The Writer of the Famous Polly Pepper Books"
By Norma Bright Carson
"You mustn't say that I created Polly Pepper. I didn't; She created herself."
So spoke Mrs. Daniel Lothrop, otherwise "Margaret Sidney," whose "Five Little Peppers" are surely as much at home among American children as Santa Claus and the Teddy Bear. We had gone out to Old Concord to see Mrs. Lothrop in her own environment--the Concord she loves, and for which she has done so much to bring upon her in return the responsive affection of its people.
My own first recollections of the Pepper family are inseparably associated with an attack of scarlet fever, the confinement resulting from which was enlivened by the single book, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. Its consignment to the fire--when its days of usefulness were over--left me inconsolable, but it also gave Polly. Ben. Joel. David and Phronsie a staunch friend and a loyal adherent.
However, to come back to the lady who has made the Peppers famous
Harriett Mulford Stone was born in New Haven. Connecticut, from ancestry distinguished in all that makes New England dear to the hearts of her people. Her line includes the Mayflower Pilgrim. Colonial Governors, the Reverend Thomas Hooker and many other divines, and those who helped to form the laws of the colony and the infant Republic. Her father, Sidney Mason Stone, the well-known architect. erected many churches and public buildings. He invented a system of ventilation. and did much toward the development of American architecture. On her mother's side she is descended from the Bradley and Mulford families, so in-wrought with the history of New Haven. To quote her own words: "I was born and brought up in the city; but I loved the country and longed for chances to go away from the town. It was partly my love for the great natural world that led me to the Peppers, insomuch as my longing for country experiences, and the fulfilment of that desire on various occasions when I was taken there on visits or rides, were accompanied by a passionate love for little brown houses. Whenever I was fortunate enough to get into the country I watched and watched for a little brown house, and always when I discovered one I began to make up stories about it."
It was this natural aptitude for "making up" stories that was manifested in the many pictures which Mrs. Lothrop would cut out of papers and magazines while she was still very young. Every clipping represented some exercise of the imagination. and they were hoarded as the dearest treasures. We suspect that Harriett Stone was, in her own way, a good deal like Polly Pepper herself, with her story-telling faculty and her lively imagination, that could invest the ordinary things of life with a happy atmosphere.
I asked Mrs. Lothrop in the course of our conversation: "How did the Pepper stories originate?"
"Well, it was like this: After I found my little brown houses, I needed, of course, to people them. That was where Polly Pepper came in. She appeared on the scene as a natural outcome of my having to provide the little brown house with occupants. She was a dear little girl; naturally, she had to have brothers and sisters. I never knew of any such village as Badgertown, and I never knew any such family as the Peppers; but Polly Pepper proved herself so ready to come when I called her, and had so many delightful stories to tell, while she did so many other interesting things, that she just had to have a jolly, old-fashioned kitchen, a homey mother, and a group of lively brothers and sisters to make up a proper environment. So that was the way the five little Peppers originated."
The author did not write a book, to begin with. She lived for years, so to speak, with the little Peppers before she ever thought of putting their story on paper. Everywhere she went the Peppers went; all through her home the Peppers were in evidence to her. Her imagination was filled with them and they continued to indulge in all sorts of pranks and amusements that only she could see, and yet she saw them very vividly. In her own words, "I never tried to make them do or say anything in particular: They just did things in their own way, and then they told me all about it them I imagined that I went into the little brown house and sat down next to Mamsie's calico-covered rocking-chair." Then one day she wrote a story, called "Polly Pepper's Chicken Pie," and sent it to the "Wide-Awake," the young people's magazine published in Boston. It was accepted and the publisher asked for more. She wrote another, "Phronsie Pepper's New Shoes," and letters began to come in from subscribers. The publisher asked her to do a series of twelve stories about the Peppers; and though she disliked serials, she wrote the twelve instalments. Then they wanted a book; and because the things she had already done would not make a full-sized book, she called upon her little friends, and, to use her own words, "made the Peppers tell me more things, till I got a bookful." The Fire Little Peppers and How They Grew, published in 1881, was the outcome of the effort. Letters of enthusiastic delight poured in from readers all over the country. The Peppers had taken the hearts of old and young by storm and all clamored for more stories about the interesting family. The author had no rest. She was determined not to continue to write about the Peppers, but the urgency of her readers was so great that she finally decided to give them another book. The publishers wanted the history of the five little Peppers grown up, but the Peppers were too real to Mrs. Lothrop to permit of such a mushroom growth. She declared that she would write of them growing up before she wrote about them full-grown. Upon this declaration followed The Five Little Peppers Midway, and then The Five Little Peppers Grown Up.
"Now," the author thought, "I'm through with the Peppers!" But she wasn't. Boys and girls in every State in the Union wanted further details about the doings of Polly, Ben, Joel, David and Phronsie. In The Five Little Peppers Grown Up Phronsie was only thirteen years old, so everybody clamored for Margaret Sidney to show how Phronsie grew up. Of all the Peppers non is more sweetly lovable than Phronsie and it was about her that readers wished further to know. So Mrs. Lothrop wrote and published Phronsie Pepper. Still the Peppers were not exhausted. There were a thousand and one questions to be asked about this, that and the other thing. For the Peppers had long ago outgrown their little brown house; they had moved into a circle of culture and wealth; the Peppers and the Kings, and all the variety of their relationships, to say nothing of the many other friends they had made, constituted an unmined wealth of entertaining variation. Each Pepper had his or her own story, Even "Mamsie" was communicative; whereupon Mrs. Lothrop once more, resignedly, sat down to continue the tale. The Stories Polly Pepper Told came out; then The Adventures of Joel Pepper; another pause leading to The Five Little Peppers Abroad ; later still, The Five Little Peppers at School; The Five Little Peppers and their Friends; Ben Pepper, and finally, The Five Little Peppers in the Little Brown House, which appeared in 1907.
"And now they want a book about Davie!" Thus said the author, "they" meaning her publishers and the hundreds of thousands of readers in this and other lands, who, having grown up with the Peppers, or having watched them grow, are loath to leave them until the last word about each has been said. Truly it requires a peculiar genius to write eleven such books, all interwoven with each other, where one discordant note would be a calamity. Instead, they are like life itself. Mrs. Lothrop belongs in the same class of writers as Louisa M. Alcott. Strangely enough, the two women have had their home under the same roof, for The Wayside, now Mrs. Lothrop's home, was occupied, as The Hillside, by the Alcott family in the days before Nathaniel Hawthorne purchased it, who changed the name to The Wayside.
Harriett Mulford Stone became Mrs. Daniel Lothrop in 1881. Mr. Lothrop was the founder of the D. Lothrop Publishing Company, of Boston, and it was he who published the "Wide Awake," the magazine to which Miss Stone sent her first Pepper story. Mr. Lothrop was a pioneer in publishing books and periodicals especially adapted for young people. He is called "the children's friend" for his early and self-sacrificing efforts along this line, that achieved such great results. He died in 1892, and his publishing business was sold. eventually becoming the Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Company, by contract with whom Mrs. Lothrop publishes all her books.
Mrs. Lothrop has traveled extensively. She and her daughter, Miss Margaret, spend many of their winters on the Continent, and in 1906 they visited Egypt and
Palestine. When they are at home they live either in Boston or at The Wayside, where Mrs. Lothrop uses Hawthorne's tower study to write in. Mr. Lothrop bought The Wayside from Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Hawthorne's daughter, in 1883. The Lothrops have tried, in so far as possible, to keep the house just as it was when Hawthorne lived there, and the grounds have been left entirely as they were during the days when the great novelist meditated within them. The house stands on the Lexington road, about a mile and a half out from Concord. On the way to it one passes Emerson's house, arid. just before reaching it, comes upon the last home of the Alcotts, now unoccupied and desolate. Mrs. Lothrop's purchase of this property argued a future satisfactory disposition of it. The Wayside stands along the road, a rambling old house, with many queer corners and additions that Hawthorne made to it. Back of it, and to the left as one faces it, there is a beautiful old pine wood, stretching up over a steep hill, the famous Ridge, or "Mount of Vision." as Mrs. Hawthorne called it. It was over these pine-clad slopes that Hawthorne loved to stroll; and every day he delighted to climb to the top, to walk back and forth and meditate amid the solemn grandeur of the fragrant, silent summit. As I walked up the path from the house to the hill, I felt almost as if I saw that noble figure moving silently among the trees. The paths were soft with a carpeting of pine needles; the air was deliciously perfumed; we sat on Hawthorne's bench, where it rests between two tree trunks., and drank in the glory of an autumn afternoon just before the day's dying.
In 1904 the centenary anniversary of Hawthorne's birth was appropriately observed at The Wayside. Mrs. Lothrop felt it incumbent upon her to remember and to commemorate in some way the genius whose spirit still pervades her house. Exercises were arranged by her to take place on July 4, 5 and 6, at The Wayside and in the neighboring Hillside chapel. Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, Charles Francis Adams, Moncure D. Conway, F. B. Sanborn, Maud Howe Elliott, Beatrix Hawthorne, granddaughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a number of other prominent New Englanders, took part in the celebration. Two permanent monuments have resulted from this observance: one, the bronze tablet set in a great granite boulder, which rests on the path that leads up to the hill from The Wayside; and the .other, a book that contains a full account of the proceedings of the centenary celebration, with the addresses then made given in full, and many letters that were received from eminent persons who could not, for one reason or another, come to Concord for the exercises.
The memorial is unique, and singularly appropriate. The boulder is differently shaped from that which marks Emerson's grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, but it rests on the slope as if Nature herself had set it there, and only the inlaid tablet marks it as man's handiwork. The inscription reads:
THIS TABLET PLACED
AT THE CENTENNIAL EXERCISES, JULY 4, 1904,
COMMEMORATES NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE.
HE TROD DAILY THIS PATH TO THE HILL.
AS HE PACED TO AND FRO UPON ITS SUMMIT
HIS MARVELOUS ROMANCES.
From the place of the memorial one gets an excellent view of Hawthorne's tower, which he built on the back of The Wayside, and the top of which he used to work in, a trapdoor device making it possible for him to stay there in solitude and peace for long hours together. Mrs. Lothrop has painstakingly and devotedly followed Hawthorne's footsteps in Rome, using his Marble Faun as a guidebook. She has visited the old Italian estate, Montauto, whose tower gave Hawthorne, when its resident, a longing for such an eyrie for a workroom. And hence came the Wayside Tower when he remodeled the old house.
Mrs. Lothrop is naturally a great lover of Hawthorne. As a matter of fact, she is an enthusiast over Concord--its celebrities and landmarks--generally. Her efforts in the Old Concord Chapter that she founded of the Daughters of the American Revolution are amply evidenced in several interesting projects, not the least of which has been the restoration and fitting up of a quaint old Colonial house at the very entrance to Concord, which has now become the Chapter House. And just here we must mention an important work achieved by this many-sided, busy woman of large aims and inspirations. In 1895 she originated and founded the National Society of the Children of the American Revolution. For six years she was its National President No one knows but those who have done similar work the labor she has put into it, nor the sacrifices it involved. But she was glad to do it, because her husband's lifework was for the uplifting of children and youth toward good citizenship, in which she heartily joined.
The Pepper books do not comprise all of Mrs. Lothrop's literary achievements. She has written numerous other interesting books. Among these we, might name: The Pettibone Name, Whittier with the Children, Old Concord: Her Highways and Byways, A Little Maid of Concord Town; besides many poems and miscellaneous contributions to the periodicals It is in her Hester and Other New England Stories that we see Mrs. Lothrop's ability to get the true local coloring of her beloved New England. Her delineations of its characteristics are different from those of Mary E. Wilkins, as Margaret Sidney strikes a joyous note. But they depict the true type, nevertheless, with a practiced hand. Mrs. Lothrop has at present several pieces of work for older readers well under way. It is to the Pepper books, however, that she owes her standing. They will live among American juveniles. Their appeal is universal, for they are typical of the brightness, the vivacity, the wholesomeness, the resourcefulness, of the average American boy and girl. They are not the goody-goody, sickly-sentimental children of the Elsie Dinsmore variety; they have not the precocity or the priggishness of a still later type; they are just the unspoiled, unspotted children that belong to a world in which imagination must supply what fortune withholds, and in which honest aspiration uplifts in the midst of the ordinary course of good and ill. Everything that happened to the Peppers might happen to any similar family, and their characteristics are those of thousands of youngsters and homes. They deserve all the good that comes to them, and they are sensible enough to appreciate the "sweets of adversity." Their author reveals in her own personality the happy optimism of the little Peppers, and that same fortunate lack of affectation which makes them winsome in whatever circumstances. An author must be lovable to create lovable children, and only a perfect sympathy with the viewpoint and imagination of children can accomplish a convincing interpretation of child life. We can well believe Mrs. Lothrop when she says that she has lived for years with the Peppers; for they must have developed parallel with the development of her own life, in their own way. We never yet saw a Pepper do an incongruous or forced thing; they have the absolute naturalness and ingenuousness of children left to their own tendencies among forces that make for good.
The Book News Monthly 28 (February 1910): 407-14.
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