A poor little girl of twelve is picking wool and "splicing rolls" in a factory. Her parents allow her to spend half her wages (a dollar and twenty-five cents a week), in any way she thinks proper. One day the carding machine broke, and she found for the first time that she had an afternoon to herself. It was in the month of May; the robins were beginning to come into the budding trees; the violets were peeping out between the fallen leaves; the dandelions were bespangling the green road side. "What shall I do with myself" was her first thought; her second thought was, "I will see if I have money enough to hire a horse and wagon to take poor sister Lavinia out driving." Lavinia was pining away with consumption. The little factory girl thought everything of her; for she was very good and took great pains to teach her at home in the evenings; so that she might acquire a common education. She was glad to find that though it would take all her little stock of money to hire the horse and wagon, she really could do it. And so, accompanied by her father, by Lavinia and Kate, another sister, she drove out to the edge of a piece of woods, where they spread a buffalo robe on a pretty dry knoll, and poor helpless Lavinia was carried to it in the father's arms. She and Kate almost buried her in violets and other wild spring flowers.
It was the last time Lavinia went out. About a month after this happy day, the little factory girl went to the bed-side of Lavinia and received her kiss. "Be a good girl," said she; but her voice sounded hollow and her lips were cold. The factory girl longed to do something for her suffering sister; and remembering her fondness for flowers, she went to a neighbor and begged an apron-full of roses. When she returned the house was as still as death. She entered the sick room. She saw her father, her mother and some of the neighbors kneeling around or near the bed. No one took any notice of her. In a moment, however, Lavinia rallied a little and beckoned to her with her finger. She put the flowers upon the bed. The dying sister could only express her thanks by a smile. She tried again to turn her eye upon the little bringer of the roses, but it would not obey her will. She moved her lips to speak, but they gave no sound. She lay quietly a few moments, then suddenly exclaimed, "Glory! glory! my Father! Jesus!" and never breathed again.
These scenes actually took place in the little village of Pratt's Hollow, Madison County, New York, in May and June, 1829.
That poor little factory girl was Emily Chubbuck, since so celebrated as the author and poet "Fanny Forester," and the wife of the great, heroic missionary, Dr. Judson. She was born at Eaton, [New York] in the same county, August 22d, 1817. After the death of her sister her own health failed, and no wonder; for she worked twelve hours a day. In the hope of saving her life (the physician said she could not live where she was), her father removed to a farm in a neighboring town, but he continued very poor, and although the family always had plenty of plain food, yet, by reason of the unfinished state of the farm-house, they suffered severely from winter's snow and cold. Emily, her sister and mother were frequently compelled to go out into the fields and dig broken wood out of the snow to keep themselves from freezing. But she now had more time for study, went as much as she could to the district school, and took lessons in composition, rhetoric, and natural philosophy. Still pinched with want, she earned something at twisting thread and taking in a little sewing. At the age of fifteen her mother hinted to her that she could make money in the millinery business. She however retired to think over the subject, and proposed to her mother her plan; it was that she should go to school one year more and prepare to be a teacher. Her further conflicts with ignorance and want we cannot here relate. The brief inquiry in one of her letters, "How did I live?" must have been suggested by very painful memories. "She was," as her biographer touchingly remarks, "the child of adversity. * * Her parents were not able to shield their children from poverty. The light that surrounded them was literally 'all from within;' for little of external sunshine fell upon their pathway. Emily can scarcely be said to have had a childhood — an experience of that happy season, exempt from forecasting thought and care, which, bird-like, carols away the passing hour, before the shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the maturing spirit. Life early shut in upon her sternly, darkly, inexorably real."
We may in very early years learn what we are good for; but we must reach maturity before we discover (if we do even then) what we are best for. When the reading world received the intelligence that "Fanny Forester" had turned missionary, it was well nigh unanimous in lamenting that she had mistaken her vocation. But they were totally ignorant of those innermost presentiments of her heart, with all the hopes and fears that it awakened. At the age of twelve Emily had her dreams about mission life. She had already read, and her sister had told her some things about missionaries. One day, in reading the Baptist Register, her eyes fell on the words, "Little Maria lies by the side of her fond mother." She knew at once that the letter was from Mr. Judson, and that his little daughter was dead. She dreamt that her own missionary life was to be one of suffering and toil and pain, and though these ended in death, the death always came as death does in our dreams, pleasantly. After reading (two or three years later perhaps) the memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, she felt that she must become a missionary. But now commenced a struggle between her sense of duty to the heathen and her deep desire to help her parents and to secure an education for her younger brother and sister. This deep desire it was that for a considerable time overspread her soul and hid from her friends all marks of her early consecration to the cause of foreign missions. Nor was it known by general society that she was baptized by the Rev. William Dean, who was under appointment as a missionary to China. Long before she became distinguished as an author, while she was yet a young girl, she had confided to her pastor, the Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Kendrick, her conviction that it was her duty to devote her life to the salvation of the heathen.
But her path was as yet winding and very uneven. For a considerable time, Emily seems to have had no higher ambition than to afford her aged parents a comfortable support. After going to and teaching school here and there, she finds a more permanent sphere in a young ladies' seminary in Utica. She had already formed the habit of employing her leisure hours with her pen; but now hoped, by composing Sunday-school books, novels and articles for magazines, to earn a little money to send home to father and mother. In order to do this she often deprived herself of needed sleep. How she maintained the struggles of her mind against weariness is related by Miss Sheldon, the principal of the seminary, and afterwards the wife of the Rev. Dr. Nott, president of Union College. As she was passing, near midnight, through the halls, a light streaming from Emily's apartment attracted her attention, and, softly opening the door, she stole in upon her vigils. Emily sat in her night-dress, her papers lying spread out before her, while she grasped with both hands her throbbing temples, pale as a marble statue. Miss Sheldon went to her, whispered words of sympathy, and gently chided her for robbing herself of necessary repose. Emily's heart was already full, and now the fountain of feeling overflowed in weeping. "Oh, Miss Sheldon!" she exclaimed, "I must write; I MUST write; I must do what I can to aid my poor parents." At a time when her earnings were small, she undertook to purchase a home for her aged father and mother.
She was indeed a happy illustration of the proverb that "Necessity is the mother of invention." Her brain now teemed with very readable productions, in verse and fiction. These were not long in finding their way to the public through the Lady's Book, the Knickerbocker Magazine and other periodicals of a high class. In no long time her pieces attracted the attention of men who were then the leaders of literature, such as the Rev. Dr. Rufus W. Griswold, the poet editors N. P. Willis and G. P. Morris, H. B. Wallace, Esq., Professor A. C. Kendrick, Professor, afterwards Bishop, Alonzo Potter, and other distinguished men of letters. She wrote under the authorial name of "Fanny Forester." Very few of her early readers knew anything about her personally, and many of them, judging by these effusions alone, formed one-sided and wrong opinions of her real character. It would be pleasant to follow her through "Author-land," to quote her correspondence with Mr. Willis and Mr. Wallace, and to recall how some of our first authors, Prescott, Bancroft and Longfellow, presented to her full sets of their works on the occasion of her embarkation for Burmah. But we cannot linger in the Republic of Letters.
Miss Chubbuck and Dr. Judson were married at Hamilton, New York, June 2d, 1846. On the 11th of July they embarked for Maulmain and reached the harbor of Amherst on the 30th day of November, 1846. To one of Emily's imaginative mind, there was danger that on arriving in Burmah she might suffer severely from the sure process of disenchantment. The transition from the high civilization of America to the semi-barbarous land was indeed great; and there were those who predicted that, having arrived at her missionary home, she would, on looking around her, become, disillusioned, and consequently as miserable as Letitia J. Landon was erroneously represented to have been when she married and went to reside at Cape Coast Castle. And indeed it must be allowed that there was something like this in her repeated fits of crying while the ship lay at anchor off Amherst, in her experiences in "Bat Castle," and in the miseries of her widowhood. Yet, after all, the school of adversity in which she had received her early training, and the facility with which she had been able to fly from her castle in Spain to her tent in Africa, were good preparations for the wonders which the arch-magician so often works in the presence of the children of genius, turning Edens into Saharas and even depriving Saharas of their oases watered with wells and verdant with with palm-trees.
After a short residence at Maulmain, Mr. and Mrs. Judson proceeded to Rangoon, where in 1847 they commenced anew the work of the mission. As Mrs. Judson's life is now identified with that of Mr. Judson, the leading events are narrated in the sketch of her husband. In December, Emily Frances was born, the subject of the thoroughly feminine poem, "My Bird." In April, 1550, was born her second child, named Charles, after her father, but he died soon. He is remembered as the subject of the poem "Angel Charlie." We notice in this and some of Emily's best poems that she seems persuaded that her departed and lamented ones do become veritable angels. Poetry and sorrow have their license, but it may be well to bear in mind that we are "a little lower" than the angels in the scale of being; and though we are to become "like" them, we are nowhere told that we are to be transformed into them.
Mrs. Emily's letters from Burmah are models of womanly correspondence, and as such are only surpassed by those of the Hon. Emily Eden, which she wrote from India while residing there in the court of her brother, Lord Auckland, Governor General. After the death of Mr. Judson, she embarked for home, in February, 1851, accompanied by the boys, Henry and Edward, as well as her own daughter, Emily Frances. Already wasting away with consumption, after her return she did much literary work, and notably assisted Dr. Wayland in the composition of the Life of Mr. Judson. She died at Hamilton, New York, June 1st, 1854, at the age of thirty-seven. The vestment of her beautiful spirit lies in the cemetery at Hamilton.
The portrait of Mrs. Emily C. Judson has been drawn by the pen of Professor Kendrick with accuracy and completeness. The superiority of the pen to the pencil is here very manifest; for it describes the ever-varying expression, the changeable lines and tints, the very lights and shadows of a face full of life and mind and heart. "In person Mrs. Judson was about the middle height, but giving the impression of great delicacy of structure and a highly nervous organization. Her general appearance was graceful and pleasing, and especially so as the timid shyness of her earlier years gave way, in the larger intercourse of later life, to a quiet self-possession and dignity. Her residence abroad, while it gave elevation and maturity to her character, wrought a corresponding improvement in her bearing. Gentle, genial and dignified, she impressed one at once as full of soul and sensibility. Her face, in repose, would scarcely be called handsome, but easily lighted up into an expression fascinating, if not beautiful. The likeness which accompanies the present volume does admirable justice to her countenance, especially in her more thoughtful moods. The philosophic depth, the calm decision and self-reliance, the playfulness lurking in the corners of the mouth and just ready to flash out from the eye, cannot fail to strike one who looks at it a second time, while they but truly represent the living personage. In reality so much of the interest of her countenance depended on its play of expression, that any picture could do it but inadequate justice. The dramatic vivacity of her intellect shadowed itself on her face. The philosophical, the poetic, the practical, the girlishly sportive and half-mischievous elements portrayed themselves in rapid alternation on her flexible features. Her broad, deep and finely-shaped forehead indicated a large development both of the logical and ideal elements. Her dark eye, somewhat too small, and not sufficiently liquid for beauty, yet glowed with spirit and intelligence, now sparkling with mirth and humor, and now, in her more thoughtful moments, seeming to penetrate the depths of the subject she was considering. Her nose, perhaps a little sharp, was prominent and finely outlined; her mouth rather large, but well-formed; while her thin and delicate, but slightly compressed lips, indicate at once sensibility and strength. The entire cast of her features betokened clearly that union of intelligence, refinement and energetic will, which marked the living character."
Professor Kendrick's long and familiar acquaintance with her, as well as his analytical faculty and his admirable skill in the verbal delineation of human character and its modes of living expression, conspire to make this portraiture one of the best that we have met with in a pretty extensive course of biographical reading.
We now glance at her position in literature. As a poet she wrote some pieces that must ever be remembered; among which we place "My Bird," "Watching" and" "My Angel Guide." Of the last, the final stanza has been most frequently quoted, but we concur with Professor Kendrick in the opinion that the third, fourth and fifth stanzas are the best. Each of these, as he says, furnishes a picture for an artist, and they are as faultless as they are exquisitely beautiful. The last two words of this poem, "gates ajar" have been adopted by Miss Phelps as the name of her well-known religious novel. Her biographer and critic pronounces her writing as thoroughly feminine. In mere vigor and grasp of intellect he would not class her with Joanna Baillie, Mrs. Browning and Miss Bronte, but still, he thinks she comes nearer to them in intellectual vigor than they do to her in womanly delicacy and softness. This is, no doubt, as far as impartial criticism can go; and those who seemed to regard her as altogether masculine in reasoning and in logical power are not sustained by facts. One or two examples of her argumentative feebleness must have come under the notice of the readers of her biography. In her later journal she maintains the past eternity of matter, without suspecting that such a position is as illogical as it is unscriptural. Again, in her controversy with a publisher, wherein she takes the right side and has a good cause, she needlessly shakes her reader's faith in her candor by denying, at the very outset of her reply, that her husband was, in the true sense of the word, a "public man;" whereas he was in the true and the very broadest sense of the word a public man, a man "who had filled a hemisphere and half a century with his deeds of sublime Christian devotion." We have cited these cases with no desire to disparage the strength of her intellect, but rather to confirm the position of her biographer that her intellect was admirably feminine, and to show the extravagance of those eulogists who have made her out to be something like a universal genius.
We cannot here reconsider the elements of her character as they have been elaborately set forth by Kendrick, Wallace and Wayland;— the strange transitions of her career, bringing out as they did, her strongly contrasted and many-sided powers, — her union of qualities seemingly contradictory, her poetic ideality joined to plain and efficient common sense, — her early years of poverty and mechanical drudgery, cheered by that light of the imagination which is beyond any that ever shone on sea, or shore or cloud — at once a child of genius and a child of want, who, while starving alone in a cottage, can build castles far away, and people them with her own noble and royal guests, — the equal gracefulness and energy of her intellectual exertions, — the tenderness and delicacy of her sensibility, suggestive of the dew, the rose, the veil of vernal mist, but hiding internal fires ready betimes to, ascend in a "volcanic enthusiasm," — the rare compound of the feminine and the masculine, beauty and angularity, refinement and plainness, weakness and strength, fancy and reason, — timorous and loving retirement, yet, upon occasion, bold, independent and totally regardless of public opinion or what is regular and expected in society, — grave and earnest in purpose and in the general tone of her feeling, yet cheerful and hopeful, — of an exceptionally sensitive system of nerves, but capable of the valor of a heroine and the fortitude of a martyr, — predestinated, as it would seem, to live a maiden life, sequestered and absorbed in the creations of romance and poetry, or devoted to the pursuit and communication of scientific knowledge amidst the facilities and elegances of European civilization, she disabuses us by becoming a wife, a mother, a missionary among oriental savages, a student of a difficult language, which has inherited no beautiful literature and no profound philosophy, — of a dreamy, contemplative turn of mind, and still not a mystic, but seeking in the Holy Scriptures alone the ground of hope and the standards of faith, — yet after all, and to the very last, consistent in the manifestation of seemingly adverse or mutually destructive attributes: exhausting debility of frame obeying the promptings of a vigorous intellect; growing more strong in mind while less and less able to move or even to breathe, and so forging arrows of life out of the very arrows of death. Whoever will diligently consider these characteristics, and gather them together in one view, may thereby learn many lessons in the mysteries of providence, the possibilities of human nature, and the science of life.
These sketches of the three Mrs. Judsons might properly wind up with a comparative estimate of the splendid trio. But we have room only to add Professor Kendrick's precious, weighty and ringing words concerning the congruity of the three marriages. "Ann Hasseltine more than met all the demands of Judson's earlier years of youthful and heroic action; Sarah Boardman shed the light of one of the most exquisite of womanly natures over the calmer scenes of his manhood; Emily, with a heroism not less devoted, with a womanliness not less pure and gentle, met his ripe culture, his keen intellectuality, his imaginative and poetic temperament, with gifts and acquirements which belonged to neither of those admirably endowed women."
From The Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands... by G. Winfred Hervey. St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1885.
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