severe struggle, recovered.
Following her happy, hearty child-life, we find her tramping through the woods or going on fishing excursions with her brothers, sitting thoughtfully in her father's study, listening eagerly to the animated theological discussions of the day, visiting her grandmother at Nut Plains, and figuring as one of the brightest scholars in the Litchfield Academy, taught by Mr. John Brace and Miss Pierce. When she was eleven years old her brother Edward wrote of her: "Harriet reads everything she can lay hands on, and sews and knits diligently."
At this time she was no longer the youngest girl of the family, for another sister (Isabella) had been born in 1822. This event served greatly to mature her, as she was intrusted with much of the care of the baby out of school hours. It was not, however, allowed to interfere in any way with her studies, and, under the skillful direction of her beloved teachers, she seemed to absorb knowledge with every sense. She herself writes: "Much of the training and inspiration of my early days consisted not in the things that I was supposed to be studying, but in hearing, while seated unnoticed at my desk, the conversation of Mr. Brace with the older classes. There, from hour to hour, I listened with eager ears to historical criticisms and discussions, or to recitations in such works as Paley's Moral Philosophy, Blair's Rhetoric, Allison on Taste, all full of most awakening suggestions to my thoughts.
"Mr. Brace exceeded all teachers I ever knew in the faculty of teaching composition. The constant excitement in which he kept the minds of his pupils, the wide and varied regions of thought into which he led them, formed a preparation for composition, the main requisite for which is to have something which one feels interested to say."
In her tenth year Harriet began what to her was the fascinating work of writing compositions, and so rapidly did she progress that at the school exhibition held when she was twelve years old, hers was one of the two or three essays selected to be read aloud before the august assembly of visitors attracted by the occasion.
Of this event Mrs. Stowe writes: "I remember well the scene at that exhibition, to me so eventful. The hall was crowded with all the literati of Litchfield. Before them all our compositions were read aloud. When mine was read I noticed that father, who was sitting on high by Mr. Brace, brightened and looked interested, and at the close I heard him ask, 'Who wrote that composition?' 'Your daughter, sir,' was the answer. It was the proudest moment of my life. There was no mistaking father's face when he was pleased, and to have interested him was past all juvenile triumphs."
That composition has been carefully preserved, and on the old yellow sheets the cramped childish hand-writing is still distinctly legible. As the first literary production of one who afterwards attained such distinction as a writer, it is deemed of sufficient value and interest to be embodied in this biography exactly as it was written and read sixty-five years ago. The subject was certainly a grave one to be handled by a child of twelve.
CAN THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL BE PROVED BY THE LIGHT OF NATURE?
It has justly been concluded by the philosophers of every age that "The proper study of mankind is man," and his nature and composition, both physical and mental, have been subjects of the most critical examination. In the course of these researches many have been at a loss to account for the change which takes place in the body at the time of death. By some it has been attributed to the flight of its tenant, and by others to its final annihilation.
The questions, "What becomes of the soul at the time of death?" and, if it be not annihilated, "What is its destiny after death?" are those which, from the interest that we all feel in them, will probably engross universal attention.
In pursuing these inquiries it will be necessary to divest ourselves of all that knowledge which we have obtained from the light which revelation has shed over them, and place ourselves in the same position as the philosophers of past ages when considering the same subject.
The first argument which has been advanced to prove the immortality of the soul is drawn from the nature of the mind itself. It has (say the supporters of this theory) no composition of parts, and therefore, as there are no particles, is not susceptible of divisibility and cannot be acted upon by decay, and therefore if it will not decay it will exist forever.
Now because the mind is not susceptible of decay effected in the ordinary way by a gradual separation of particles, affords no proof that that same omnipotent power which created it cannot by another simple exertion of power again reduce it to nothing. The only reason for belief which this argument affords is that the soul cannot be
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