“All that is bitter, all that is sweet comes from God. It is our daily bread.”
“The mysterious conditions of our everyday life give a gravity to all our work, and all our pleasure.”
In this year 1887, I finished “The Border Shepherdess” and “The Master of His Fate” with my usual accompaniment of poems and articles for the papers. On April twenty-fourth I note that I copied “Cherry Ripe,” a poem for Harper’s Weekly, “A Strawberry Idyl” for the Illustrated Weekly, “The Romance of the Salad Bowl” for the Christian Union, and “The Two Talifers” for Leslie’s. These with Bonner’s usual poem were the papers on which I mainly relied and whose columns I felt must be kept open, no matter how interesting the novel on hand might be. But early in May my hands began to trouble me. I had the right thumb in a splint, and no finger I possessed could lift a pin. The tips of my fingers seemed to have lost feeling. I could not use pen and ink, but if the pencil was placed in my hand, I could write as long as the pencil would mark; but I could not pick it up, if I dropped it. I was very unhappy about this condition, and then the relief came from a source most unexpected.
I had met on my last voyage from England, a Professor McAfee and his wife. Mr. McAfee was a professor in a college at a place called Claverick I think. He was a most charming man, widely and well cultivated, and I formed a pleasant friendship with him and Mrs. McAfee. While my fingers were troubling me so much, they came to pay me a short visit, and he induced me to get a typewriter. I do not know how long they had been on the market, certainly not very long, for I had never seen one in any of the newspaper offices I visited. Mine came the day before he left, and he showed me all its peculiarities. In less than a week I could use it very well; in a month I considered myself an expert.
The typewriter was an instant and immense relief; for the copying of all my work had doubled my labor, because it was not as interesting to copy, as to compose; and as it was necessary to write the press copy very clearly and particularly, the copying occupied more time than the composing. The kindly, clever professor who came to me in the hour of my need is dead. No. He could not die. What we call death was to him only emigration, and I care not where he now tarries. He is doing God’s will, and more alive than ever he was on earth.
Mrs. McAfee, just before Christmas, sent me a lovely oil painting of poppies and wheat, done for me by girls in the college. Then I wrote the following poem in memory of it, which was published in Harper’s Weekly and I hoped it pleased them.
Poppies have loved the golden wheat
Many a thousand years,
And still they lift a glowing face
Up to the bending ears,
Wherever the yellow wheat doth grow,
Scarlet poppies will surely go.
Bind the sheaves in the East or West,
Take seed where man ne’er trod,
And when the corn bends to the breeze,
The poppy there will nod.
No time, no distance, hath the power
To change the love of grain and flower.
See how the silky petals stir
Like banners in still air;
See how the rich ripe ears sway down
To flowers so idly fair.
O sweet wind of the harvest day!
Tell me what do these lovers say.
Do they remember Nilus yet?
Ham’s daughters dusky fair?
Greek girls with mingled wreaths of wheat
And poppies in their hair?
Or fair Judean maids at morn
Gleaning among the yellow corn?
Does grain of wheat, or seed of flower,
Hold still a memory
Of happy English harvest homes
On many a pleasant lea?
And youths and maids amid the sheaves,
Testing their love with poppy leaves.
If so, then winds of harvest haste
Carry a greeting sweet,
No heed where corn and poppies grow,
Kin are poppies and wheat,
Grain and flower of every strand,
Came from the fields of Edenland.
I had never permitted Alice to go to any school, but had always had a governess for two or three hours daily, as she could bear it. During the many years she was thus instructed, she had many teachers of all kinds; but at this period a Mrs. Jones, the daughter of the Episcopal minister, came to her. And she loved Mrs. Jones, who was a beautiful and lovable woman, and I think of her often because I was always so happy when anything happened that made Alice specially happy.
For the rest, the year went quietly on. I wrote a story for Mrs. Dodge, editor of St. Nicholas, the only woman I ever liked to write for. She put on no editorial airs, and if you brought her a good story, she made you feel that you had conferred a favor on her, and her magazine. Ah, Mrs. Dodge showed that her soul had been to fine schools, before she came into this life! Her courtesy was native to her—her fine manners the fruit of her good heart.
After I had finished Mrs. Dodge’s story, called “Michael and Theodora”, I was obliged to give up using my hands until October, then I began “Remember the Alamo” but had to stop early in November, to help Mr. Freund who wished me to write with him a play from “The Bow of Orange Ribbon.” It was the first of at least twenty, I think I may say fifty, attempts that have been made to dramatize this novel. Mr. Charles Frohman got the famous August Thomas to try it with me, but when I sent him the two first acts he said it was “a beautiful piece of literary work, but not playable.” After the elopement, the original proposition is closed, and the play really ends there; but ending there, it is only half long enough. Some day, however, the difficulty will be conquered, and it will pay for all its previous failures.
I was busy with Mr. J. C. Freund until the day before Christmas. Then I began a Scotch story for Clarke called “The Household of McNeil,” and at the end of the year had finished nearly two chapters; I make the following entry which says all that is necessary:
December 31st, 1887. This last week has been full of work. Mary came to see me before starting for Florida, and I am very unhappy about Lilly and Captain Morgan. But I trust for the best. O God, my times are in Thy Hands, and how glad I am to leave them there! Unto Thee I look, for “Thy compassions fail not.”
The first three months of 1888 were occupied with “The Household of McNeil,” and my regular fugitive newspaper work. Alice still had her good teacher, and Lilly did not speak about her unfortunate love affair. I knew she was very unhappy, but she tried to be cheerful, and to share my pleasures and my anxieties, as she had always done; and I thought her reticence wise, though I was ready at any moment she wished to advise or to console her.
My right thumb was almost useless. I held the pencil mostly between the first and second finger, and the outside of the little finger was so sensitive, that I wrapped it in cotton wool to prevent it feeling the movement on the paper. But on my birthday, March twenty-ninth, I was finishing the fourteenth chapter of “Remember the Alamo” and enjoying the writing of the book very much indeed. Sometimes General Houston seemed actually visible to me, and we had some happy hours together. General Sherman was positive that the men martyred at Goliad and San Antonio fought with the eight hundred gentlemen, who led by Houston captured the whole Spanish army, and gave the Empire State of Texas to the United States. The dead can, and do help the living, and I believe General Houston helped me to write the truth, and the whole truth, and nothing but the truth concerning that glorious episode, far too little valued and understood. If General Houston had been an Englishman, and had given the English Crown such a magnificent principality, he would have been ennobled and enriched. This great, ungrateful nation let him die wanting the comforts, yes, the necessaries of life. I have said more about this book than I intended, but I love it and “The Lion’s Whelp” better than I can express. Their characters are living people to me. I have known them, either in this life, or some other life.
This sense of companionship in many, indeed in most, of my books has made them easy and delightful to write. Sometimes it has been so vital that I have found it impossible to shut my study door. It seemed like shutting them out of my life, and I really loved these invisible, intangible friends, and often whispered their names, and bid them good night before going to sleep. To say that I shall never see them, or speak with them in another life, is an incredible thing. I expect General Sam Houston, and the great protector of England, Oliver Cromwell, to praise me, and thank me, for what I have done; and I shall not be disappointed. As far as General Houston is concerned, I have already the thanks of the son he loved so devotedly, in the following letter:
Galveston, Texas, Oct. 22, 1888.
My dear Madam:
Returning to this city a short time since, I found awaiting me your latest very interesting book, “Remember the Alamo.” Please accept my thanks, and as well, my assurances of due appreciation of the honor conferred.
The general reader I am sure cannot fail to find the style in which the work is written in the highest degree entertaining. To one bound by ties of birth and blood to Texan history and traditions, it naturally possesses a peculiar interest, an interest which throughout does not flag.
Of the rather numerous productions based on the same theme, few, if any, read so much like actual history, and I think I can safely say, none show that intimate acquaintance with the peculiar social elements which composed the Texas of the days of the Republic, manifest in the valued work I now have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of.
While I have derived much pleasure from a perusal of “Remember the Alamo,” as a production of merit, I could not be insensible to the tribute paid my revered father’s memory; that the wreath is from the hand of woman lends it a grateful perfume.
I cannot but regret I am denied the honor of the personal acquaintance of one, who through her pen has made me so much her debtor for enjoyment of the most enduring kind.
I am, dear madam, with abiding sentiments of esteem,
William R. Houston.
Often I have believed that my heroine was a real personality, that she had once lived in the very scenes I depicted. This was particularly the case with the book “Bernicia.” It is many years since I told the story of that fascinating creature, but she is as real to me today, as if she had spent the summer with me. Sometimes these phantom heroines are very masterful. In “Friend Olivia,” Anastasia made me throw away many pages, but I always discovered as the book progressed, that they did not belong to it.
Until April of this year, I was more or less troubled with Mr. Freund and the proposed play. I say “troubled” because I felt all the time that the work I had to do, was useless, that the thing someway was not right, and I know now, that neither Mr. Freund—clever actor and manager as he was—nor I, could build a play, any more than we could build a house.
On April tenth, 1888, we moved into a little cottage on Storm King Mountain, for the house we were in was sold, and the buyer wished to occupy it. I remember so well the afternoon I first drove up the mountain. It was a lovely April day, Nature was making a new world, and there was no sound of hammer, or axe, or smoke of furnace. Only an inscrutable, irresistible force at work, a power so mighty, that the hard trodden sod under our feet was moved aside by a slender needle-like shaft of grass, or plant, which the faintest breeze could blow and bend. A miracle! Yes, a miracle before which science is mute. The birds were singing as if they never would grow old, and the winds streamed out of the hills as cool as living waters. The grass was climbing the mountains until it met the snow, and the mountains rose like battlements, with piny slopes furrowed by one or two steep paths.
The house I came to see was a mere cottage of five rooms, but it stood in a pleasant croft, full of fruit trees, mingled with pines and a few maples. My heart went into the place without opening gate or door, and I said to myself, “I will buy this little house, and make it a home, if God wills so; and as for it being small, there is only three of us, and we can enlarge it, if it is necessary.” The view from it was enchanting—a long stretch of the Hudson River, with mountains and valleys on every side of it. But I remembered the English dictum about buying a house, namely, “to summer and winter it first;” so I refrained the words on my lips, and instead of buying it, I offered to rent it for a year, promising to buy it then, if I still liked the place.
Lilly’s brows knit ominously, when I told her what I had done. “You will not like it, Mamma,” she said.
“Why not? And you, Lilly, have always loved country solitudes.”
“Yes, in books, Mamma. In real life, they are damp and rheumatic, and most hated by those who live in them, and know them best.”
“O Lilly!” I cried, “I do want to go up the mountain so much. I am sure I can write well and easily there. I know I should be so happy, and I believe my hands would get strong.”
“Then, dearest, we will go at once. So let us talk over what is to be done.”
This was on April, the sixth, and on the tenth we moved into the mountain cottage. We had barely got our household goods into its shelter, when there commenced one of the heaviest rain storms I ever remember, and we ate our first meal, a very good one of broiled Virginia ham, poached eggs, coffee, and orange marmalade, to its pattering and rattling on the roof and against the windows.
“Grandmother Barr said, it was the luckiest thing to move in a rain storm,” cried Lilly, with one of her old cheerful laughs; “she did not know she was prophesying luck for us, but she was, Mamma. I hope she knew how it was pouring as they carried in the last load.”
“Is that a Scotch superstition?” I asked.
“Certainly, Scotch wisdom is the only kind of wisdom Grandmother quotes, or believes in. She believed also in carrying the house cat with you. Aunt Jessy once left her cat behind in moving, and left all her luck to the people who came after her, and they happened to be people Grandmother didn’t like.”
And I laughed, and talked about the Cumberland superstitions, sitting by the kitchen fire in one of the best parlor chairs, while Lilly deftly broiled the ham and poached the eggs, and Anne Hughes, our small Irish servant, set the table in her own remarkable way, and Alice wiped all the dishes after her with a clean napkin. I have eaten few happier meals than that first one in Cherry Croft, and then we made up the beds in the dining-room for that night; and I fancied my bed had never been as soft and comfortable before. With happy wishes for good dreams, we all slept soundly, and sweetly, until Annie Hughes woke us with the information, that it was past seven, and a man was at the door with milk, and a big handful of flowers.
It was Thomas Kirkpatrick, of course. Any one who knew Thomas would suspect it. He worked for me on and off in some way for twenty years, and there was always that fine streak in his nature, typified by his love of flowers. In that twenty years, I had few birthdays that Thomas Kirkpatrick did not honor with a bunch of wild flowers at the dawning.
The house had been thoroughly cleaned, and was in good condition, for it had been built for the well known artist Theyer, who with his wife had occupied it one or two years; and he had been followed by a New York family whose name was Appleton, who only lived in it for a short time, so that it was nearly new, and quite free from all the wraiths and influences of prior inhabitants.
I shall never feel again in this life as joyous as I felt for the first few months in this house, though, thank God, I keep my child heart yet, and I am pleased with little things. My right hand got well rapidly; my headaches were much better. I slept like a baby; I woke up singing, a thing I had not done since Robert died. I was so happy in my little five-roomed cottage. I loved every foot of the pretty croft, in which it stood, and one morning when its fourteen cherry trees were all pink and white with blossom, I called it Cherry Croft. And now the name of Cherry Croft is known all over the English speaking world, and I not infrequently have letters directed to me “Cherry Croft, New York, United States of America,” and they come direct to me without question or delay.
On the first of June, Dodd, Mead paid me a thousand dollars for “Remember the Alamo,” but Mr. Mead wished the name changed. It was published in England under the name of “Woven of Love and Glory” but Mr. Mead desired it to be called, “Remember the Alamo.” I could not have written it to that name, but the book being finished, it did not make so much matter. I suppose it sold better under the latter name, for I was told this year by a famous Texan, that few Texan families are without a copy of it. “The Alamo” was a phrase full of tragedy to every Texan, but not so distinctive to other people; it being a Spanish word given to a number of places.
On this day I received a copy of “Jan Vedder’s Wife” in French. I do not know French, but was frequently told that it was an excellent translation. It appeared first as a serial in the best of the French reviews, but I never received a cent for its use, either as a serial or in book form. Well, I had the pleasure of writing it. That could not be taken from me.
On the third of June I began a Manx story called “Feet of Clay.” The Isle of Man I have described in an early chapter of my life, and it was an easy background for me full of romantic possibilities, and vivid and ready-made romance. This story had a foundation of truth, and I remember that Mr. Gilder, while praising the literary workmanship of the tale, objected to the reformation of the hero, who had an inherited tendency towards forgery. With the tender pity natural to his rare character, he said that forgery was in his opinion and observation an unconquerable weakness; that a man who committed the crime once, would do the same thing again, whenever the temptation came to him. But I was still a Methodist, and I thought the love of Christ in the heart sufficient to prevent, as well as to forgive sin.
Besides I have always found myself unable to make evil triumphant. Truly in real life it is apparently so, but if fiction does not show us a better life than reality, what is the good of it? Aufidius was successful in his villainy, but are we not all glad to know that Coriolanus had time to call him to his face “a measureless liar!” I confess that I like to reward the virtuous, and punish the guilty, and make those who would fain be loved, happy.
On the twenty-third of June I went to England on the Circassia. I was a favorite with her captain, and I sat at his right hand; the Reverend Mr. Meredith and Mrs. Meredith being opposite me. I have had few pleasanter voyages than this one. Captain Campbell was a good talker, so was the minister, and he gave us the following Sunday the best sermon I ever heard on a steamer. This journey was a purely business one, though after being in Kendal a day, I could not resist the something that urged me to go on to Glasgow. I intended to remain there a couple of days, and to do a little shopping, that could be better and more economically done in Glasgow, than anywhere else. I thought I was perfectly sure of my incognito, but the next morning my arrival was in the newspapers, and I had several very early callers, and many invitations to “go down the water” for the week end. One of these invitations was in the shape of an exceedingly friendly letter from Dr. Donald McLeod, at that time editing Good Words Magazine. I had one from the McIntosh family by the same mail, and my heart went out to the McIntoshes, though I had the highest respect for Dr. McLeod, and knew that a Sabbath spent with him would be a wonderful one in many respects. Yet there was in me a perverse spirit that morning. I did not want to go anywhere. I did not want to dress, and to take my food and sleep and pleasure, as other people gave it to me. I wrote the proper apologies, and slipped back to Bradford that afternoon. The following night I went to an intense Methodist service, and heard a thousand Yorkshire men and women sing “There is a Land of pure delight,” and “Lo, He comes with clouds descending!” as I shall never again hear them in this life. In fact I was singing myself as heartily as any one, and if I did not quite agree with the sermon, I felt sure it was the only kind of sermon likely to influence the wonderfully vitalized flesh and blood by which I was surrounded. There were no hesitations in it, no doubts, or even suppositions; it was an emphatic positive declaration, that if they did right they would go to heaven, and a still more emphatic one that if they did wrong they would go to hell. And he had no doubts about the hell. He saw it spiritually, and described it in black and lurid terms, that made women sob, and the biggest men present have “a concern for their souls.”
I would not have missed that service for any company on earth. I know Dr. McLeod would have talked like the Apostle John, and there would have been a still peaceful Scotch Sabbath full of spiritual good things; but I felt all alive, soul and body, from head to foot, in that Methodist Chapel; so much so that I put a larger coin in the collection box than I could well afford, and never once regretted doing it. I would go to church every Sunday gladly, if I could hear a minister talk in such dead earnest, and be moved by a spiritual influence so vitally miraculous. The very building felt as if it was on fire, and for an hour at least, everybody in it knew they had a soul. They felt it longing and pleading for that enlargement, only the Love and Actual Presence of God could give it. I do not believe I should hear the same kind of a sermon in that chapel today. There is doubtless an organ and a choir now, and the preacher will have been to a Theological Institute, and perhaps be not only “Reverend” but have some mystic letters after his name, and the congregation will be more polished, and the precepts of gentility will now be a religious obligation. And I am afraid it is not genteel now, to be anxious about your soul—especially in public. But I thank God that I spent that Sunday in Yorkshire instead of Scotland; for spiritually I have never forgotten it, and physically, it was an actual influx of life from the source of life. I was twenty years younger. And I believe that if it were possible for men and women to live constantly so close to the spirit in which they live, move, and have their being, they might live forever.
The next day I went to Shipley Glen, to see Ben Preston, a poor man yet, but a fine writer both in prose and verse, especially in his native dialect. He had not much education, but there was a vigorous native growth of intelligence. I spoke to him of the sermon I had heard the previous night, and he answered, “Ay, you’ll hear the truth in a Methodist Chapel—here and there—even yet; but a Yorkshire man nowadays reads his newspaper, instead of his Testament, so when a man comes out with ideas gathered from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he’s sure to be considered an original writer, whose crazy notions would turn the world upside down.” There was a man from a Bradford newspaper sitting with him, and he spoke of Dilke and Chamberlain, and Preston answered, “They may be able to do something for us, but the biggest reforms of all will have to begin and be carried out by wersens.”
The press man spoke of some local grandee whom he called “a self-made man” and Preston answered slowly, as he whittled a bit of stick,
“I admire self-made men, if I’m sure they’re owt like ‘John Halifax, Gentleman;’ but lots o’ them owe their elevation, not to their talents, but to a dead conscience and a kest-iron heart. Of such men, if they’re rich enough, the world is ready to say ‘they hev risen from the ranks.’ It ’ud be nearer t’ truth to say, ‘they hev fallen from the ranks.’ Yes, sir, fallen from t’ ranks of honest, hard-working men, and taen to warse ways.”
Of a certain marriage that he was told of, he said it was “a staid, sowber, weel-considered affair, a marriage wi’ all t’ advantages of a good bargain.” I was much struck with his ready wit, his good sense, and his clever way of putting any remark he made. He was greatly and deservedly loved and respected, but his best work had a local flavor, which I dare say narrowed both his fame, and his income.
On the twenty-second of July I was still in Bradford, for I went to lunch with Mrs. Byles. She was a woman, whom if you once saw, you could never forget. Her husband was the clever editor of the Bradford Observer and I think she had been made purposely for him—brains to her finger tips, full of vivid life, a brilliant talker, a perfect hostess, not beautiful but remarkably fascinating—so fascinating that you thought her beautiful. I never saw her but on that one occasion, but she made on me such an impression that if I met her on Broadway today, I should have no hesitation in saying, “I am glad to see you, Mrs. Byles.” At this luncheon, I met also the daughter-in-law of Sir Titus Salt, the discoverer and first maker of alpaca.
On the twenty-fifth of July, I sailed from Liverpool, on the City of Rome, and on the second of August landed at New York. I love England with all my soul, but when I saw the Stars and Stripes flying off Sandy Hook, my eyes filled with happy, grateful tears, for “East or West, Home is Best;” and the land where your home is built, is another native land.
Mary met me at the pier, went out to Cornwall with me, and remained with us until the eleventh of September, when she left for Florida. The rest of the month I was busy on “Feet of Clay” which I finished on the tenth of October. Then I had my apples gathered, got in some large stoves, put up heavy curtains, and prepared the house for winter. On the twenty-seventh, I had a letter from General Sam Houston’s son, in praise of what I had done for his father’s memory, and on the twenty-eighth of October I began making notes for my story of Quakerism called “Friend Olivia.” I was at the Astor Library every day until the twenty-fifth of November when I felt my way clear enough to begin “Friend Olivia.” It was a bright lovely Sabbath, and I had a pious enthusiasm about the work, for my mother’s family were among the earliest of George Fox’s converts, and had suffered many things for the faith that was in them. I worked slowly at first, and did not finish my first chapter until the twelfth of December, nor my second until Christmas Day, when I copied it. After this I became aware of the character I called Anastasia, and every thing relating to her came easily enough, and I had a fancy she was not a bit sorry for her dislike of Olivia and her efforts to injure her. But the year closed with me happily at work on “Olivia,” and seeing my way clearly from the beginning to the end.
The first three months of 1889 I was nearly broken-hearted about Lilly’s affairs. I was writing “Friend Olivia” and found my only relief in losing myself in it. Yet I had some pleasant events in my work. Oscar Fay Adams wrote a fine criticism of my books in the Andover Review. Mr. Clark sent me seven hundred six dollars for “Feet of Clay.” I wrote special articles for the Book News and the Youth’s Companion and the latter offered me five hundred dollars for a story of one hundred pages. Their pages were large, and I could not afford to accept their terms, which were burdened also with several limitations and forbidden topics. It was very unlikely that I should ever have touched these topics, unless forbidden to do so. That temptation might have made me wish to show the censors how innocently, and indeed profitably, they might be touched.
On my fifty-eighth birthday, I had finished thirteen chapters of “Friend Olivia,” but I received on April, the first, a letter from the North American Review, asking me for an article, and I left my novel to write it. While I was thus engaged, I was requested by a minister with whom I had crossed the Atlantic once, to write for him on a certain subject, which I have not noted, and am not quite certain about. It was the request that astonished, and also pleased me, for I feared that my plain criticism on a certain occasion had deeply offended him. It happened that we had walked and talked together at intervals during the week, and that on the following Sabbath morning he preached in the saloon, and I was present. Leaning over the taffrail, that evening he came to me and asked how I liked his sermon?
“The sermon was a good sermon,” I said, “but spoiled in the delivery.”
“Why! How? What do you mean, Mrs. Barr?” he asked.
“Your sermon,” I answered, “was a series of solemn declarations and avowals of faith and belief, and after stating each with remarkable clearness, you invariably concluded with this reflection, ‘It seems to me that no logically sane mind can refuse this truth.’”
“Well,” he said, “that was right.”
“No,” I answered, “it was wrong. Those four words, ‘it seems to me,’ destroyed the whole effect of your argument. You left us at liberty to dispute it, and debate it. What seemed to you true, might not seem so to any one else, if they began to look for reasons.”
“What would you have said, if in my place?”
“If I believed, as you do, I would have said, ‘Friends, I have told you the truth. There is no other truth on this subject. If you believe it, and live up to it, you will be saved. If you do not believe it, and live up to it, there is no salvation for you.’”
“A minister can but give his opinion.”
“He ought to give God’s opinion, that is what he stands up to do, and there is no ‘seems to me’ in that. Excuse me,” I said, “I am a daughter of Levi, and have been used to talking as I feel to ministers all my life. I meant no harm. I was only sorry you took all the salt and strength out of a really good sermon.”
“I thank you!” he said, but he was quiet afterwards, and I soon went away, fearing I had everlastingly offended him. But here was the kindest of letters, with a request that I would write him a short article for a paper in which he was interested. I did so cheerfully, but I put my price on it; for I had discovered by this time, that newspapers value articles according to what they have to pay for them.
I may mention that among the trials of this spring, my big English mastiff was so ill, that we had to send him away for treatment. It was almost like sending one of the family away. He was a noble, loving creature with far more intelligence than is credible.
On the twenty-second of May, I finished all the creative work on “Friend Olivia,” and on the twenty-fourth, having gone carefully over it, I took it to Dodd, Mead and Company, and they sent it to the Century Company, thinking it might suit Mr. Gilder for a serial. Until the third of June I rested, for my eyes and right hand were weary and aching, then I wrote an article for the Book News for which I received thirty dollars. Until the second of July, I wrote articles for the Advance, North American Review, et cetera, and copied some short stories for the Kendal Syndicate, and the Christian World. On the second of July, I began a story of the Cheviot Hills but on the ninth received a letter from Dodd, Mead saying Mr. Gilder liked “Friend Olivia” very much, and wished to see me. The following day I went to see Mr. Gilder, and agreed to rewrite the story suitably for a serial for three thousand dollars; and from this time forward until the sixteenth of September, I was going over “Friend Olivia,” and while arranging it suitably for a serial, was also trying how much richer and better I could make it.
I was abundantly repaid by the following letter from Mr. Gilder, under date of September, 1889.
The Century Magazine.
My dear Mrs. Barr:
I have finished the story. It closes like music, beautifully. There might be some points that I could wish different, but I do not press them, the whole story is so charming.
In this revisal of “Friend Olivia,” I followed in all matters Mr. Gilder’s advice and suggestions, and so learned much of the best technicalities of fiction. I could not have had a finer teacher. I could not have had a more kind, just and generous one. He rejoiced in good work, and gave it unstinted praise, no matter who was its author. To a soul who had been hardly used by the world in general, it was a kind of salvation to meet such a man.
I owed a great deal of my success with the Century, to Mrs. Grover Cleveland’s praise of “Friend Olivia.” She read the story in manuscript, and spoke so highly of it to Mr. Gilder, that he was induced by her report to read it himself. So one of the first printed copies of the novel was sent to Mrs. Cleveland, who wrote me the following note:
Dear Mrs. Barr:
Pray do not think that my long delay in replying to your note indicates any lack of appreciation of its kind words, or your thoughtfulness in sending me “Friend Olivia.” I feel a peculiar attachment to the book, because I knew the story when it was so very young. I liked it, and surely need not tell you that your sending it to me yourself, gives me very great pleasure.
I have been away from home ever since your letter came to me, or I should have told you this before.
Pray do not over estimate the effect my interest in “Friend Olivia” has had. The story itself brought you, as you say, “the recognition and success you had patiently worked and waited for during twenty years,” and as I say, which you richly deserved.
May I assure you that I never forget my young friend who loves my picture, and that her mother is often in my thoughts.
Frances F. Cleveland.
I will only give the letter received from Moses Coit Tyler, regarding “Friend Olivia.” Others of interest will be found in the Appendix if any desire to read them.
Ithaca, New York.
Feb. 21, 1891.
My dear Mrs. Barr:
I was much touched by your kind remembrance of me in causing your novel, “Friend Olivia,” to be sent to me; and as my days here are heavily burdened with work, and my reading is almost exclusively on certain professional lines, it was only lately that I have had the opportunity of reading the book as I wanted to do it. We read it aloud in the family evenings, as the leisure came to me, my wife, my daughter, and myself. We were charmed and held from the beginning, but it was not till we had gone through perhaps the first seventy-five pages, that the story grasped us with enthralling power. After that, it was a nightly trial to us all, that I had to cut short the reading, when we were all so absorbed in the story, and the development of the characters; and I want to give you my thanks for the great pleasure, nay for the good cheer, the strong spiritual refreshment and stimulation which the book gave us. I could say much of the power with which the several characters are delineated, of the vivid truth, of the historic elements of the story, and of the masterly handling of the plot. Better than any satisfaction in mere literary success, must be the privilege of portraying, in a fascinating form like that, the beauty, the mighty helpfulness, the calming and sweet power of faith in God, and in the spiritual life. That book of yours will go on helping and cheering people, long after you have passed from this world. If all your literary labors had resulted only in that piece of work, your life would have been lived not in vain.
The reading of this book has given me a new desire to meet you again, and to talk over persons and things with you, and perhaps some day when I have a few hours or days in New York, I may be able to find you with half-an-hour to spare for a chat.
With deep gratitude for your book, and a thousand good wishes for the continuance of your literary successes, I remain
Moses Coit Tyler.
For nearly a month after finishing my second copy of “Friend Olivia” I was too tired to do much. Mr. Mead had urged on me the Arcadian background and I saw at once its possibilities, if I might make it historically true. But this would be in direct opposition to what Longfellow and others had done. However as I had the fiction in my own control, I thought it would be possible to make the background, and general atmosphere inoffensive. I made great preparations for this work. I was in New York at the library most of October, and was in communication with the Officer’s Club at Halifax who sent me a great deal of material, also with a Miss Caldwell of Louisiana, whose home was on the great Bayou, where the Arcadians settled after leaving Canada; and she sent me the true history of Longfellow’s “Evangeline,” and much interesting material as to the country, and the descendants of the Arcadians. But not all the work I did, nor yet all the help I received, could create in me the slightest enthusiasm about the story. The people disgusted me. They were so double-tongued and false-hearted, I could have turned their bigotry into intense faith, as I had often done with Calvinism; but their cowardice and unreliability I could not handle, unless I was to show it rightfully punished. And to tell the last truth, I did not see anything romantic in a girl, traipsing the length of the United States seeking her lover. If I could have shown the lover in all sorts of adventures seeking Evangeline, that would have been all right; but the fact was he had speedily married, and was comfortably bringing up a family in the Teche country. I could not bear to think of making a beautiful and innocent girl die for so unworthy a lover, and I did not really pity the woman who could and did deliberately die for him. Her grave at the Poste des Attakapas could not impress me. She ought to have thrown off her false unworthy lover, and if she could love no good man, she could at least have lived to comfort and help the old woman, who had taken her when a friendless babe, and cherished her as her own daughter.
As late as the sixteenth of November, I note being in New York at the library getting the proper patois for Arcadia, and add with an emphasis of under-crossing, “I hate the story.” Until the eleventh of January, 1890, I was writing an article on divorce for the North American Review, in favor of it under proper conditions. Bishop Potter wrote the one on the absolute inviolability of the marriage tie. I think they were in the same number but have forgotten surely. I wrote also many other articles suitable for Christmas and New Year’s. During December, Clark paid me two hundred pounds for “Friend Olivia,” and seventy-five pounds for the book rights of “The Last of the McAllisters.” I also wrote a short story for the McClure Syndicate, being busy on it from the twenty-second to the twenty-eighth of December. I liked to write for McClure’s Syndicate; he always both paid, and praised me well. I can say the same of the Bacheller Syndicate, and though I never see either Mr. McClure, or Irving Bacheller now, I remember them both with the utmost kindness.
On the eleventh of January, 1890, I notice that I threw all the Arcadia matter into a drawer in my study, where it would be out of sight and memory, adding, “I can’t feel that story, so I can’t, and won’t write it!” This neglected, despised Arcadian matter is still occupying the drawer, and I have not looked at it since I put it away, until this morning, when I took from the pile “the true story of Evangeline,” to be sure of the name of the country, to which the Arcadians went after leaving Canada. It was on the Teche Bayou they settled, and Evangeline’s real name was Emmeline Labiche, and her body rests, as I have already said, at the Poste des Attakapas. Probably the Poste is now a town or city, though the Arcadians were by no means an energetic or progressive people.
As soon as I put the Arcadian matter in that drawer, I began a New York story called “She Loved a Sailor.” It contained a vivid picture of New York city life in General Jackson’s time, and is probably the last of the New York series of tales. I have had fewer letters about it, than I usually have about a New York novel, and I wondered at that, because it is within the memories and traditions of many living families. So I have taken it for granted that its localities and data are correct, for if I had made an error some one would have told me of it.
While I was writing this book, on the eleventh of February, Mr. and Mrs. Van Siclen gave me a “Bow of Orange Ribbon” dinner at the Lawyer’s Club. It was a very fine affair, and I kept its artistic menu and bow of ribbon for many years. The guests were mostly Dutch, but I had the great honor and pleasure of having Henry Van Dyke at my right hand. Two things I remember about this dinner. I tasted crabs à la Newburgh for the first time; and then while I was as happy as I could be talking to Dr. Van Dyke, Mr. Van Siclen shocked me by asserting, “Mrs. Barr will now make us a little speech, and tell us how she came to write ‘The Bow of Orange Ribbon.’” I do not believe I had ever heard of a woman speaking at a dinner table before. I had an idea it was absolutely a man’s function. It would then have been as easy to imagine myself doing my athletics in public, as making a speech at a dinner table. I turned to Dr. Van Dyke in a kind of stupefaction, and said only one word “Please!” and he understood, and rose immediately, and made a speech for me that charmed and delighted every one present. Indeed I am inclined to think it was the best speech he ever made. It was so spontaneous that it was not Henry Van Dyke’s speech, it was Henry Van Dyke his very self.
After I had finished “She Loved a Sailor” I took Alice and went to England, leaving in the Bothenia July the second, and returning about September in the Aurania. And after I had finished my business, I gave myself entirely to Alice. She learns best through her eyes, and I took her to everything I thought would interest her. We were fortunate enough to hear Handel’s fine oratorio of “Samson” at the Crystal Palace, with a thousand male and female voices in the chorus; and Sims Reeves in the solos. Ada Rehan was playing “As You Like It” and she went three times to see her, before she was tired. But I think the service at St. Paul’s Cathedral pleased her most of all. Dr. Vaughan preached from “There remaineth a rest,” an eloquent sermon, and the music was heavenly. She was curiously pleased also with the little rush chairs, she thought it seemed “more like sitting with God, than if you were shut up in a pew.” We had a happy happy time. It is the only holiday I have had since Robert died. I gave it to Alice, and she gave it back to me a hundred-fold. It seems like a dream of heaven to remember it.
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