Here are some passages from two leaves of her journal which escaped the flames. They touch upon another side of her life at this period.
December 1, 184l.—"I went to the sewing-circle this afternoon and had such a stupid time! Enough gossip and nonsense was talked to make one sick, and I'm sure it wasn't the fault of my head that my hair didn't stand on end. Now my mother is a very sensible mother, but when she urges me into company and exhorts me to be more social, she runs the risk of having me become as silly as the rest of 'em. She fears I may be harmed by reading, studying and staying with her, but heaven forbid I should find things in books worse than things out of them. I can't think the girls are the silly creatures they make themselves appear. They want an aim in life, some worthy object; give them that, and the good and excellent which, I am sure, lies hidden in their nature, will develop itself at once. When the young men rushed in and the girls began looking unutterable things, I rushed out and came home. I can't and won't talk nonsense and flirt with those boys! Oh, what is it I do want? Somebody who feels as I feel and thinks as I think; but where shall I find the somebody?
7th.—"Frolicked with G., rushed up stairs with a glass-lamp in my hand, went full tilt against the door, smashed the lamp, got the oil on my dress, on two carpets, besides spattering the wall. First consequence, a horrible smell of lamp-oil; Second, great quakings, shakings, and wonderings what my ma would say when she came home; Third, ablutions, groanings, ironings; Fourth, a story for the Companion long enough to pay for that 'ere old lamp. Letting alone that, I've been a very good girl to-day; studied, made a call, went to see H. R. with books, cakes, apples, and what's more, my precious tongue wherewith I discoursed to her.
14th.—"Busy all day. Carried a basket full of "wittles" to old Ma'am Burns, heard an original account of the deluge from the poor woman, wished I was as near heaven as she seems to be, studied, sewed, taught T. and E., tried to be a good girl and didn't have the blues once.
20th.—"Spent most of the afternoon with Lucy, who is sick. She held my hand in hers and kissed it over and over, and expressed so much love and gratitude and interest in the Sunday-school that I felt ashamed.
24th—Helped mother bake all the morning, studied in the afternoon, got into a frolic, and went out after dark with G. to shovel snow, and then paddled down to L——'s with a Christmas-pudding, whereby I got a real backache, legache, neckache, and all-overache, which is just good enough for me. I was in the funniest state of mind this afternoon! I guess anybody, who had seen me, would have thought so!
25th, Saturday.—Got up early and ran down to Sally Johnson's with a big pudding, consequence whereof a horrible pain in my side. I don't care, though. I do love to carry puddings to good old grannies.
Jan. 1, 1842.—Began the New Year by going to see Lucy, fainting, tumbling down flat on the floor and scaring everybody half out of their wits. I don't think people ought to like me, on the whole, but when they do, aint I glad? I wonder if perfectly honest-hearted people want to be loved better than they deserve, as in one sense I, with yet a pretty honest heart, do? I wonder how other folks think, feel inside? Wish I knew!
Most of the year 1842 was passed at home in household duties, in study, and in trying to do good. Never had she been busier, or more helpful to her mother; and never more interested in the things of God. It was a year of genuine spiritual growth and also of sharp discipline. The true ideal of the Christian life revealed itself to her more and more distinctly, while at the same time she had opportunity both to learn and to practise some of its hardest lessons. A few extracts from letters to her cousin will give an inkling of its character.
March 19, 1842.—Sometimes I have thought my desire to live for my Saviour and to labor for Him had increased. It certainly seems wonderful to me now that I could ever have wished to die, as I used to do, when I had done nothing for God. The way of life which appears most attractive, is that spent in persevering and unwearying toil for Him. There was a warmth and a fervency to my religious feelings the first year after my true hope which I do not find now and often sigh for; but I think my mind is more seriously determined for God than it was then, and that my principles are more fixed. Still I am less than the least of all.... I have read not quite five cantos of Tasso. You will think me rather indolent, but I have had a great deal to do, which has hindered study and reading.
May 3d—The Christian life was never dearer to me than it is now, but it throngs with daily increasing difficulties. You, who have become a believer in perfection, may say that this conflict is not essential, and indeed I have been so weary, of late, of struggling that I am almost ready to fly to the doctrine myself. I have certainly been made more willing to seek knowledge on this point from the Holy Spirit.
Sept. 30th—You speak of indulging unusually, of late, in your natural vivacity and finding it prejudicial. Here is a point on which I am completely bewildered. I find that if for a month or two I steadily set myself to the unwearied pursuit of spirituality of mind and entire weanedness from the world, a sad reaction will follow. My efforts slightly relax, I indulge in mirthful or worldly (in the sense of not religious) conversation, delight in it, and find my health and spirits better for it. But then my spiritual appetites at once become less keen, and from conversation I go to reading, from reading to writing, and then comes the question: Am I not going back?—and I turn from all to follow hard after the Lord. Is this a part of our poor humanity, above which we can not rise? This is a hard world to live in; and it will prove a trying one to me or I shall love it dearly. I have had temptations during the last six months on points where I thought I stood so safely that there was no danger of a fall. Perhaps it is good for us to be allowed to go to certain lengths, that we may see what wonderful supplies of grace our Lord gives us every hour of our lives.
October 1st—I have had two or three singular hours of excitement since I left writing to you last evening. If you were here I should be glad to read you a late passage in my history which has come to its crisis and is over with—thanks to Him, who so wonderfully guides me by His counsel. If I ever saw the hand of God distinctly held forth for my help, I have seen it here, coming in the right time, in the right way, all right.
* * * * *
Returns to Richmond. Trials there. Letters. Illness. School Experiences. "To the Year 1843." Glimpses of her daily Life. Why her Scholars love her so. Homesick. A Black Wedding. What a Wife should be. "A Presentiment." Notes from her Diary.
In November of this year, at the urgent solicitation of Mr. Persico, Miss Payson returned to Richmond, and again became a teacher in his school. But everything was now changed, and that for the worse. Mr. Persico, no longer under the influence of his wife, who had fallen a prey to cruel disease, lost heart, fell heavily in debt, and became at length hopelessly insolvent. Later, he is said to have been lost at sea on his way to Italy. The whole period of Miss Payson's second residence in Richmond was one of sharp trial and disappointment. But it brought out in a very vivid manner her disinterestedness and the generous warmth of her sympathies. At the peril of her health she remained far into the summer of 1843, faithfully performing her duties, although, as she well knew, it was doubtful if she would receive any compensation for her services. As a matter of fact, only a pittance of her salary was ever paid. Of this second residence in Richmond no other record is needed than a few extracts from letters written to a beloved friend who was passing the winter at the South, and whose name has already been mentioned.
A sentence in the first of these letters deserves to be noted as affording a key to one side of her character, namely: "the depressing sense of inferiority which was born with me." All her earlier years were shadowed by this morbid feeling; nor was she ever quite free from its influence. It was, probably, at once a cause and an effect of the sensitive shyness that clung to her to the last. Perhaps, too, it grew in part out of her irrepressible craving for love, coupled with utter incredulity about herself possessing the qualities which rendered her so lovable. "It is one of the faults of my character," she wrote, "to fancy that nobody cares for me."
When, dear Anna, I had taken my last look at the last familiar face in Portland (I fancy you know whose face it was) I became quite as melancholy as I ever desire to be, even on the principle that "by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better." I dare say you never had a chance to feel, and therefore will not be able to understand, the depressing sense of inferiority which was born with me, which grew with my growth and strengthened with my strength, and which, though somewhat repressed of late years, gets the mastery very frequently and makes me believe myself the most unlovable of beings. It was with this feeling that I left home and journeyed hither, wondering why I was made, and if anybody on earth will ever be a bit the happier for it, and whether I shall ever learn where to put myself in the scale of being. This is not humility, please take notice—for humility is contented, I think, with such things as it hath.
To Miss Anna S. Prentiss. Richmond, Nov. 26, 1842
When I reached Richmond last night, tired and dusty and stupefied, I felt a good deal like crawling away into some cranny and staying there the rest of my life; but this morning, when I had remembered mother's existence and yours and that of some one or two others, I felt more disposed to write than anything else. Your note was a great comfort to me during two and a half hours at Portsmouth, and while on my journey. I thought pages to you in reply. How I should love to have you here in Richmond, even if I could only see you once a month, or know only that you were here and never see you! With many most kind friends about me, I still shall feel very keenly the separation from you. There is nobody here to whom I can speak confidingly, and my hidden spirit will have to sit with folded wings for eight months to come. To whom shall I talk about you, pray? On the way hither I fell in love with a little girl who also fell in love with me, and as I sat with her over our lonely fire at Philadelphia and in Washington, I could not help speaking of you now and then, till at last she suddenly looked up and asked me if you hadn't a brother, which question effectually shut my mouth. In a religious point of view I am sadly off here. There is a different atmosphere in the house from what there used to be, and I look forward with some anxiety to the future.
The "little girl" referred to received soon after a letter from Miss Payson. In enclosing it to a friend, more than thirty-seven years later, she wrote: "I cried bitterly when she left us for Richmond. She was out and out good and true. When my father was taking leave of us, the last night in Washington, she proposed that as we had enjoyed so much together, we should not separate without a prayer of thanks and blessing-seeking, a proposal to which my father most heartily responded." Here is an extract from the letter:
When I look over my school-room I am frequently reminded of you, for my thirty-six pupils are, most of them, about your age. I have some very lovable girls under my wing. I should be too happy if there were no "unruly members" among these good and gentle ones; but in the little world where I shall spend the greater part of the next eight months, as well as in the great and busy one, which as yet neither you or I know much about, I fancy there are mixtures of "the just and the unjust," of "the evil and the good." We have a very pleasant family this year. The youngest (for I omit the black baby in the kitchen) we call Lily. She is my pet and plaything, and is quite as affectionate as you are. Then comes a damsel named Beatrice, who has taken me upon trust just as you did. You may be thankful that your parents are not like hers, for she is to be educated for the world; music, French and Italian crowd almost everything else out of place, and as for religious influences, she is under them here for the first time. How thankful I feel when I see such cases as this, that God gave me pious parents, who taught me from my very birth, that His fear is the beginning of wisdom! My room-mate we call Kate. She is pious, intelligent, and very warm-hearted, and I love her dearly. She is an orphan—Mrs. Persico's daughter ...
I am rather affectionate by nature, if not in practice, and though I know that nearness to the Friend, whom I hope I have chosen, could make me happy in any circumstances, I do not pretend to be above the desire for earthly friends, provided He sees fit to give them to me. I believe my father used to say that we could not love them too much, if we only gave Him the first place in our hearts. Let us earnestly seek to make Him our all in all. It is delightful, in the midst of adversities and trials, to be able to say "There is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee," but it requires more grace, I think, to be able to use such language when the world is bright about us. You have known little of sorrow as yet, but if you have given your whole, undivided heart to God, you will not need affliction, or to have your life made so desolate that "weariness must toss you to His breast." There is a bright side to religion, and I love to see Christians walking in the sunshine. I trust you have found this out for yourself, and that your hope in Christ makes you happy in the life that now is, as well as gives you promise of blessedness in that which is to come.
Before she had been long in Richmond she was seized with an illness which caused her many painful, wearisome days and nights. Referring to this illness, in a letter to Miss Prentiss, she writes:
It is dull music being sick away from one's mother, but I have a knack at submitting myself to my fate; so my spirit was a contented one, and I was not for a moment unhappy, except for the trouble which I gave those who had to nurse me. I thought of you, at least two-thirds of the time. As my little pet, Lily L., said to me last night, when she had very nearly squeezed the breath out of my body, "I love you a great deal harder than I hug you"; so I say to you—I love you harder than I tell, or can tell you. A happy New-Year to you, dear Anna. How much and how little in those few old words! Consider yourself kissed and good-night.
The "New Year" was destined to be a very eventful one alike to her friend and to herself. She seemed to have a presentiment of it, at least in her own case, as some lines written on a blank leaf of her almanac for that year attest:
With mingling hope and trust and fear I bid thee welcome, untried year; The paths before me pause to view; Which shall I shun and which pursue? I read my fate with serious eye; I see dear hopes and treasures fly, Behold thee on thy opening wing Now grief, now joy, now sorrow bring. God grant me grace my course to run With one blest prayer—His will be done.
A little journal kept by her during the following months gives bright glimpses of her daily life. The entries are very brief, but they show that while devoted to the school, she also spent a good deal of time among her books, kept up a lively correspondence with absent friends, and contributed her full share to the entertainment of the household by "holding soirees" in her room, "reading to the girls," writing stories for them, and helping to "play goose" and other games.
To Miss Anna S. Prentiss, Richmond, Feb. 22, 1843.
Thanks to the Father of his Country for choosing to be born in Virginia! for it gives us a holiday, and I can write to you, dearest of Annas. You don't know how delighted I was to get your long-watched-for letter. You very kindly express the wish that you could bear some of my school drudgery with me. I would not give you that, but you should have love from some of these warm-hearted damsels, which would make you happy even in the midst of toil and vexation. I can't think what makes my scholars love me so. I'm sure it is a gift for which I should be grateful, as coming from the same source with all the other blessings which are about me. I believe my way of governing is a more fatiguing one than that of scolding, fretting, and punishing. There is a little bit of a tie between each of these hearts and mine—and the least mistake on my part severs it forever; so I have to be exceedingly careful what I do and say. This keeps me in a constant state of excitement and makes my pulse fly rather faster than, as a pulse arrived at years of discretion, it ought to do. I come out of school so happy, though half tired to death, wishing I were better, and hoping I shall become so; for the more my scholars love me, the more I am ashamed that I am not the pink of perfection they seem to fancy me.
Evening.—I have just come up here to my lonely room (which, if I hadn't the happiest kind of a heart in the world, would look right gloomy) and have read for the third time your dear, good letter, and all I wish is that I could tell you how I love you, and how angry I am with myself that I did not know and love you sooner. It seems so odd that we should have been born and "raised" so near each other and yet apart. You say you are a believer in destiny. So am I—particularly in affairs of the heart; and I hope that we are made friends now for something more than the satisfaction which we find in loving. I am in danger of forgetting that I am to stay in this world only a little while and then go home. Will you help me to bear it in mind?... How must the "Pilgrim's Progress" interest a mind that has never learned the whole book by rote in childhood. I have often wished I could read it as a first-told tale, and so I wish about the xiv. of John and some other chapters in the Bible.
Your incidental mention that you have family prayers every evening produced a thousand strange sensations in my mind. I hardly know why. Did I ever tell you how I love and admire the new Bishop Johns? And how if I am a "good Presbyterian," as they say here, I go to hear him whenever and wherever he preaches. I don't think him a great man, but he has that sincerity and truthfulness of manner which win your love at once.  ... What nice times you must have studying German! I dreamed the night I read your account of it that I was with you, and that you said I was as stupid as an owl. I have the queerest mind somehow. It won't work like those of other people, but goes the farthest way round when it wants to go home, and I never could do anything with it but just let it have its own way, and live the longer. They are having a nice time down in the parlor worshipping Miss Ford, the light and sunshine of the house, who leaves to-morrow for Natchez, and I am going down to help them. So, good-night.
To the same. April 24.
Since I wrote you last we have all had a good deal to put our patience and philosophy and faith to the test, and I must own that I have been for some weeks about as uncomfortable as mortal damsel could be. Everything went wrong with Mr. Persico, and his gloom extended to all of us. I never spent such melancholy weeks in my life, and became so homesick that I could hardly drag myself into school. In the midst of it, however, I made fun for the rest, as I believe I should do in a dungeon; and now it is all over, I look back and laugh still.
We had a black wedding—a very black one—in my schoolroom the other night; our cook having decided to take to herself a lord and master. It was the funniest affair I ever saw. Such comical dresses! such heaps of cake, wine, coffee, and candy! such kissings and huggings! The man who performed the ceremony prayed that they might obey each other, wherein I think he showed his originality and good sense, too. Then he held a book upside down and pretended to read, dear knows what! but the Professor—that is to say, Mrs. P.—laughed so loud when he said, "Will you take this wo-man to be your wedded husband" that we all joined in full chorus, whereupon the poor priest (who was only the sexton of St. James') was so confused that he married them over twice. I never saw a couple in their station in life provided with a tenth part of the luxuries with which they abounded. We worked all day Saturday in the kitchen, making and icing cake for them, and a nice frolic we had of it, too. Do you love babies? We have a black one in the lot whom I pet for want of something on which to expend my love.
When I find anything that will interest the whole family, I read it aloud for general edification. The girls persuaded me into writing a story to read to them, and locked me into my room till it was done. It was the first love-story I ever wrote, for hitherto I have not known enough about such things to be able to do it. This reminds me that you asked if I intend forgetting you after I am married. I have no sort of idea what I shall do, provided I ever marry. But if I ever fall in love I dare say I shall do it so madly and absorbingly as to become, in a measure and for a season, forgetful of everything and everybody else. Still, though I hate professions, I don't see how I can ever cease to love you, whatever else I forget or neglect. There is a restlessness in my affection for you that I don't understand—a half wish to avoid enjoyment now, that I may in some future time share it with you. And yet I have a presentiment that we may have sympathy in trials of which I now know nothing.
I am ashamed of myself, of late, that these subjects of love and matrimony find a place in my thoughts which I never have been in the habit of giving them, but people here talk of little else and I am borne on with the current. I think that to give happiness in married life a woman should possess oceans of self-sacrificing love and I, for one, haven't half of that self-forgetting spirit which I think essential.
I am glad you like the "Christian Year," and I see you are quite an Episcopalian. Well, if you are like the good old English divines, nobody can find fault with your choice. Mr. Persico was brought up a Catholic but professes to be a nothingarian now. For myself, this only I know that I earnestly wish all the tendencies of my heart to be heavenward, and I believe that the sincere inquirer after truth will be guided by the Infinite Mind. And so on that faith I venture myself and feel safe as a child may feel, who holds his father's hand. Life seems full of mysteries to me of late—and I am tempted to strange thoughtfulness in the midst of its gayest scenes.
How true was the "presentiment" described in this letter, will appear in her correspondence with the same friend more than a quarter of a century later.
To Anna S. Prentiss, Richmond, June 1, 1843
I believe you and I were intended to know each other better I have found a certain something in you that I have been wanting all my life. While I wish you to know me just as I am, faults and all, I can t bear to think of ever seeing anything but the good and the beautiful in your character, dear Anna, and I believe my heart would break outright should I find you to be otherwise than just that which I imagine you are. I don't know why I am saying this; but I have learned more of the world during the last year than in any previous half dozen of my life, and the result is dissatisfaction and alarm at the things I see about me. I wish I could always live, as I have hitherto done, under the shelter of my mother's wing.... I ought to ask your pardon for writing in this horrid style, but I was born to do things by steam, I believe, and can't do them moderately. As I write to, so I love you, dear Anna, with all my interests and energies tending to that one point. I was amused the other day with a young lady who came and sat on my bed when I was sick (for I am just getting well from a quite serious illness), and after some half dozen sighs, wished she were Anna Prentiss that she might be loved as intensely as she desired. This is a roundabout way of saying how very dear you are to me. What chatter-boxes girls are! I wonder how many times I've stopped to say "My dear, don't talk so much—for I am writing in school."
June 27th—Mr. —— brought "The Home" to me and I have laughed and cried over it to my heart's content. Out of pure self-love, because they said she was like me, I liked poor Petra with the big nose, best of the bunch—though, to be sure, they liken me to somebody or other in every book we read till I begin to think myself quite a bundle of contradictions. I have a thousand and one things to say to you, but I wonder if as soon as I see you I shall straightway turn into a poker, and play the stiffy, as I always do when I have been separated from my friends. I am writing in a little bit of a den which, by a new arrangement, I have all to myself. What if there's no table here and I have to write upon the bureau, sitting on one foot in a chair and stretching upwards to reach my paper like a monkey? What do I care? I am writing to you, and your spirit, invoked when I took possession of the premises, comes here sometimes just between daylight and dark, and talks to me till I am ready to put forth my hand to find yours. Oh! Anna, you must be everything that is pure and good, through to the very depths of your heart, that mine may not ache in finding it has loved only an imaginary being. Not that I expect you to be perfect—for I shouldn't love you if you were immaculate—but pure in aim and intention and desire, which I believe you to be.
29th.—Do you want to know what mischief I've just been at? There lay poor Miss ——, alias "Weaky" as we call her, taking her siesta in the most innocent manner imaginable, with a babe-in-the-wood kind of air, which proved so highly attractive that I could do no less than pick her up in my arms and pop her (I don't know but it was head first), right into the bathing-tub which happened to be filled with fresh cold water. Poor, good little Weaky! There she sits shaking and shivering and laughing with such perfect sweet humor, that I am positively taking a vow never to do so again. Well, I had something quite sentimental to say to you when I began writing, but as the spirit moved me to the above perpetration of nonsense, I've nothing left in me but fun, and for that you've no relish, have you?
I made out to cry yesterday and thereby have so refreshed my soul as to be in the best possible humor just now. The why and wherefore of my tears, which by the way I don't shed once in an age, was briefly the withdrawal from school of one of my scholars, one who had so attached herself to me as to have become almost a part of myself, and whom I had taught to love you, dear Anna, that I might have the exquisite satisfaction of talking about you every day—a sort of sweet interlude between grammar and arithmetic which made the dull hours of school grow harmonious. She had a presentiment that her life was to close with our school session, from which I couldn't move her even when her health was good, and she says that she prays every day, not that her life may be lengthened, but that she may die before I am gone. I am superstitious enough to feel that the prayer may have its answer, now that I see her drooping and fading away without perceptible disease. The only time I ever witnessed the rite of confirmation was when the hands of the good bishop rested upon her head, and no wonder if I have half taken up arms in defense of this "laying-on of hands," out of the abundance of my heart if not from the wisdom of my head. Well, I've lost my mirthful mood, speaking of her, and don't know when it will come again.
I have taken it into my head that you will visit Niagara on your way home from the South and have half a mind to go there myself. Did your brother bring home the poems of R. M. Milnes? I half hope that he did not, since I want to see you enjoy them for the first time, particularly a certain "Household Brownie" story, with which I fell in love when President Woods sent us the volume.
Here follow a few entries in her diary:
May 1.—-Holiday. Into the country all of us, white, black, and gray. Sue Empie devoted herself to me like a lover and so did Sue Lewis, so I was not at a loss for society. My girls made a bower, wherein I was ensconced and obliged to tell stories to about forty listeners till my tongue ached. July 18th.—Left Richmond. Aug. 2nd.—Left Reading for Philadelphia. 5th.—Williamstown and saw mother, sister and baby. 16th.—President Hopkins' splendid address before the Alumni—also that of Dr. Robbins. 18th.—Left Williamstown and reached Nonantum House at night. Saw Aunt Willis, Julia, Sarah, Ellen, etc. 22nd.—Came home, oh so very happy! Dear, good home! 23rd.—Callers all day, the second of whom was Mr. P. There have been nineteen people here and I'm tired! 25th.—What didn't I hear from Anna P. to-day! 31st.—Rode with Anna P. to Saccarappa to see Rev. Mr. and Mrs. H. B. Smith—took tea at the P.s and went with them to the Preparatory Lecture. I do nothing but go about from place to place. Sept. 1st.—Just as cold as cold could be all day. Spent evening at Mrs. B.'s, talking with Neal Dow. 9th.—Cold and blowy and disagreeable. Went to see Carrie H. Came home and found Mr. P. here; he stayed to tea—read us some interesting things—told us about Mary and William Howitt. 10th.—Our church was re-opened to-day. Mr. Dwight preached in the morning and Mr. Chickering in the afternoon.
September 11th she marked with a white stone and kept ever after as one of the chief festal days of her life, but of the reason why there is here no record. The diary for the rest of the year is blank with the exception of a single leaf which contains these sentences:
"Celle qui a besoin d'admirer ce qu'elle aime, celle, don't le jugement est penetrant, bien que son imagination exaltee, il n'y a pour elle qu'un objet dans l'univers."
"Celui qu'on aime, est le vengeur des fautes qu'on a commis sur cette terre; la Divinite lui prete son pouvoir."
MAD. DE STAEL.
* * * * *
Her Views of Love and Courtship. Visit of her Sister and Child. Letters. Sickness and Death of Friends. Ill-Health. Undergoes a Surgical Operation. Her Fortitude. Study of German. Fenelon.
The records of the next year and a half are very abundant, in the form of notes, letters, verses and journals; but they are mostly of too private a character to furnish materials for this narrative, belonging to what she called "the deep story of my heart." They breathe the sweetness and sparkle with the morning dew of the affections; and while some of them are full of fun and playful humor, others glow with all the impassioned earnestness of her nature, and others still with deep religious feeling. She wrote:
My heart seems to me somewhat like a very full church at the close of the services—the great congregation of my affections trying to find their way out and crowding and hindering each other in the general rush for the door. Don't you see them—the young ones scampering first down the aisle, and the old and grave and stately ones coming with proud dignity after them?... I feel now that "dans les mysteres de notre nature aimer, encore aimer, est ce qui nous est reste de notre heritage celeste," and oh, how I thank God for my blessed portion of this celestial endowment!
Love in a word was to her, after religion, the holiest and most wonderful reality of life; and in the presence of its mysteries she was—to use her own comparison—"like a child standing upon the seashore, watching for the onward rush of the waves, venturing himself close to the water's edge, holding his breath and wooing their approach, and then, as they come dashing in, retreating with laughter and mock fear, only to return to tempt them anew." Her only solicitude was lest the new interest should draw her heart away from Him who had been its chief joy. In a letter to her cousin, she touches on this point:
You know how by circumstances my affections have been repressed, and now, having found liberty to love, I am tempted to seek my heaven in so loving. But, my dear cousin, there is nothing worth having apart from God; I feel this every day more and more and the fear of satisfying myself with something short of Him—this is my only anxiety. This drives me to the throne of His grace and makes me refuse to be left one moment to myself. I believe I desire first of all to love God supremely and to do something for Him, if He spares my life.
Early in December her sister, Mrs. Hopkins, with an infant boy, came to Portland and passed a part of the winter under the maternal roof. The arrival of this boy—her mother's first grandchild—was an event in the family history. Here is her own picture of the scene:
It was a cold evening, and grandmamma, who had been sitting by the fire, knitting and reading, had at last let her book fall from her lap, and had dropped to sleep in her chair. The four uncles sat around the table, two of them playing chess, and two looking on, while Aunt Fanny, with her cat on her knees, studied German a little, looked at the clock very often, and started at every noise.
"I have said, all along, that they wouldn't come," she cried at last. "The clock has just struck nine, and I am not going to expect them any longer. I knew Herbert would not let Laura undertake such a journey in the depth of winter; or, at any rate, that Laura's courage would tail at the last moment."
She had hardly uttered these words, when there was a ring at the doorbell, then a stamping of feet on the mat, to shake off the snow, and in they Came, Lou, and Lou's papa, and Lou's mamma, bringing ever so much fresh, cold air with them. Grandmamma woke up, and rose to meet them with steps as lively as if she were a young girl; Aunt Fanny tossed the cat from her lap, and seized the bundle that held the baby; the four uncles crowded about her, eager to get the first peep at the little wonder. There was such a laughing, and such a tumult, that poor Lou, coming out of the dark night into the bright room, and seeing so many strange faces, did not know what to think. When his cloaks and shawls and capes were at last pulled off by his auntie's eager hands, there came into view a serious little face, a pair of bright eyes, and a head as smooth as ivory, on which there was not a single hair. His sleeves were looped up with corals, and showed his plump white arms, and he sat up very straight, and took a good look at everybody.
"What a perfect little beauty!" "What splendid eyes!" "What a lovely skin!" "He's the perfect image of his father!" "He's exactly like his mother!" "What a dear little nose!" "What fat little hands, full of dimples!" "Let me take him!" "Come to his own grandmamma!" "Let his uncle toss him—so he will!" "What does he eat?" "Is he tired?" "Now, Fanny! you've had him ever since he came; he wants to come to me; I know he does!"
These, and nobody knows how many more exclamations of the sort, greeted the ears of the little stranger, and were received by him with unruffled gravity.
"Aunt Fanny" devoted herself during the following weeks to the care of her little nephew. Her letters written at the time—some of them with him in her arms—are full of his pretty ways; and when, more than a score of years later, he had given his young life to his country and was sleeping in a soldier's grave, his "sayings and doings" formed the subject of one of her most attractive juvenile books.
A few extracts from her letters will give glimpses of her state of mind during this winter, and show also how the thoughtful spirit, which from the first tempered the excitements of her new experience, was deepened by the loss of very dear friends.
PORTLAND, December 9, 1843.
Last evening I spent at Mrs. H.——'s with Abby and a crowd of other people. John Neal told me I had a great bump of love of approbation, and conscientiousness very large, and self-esteem hardly any; and that he hoped whoever had most influence over me would remedy that evil. He then went on to pay me the most extravagant compliments, and said I could become distinguished in any way I pleased. Thinks I to myself, "I should like to be the best little wife in the world, and that's the height of my ambition." Don't imagine now that I believe all he says, for he has been saying just such things to me since I was a dozen years old, and I don't see as I am any great things yet. Do you?
Jan. 3d, 1844.—Sister is still here and will stay with us a month or two yet. Her husband has gone home to preach and pray himself into contentment without her. Though he was here only a week, his quiet Christian excellence made us all long to grow better. It is always the case when he comes, though he rather lives than talks his religion. I never saw, as far as piety is concerned, a more perfect specimen of a man in his every-day life.
Do you pray for me every night and every morning? Don't forget how I comfort myself with thinking that you every day ask for me those graces of the Spirit which I so long for. Indeed, I have had lately such heavenward yearnings!... Why do you ask if I pray for you, as if I could love you and help praying for you continually and always. I have no light sense of the holiness a Christian minister should possess. I half wish there were no veil upon my heart on this point, that you might see how, from the very first hour of your return from abroad, my interest in you went hand-in-hand with this looking upward.
Jan. 22d.—We have all been saddened by the repeated trials with which our friends the Willises are visited this winter. Mrs. Willis is still very ill, and there is no hope of her recovery; and Ellen, the pet of the whole household—the always happy, loving, beautiful young thing—who had been full of delight in the hope of becoming a mother, lies now at the point of death; having lost her infant, and with it her bright anticipations. For fourteen years there had not been a physician in their house, and you may imagine how they are all now taken, as it were, by surprise by the first break death has threatened to make in their peculiarly happy circle. Our love for all the family has grown with our growth and strengthened with our strength, and what touches them we all feel.
Feb. 8th.—How is it that people who have no refuge in God live through the loss of those they love? I am very sad this morning, and almost wish I had never loved you or anybody. Last night we heard of the death of Julia Willis' sister, and this morning learn that a dear little girl in whom we all were much interested, and whom I saw on Saturday only slightly unwell, is taken away from her parents, who have no manner of consolation in losing this only child. There is a great cloud throughout our house, and we hardly know what to do with ourselves. When I met mother and sister yesterday on my return from your house, I saw that something was the matter of which they hesitated to tell me; and of whom should I naturally think but of you—you in whom my life is bound up; and, when mother finally came to put her arms around me, I suffered for the moment that intensity of anguish which I should feel in knowing that something dreadful had befallen you. She told me, however, of poor Ellen's death, and I was so lost in recovering you again that I cared for nothing else all the evening, and until this morning had scarcely thought of the aching, aching hearts she has left behind. Her poor young husband, who loved her so tenderly, is half-distracted.
Oh, I have blessed God to-day that until He had given me a sure and certain hold upon Himself, He had not suffered me to love as I love now! It is a mystery which I can not understand, how the heart can live on through the moment which rends it asunder from that of which it has become a part, except by hiding itself in God. I have felt Ellen's death the more, because she and her husband were associated in my mind with you. I hardly know how or why; but she told me much of the history of her heart when I saw her last summer on my way home from Richmond, at the same time that she spoke much of you. She had seen you at our house before you went abroad, and seemed to have a sort of presentiment that we should love each other.
But I ought to beg you to forgive me for sending you this gloomy page; yet I was restless and wanted to tell you the thoughts that have been in my heart towards you to-day—the serious and saddened love with which I love you, when I think of you as one whom God may take from me at any moment. I do not know that it is unwise to look this truth in the face sometimes—for if ever there was heart tempted to idolatry, to giving itself up fully, utterly, with perfect abandonment of every other hope and interest, to an earthly love, so is mine tempted now.
Feb. 13th.—Mother is going to Boston with sister on Saturday, provided I am well enough (which I mean to be), as Mrs. Willis has expressed a strong wish to see her once more. We heard from them yesterday again. Poor Ellen's coffin was placed just where she stood as a bride, less than eight months ago, and her little infant rested on her breast. There is rarely a death so universally mourned as hers; she was the most winning and attractive young creature I ever saw.
Feb. 21st.—Are you in earnest? Are you in earnest? Are you really coming home in March? I am afraid to believe, afraid to doubt it. I am crying and laughing and writing all at once. You would not tell me so unless you really were coming, I know ... And you are coming home! (How madly my heart is beating! lie still, will you?) I almost feel that you are here and that you look over my shoulder and read while I write. Are you sure that you will come? Oh, don't repent and send me another letter to say that you will wait till it is pleasanter weather; it is pleasant now. I walked out this morning, and the air was a spring air, and gentlemen go through the streets with their cloaks hanging over their arms, and there is a constant plashing against the windows, of water dripping down from the melting snow; yes, I verily believe that it is warm, and that the birds will sing soon—I do, upon my word ... I wouldn't have the doctor come and feel my pulse this afternoon for anything. He would prescribe fever powders or fever drops, or something of the sort, and bleed me and send me to bed, or to the insane hospital; I don't know which. I could cry, sing, dance, laugh, all at once. Oh, that I knew exactly when you will be here—the day, the hour, the minute, that I might know to just what point to govern my impatient heart—for it would be a pity to punish the poor little thing too severely. I have been reading to-day something which delighted me very much; do you remember a little poem of Goethe's, in which an imprisoned count sings about the flower he loves best, and the rose, the lily, the pink, and the violet, each in turn fancy themselves the objects of his love.  You see I put you in the place of the prisoner at the outset, and I was to be the flower of his love, whatever it might be. Well, it was the "Forget-me-not." If there were a flower called the "Always-loving," maybe I might find out to what order and class I belong. Dear me; there's the old clock striking twelve, and I verily meant to go to bed at ten, so as to sleep away as much of the time as possible before your coming, but I fell into a fit of loving meditation, and forgot everything else. You should have seen me pour out tea to-night! Why, the first thing I knew, I had poured it all out into my own cup till it ran over, and half filled the waiter, which is the first time I ever did such a ridiculous thing in my life. But, dearest, I bid you good night, praying you may have sweet dreams and an inward prompting to write me a long, long, blessed letter, such as shall make me dance about the house and sing.
Feb. 22d.—Oh, I am frightened at myself, I am so happy! It seems as if even this whole folio would not in the least convey to you the gladness with which my heart is dancing and singing and making merry. The doctor seems quite satisfied with my shoulder, and says "it's first-rate;" so set your heart at rest on that point. I hope there'll be nobody within two miles of our meeting. Suppose you stop in some out of the way place just out of town, and let me trot out there to see you? Oh, are you really coming?
To G, E. S. March 4, 1844.
I must write a few lines to tell you, my dear cousin, that I am thinking of and praying for you on your birthday. I have but one request to offer either for you or for myself, and that is for more love to our Redeemer. I bless God that I have no other want.... I do not know why it is, but I never have thought so much of death and of the certainty that I, sooner or later, must die, as within a few months past. I am not exactly superstitious, but this daily and hourly half-presentiment that my life will not be a long one, is singularly subduing, and seems to lay a restraining hand upon future plans. I am not sorry, whatever may be the event, that it is so. I dread clinging to this world and seeking my rest in it. I am not afraid to die, or afraid that anything I love may be taken from me; I only have this serious and thoughtful sense of death upon my mind. You know how we have loved the Willis family, and can imagine how we felt the death of their youngest daughter, who was dear to everybody. And Mrs. Willis is, probably, not living. This has added to my previous feeling on the subject, which was, perhaps, first occasioned by the sudden and terrible loss of my poor friend, Mr. Thatcher, a year ago this month.  God forbid I should ever forget the lessons He saw I needed, and dare to feel that there is a thing upon earth which death may not touch. Oh, in how many ways He has sought to win my whole heart for His own!
March 22d.—I was interrupted last night by the arrival of G. L. P., after his four months' absence in Mississippi, improved in health, and in looks, and in spirits, and quite as glad to see me, I believe, as even you, in your goodness of heart, say my lover ought to be. But I will tell you the truth, my dear cousin, I am afraid of love. There is no other medium, save that of the happiness of loving and being loved, by which my affections could be effectually turned from divine to earthly things. Am I not then on dangerous ground? Yet God mercifully shows me that it is so, and when I think how He has saved me hitherto through sharp temptations, it seems wicked, distrust of Him, not to feel that He will save me through those to come. I know now there are some of the great lessons of life yet to be learned; I believe I must suffer as long as I have an earthly existence. Will not then God make that suffering but as a blessed reprover to bring me nearer Himself? I hope so.
During the winter her health had become so much impaired, that great anxiety was felt as to the issue. In a letter to her friend, Miss Ellen Thurston, dated April 20, 1844, she writes:
You remember, perhaps, that on the afternoon you were so good as to come and spend with me, I was making a fuss about a little thing on my shoulder. Well, I had at last to have it removed, and though the operation was not in itself very painful, its effects on my whole nervous system have been most powerful. I have lost all regular habits of sleep—for a week I do not know that I slept two hours—and am ready to fly into a fit at the bare thought of sitting still long enough to write a common letter. I have, however, the consolation of being pitied and consoled with, as there's something in the idea of cutting at the flesh which touches the heart, a thousand times more than some severer sufferings would do. I am getting quite thin and weak upon it, and I believe mother firmly expects me to shrink into nothing, though I am a pretty bouncing girl still.
Owing to some mishap the healing process was entirely thwarted, and after a very trying summer, the operation had to be repeated. This time it was performed by that eminent surgeon and admirable Christian man, Dr. John C. Warren of Boston, assisted by his son, Dr. J. M. W. Dr. Warren told Miss Payson's friend, who had accompanied an invalid sister to New York, that he thought it would require "about five minutes;" but it proved to be much more serious than he had anticipated. Miss Willis, in her letter from Geneva already quoted, thus refers to it:
My next meeting with Lizzy revealed a striking trait of her character, which hitherto I had had no opportunity of observing—her wonderful fortitude under suffering. I was at the seashore with my sister and family when, her little child being taken suddenly very ill in the night, I went up to Boston by an early train to bring down as soon as possible our family physician. On arriving at his house I was disappointed at being told that he could not come at once, being engaged to perform an operation that morning. While waiting for the return train, I called at my father's office and was surprised to hear that Lizzy was the patient. A painful tumor had developed itself on the back of her neck, and she had come up with her mother to Boston to consult Dr. Warren, who had advised its immediate removal.
I went at once to see her. She greeted me with even more than her usual warmth and after stating in a few words the object of her coming to Boston and that she was expecting the doctors every moment, she added: "You will stay with me, I am sure. Mother insists on being present, but she can not bear it. She will be sure to faint. If you will promise to stay, I can persuade her to remain in the next room." Seeing the distress in my face at the request, she said, "I will be very good. You will have nothing to do but sit in the room, to satisfy mother." It was impossible to refuse and I remained. There was no chloroform then to give blessed unconsciousness of suffering and every pang had to be endured, but she more than kept her promise to "be good." Not a sound or a movement betrayed suffering. She spoke only once. After the knife was laid aside and the threaded needle was passed through the quivering flesh to draw the gaping edges of the wound together, she asked, after the first stitch had been completed, in a low, almost calm tone, with only a slight tremulousness, how many more were to be taken. When the operation was over, and the surgeons were preparing to depart, she questioned them minutely as to the mark which would be left after healing. I was surprised that she could think of it at such a moment, knowing how little value she had always set on her personal appearance, but her mother explained it afterward by referring to her betrothal to you, and the fear that you would find the scar disfiguring. 
In a letter to Mrs. Stearns,  she herself writes, Sept. 6:
I had no idea of the suffering which awaited me. I thought I should get off as I did the first time. But I have a great deal to be thankful for. On Wednesday, to my infinite surprise and gladness, George pounced down upon me from New York, having been quite cut to the heart by the account mother gave him. Everybody is so kind, and I have had so many letters, and seen so many sympathising faces, and "dear Lizzy" sounds so sweet to my insatiable ears; and yet—and yet—I would rather die than live through the forty-eight hours again which began on Monday morning. Somebody must have prayed for me, or I never should have got through.
An extract from another of her letters, dated Portland, September 11th, belongs here:
I must tell you, too, about Dr. Warren (the old one). When mother asked him concerning the amount he was to receive from her for his professional services, he smiled and said: "I shall not charge you much, and as for Miss Payson, when she is married and rich, she may pay me and welcome—but not till then." I told him I never expected to be rich, and he replied, with what mother thought an air of contentment that said he knew all about it: "Well, we can be happy without riches," and such a good, happy smile shone all over his face as I have seldom been so fortunate as to see in an old man. As for the young one, he seemed as glad when I was dressed on Sunday with a clean frock and no shawl, as if it were really a matter of consequence to him to see his patients looking comfortable and well. I am getting along finely; there is only one spot on my shoulder which is troublesome, and they ordered me on a very strict diet for that—so I am half-starved this blessed minute. We went to Newburyport on Monday, and stayed there with Anna till yesterday afternoon. I think the motion of the cars hurt me somewhat, but by the time you get here I do hope I shall be quite well.
Evening.— ... I have had such happy thoughts and prayers to-night! You should certainly have knelt with me in my little room, where, for the first time a year ago this evening, I asked God to bless us; and you too, perhaps, then began first to pray for me. Oh, what a wonderful time it was!... I hope you have prayed for me to-day—I don't mean as you always do, but with new prayers wherewith to begin the new year. God bless you and love you!
But this period was also one of large mental growth. It was marked especially by two events that had a shaping influence upon both her intellectual and religious character. One was the study of German. She was acquainted already with French and Italian; she now devoted her leisure hours to the language and works of Schiller and Goethe. These opened to her a new world of thought and beauty. Her correspondence contains frequent allusions to the progress of her German reading. Here is one in a letter to her cousin:
I have read George Herbert a good deal this winter. I have also read several of Schiller's plays—William Tell and Don Carlos among the rest—and got a great deal more excited over them than I have over anything for a long while. George has a large German library, but I don't suppose I shall be much the wiser for it, unless I turn to studying theology. Did you read in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, the "Bekenntnisse einer schoenen Seele"? I do think it did my soul good when I read it last July. The account she gives of her religious history reminded me of mine in some points very strongly.
The other incident was her introduction to the writings of Fenelon—an author whom, in later years, she came to regard as an oracle of spiritual wisdom. In the letter just quoted, she writes: "I am reading Fenelon's 'Maximes des Saints,' and many of his ideas please me exceedingly. Some of his 'Lettres Spirituelles' are delicious—so heavenly, so child-like in their spirit." 
 Jan, 1, 1845.—I used never to confide my religious feelings to any one in the world. I went on my toilsome, comfortless way quite by myself. But when at the end of this long, gloomy way, I saw and knew and rejoiced in Christ, then I forgot myself and my pride and my reserve, and was glad if a little child would hear me say "I love Him!"—glad if the most ignorant, the most hitherto despised, would speak of Him.
 Later she writes: "I have had a long talk with sister to-day about Leighton. She claims him, as all the Perfectionists do, as one of their number; though, by the way, in the common acceptation of the word, she is not a Perfectionist herself, but only on the boundary-line of the enchanted ground. I am completely puzzled when I think on such subjects. I doubt if sister is right, yet know not where she is wrong. She does not obtrude her peculiar opinions on any one, and I began the conversation this afternoon myself."
 "Oh, what a blessed thing it is to lose one's will! Since I have lost my will I have found happiness. There can be no such thing as disappointment to me, for I have no desires but that God's will may be accomplished." "Christians might avoid much trouble if they would only believe what they profess, viz.: that God is able to make them happy without anything but Himself. They imagine that if such a dear friend were to die, or such and such blessings to be removed, they should be miserable; whereas God can make them a thousand times happier without them. To mention my own case: God has been depriving me of one blessing after another; but as every one was removed, He has come in and filled up its place; and now, when I am a cripple and not able to move, I am happier than ever I was in my life before or ever expected to be; and if I had believed this twenty years ago, I might have been spared much anxiety."
 The Right Rev. John Johns, Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia, was a man of apostolic simplicity and zeal, and universally beloved. An almost ideal friendship existed between him and Dr. Charles Hodge, of Princeton. Dear, blessed, old John, Dr. H. called him when he was seventy-nine years old. See Life of Dr. Hodge, pp. 564-569. Bishop Johns died in 1876.
 Das Bluemlein Wunderschoen. Lied des gefangenen Grafen, is the title of the poem. Goethe's Samtliche Werke. Vol. I., p. 151.
 See appendix A, p. 533.
 The horrible operation is over, Heaven be praised! It was far more horrible than we had anticipated. They were an hour and a quarter, before all was done. I was very brave at first and wouldn't leave the room, but I found myself so faint that I feared falling and had to go. Lizzy behaved like a heroine indeed, so that even the doctors admired her fortitude. She never spoke, but was deadly faint, so that they were obliged to lay her down that the dreadful wound might bleed; then there was an artery to be taken up and tied; then six stitches to be taken with a great big needle. Most providentially dear Julia Willis came in about ten minutes before the doctors and though she was greatly distressed, she never faints, and staid till Lizzy was laid in bed.... She was just like a marble statue, but even more beautiful, while the blood stained her shoulders and bosom. You couldn't have looked on such suffering without fainting, man that you are.—From a letter of Mrs. Payson, dated Boston, Sept. 2, 1844.
 Her friend, Miss Prentiss, had been married, in the previous autumn, to the Rev. Jonathan F. Stearns, of Newburyport.
 "Explication des Maximes des Saints sur la Vie Interieure" is the full title of the famous little work first named. It appeared in January, 1697. If measured by the storm it raised in France and at Rome, or by the attention it attracted throughout Europe, its publication may be said to have been one of the most important theological events of that day. The eloquence of Bossuet and the power of Louis XIV. were together exerted to the utmost in order to brand its illustrious author as a heretical Quietist; and, through their almost frantic efforts, it was at last condemned in a papal brief. But, for all that, the little work is full of the noblest Christian sentiments. It pushes the doctrine of pure love, perhaps, to a perilous extreme, but still an extreme that leans to the side of the highest virtue. After its condemnation the Pope, Innocent XII., wrote to the French prelates, who had been most prominent in denouncing Fenelon: Peccavit excessu amoris divini, sed vos peccastis defectu amoris proximi—i.e., "He has erred by too much love of God, but ye have erred by too little love of your neighbor."
THE YOUNG WIFE AND MOTHER.
Marriage and Settlement in New Bedford. Reminiscences. Letters. Birth of her First Child. Death of her Sister-in-Law. Letters.
On the 16th of April, 1845, Miss Payson was married to the Rev. George Lewis Prentiss, then just ordained as pastor of the South Trinitarian church in New Bedford, Mass. Here she passed the next five and a half years; years rendered memorable by precious friendships formed in them, by the birth of two of her children, by the death of her mother, and by other deep joys and sorrows. New Bedford was then known, the world over, as the most important centre of the whale-fishery. In quest of the leviathans of the deep its ships traversed all seas, from the tumbling icebergs of the Arctic Ocean to the Southern Pacific. But it was also known nearer home for the fine social qualities of its people. Many of the original settlers of the town were Quakers, and its character had been largely shaped by their friendly influence. Husbands and wives, whether young or old, called each other everywhere by their Christian names, and a charming simplicity marked the daily intercourse of life. Into this attractive society Mrs. Prentiss was at once welcomed. The Arnold family in particular—a family representing alike the friendly spirit, the refinement and taste, the wealth, and the generous hospitality of the place—here deserve mention. Their kindness was unwearied; flowers and fruit came often from their splendid garden and greenhouses; and, in various other ways, they contributed from the moment of her coming to render New Bedford a pleasant home to her.
But it was in her husband's parish that she found her chief interest and joy. His people at first welcomed her in the warmest manner on her sainted father's account, but they soon learned to love her for her own sake. She early began to manifest among them that wonderful sympathy, which made her presence like sunshine in sick rooms and in the house of mourning, and, in later years, endeared her through her writings to so many hearts. While her natural shyness and reserve caused her to shrink from everything like publicity, and even from that leadership in the more private activities of the church which properly belonged to her sex and station, any kind of trouble instantly aroused and called into play all her energies. The sickness and death of little children wrought upon her with singular power; and, in ministering aid and comfort to bereaved mothers, she seemed like one specially anointed of the Lord for this gentle office. Now, after the lapse of more than a third of a century, there are those in New Bedford and its vicinity who bless her memory, as they recall scenes of sharp affliction cheered by her presence and her loving sympathy.
The following reminiscences by one of her New Bedford friends, written not long after her death, belong here:
Oh, that I had the pen of a ready writer! How gladly would I depict her just as she came to New Bedford, a youthful bride and our pastor's wife, more than a third of a century ago! My remembrances of her are still fresh and delightful; but they have been for so many years silent memories that I feel quite unable fully to express them. And yet I will try to give you a few simple details. Several things strike me as I recall her in those days. Our early experiences in the struggle of life had been somewhat similar and this drew us near to each other. She was naturally very shy and in the presence of strangers, or of uncongenial persons, her reserve was almost painful; but with her friends—especially those of her own sex—all this vanished and she was full of animated talk. Her conversation abounded in bright, pointed sayings, in fine little touches of humor, in amusing anecdotes and incidents of her own experience, which she related with astonishing ease and fluency, sometimes also in downright girlish fun and drollery; and all was rendered doubly attractive by her low, sweet woman's voice and her merry, fitful laugh. Yet these things were but the sparkle of a very deep and serious nature. Even then her religious character was to me wonderful. She seemed always to know just what was prompting her, whether, nature or grace; and her perception of the workings of the two principles was like an instinct. While I, though cherishing a Christian hope, was still struggling in bondage under the law, she appeared to enjoy to the full the glorious liberty of the children of God. And when I would say to her that I was constantly doing that which I ought not and leaving undone so much that I ought to do, she would try to comfort me and to encourage me to exercise more faith by responding, "Oh, you don't know what a great sinner I am; but Christ's love is greater still." There was a helpful, assuring, sunshiny influence about her piety which I have rarely seen or felt in any other human being. And almost daily, during all the years of separation, I have been conscious of this influence in my own life.
I remember her as very retiring in company, even among our own people. But if there were children present, she would gather them about her and hold them spell-bound by her talk. Oh, she was a marvellous storyteller! How often have I seen her in the midst of a little group, who, all eyes and ears, gazed into her face and eagerly swallowed every word, while she, intent on amusing them, seemed quite unconscious that anybody else was in the room. Mr. H—— used to say, "How I envy those children and wish I were one of them!"
Mrs. Prentiss received much attention from persons outside of our congregation, and who, from their position and wealth, were pretty exclusive in their habits. But they could not resist the attraction of her rare gifts and accomplishments. New Bedford at that time, as you know, had a good deal of intellectual and social culture. This was particularly the case among the Unitarians, whose minister, when you came to us, was that excellent and very superior man, the Rev. Ephraim Peabody, D.D., afterwards of King's Chapel in Boston. One of the leading families of his flock was the "Arnold family," whose garden and grounds were then among the finest in the State and at whose house such men as Richard H. Dana, the poet, the late Professor Agassiz, and others eminent for their literary and scientific attainments, were often to be seen. This whole family were warmly attached to Mrs. Prentiss, and after you left New Bedford, often referred to their acquaintance with her in the most affectionate manner. And I believe Mr. Arnold and his daughter used to visit you in New York. The father, mother, daughter, and aunt are all gone. And what a change have all these vanished years wrought in the South Trinitarian society! I can think of only six families then worshipping there, that are worshipping there now. But so long as a single one remains, the memory of Mrs. Prentiss will still be precious in the old church.
The story of the New Bedford years may be told, with slight additions here and there, by Mrs. Prentiss' own pen. Most of her letters to her own family are lost; but the letters to her husband, when occasionally separated from her, and others to old friends, have been preserved and afford an almost continuous narrative of this period. A few extracts from some of those written in 1845, will show in what temper of mind she entered upon her new life. The first is dated Portland, January both, just after Mr. Prentiss received the call to New Bedford:
I have wished all along, beyond anything else, not so much that we might have a pleasant home, pleasant scenery and circumstances, good society and the like, as that we might have good, holy influences about us, and God's grace and love within us. And for you, dear George, I did not so much desire the intellectual and other attractions, about which we have talked sometimes, as a dwelling-place among those whom you might train heavenward or who would not be a hindrance in your journey thither. Through this whole affair I know I have thought infinitely more of you than of myself. And if you are happy at the North Pole shan't I be happy there too? I shall be heartily thankful to see you a pastor with a people to love you. Only I shall be jealous of them.
To her friend, Miss Thurston, she writes from New Bedford, April 28th:
I thank you with all my heart for your letter and for the very pretty gift, which I suppose to be the work of your own hands. I can not tell you how inexpressibly dear to me are all the expressions of affection I have received and am receiving from old friends. We have been here ten days, and very happy days they have been to me, notwithstanding I have had to see so many strange faces and to talk to so many new people. And both my sister and Anna tell me that the first months of married life are succeeded by far happier ones still; so I shall go on my way rejoicing. As to what your brother says about disappointment, nobody believes his doctrine better than I do; but life is as full of blessings as it is of disappointments, I conceive, and if we only know how, we may often, out of mere will, get the former instead of the latter. I have had some experience of the "conflict and dismay" of this present evil world; but then I have also had some of its smiles. Neither of these ever made me angry with this life, or in love with it. I believe I am pretty cool and philosophical, but it won't do for me at this early day to be boasting of what is in me. I shall have to wait till circumstances bring it out. I can only answer for the past and the present—the one having been blessed and gladdened and the other being made happy and cheerful by lover and husband. I'll tell you truly, as I promised to do, if my heart sings another tune on the 17th of April, 1848. I only hope I shall enter soberly and thankfully on my new life, expecting sunshine and rain, drought and plenty, heat and cold—and adapting myself to alternations contentedly—but who knows? We are boarding at a hotel, which is not over pleasant. However, we have two good rooms and have home things about us. I like to sit at work while Mr. Prentiss writes his sermons and he likes to have me—so, for the present, a study can be dispensed with. In a few weeks we hope to get to housekeeping. I like New Bedford very much.
To her husband she writes, June 18:
I can not help writing you again, though I did send you a letter last night. It is a very pleasant morning, and I think of you all the time and love you with the happiest tears in my eyes. I have just been making some nice crispy gingerbread to send Mrs. H——, as she has no appetite, and I thought anything from home would taste good to her. I hope this will please you. Mother called with me to see her yesterday. She looks very ill. I have no idea she will ever get well. We had a nice time at the garden last night. Mr. and Miss Arnold came out and walked with us nearly an hour, though tea was waiting for them, and Miss A. was very particularly attentive to me (for your dear sake!), and gave me flowers, beautiful ones, and spoke with much interest of your sermons. Oh, I am ready to jump for joy, when I think of seeing you home again. Do please be glad as I am. I suppose your mother wants you too; but then she can't love you as I do—I'm sure she can't—with all the children among whom she has to divide her heart. Give my best love to her and Abby. How I wish I were in Portland, helping you pack your books. But I can't write any more as we are going to Mrs. Gibbs' to tea. Mother is reading Hamlet in her room. She is enjoying herself very much.
Mrs. Gibbs, whose name occurs in this letter, was one of those inestimable friends, who fulfill the office of mother, as it were, to the young minister's wife. She was tenderly attached to Mrs. Prentiss and her loving-kindness, which was new every morning and fresh every evening, ceased only with her life. Her husband, the late Capt. Robert Gibbs, was like her in unwearied devotion to both the pastor and the pastor's wife.
The summer was passed in getting settled in her new home, and receiving visits from old friends. Early in the autumn she spent several weeks in Portland. After her return, Nov. 2, she writes to Miss Thurston:
I was in Portland after you had left, and got quite rested and recruited after my summer's fatigue, so that I came home with health and strength, if not to lay my hand to the plough, to apply it to the broom-handle and other articles of domestic warfare. Just what I expected would befall me has happened. I have got immersed in the whirlpool of petty cares and concerns which swallow up so many other and higher interests, and talk as anxiously about good "help" and bad, as the rest of 'em do. I sometimes feel really ashamed of myself to see how virtuously I fancy I am spending my time, if in the kitchen, and how it seems to be wasted if I venture to take up a book. I take it that wives who have no love and enthusiasm for their husbands are more to be pitied than blamed if they settle down into mere cooks and good managers.... We have had right pleasant times since coming home; never pleasanter than when, for a day or two, I was without "help," and my husband ground coffee and drew water for me, and thought everything I made tasted good. One of the deacons of our church—a very old man—prays for me once a week at meeting, especially that my husband and I may be "mutual comforts and enjoyments of each other," which makes us laugh a little in our sleeves, even while we say Amen in our hearts. We have been reading aloud Mary Howitt's "Author's Daughter," which is a very good story indeed—don't ask me if I have read anything else. My mind has become a complete mummy, and therefore incapable of either receiving or originating a new idea. I did wade through a sea of words, and nonsense on my way home in the shape of two works of Prof. Wilson—"The Foresters" and "Margaret Lindsay"—which I fancy he wrote before he was out of his mother's arms or soon after leaving them. The girls in Portland are marrying off like all possessed. It reminds me of a shovel full of popcorn, which the more you watch it the more it won't pop, till at last it all goes racketing off at once, pop, pop, pop; without your having time to say Jack Robinson between.
My position as wife of a minister secures for me many affectionate attentions, and opens to me many little channels of happiness, which conspire to make me feel contented and at home here. I do not know how a stranger would find New Bedford people, but I am inclined to think society is hard to get into, though its heart is warm when you once do get in. We are very pleasantly situated, and our married life has been abundantly blessed. I doubt if we could fail to be contented anywhere if we had each other to love and care for.
We went to hear Templeton sing last night. I was perfectly charmed with his hunting song and with some others, and better judges than I were equally delighted. I had a letter from Abby last week. She is in Vicksburg and in fine spirits, and fast returning health.
Her letters during 1846 glow with the sunshine of domestic peace and joy. In its earlier months her health was unusually good and she depicts her happiness as something "wonderful." All the day long her heart, she says, was "running over" with a love and delight she could not begin to express. But her letters also show that already she was having foretastes of that baptism of suffering, which was to fit her for doing her Master's work. In January she revisited Portland, where she had the pleasure of meeting Prof, and Mrs. Hopkins with their little boy, and of passing several weeks in the society of her own and her husband's family. But Portland had now lost for her much of its attraction. "I've seen all the folks," she wrote, "and we've said about all we've got to say to each other, and though I love to be at home, of course, it is not the home it used to be before you had made such another dear, dear home for me. Oh, do you miss me? do you feel a little bit sorry you let me leave you? Do say, yes.... But I can't write, I am so happy! I am so glad I am going home!" Early in December her first child was born. Writing a few weeks later to Mrs. Stearns, she thus refers to this event:
What a world of new sensations and emotions come with the first child! I was quite unprepared for the rush of strange feelings—still more so for the saddening and chastening effect. Why should the world seem more than ever empty when one has just gained the treasure of a living and darling child?
The saddening effect in her own case was owing in part, no doubt, to anxiety occasioned by the fatal illness of her husband's eldest sister, to whom she was tenderly attached. The following letter was written under the pressure of this anxiety:
To Miss Thurston, New Bedford, Jan. 31, 1847
I dare say the idea of Lizzy Payson with a baby seems quite funny to you, as it does to many of the Portland girls; but I assure you it doesn't seem in the least funny to me, but as natural as life and I may add, as wonderful, almost. She is a nice little plump creature, with a fine head of dark hair which I take some comfort in brushing round a quill to make it curl, and a pair of intelligent eyes, either black or blue, nobody knows which. I find the care of her very wearing, and have cried ever so many times from fatigue and anxiety, but now I am getting a little better and she pays me for all I do. She is a sweet, good little thing, her chief fault being a tendency to dissipation and sitting up late o' nights. The ladies of our church have made her a beautiful little wardrobe, fortunately for me.
I had a lot of company all summer; my sister, her husband and boy, Mr. Stearns and Anna, Mother Prentiss, Julia Willis, etc. I had also my last visit from Abby, whom I little thought then I should never see again. Our happiness in our little one has been checked by our constant anxiety with regard to Abby's health, and it is very hard now for me to give up one who has become in every sense a sister, and not even to have the privilege of bidding her farewell. George went down about a week since and will remain till all is over. I do not even know that while I write she is yet living. She had only one wish remaining and that was to see George, and she was quite herself the day of his arrival, as also the day following, and able to say all she desired. Since then she has been rather unconscious of what was passing, and I fervently trust that by this time her sufferings are over and that she is where she longed and prayed to be.  You can have no idea how alike are the emotions occasioned by a birth and a death in the family. They seem equally solemn to me and I am full of wonder at the mysterious new world into which I have been thrown. I used to think that the change I saw in young, giddy girls when they became mothers, was owing to suffering and care wearing upon the spirits, but I see now that its true source lies far deeper. My brother H. has been married a couple of months, so I have one sister more. I shall be glad when they are all married. Some sisters seem to feel that their brothers are lost to them on their marriage, but if I may judge by my husband, there is fully as much gain as loss. I am sure no son or brother could be more devoted to mother and sisters than he is. Of course the baby is his perfect comfort and delight; but I need not enlarge on this point, as I suppose you have seen papas with their first babies. A great sucking of a very small thumb admonishes me that the little lady in the crib meditates crying for supper, so I must hurry off my letter.
Abby Lewis Prentiss died on Saturday, January 30, 1847, at the age of thirty-two. Long and wearisome sufferings, such as usually attend pulmonary disease, preceded the final struggle. It was toward the close of a stormy winter's day, that she gently fell asleep. A little while before she had imagined herself in a "very beautiful region" which her tongue in vain attempted to describe, surrounded by those she loved. Among her last half-conscious utterances was the name of her brother Seargent. The next morning witnessed a scene of such wondrous splendor and loveliness as made the presence of Death seem almost incredible. The snow-fall and mist and gloom had ceased; and as the sun rose, clear and resplendent, every visible object—the earth, trees, houses—shone as if enameled with gold and pearls and precious stones. It was the Lord's day; and well did the aspect of nature symbolise the glory of Him, who is the Resurrection and the Life.
On receiving the news of his sister's death, her brother Seargent, writing to his mother, thus depicted her character:
My heart bleeds to the core, as I sit down to mingle my tears with yours, my dear, beloved mother. I can not realise that it is all over; that I shall never again, in this world, see our dear, dear Abby. Gladly would I have given my own life to preserve hers. But we have consolation, even in our extreme grief; for she was so good that we know she is now in heaven, and freed from all care, unless it be that her affectionate heart is still troubled for us, whom she loved so well. We can dwell with satisfaction, after we have overcome the first sharpness of our grief, upon her angel-like qualities, which made her, long before she died, fit for the heaven where she now is.... You have lost the purest, noblest, and best of daughters; I, a sister, who never to my knowledge did a selfish act or uttered a selfish thought. With the exception of yourself, dear mother, she was, of all our family circle, the best prepared to enter her Father's house.
Some extracts from letters written at this time, will show the tenderness of Mrs. Prentiss' sisterly love and sympathy, and give a glimpse also of her thoughts and occupations as a young mother.
To Mrs. Stearns, New Bedford, Feb. 17, 1847
If I loved you less, my dear Anna, I could write you twenty letters where I now can hardly get courage to undertake one. How very dearly I do love you I never knew, till it rushed upon my mind that we might sometime lose you as we have lost dear Abby. How mysteriously your and Mary's and my baby are given us just at this very time, when our hearts are so sore that we are almost afraid to expose them to new sufferings by taking in new objects of affection! But it does seem to me a great mercy that, trying as it is in many respects, these births and this death come almost hand in hand. Surely we three young mothers have learned lessons of life that must influence us forever in relation to these little ones!
I have been like one in the midst of a great cloud, since the birth of our baby, entirely unconscious how much I love her; but I am just beginning to take comfort in and feel sensible affection for her. I long to show the dear little good creature to you. But I can hardly give up my long-cherished plans and hopes in regard to Abby's seeing and loving our first child. Almost as much as I depended on the sympathy and affection of my own mother in relation to this baby, I was depending on Abby's. But I rejoice that she is where she is, and would not have her back again in this world of sin and conflict and labor, for a thousand times the comfort her presence could give. But you don't know how I dread going home next summer and not finding her there! It was a great mercy that you could go down again, dear Anna. And indeed there are manifold mercies in this affliction—how many we may never know, till we get home to heaven ourselves and find, perhaps, that this was one of the invisible powers that helped us on our way thither. I had a sweet little note from your mother to-day. I would give anything if I could go right home, and make her adopt me as her daughter by a new adoption, and be a real blessing and comfort to her in this lonely, dark time. Eddy Hopkins calls my baby his. How children want to use the possessive case in regard to every object of interest!
I find the blanket that Mrs. Gibbs knit for me so infinitely preferable, from its elasticity, to common flannel, that I could not help knitting one for you. If I say that I have thought as many affectionate thoughts to you, while knitting it, as it contains stitches, I fancy I speak nothing but truth and soberness—for I love you now with the love I have returned on my heart from Abby, who no longer is in want of earthly friends. Dear little baby thought I was knitting for her special pleasure, for her bright eyes would always follow the needles as she lay upon my lap, and she would smile now and then as if thanking me for my trouble. The ladies have given her an elegant cloak, and Miss Arnold has just sent her a little white satin bonnet that was made in England, and is quite unlike anything I ever saw. Only to think, I walked down to church last Sunday and heard George preach once more!
March 3d.—We could with difficulty, and by taking turns, get through reading your letter—not only because you so accurately describe our own feelings in regard to dear Abby, but because we feel so keenly for you. I often detect myself thinking, "Now I will sit down and write Abby a nice long letter"; or imagining how she will act when we go home with our baby; and as you say, I dream about her almost every night. I used always to dream of her as suffering and dying, but now I see her just as she was when well, and hear her advising this and suggesting that, just as I did when she was here last summer. Life seems so different now from what it did! It seems to me that my youth has been touched by Abby's death, and that I can never be so cheerful and light-hearted as I have been. But, dear Anna, though I doubt not this is still more the case with you, and that you see far deeper into the realities of life than I do, we have both the consolations that are to be found in Christ—and these will remain to us when the buoyancy and the youthful spirit have gone from our hearts.
March 12th. ... I had been reading a marriage sermon to George from "Martyria," and we were having a nice conjugal talk just as your little stranger was coming into the world. G. is so hurried and driven that he can not get a moment in which to write. He has a funeral this afternoon, that of Mrs. H., a lady whom he has visited for two years, and a part, if not all, of that time once a week. I have made several calls since I wrote you last—two of them to see babies, one of whom took the shine quite off of mine with his great blue-black eyes and eyelashes that lay halfway down his cheeks.
The latter part of April she visited Portland; while there she wrote to her husband, April 27:
Just as I had the baby to sleep and this letter dated, I was called down to see Dr. and Mrs. Dwight and their little Willie. The baby woke before they had finished their call, and behaved as prettily and looked as bright and lovely as heart could wish. Dr. Dwight held her a long time and kissed her heartily.  I got your letter soon after dinner, and from the haste and the je ne sais quoi with which it was written, I feared you were not well. Alas, I am full of love and fear. How came you to walk to Dartmouth to preach? Wasn't it by far too long a walk to take in one day? I heard Dr. Carruthers on Sunday afternoon. He made the finest allusion to my father I ever heard and mother thought of it as I did. To-day I have had a good many callers—among the rest Deacon Lincoln.  When he saw the baby he said, "Oh, what a homely creature. Do tell if the New Bedford babies are so ugly?" Mrs. S., thinking him in earnest, rose up in high dudgeon and said, "Why, we think her beautiful, Deacon Lincoln." "Well, I don't wonder," said he. I expect she will get measles and everything else, for lots of children come to see her and eat her up. Mother, baby and I spend to-morrow at your mother's. Do up a lot of sleeping and grow fat, pray do! And oh, love me and think I am a darling little wife, and write me loving words in your next letter. Wednesday.—We have a fine day for going up to your mother's. And the baby is bright as a button and full of fun. Aren't you glad?
To Mrs. Stearns, Portland, May 22, 1847
We have just been having a little quiet Saturday evening talk about dear Abby, as we sat here before the lighting of the lamps, and I dare say I was not the only one who wished you here too. I came up here from my mother's on Monday morning and have had a delightful week. I can not begin to tell you how glad I am that we are going to make you a little visit on our way home. I do so want to see you and your children, and show you our darling little baby that I can hardly wait till the time comes. I suppose you have got your little folks off to bed, and so if you will take a peep into the parlor here you will see how we are all occupied—mother in her rocking-chair, with her "specs" on, studying my Dewees on Children; George toe to toe with her, reading some old German book, and Lina  curled upon the sofa, asleep I fancy, while I sit in the corner and write you from dear Abby's desk with her pen. Mercy and Sophia watch over the cradle in the dining-room, where mother's fifteenth grandchild reposes, unconscious of the honor of sleeping where honorables, reverends, and reverendesses have slumbered before her. How strange it seems that my baby is one of this family—bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh! I need not say how I miss dear Abby, for you will see at once that that which was months ago a reality to you, has just become such to me. It pains me to my heart's core to hear how she suffered. Dear, dear Abby! how I did love her, and how thankful I am for her example to imitate and her excellencies to rejoice in! Your uncle James Lewis  spent last night here, and this morning he prayed a delightful prayer, which really softened my whole soul. I do not know when I have had my own wants so fervently expressed, or been more edified at family worship, and his allusion to Abby was very touching.
The following extracts from letters written to her husband, while he was absent in Maine, may be thought by some to go a little too much into the trifling details of daily life and feeling, but do not such details after all form no small part of the moral warp and woof of human experience?
To her husband New Bedford, August 27th.
I heard this morning that old Mrs. Kendrick was threatened with typhus fever, and went down soon after breakfast to see how she did, and, as I found Mrs. Henrietta had watched with her and was looking all worn out, I begged her to let me have her baby this afternoon, that she might have a chance to rest; so, after dinner, Sophia went down and got her. At first she set up a lamentable scream, but we huddled on her cloak and put her with our baby into the carriage and gave them a ride. She is a proper heavy baby, and my legs ache well with trotting round the streets after the carriage. Think of me as often as you can and pray for me, and I will think of you and pray for you all the time.
Tuesday Evening.—You see I am writing you a sort of little journal, as you say you like to know all I do while you are away. Our sweet baby makes your absence far less intolerable than it used to be before she came to comfort me.... I have felt all soul and as if I had no body, ever since your precious letter came this morning. I have so pleased myself with imagining how funny and nice it would be if I could creep in unperceived by you, and hear your oration! I long to know how you got through, and what Mr. Stearns and Mr. Smith thought of it. I always pray for you more when you are away than I do when you are at home, because I know you are interrupted and hindered about your devotions more or less when journeying. I have had callers a great part of to-day, among them Mrs. Leonard, Mrs. Gen. Thompson, Mrs. Randall, and Capt. Clark.  Capt. C. asked for nobody but the baby. The little creature almost sprang into his arms. He was much gratified and held her a long while, kissing and caressing her. I think it was pretty work for you to go to reading your oration to your mother and old Mrs. Coe, when you hadn't read it to me. I felt a terrible pang of jealousy when I came to that in your letter. I am going now to call on Miss Arnold.
Friday, Sept, 3d.—Yesterday forenoon I was perfectly wretched. It came over me, as things will in spite of us, "Suppose he didn't get safely to Brunswick!" and for several hours I could not shake it off. It had all the power of reality, and made me so faint that I could do nothing and fairly had to go to bed. I suppose it was very silly, and if I had not tried in every way to rise above it might have been even wicked, but it frightened me to find how much I am under the power of mere feeling and fancy. But do not laugh at me. Sometimes I say to myself, "What MADNESS to love any human being so intensely! What would become of you if he were snatched from you?" and then I think that though God justly denies us comfort and support for the future, and bids us lean upon Him now and trust Him for the rest, He can give us strength for the endurance of His most terrible chastisements when their hour comes.