Minnie E. Paull (Minnie Kenney)

Minnie Paull
Minnie Kenny was born 22 January 1859 in Pottersville, New York. Like a number of other series authors, she was both the daughter and wife of a minister. Her father, Rev. James E. Kenny, served as a home missionary in the Adirondack region, covering the area "between Saratoga and Ticonderoga [including] ... Fortsville, South Glens Falls, Lake George, Warrensburrg, Chester, Minerva, Loon Lake, Horicon, [and] Hoffman" [1]. Taught by her mother, she was reading at age three, "quite proficient" by age five, and enjoyed "making books" (using "brown wraping paper and [muslin] coverrs . . . stitched together by her mother").

In 1865, the family moved to Ellenville, in Ulster County, New York, to allow Rev. Kenny a less strenous ministry. There Ms. Kenny studied music and attended Ellenville Academy. An avid reader, she "had read all of Sir Walter Scott's works . . . [b]efore she was eight years old" (10). Circa 1867, the family relocated to New York City, again because of her father's declining health. The duties of a minister proving too taxing, he instead worked as an editor of a religious periodical, Church and State, thus allowing his daughter access to its editorial library. While in New York, Kenny continued her music studies for a year at the New York conservatory, then was sent to boarding school in Holmesburg, Pennsylvania, for another year. Afterward, she attended Brooke Hall, in Media, Pennsylvania, from which she graduated a year early, with honors. Her studies apparently included French, Latin, and Gerrman. Her biography notes:
At boarding-school she endured childhood's bitter experience of being poorer than the other girls and not so well dressed as they were....In after years Mrs. Paull often spoke with pity of herself in those days, -- "a shabby little thing with a small purse and a few outward advantages to keep up her self-respect.."... Languages were always her forte. Composition was so easy and pleasant to her that she frequently wrote several essays on the same subject. At Brooke Hall she was entrusted with the tuition of a number of classes. (21-22)

After graduation, she accompanied her father and younger sister on a boating trip, sailing "by the inside route as far as North Carolina, where they passed the winter" (22). The following summer, she returned to New York and began teaching music; she also began writing short pieces for pieces. When she was eighteen, her family moved South, leaving her on her own in the city. At some point during this period, she added an extra e to her surname, becoming Minnie Kenney. An excerpt from her journal, couched in somewhat sentimental terms, gives an indication of her goals and state of mind:
" I am eighteen to-day, and left alone to make my fortune in this great city, with only a diploma from a fashionable seminary to assure me a livelihood. I have no fear of failure, though. Somehow, I feel that I shall surely succeed, and I have a glad, triumphant feeling that my life is in my own hands now and I can make it what I will.

" I have a good English education, and think I remember as much of the course of study at the seminary as any of the girls, although I rushed through it in three years. I am considered a good musician. I haven't a particle of talent for music, but I do love it dearly, and long ago determined to be proficient in it: so I mean to continue my practice until I excel in it. Music is one of my great ambitions. I believe I have a real gift for languages. They seem to come to me without any effort, and I mean to be a good linguist if I can only find time to study.

" I mean to make a great authoress some day. My highest ambition is to become an intellectual power in the world, to win for myself a place on the ladder of fame which so few women scale. I wish I might give all my thoughts up to it at once, but I must first secure enough pupils to insure me a comfortable livelihood, and then I can set apart hours for self-culture." (quoted, 26-27)

She had learned typesetting during her father's stint at Church and State and became a typesetter for The Churchman. She also spent some of her salary to rent or purchase a piano to maintain her skill, and was apparently giving a lessons to a few pupils, but not enough to allow her to leave work as a compositor. Another excerpt from her journal discusses this period in her life:
" More than a week has passed since I have had time or inclination to write in my Journal. I am not discouraged at all, only I find life is not quite the triumphant progress I had thought it to be. To live (and by that I mean supplying one's self simply with the necessaries of life) requires hard toil. It is uphill work, but I will not be dismayed. I write bright cheerful letters to mother. Whatever happens I am determined never to burden her with my worries. I will bear them alone. I do not mind the labor, though my hours are long and exhausting, but I do regret that my plans for self-culture have to be more or less laid aside. I am too tired to study much after I have been working most of the day, and so my little leisure slips away unimproved. I do manage to get two or three hours of systematic practice, and I am taking lessons in Spanish from a gentleman who teaches in the house and is anxious to acquire a better knowledge of English, - but there are so many plans I have to lay aside.

"I do so long to make the very most of myself, and it frets and chafes me to have to give up so much time to earning enough for just my daily needs. But I mean to be always bright and cheerful, so that people will like to have me about, instead of looking on me as a cross. I was so pleased to-day when a lady called me ' a ray of sunshine.' She said I did not know how often I brightened her up by coming in to say a pleasant, cheery, word. I am so glad, for I have often pitied her for having to go on day after day, in such a tread-mill routine, without any great ambition to whose fulfilment she can look forward when discouraged with the present. It is very pleasant to be liked - I believe that is one of my ambitions too." (quoted, 29-30)

Her financial struggles continued for a time, and her biography notes that "a time of sickness swept away everything that she had. She lost her scholars, her position, even her home; being actually turned out of doors, and compelled to spend one whole night hungry and cold in a railroad station" (32). Undaunted, she continued writing and had serverral articles accepted by The Churchman.

Eventually, she acquired enough pupils to teach and give music lessons full time and continue her own language studies. As her journal describes it:
" My days are very full now. On certain evenings I teach until nearly ten o'clock. I have pupils who are engaged through the day and are very glad to come here in the evenings to take their lessons. Four mornings in the week I exchange English for Spanish and Italian lessons, and by carrying a book around in my muff, I manage to get in a good deal of study in odds and ends of time. I do love to study, and I am glad I am able to improve myself a little while I am so busy." (quoted, 34-35)

As her financial situation improved, Kenney was able to indulge her love of music with outings to the opera. Another journal entry notes:
" I have been at the opera three times lately, and I enjoyed myself so much. I sometimes wonder whether every one enjoys things as intensely as I do. I just enjoy things with every fibre of my being, and into anything in which I am at all interested, I throw myself with all my heart and soul. I don't believe I should enjoy being one of those calm, equable people who never go to extremes, even if I could change my nature." (quoted, 36)

One of her goals was to write a novel -- which she did, in the space of a summer vacation. Although her biography does not include its title, it does include lenghty excerpts from her journal chronicling her excitement about writing and about receiving the formal acceptance:
". . . To-day my summer vacation of two months begins. Until September I am free. I am going to rest with all my might for two or three days, and then begin to write my novel. I just thrill all over at the thought that I shall some day hold in my hand a book of my own creation, my own brain-child! I am full of enthusiasm over it. What can be lovelier than to be young and strong, full of ambition and energy, and the triumphant feeling that success awaits one in the future ? I feel hopeful and self-reliant, sure that I shall succeed in my plans. I cannot even imagine settling down to a commonplace life, with nothing but the monotonous round of drudgery that constitutes the whole of the life of so many women.

". . . Finished at last! I look at that great pile of manuscript on my desk, and have an eerie feeling that it is the work of some enchantment rather than the result of my own patient labor. I have spent the happiest weeks of my life over this work. I have scarcely taken time to eat or sleep, I have worked so feverishly over it; and many a time my brain has been so full of eager thoughts that I have risen from bed and worked for two or three hours, and then gone back to sleep till morning. How I love to write! I wish I needed to do nothing else, but I must give the best of my time to teaching for some years to come. I have worked rapidly at this novel, to complete and copy it in eight short weeks, but most of the real brain work has been done slowly during the past few months, and I had nothing to do but to commit my thoughts to paper.

". . . My book is at the publishers', awaiting their verdict. I am trying to wait very patiently, but it is hard work. Sometimes I am in a fever of impatience and can scarcely restrain myself from going and inquiring childishly, ' How soon can I know ? ' Suppose it should be rejected! Should I ever have courage to write a line again ? Yes, yes. I do not believe a hundred rebuffs could discourage me utterly.

". . . A whole month I have waited for the letter from the publishers, and when I came home each evening my heart beat faster as I looked over my letters to see if perhaps the fateful letter was among them.

"To-night it came, and quivering with eagerness I left the dinner table and went upstairs that I might be alone to read the contents. I was so intensely excited that I could hardly open the envelope with my trembling fingers, and the first time I read the letter I could not understand it. I began it once more.

"It was a kind letter, though the writer spoke very frankly about the faults of the hook. It was somewhat crude, though not as much so as might have been expected from the youth and inexperience of the writer. Here and there he marked a fault of construction, but on the whole it showed marked originality and considerable cleverness in executing a plot, which, although hackneyed in itself, was treated in such a manner that it seemed new. He felt justified in offering to publish it.

" I wonder if I shall ever be quite as happy again in all my life as I was when I fairly took in the tenor of the letter. I fancy it was one of those supreme moments which come only once in a lifetime.

"What do I care for rest, pleasure, anything, compared with ambition ?

"There is only one thing in this world that can make me happy. I want to be a great writer some day, and that is all I plan for or care about. There is not room in my heart for any other feeling, and ambition is the ruling passion in my life. I cannot imagine letting anything else take its place. Nothing else could satisfy me." (quoted 37-40)

Despite her success in selling her first book, Kenney continued to support herself via her music, acquiring a position as organist of the West Side Chapel (according to her biography, "a mission of the Fourth Presbyerian Church" [52]). Again, her journal describes the fortuitious incident which led to the offer:
" I had an engagement at the Association Rooms at eleven o'clock, which I was hopeful might result in giving me a pupil, and I started in good season. I stood at the corner of the street for a few moments, hesitating whether I should wait for a car or walk down. It was quite a long distance to the Rooms, but I had abundance of time, and so economically resolved to save my car fare. On my way, I passed the church of which I am nominally a member, and which I have attended during vacations. The rector was standing at the vestibule door, looking anxiously up and down the street, while the bell was ringing its last strokes.

" ' Oh, I am so glad to see you,' he exclaimed. ' I did not know what we should do for music this morning, for the organist has not come nor sent a substitute. You will play for us, will you not?'

" I pleaded my engagement, but he overruled my objections, and I yielded, though I was conscious that it was not making a very good beginning to fail in punctually meeting this appointment. Short as the Lenten service was, it necessarily delayed me half an hour, and I encountered a frown of disapproval from the lady who looked up from the desk upon which lay a pile of business letters. I explained the reason of my delay, and a lady who was sitting by the window looked up at me with an expression of interest.

" ' Do you play the organ ? ' she asked. ' Would you like to have a regular engagement as organist ? We are just looking for some one to take charge of the music in our mission chapel, and, though the salary is small, you might think it worth while to take the position.'

" Of course I was only too glad to accept the position at once. The practice would be of benefit to me, and then some time I might hear of an opportunity to obtain a position as organist in one of the large churches.

" Looking back over the events of the day, it seems strange that such a little matter as the decision between walking and riding down town should have been the means of getting me this position; but so it was, for if I had not delayed at the rector's urgent request to play the organ, and then had not given that as my excuse for tardiness, I might never have heard of this mission chapel." (50-52)

Kenney's decision resulted in more than just a salaried position, for during her time at the West Side Chapel she met her future husband, who was then a student at Union Theological Seminary. She also soon found additional employment as an organist, this time in the Church of St. John the Baptist. Her journal again describes the situation -- and illustrates her confidence and willingness to work and take chances to attain her goals:
"The rector came to me this morning and told me that his organist had suddenly left, and it was necessary to find another person to take his place before Sunday. Could I take the organ ? I was only too delighted to accept the offer very eagerly. I have never undertaken to use the pedals of a large church organ, and the music is very elaborate; but this is Tuesday, and I have several days to practise before the Saturday night rehearsal. If I can only get through the first few Sundays satisfactorily, I am sure I can practise enough to feel at my ease and not dread failure.

" Sunday. I felt like singing to myself ' Lo, the conquering hero comes,' as I returned home to-night, tired but triumphant. I had spent every available moment during the week in practice, and at last felt as if I had mastered the intricacies of the stops and pedals. I managed to get through choir practice without blundering perceptibly, but I must admit I was nervous this morning when I put my foot on the first pedal and the organ sounded its preliminary rumble. However, I was not too much frightened to know what I was doing, and so I had the pleasure to-night of being engaged permanently as organist. I feel quite elated over my success." (53-54)

During this period, Kenney also struggled with her religious beliefs, and lengthy excerpts from her journal record the various stages of indecision and unrest before her religious awakening. Initially she noted:
"THERE is just one thing to keep me from being blissfully happy, and strangely enough it is the last thing that I ever imagined would trouble me. I wish I could make up my mind about the reality of God. Though I believe in a vague sort of way, I have hours of anxious self-questionings, and cannot bring myself to the intense realization of the truth which I feel to be necessary. I am groping blindly, and though I am trying to see God, yet a cloud is before my eyes, and I cannot even believe that he is behind it. . .." (57-58)

Then wondered:
" I cannot be satisfied to go on as I am. I do want to be good, and I enjoy praying morning and evening, because that seems like a step in the right direction; but I must not stop here. I know that if I ever do become a Christian, I shall love God with all my heart and soul, and shall want to give my whole life up to his service. But will that peace ever come to me? Perhaps it is to be my punishment for years of unbelief that I never shall be allowed a firm and tranquil faith. Could there be a sadder prospect than a lifetime of unrest?. . ." (58-59)

Then found:
"My prayer has been answered. I realize God as I had never thought it possible. But I am oppressed with a sense of his presence and his greatness. It terrifies me and makes me more unhappy than I was before in my unbelief. Oh, how do people become Christians? It sounds so easy: it is nothing but a complete surrender of everything; and it surely seems as if it would be a very easy thing to acknowledge God's right to everything, when, whether I acknowledge it or not, all things are in his hand. I cannot love him, though. I cannot see how there can be love where there is such fear. 'Perfect love casteth out fear,' but my only feeling is that of terror, when I realize that I am wholly powerless to draw a breath by my own strength, and that at any moment if God willed it so, this mysterious thing which we call life might cease and I should be swept out into an eternity of darkness. This thought clouds all the brightness of a life that otherwise would be perpetual sunshine. . . ." (59)

Later, after receiving and reading a religious tract, "God's Will in our Prayers," from her future biographer, Dr. J. R. Miller, Paull wrote that she had "come into the place where my peace flows like a river," adding
" Everything was so clear to me then! I knew that I loved my Saviour supremely, and that he had washed me from my sins. I knew that I did not deserve the blessedness that I experienced, but I loved him all the more for his unmerited mercy. I had been thinking that I must love my husband less before I could love God with all my heart; but it is not so. God has given him to me to love, and I do love him as dearly as ever, but I love God more.

" I do not think I shall ever forget those moments. The sunlight dancing on the carpet, the idle curiosity which prompted me to glance over the leaflet, the peace which flowed into my soul and diffused itself through all my being, - all are imprinted on my memory too indelibly ever to grow dim with time. I knelt down, and gave myself to God with a glad consecration of every faculty and power. It was a delight to kneel there with the sweet assurance of acceptance. I never imagined as possible to me anything so restful and satisfying as this peace which verily passeth all understanding. How can I ever be grateful enough for it ? . . ." (63-64)

During this period, Paull had also apparently been wriing serials for periodicals. Some time after her spirtual awakening, however, she began to question whether this was an appropriate use of her talent. Again, her journal served as a repository for her reflections:
" I wrote a serial story last week, a trashy one, I am ashamed to say, but it was the only kind that would be accepted by the paper for which I wrote. It was accepted and promptly paid for. I wish I could quite settle the question in my own mind whether it is right or not to write such stories. There is not anything really wrong about this writing. Of course I would not write one of those stories found in certain publications, full of sensationalism and tragedy; but this story I have just disposed of is certainly not one that will make any person the better for reading it. It is a sentimental love story.

" I am afraid the readiness with which I can dispose of such a story is a temptation to me to think there cannot be any harm in writing it; but if it is wrong I hope I shall see it clearly. I have an order for another story of the same kind. I have prayed over the matter, but I am afraid I am a little biased by my inclinations and cannot wholly surrender myself to God's guidance. I do want to be wholly consecrated and to devote every power and talent to God's service. I know that my daily life does not seem to be that of a Christian; it is full of failures and mistakes; but God knows how hard I try to keep close to him and how sorry I am for my weakness and sin. Not the most tender and patient earthly love can compare with the illimitable patience and tenderness of God's love, and I realize more and more every day how precious is this friend who comes all the closer in time of special need." (77-78)

And later:
" I like to think that God orders even the little things of my life as well as the greater things, and I believe he led me on a visit to New York to settle for me the story question. Last night, when I accompanied my friend to church, a strange minister occupied the pulpit, and when he began his sermon I felt as if he had been sent there with a message for me.

The sermon was exceedingly interesting to me and I listened eagerly to every word, although the majority of his hearers looked listless and uninterested. When he had concluded, there was no longer any doubt in my mind whether it might or might not be right for me to write those trashy stories. I knew it was wrong - yes, wicked - to use any gift God has given me in such a way, and before I left the church I had resolved that I would never again write a word upon which I could not ask God's blessing. I had in my trunk a serial story nearly completed, but I resolutely burned it to-day. It cost me a little sacrifice to make up my mind never to write anything trashy again, for there is always a ready market with prompt payment for such work; but I am glad that the right and wrong of the matter have been decided for me, and I feel as if this stranger had been sent (as I did not fail to tell him) with a special word for me. It gives me a comfortable sense of being in very near relations to God to believe that he orders these little events of life which might seem accidents to some." (quoted 78-79)

To be continued....

[1] All quoted material is from Recollections of Mrs. George A. Paull, ed. J. R. Miller, (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, 1896). All additional references are parenthetical within the text.

Special thanks are due to the staff of Interlibrary Loan at West Chester University for finding and acquiring a copy of this book.

Copyright 2002 - Deidre Johnson

Back to main page