From Poets' Homes: Pen and Pencil Sketches of American Poets and Their Homes :
ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS.
AT the Semi-Centennial of Andover Theological Seminary, on August 4th, 1858, one of the speakers made the following remarks : " There is one spot near us which has to me more interesting associations than any other on these grounds. I refer to the Study of the Bartlett Professor. If its unwritten history could be published it would form an interesting chapter in the religious history of our country and of Christendom. It would reveal suggestions of wise forecast, original plans of usefulness, the starting of thoughts and movements and institutions amidst conference and prayer, the influence of which has gone to the ends of the world. Soon after its occupancy by the second Professor of Rhetoric in 1812, there was established in it a weekly meeting for prayer, and for devising ways and means of doing good. . . . And in this little meeting there were planted and cherished into growth many germs which are now plants of renown and trees of life. In Andover the scheme of Foreign Missions first assumed the visible and tangible form which gave rise to the American Board, and Mills was one of the four students whose names were signed to that memorable paper drawn up here (in this study) and which, after consultation, was presented to the General Association, and led to the formation of the earliest and largest Foreign Missionary Association in our land. Here, too, was instituted the Monthly Concert. The proposal of such a union of Christianity in America as had already existed in Scotland was made and considered at the meeting in this Study.
" In 1813, Dr. Porter (the Bartlett Professor) purchased a little book, when the thought strikes him that by associated action and contribution, religious publications might be made cheaper, and more generally diffused. This thought was presented to the little meeting of brethren in this Study, and at once grew into the New England Tract Society.
" The question has been more than once raised - ' Who originated and established the first religious newspaper in the world ? ' A witness still living states positively, as a matter of personal knowledge, that the ' Boston Recorder ' had its birth in Dr. Porter's Study.
" The want of a Society, national in its operations, for aiding young men in their education for the ministry is felt. It is talked over at the Study-meeting at Andover, and as the result there arises the American Education Society.
" That the American Bible Society was originated through any influence proceeding from Andover is not affirmed; yet certain it is that before it was organized in New York the importance of such a national institution, in addition to the Massachusetts Bible Society, was a matter of special consultation in this circle of brethren. And it may be stated with confidence that the American Home Missionary Society was the result of thoughts and suggestions that went forth from this place. Encouragement from this Study organized an Association of Heads of Families for the promotion of Temperance, and the first name on the pledge is E. Porter; the six following names are of Professors and resident Trustees. Moreover, about this time there was a consultation at this Study which resulted in the formation at Boston of the American Temperance Society.
Caption: THE FAMOUS BARTLETT PROFESSORSHIP STUDY, ANDOVER, MASS.
" More recently, while occupying this Study of hallowed memories, he (Dr. Edwards) determined to devote himself to promoting a better observance of the Sabbath. After laboring only two and a half years he witnessed, as the result mainly of his influence and efforts, a National Sabbath Convention of seventeen hundred delegates from eleven different States, presided over by an ex-President of the Union, John Quincy Adams."
Imagine entering this august Study a delicate little girl, three years old, with dark-brown hair, large blue eyes, a rather long thin nose, and a mobile mouth never at rest - under one arm a kitten with a pink ribbon tied round its neck, under the other a large doll (Miss Annie) elegantly attired in clothes of unrivalled splendor, a lamb with a blue ribbon half hidden amid its wool following her, and you have Elizabeth Stuart Phelps when she made her first appearance in her present home.
What cares the child for all the wonderful wealth of association garnered in this wonderful Study !
On the sofa sits her mother; to reach her before the kitten scratches her hand, or the lamb runs away, or the bits of splendor drop from Miss Annie - that is all the child wishes.
Prayer-meetings, "great movements and influences that have gone to the ends of the world " - perhaps a hallowed breath from them all may be lingering here still, and may rest on this young child's head in a benison, who can tell ? The only thing certain is that the kitten, the doll, and the lamb, are not what they seem , there is a marvellous story to tell mother, - how the doll is a queen, and the kitten is her child, and was drownded, and the lamb was a good man who pulled it out of the water, and gave it some milk, and it wasn't dead any more, and the queen was glad and took her hank'chef and wiped her tears, and put on her best gown and told her child never to be drownded again , so they were happy all together and have come to see their mother. And the mother, looking up and smiling, draws the child to her, strokes the resuscitated kitten, bestows words of praise upon the valiant lamb and adjusts the flying splendors of "Queen Anne " with deft and tasteful fingers.
The house occupied by Professor Phelps was originally designed by Dr. Griffin, a man of more taste than judgment, at least in house architecture. He received from Mr. Bartlett - the donor of the house-liberty to erect such a dwelling as he pleased, and with little reference to climate or expense he raised a large edifice, handsome and costly for the times in which it was built -1812- indeed handsome and costly now. The main part of the house consisted of two large rooms with a wide hall dividing them. There was a narrow hall, used partly for closets and partly for passage way, separating the parlor from a broad, open piazza facing the west. On the north and south ends of the house were two wings - one was the study, the other the kitchen. The study was on the southern side, a large, high room with six windows, opening to the east, west and south, and an ample fireplace.
Transplant that room to Florida, and one can hardly be imagined more perfect , but for bleak, cold Andover hill one would almost suspect Dr. Griffin to have come to a late knowledge of its possibilities, when we read that he resigned his professorship before the house was ready for his occupancy. His successor, an invalid, at once proceeded to diminish the proportions of the Study to a livable size. He put in a partition, cutting off four windows, leaving, however, the book-shelves with their arched top, which had been builded into the walls. Thus it remains until the present day.
Of the room, as it was when Professor Phelps first occupied it, I can give you little idea. Coming into the Professorship, a young man with only a small library, everything was done that could be to give it the home look of a true Study. With limited means, there could be no gathering of costly pictures, statues, or even the more common luxuries of a well appointed library. With his own hands the Professor made some frames of a light wood to hold his few engravings; but the engravings were those of the masters, and Mrs. Phelps, with rare taste and skill in all matters pertaining to house decoration, and trained from her babyhood to feel that " the study " was to be made the room of the house, worked assiduously to furnish such little articles as give to a room that look of grace and culture so few can bestow, so many acknowledge.
Of this mother, who died when Elizabeth was only eight years old, much might be said, but we must content ourselves with the few recollections of her which her child yet retains.
In due course of time the piazza was enclosed and made into a large, inconvenient dining-room; but here, every winter evening, when " the children's hour " came and the lamps were lighted, Mrs. Phelps took her two little ones (there was a brother three years younger than the girl) and read to them from the old English poets! Think of these children thus entertained at an age when Mother Goose, or at best some nice, practical story with a good moral, would be considered fit milk for such babes ! Stories, too, their mother told them ; stories when they were good and when they were naughty, but always classic stories, tinged deeply with old English lore.
It was no wonder therefore that the little daughter began early in life to make stories of her own.
The grounds surrounding Professor Phelps' house ire ample, and laid out in keeping with the house. There are two gardens, one designed for the culture of flowers and choice fruit trees, the other for vegetables. In the lower there is a summer-house, and here, more than anywhere else in the world, was the little Elizabeth's home. It was, literally, a small, square house, very unlike what would be called a summer-house now; but the readers of her juveniles would feel more sympathy with it than with any other of her Homes. Here she could go with her playmates and have a world of her own. A square room with two large windows and a large door offered every convenience and temptation to indulge in any recreation the fancy of the moment chose. Such dolls' houses as you might have seen) with such queens and kings and princes and princesses , such weddings and funerals; such schools and sick beds and nurseries, such mimic life, - not that scholastic life which the children saw every day around them, but a life read of in the story- books, or dreamed of in the already affluent imagination of this young child. Her mother had read to her of the Indians and of the wonderful discoveries that are made by people digging through mounds, so she collects whatever she thinks best resembles the description of those articles, and buries them in a corner of the garden ; then, having roused her companions to the proper pitch of enthusiasm, she leads them solemnly to the spot and tells them " to dig." Imagine their astonishment when they unearth first one article and then another, until the wonders are all exposed, and the ghosts of the red men seem actually stirring in the still air around them !
Just behind the vegetable garden is a large open field with a pretty little grove of common forest trees in one of its corners. Here was another of our little heroine's Homes; and here the children spent most of the pleasant summer hours. If this grove could tell tales, I should put up my pen and we would listen to it, for it knows a great deal better than I do what passed under its shadows. It could point out to you the broad branches upon which houses were made with bits of board, where the squirrels were hunted to their nests, and how the little hands put in rather than took out nuts , how the boy was " boosted " up long before he could climb, to explore a half hidden nook where they were sure birds were nesting; how the girls, half shame-faced, yet already with a budding of " equality," followed after, or else went above him, daring him from the slim upper branches to come if he could ; and then, how the three, with torn clothes and scratched hands and faces, sat panting in some deep, cool recess and rested, while the future author peopled for them the whole woods with good and bad fairies until, half scared by the vivid realities she brought, they took to flight, seeking refuge among the grown-up people of a more real world.
Caption: "HERE, MORE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE, WAS THE LITTLE ELIZABETH'S HOME"
When she was eight years old her mother died, and the child's life was changed. Just what it might have been had she lived, who can tell ? Certain it is that in their tastes and aptitudes they were alike. The lonely, dreamy childhood would no doubt have been filled with an active, perhaps rigorous, preparation for the life's work.
For years, now, this child followed nearly the bent of her own will. She was obedient, morbidly conscientious, affectionate and care-taking of those she loved. Naturally an artist in its broadest sense, she was always busy creating. As the days of dolls and baby houses, kittens and lambs, went by, she made her own world, peopled it with sentimental and tender personages, and passed through dramatical experiences as unique as unreal. In costume she took especial delight, amusing herself by adjusting bright colors into fantastic dresses, either upon her own slim, tall figure, or upon that of her young play-fellow. Color has always been to her a source of great enjoyment. One of her few remembrances of her mother is of this mother sitting at work with bright worsteds, the shadings of which, as they passed through her thin fingers, lose no jot or tittle of their brilliancy as time goes on. The years of early school-girl life were, as might have been expected, not the pleasantest for Such a temperament, yet the girl learned easily and ranked high. It was no effort for her to commit a lesson, excepting in Arithmetic.
But at fourteen years of age a new era in her life began, one to which she looks back, as time goes on, with deeper and deeper gratitude.
The widow of one of the Andover Professors, a lady of original ability and thorough culture, opened a school, and to this the young girl was sent. The course of study upon which she at once entered was thorough and marked by a singular adaptation to the wants of the pupils. While there was, of course, a system, there were generous and skilful departures from it, in order to meet the needs of the different minds under training. Psychology in its various branches soon became her favorite study, and she was led along its difficult and intricate paths with a firm, strong hand, and in a manner which to this day elicits her warmest admiration. So with English Literature and the Fine Arts. Of her Latin drilling Miss Phelps speaks also with sincere regard, fully appreciating his thoroughness, and the skill which made the dead a living language to her.
" In short," she says, " with the sole exception of Greek and the higher mathematics, we pursued the same curriculum as our brothers in college." Excellent tutoring, this, as will readily be seen, for the life's work before her. At nineteen, the ordinary modes of education having been followed and a rather extraordinary result obtained, she began the work which she has since so successfully carried on. So far she had clung to her Andover home and her Andover life. Beyond that house which Dr. Griffin had built, that Study of wonderful memories, those ample grounds growing every year more and more enchanting under her father's tasteful care, the old summer-house (by turns her studio, her study, her parlor and best resting-place), the grove) peopled now by memories instead of fairies, she had no world and no wish to find one. Delicate in health, she could not be induced to exchange the monotony of a very monotonous scholastic life for any other; and therefore, when most young ladies would have been intent on the enchantments of the " coining out," she turned to writing stories and books for occupation. Would you like a glimpse into the room where she wrote the " Trotty " and the " Gipsy " books, beside many shorter stories, all of which I presume the most of our young people have read without knowing to whom they were indebted for them ?
Caption: MISS PHELPS' STUDY, ANDOVER, MASS.
This room was a long narrow chamber built over that dining-room where the child first received her lessons in English Literature from her mother. Its one western window looks out upon a view seldom equalled in New England. Just below it lies the summer-house, the terraced gardens, and in the soft meadow next them the beloved grove, beyond these stretched a broad, mountain-broken horizon behind which the sun sets in a glory with which Italy's skies can hardly vie. Writing of a visit to Andover, and of this scenery, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes says : " Far to the north and west the mountains of New Hampshire lifted their summits in a long, encircling range of pale blue waves. The day was clear and every mound and peak traced its outline with perfect definition against the sky. Monadnock, Kearsarge, - what memories that name recalls! - and the others, the dateless pyramids of New England, the eternal monuments, of her ancient rule, around which cluster the homes of so many of her bravest and hardiest children. I can never look at them without feeling, vast and remote and awful as they are, there is a kind of in- ward heat and muffled throb in their stony cores that brings them into a vague sort of sympathy with human hearts. It is more than a year since I have looked on those blue mountains, and they ' are to me as a feeling' now and have been ever since."
That they have always been to Miss Phelps " as a feeling " from her earliest childhood, no one familiar with the love of nature inwrought into her writings can doubt.
The room was simply furnished, but in it, more than in any other of her Homes, were garnered the treasures we prize so highly when we stand, tip-toed and eager-eyed, waiting for the lifting of the veil that separates childhood from maidenhood. In this room hung the chromo of the " Immaculate Conception, of which she writes thus :
" Perhaps you wonder why I chose
This single-windowed little room
Where only at the even-fall
A moment's space, the sunlight's bloom
Shall open out before the face
I prize so dear; I think, indeed,
There's something of a whim in that,
And something of a certain need.
I could not make you understand
That solitude which sickness gives
To take in somewhat solemn guise
The blessings that enrich our lives.
I like to watch the late, soft light, -
No spirit could more softly come ;
The picture is the only thing
It touches in the darkening room.
I wonder if to her indeed,
The maiden of the spotless name,
In holier guise or tenderer touch
The annunciating angel came.
Madonna Mary ! Here she lives !
See how my sun has wrapped her in !
0 solemn sun ! 0 maiden face !
0 joy that never knoweth sin -
How shall I name thee ? How express
The thoughts that unto thee belong ?
Sometimes a sigh interprets them,
At other times, perhaps, a song ;
More often still it chanceth me
They grow and group into a prayer
That guards me down my sleepless hours,
A sentry in the midnight air.
But when the morning's monotone
Begins, of sickness or of pain,
They catch the key and, striking it,
They turn into a song again."
There she wrote "Gates Ajar;" but not long after the publication of that book she found it necessary to make some changes in her mode of life which would give her hopes of firmer health and more quiet in which to pursue her literary work. The summers she spent at the seaside,-East Gloucester, after a few trials of other places, being her chosen resort; and her winter Study was removed from her father's house to the next door neighbor's where she spends the working hours of the day, " having learned," she says, " like the ministers who study in their churches, or the carpenters who go to their benches, the value of a workshop out of the house."
This house is one of the oldest on Andover Hill and its history would be a perfect epitome of the peculiar life of a secluded New England literary town. It has been occupied in turn by Professors, Trustees, Agents, Commons, Stewards, Farmers, yet has retained a character of its own through all the changes.
It is a long, low, extremely plain house, painted white, with plenty of little narrow windows filled with little green panes of glass. Miss Phelps' Study is the southeast corner chamber. It has two windows fronting to the east and to the three brick Andover Theological Seminaries. The broad gravel walk leading to the old chapel with its fine avenue of trees is directly before them, and the Library with its half medieval walls is on one side, with the new chapel on the other. All the day the sun shines in as cheerfully as it can, struggling through those little windows and those little panes. There are subdued green curtains at these windows, and about the room are books, pictures, a few easy chairs, tables, and many of the nothings which make a study pleasant.
Caption: "DANIEL DERONDA"
Here, Miss Phelps has written all her later books. It is a quaint, old-time room, with big beams coming down from the ceiling, from which a hammock is always suspended, and beams coming out of the corners which are convenient for out-of-the-way belongings and here, on the southern broad window sill, lies constantly her blue Skye-and-King-Charles terrier, " Daniel Deronda." Miss Phelps has centered all her early love for pets in devotion to dogs. Curious stories might be told of her fondness for a lost dog, named Hahnnemann, and his love for her, did the limits of this article allow, but a sketch of her homes would be incomplete did not "Dan" take his place as a prominent figure. Dan is not bigger than a medium sized cat, and is altogether, as some one remarked, " so homely that he is almost handsome." Indeed he seems to affect people facetiously and to occasion a sort of humor which would alone give him a right to live. " That dorg, " said an Irishman pointing to him with a broad smile on his red face, " came jist near being no dorg at all." But, little as he is, he has for his mistress, one of the biggest of hearts. His bark of delight when he finds her after a short separation is touching to hear, and his jealous and chivalric care of her is ludicrous in the extreme. Sitting on his small haunches, he boldly defies the world to molest her, and has been known to attack a dog ten times his size, when he thought the Newfoundland's approach meant evil. Noble little bit of a Dan! It is not too much to say that he could teach lessons of reverence, fidelity and love, for the learning of which the whole human race would be better.
Miss Phelp's Andover home, however, remains with her father and step-mother, the value of whose kind friendship many years have tested.
The situation of her summer home at Gloucester can find no more fitting description than the one Miss Phelps has herself given in her story, " The Voyage of the America." Writing upon the view of the rocks on which her house stands, she says :
'' Upon the rich and tortured -hues which the beating water and the bursting fire opened for my pleasure ages ago, falls the liquid August sunlight as only Gloucester sunlight falls, I think, the wide world over. Through it the harbor widens, gladdens to the sea; the tide beats at my feet a mighty pulse, slow, even) healthy and serene. The near waves curve and break in quiet colors across the harbor's width, they deepen and purple if one can place the blaze of the climbing sun upon them. A shred or two of foam curling lightly against the cliff ; of the western shore whispers that far across this broad arm of the Point the sleeping east wind has reared his head to look the harbor over. Beneath the bright shade of many-hued sun-umbrellas the dories of the pleasure people tilt daintily. At the distance of nearly two miles, the harbor's width, I can see the glitter of the cunners, caught sharply from the purple water, as well as the lithe, light drawing of a lady's hand over the boat's side against the idle tide. All along the lee shore, from the little reef. Black Bess, to the busy town, the buoys of the mackerel nets bob sleepily; in and out among them, with the look of men who have toiled all night and taken nothing, glide the mackerel fishers, peaceful and poor. The channel where the wind has freshened now is full. The lumber schooner is there from Machias, the coal bark bound for Boston, the fishing sloop headed to the Banks. The water boat trips up and down on a supply tour. A revenue cutter steams out and in importantly. The government lighter struts by. A flock of little pleasure sails fly past the New York school ship, peering up at her like curious canaries at a solemn watch-dog. A sombre old pilot-boat, indifferent to all the world, puts in to get her dinner after her morning's work, and the heavily weighted salt sloop tacks to clear the Boston steamer turning Norman's Woe. And Norman's Woe! the fair, the cruel, - the woe of song and history, - can it ever have been a terror ? Now it is a trance. Behind is the Hendsa greens of the rich inhabited shore closing up softly ; upon it the full light falls ; the jagged teeth of the bared rock round smoothly in the pleasant air, the colors known to artists as orange chrome and yellow ocher and burnt Sienna caress each other to make the reef a warm and gentle thing.
Beyond it stirs the busy sea. The day falls so fair that half the commerce of Massachusetts seems to be alive on its happy heart. The sails swarm like silver bees. The black hulls start sharply from the water line, and look round and full, like embossed designs, against the delicate sky. It is one of the silver days, dear to the hearts of the dwellers by the shore, when every detail in the distance is magnified and sharp. I can see the thin fine line of departing mast heads far, far, far, till they dip and utterly meet. Half Way Rock, - half way to Boston from my lava gorge,-rises clear-cut and vivid to the unaided eye as if brought within arm's length by a powerful glass. And there the curved arm of Salem shore stretches out, and Marblehead turns her fair neck towards us, in the faint violet tinge of the outlines I can see pale specks where houses cluster thickly. Beyond them all, across the flutter of uncounted sails which fly, which glide, which creep, which pass and repass, wind and interwind, which dare me to number them, and defy me to escape them - dim as a dream, and fair as a fancy, I can distinctly see the long, low, gray outline of Cape Cod."
Caption: GLOUCESTER HARBOR. -- THE SUMMER HOME OF MISS PHELPS
The house itself is built upon a lot of greensward which runs down amid some great, beetling rocks. It is the cunningest nook in all the world to hold the home of one who loves the sea - you feel inclined to apply to it Miss Phelps own words :
" If it might only be
That on the singing sea.
There were a place for you to creep
Away among the tinted weeds and sleep,
A cradled, curtained place for two.
You would choose just this, and no other.
It is a two story brown cottage, with doors and windows opening out upon a piazza, which is built across the side facing the sea.
Upon the interior Miss Phelps has bestowed much of the peculiar artistic taste, which distinguishes her. The parlor is a long narrow room tinted with a delicate green shade, not a sea green, but the green one catches in the opal of a wave as the sunset lights it.
In the other rooms of the house the same taste has directed that one should be rose pink, another robin's egg blue, another delicate shades of buff and brown, another the native colors of the wood.
The house is filled with the remembrances of those who love her, and, with the books and pictures that she loves and with the constant society and sympathy of friends, the lady whom you know as the author of "Gates Ajar" and "The Story of Avis " here draws into her quiet days and invalid life the courage and the calm of the summer sea.
I cannot close this sketch more happily than by quoting from her " Saturday Night in the Harbor : "
" The boats bound in across the bar,
Seen in fair colors from afar,
Grown to dun colors, strong and near,
Their very shadows seem to fear
The shadows of a week of harms,
The memory of a week's alarms,
And quiver like a happy sigh
As ship and shadow drifting by
Glide o'er the harbor's peaceful face
Each to its Sabbath resting-place.
And some like weary children come
With sobbing sails, half sick for home ;
And some, like lovers' thoughts, to meet
The velvet shore, spring daring, sweet;
And some, reluctant, in the shade
The great reef drops, like souls afraid
Creep sadly in; against the shore
Ship into shadow turneth more
And more. Ship, ocean, shadow, shore,
Part not, nor stir forevermore."
"Elizabeth Stuart Phelps" in Arthur Gilman et al, Poets' Homes: Pen and Pencil Sketches of American Poets and Their Homes Chicago: The Interstate Publishing Company, 1879: 76-107.
Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her 19th-Century Girls' Series webpage. Please do not use on other pages without permission.