Commentaries on Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and her daughter Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward sometimes mention the impact of the paternal figures in their lives -- not always positively. In her introduction to the 1964 Belknap edition of The Gates Ajar, Helen Sootin Smith remarks that although Ward's grandfather Moses Stuart "died in 1852 . . . [his] influence was felt for a long time at the seminary, as well as in the home of his granddaughter"; Carol Farley Kessler, in her biography of Ward, writes that "[Ward's] grandfathers on both sides were Calvinist divines and her grandmothers thus ministers' dutiful wives . . . [a] combination [that] seems to have created patterns of dysfunctional behavior in each of the three generations."
Elizabeth Phelps's younger sister, Sarah Stuart Robbins, describes their father in some detail in Old Andover Days. The final section of the book, containing biographical sketches of prominent figures at Andover, begins with one of Leonard Woods (father of author Harriette Newell Woods Baker) and concludes with Moses Stuart. Robbins's portrait of her somewhat distant father, immersed in work and barely noticing his own children, contrasts sharply with her depiction of the Stuart's neighbor, Leonard Woods , who readily displays affection for his family; it offers a revealing glimpse of the home life that helped shape two generations of Phelps women.
Sarah Stuart Robbins, Old Andover Days: Memories of a Puritan Childhood.
Boston: The Pilgrim Press, 1908: 163-189.
The last person connected with Old Andover whom I shall describe is my father, Moses Stuart, who was professor of Greek and Hebrew at the Seminary for nearly forty years. His home life was only an incident in his scholarly career. Seven children, three boys and four girls, soon filled his commodious house. If we could have brought, each one of us, a trail of exegetical glory from heaven, we should doubtless have met a warmer welcome; but, after all, we found the kindest and most generous of fathers, -- when he remembered us. We were there, we were to be cared for, to be loved, to be educated, to want nothing that he could provide, but not to interfere with the work to which he had been called, and, children or no children, must faithfully perform.
That we, on our part, should have felt any particular interest in this work could hardly have been expected; I doubt whether, until we had left our happy childhood behind us, we had much idea what it was. We saw books printed in types unknown to us crowding the study shelves and tables. We looked with awe upon the piles of manuscript written in the neat, characteristic handwriting of our father, wondering what they could all be about. It was the Bible, of course; but why the Bible? Did God need a new interpreter? If so, and our father had been chosen, was that the reason he was named Moses, the name borne by that other Moses who wrote the Ten Commandments on those wonderful tables of stone?
I think it must have come to us early that we were born to no common lot. Andover homes were, every one of them on that sacred Hill, withdrawn in a monastic seclusion from the rest of the world. Strict Puritan rules governed every household, and yet the young life obeyed the Must and Must Not of the regime. To us as a family this was most imperative; for our mother, wisest and kindest of all mothers, kept the fact constantly before us that our father was chosen and set apart from the rest of the world to do a great and important work.
His appearance has been well described by Oliver Wendell Holmes in his reminiscences of his school-days at Andover. He writes;
" Of the noted men of Andover the one whom I remember best was Professor Moses Stuart. His house was nearly opposite the one in which I resided, and I often met him and listened to him in the chapel of the Seminary. I have seen few more striking figures in my life than his, as I remember it. Tall, lean, with strong, bold features, a keen, scholarly, accipitrine nose, thin, expressive lips, great solemnity and impressiveness of voice and manner, he was my early model of a classic orator. His air was Roman, his neck long and bare like Cicero's, and his toga--that
is his broadcloth cloak -- was carried on his arm whatever might have been the weather, with such a statue-like, rigid grace that he might have been turned into marble as he stood, and looked noble by the side of the antiques of the Vatican." [1a]
It is a difficult, almost a hopeless, task to sketch the character of one who, with delicate, poetical, literary tastes, yet gave his whole soul to dry, grammatical exegesis until he considered the interpretation of a word, even of a vowel, to contain a truth of the utmost importance to the welfare of the sin-ridden world. It was the whole-souled earnestness of his work, his strong belief in it and its importance, that made his daily life so scholarly and set apart.
This may be better understood through a simple and familiar record of his every-day home life during his long professional work at Andover. There is little to relate of anecdote or even of the usual experiences of a quiet New England town. From his study to the chapel of the Theological Seminary, back and forth, day after day, meeting no one, but in the silence and solitude through which he walked hearing and recognizing the song of every bird that caroled on the trees; noting the changes in the elms which he had loved ever since he had seen the tiny twig planted in the rough, new ground; watching through the brief summer days for the flowers that sometimes dotted his path; over-looking no slightest thing in earth or sky that God had given,--such was his life.
He brought into his daily life many of the habits acquired when he was a farmer's boy. He felt that every moment passed in sleep, after the most rigorous demands of nature were satisfied, was lost time. In summer at four, and in winter at five, he was astir; and the occupations of the day began. In summer his garden was his delight. To this he went when Andover Hill was still wrapped in sleep. His trim beds, whether of flowers or of vegetables, were always in luxuriant order. To bring in the earliest flowers for the breakfast-table, to surprise his family with some fine home-grown fruit, gave him keen pleasure. That these results were not obtained without difficulty is plain from a reminiscence by one of his pupils.
" I well remember," writes Dr. Wayland, " that on one occasion he needed a little assistance in getting in his hay, and indicated to his class that he would be gratified if some of us would help him for an hour or two. There was, of course, a general turnout. The crop was a sorry one, and as I was raking near him, I intimated to him something of the kind. I shall never forget his reply: ' Bah! was there ever climate and soil like this! Manure the land as much as you will, it all leaches through this gravel, and very soon not a trace of it can be seen. If you plant early, everything is liable to be cut off by the late frosts of spring. If you plant late, your crop is destroyed by the early frosts of autumn. If you escape these, the burning sun of summer scorches your crop, and it perishes by heat and drought. If none of these evils overtake you, clouds of insects eat up your crop, and, what the caterpillar leaves the canker-worm devours.' Spoken in his deliberate and solemn utterance, I could compare it to nothing but the maledictions of one of the old prophets." [1b]
In winter he walked to the village, if possible, or around the square. When walking or working in the open air was absolutely impossible, he took refuge in his wood-house, accomplishing in a deft and rapid manner feats an Irishman might envy. The one thing that must be accomplished was to bring his exhausted nervous system into such a condition that he could do hard mental work and do it well. To this one great end he made the most every-day incidents subordinate, and amid pain and weakness and discouragement he accomplished his purpose.
His exercise taken, he was ready for his breakfast, and woe to any mischance by which it and the whole family were not ready for him. I have pictures in my memory of sleepy little children hurrying into their clothes, and rushing pell-mell down-stairs, when his step was heard on the graveled walk in front of the house. To be late at breakfast was an offense; to be absent was not allowable except in case of illness. Breakfast was often a silent meal. The hour was still early; in winter we ate by the light of tallow candles. The exercise had, not yet recuperated Mr. Stuart's tired nervous system, and stillness acted beneficially with the smoking food.
Then followed family prayers. These often indicated the character of the previous night. Had it been quiet and restful, there were uttered bright and hopeful as well as devout words; but had there been sleeplessness, or the hardly less distressing visions of the night, nothing found voice but the most pathetic entreaties to his God for rest and solace, " before being taken away to be seen here no more forever." These moods generally passed with the " Amen." It was as if having told all to the divine Orderer of Events, sickness and death were no longer his care, and he had nothing more to do but take up his waiting work. From family prayers he went directly to his study.
To show how entirely the life of the whole family was affected by that of its scholarly head, I may say that almost every room in the house was known, at one time or another, by the name of " the study." The study of later years was a large upper chamber facing south. It was not a cheerful room: old brown paper of a stiff pattern covered the walls, and four yellow maps of Palestine hung where they could be most readily used. In one corner a small bookcase stood upon a chest of drawers. The case was full of well-worn volumes, bound in Russia leather, and the chest was stored with sermons, lectures, and other professional papers. A square study table, and a high desk beside a window were both methodically arranged with implements for writing and with books wanted daily, such as lexicons and Bibles in various tongues. Near by was a large fireplace, with a plain wooden mantelpiece, crowded with books. The other furniture of the room was plain and old-fashioned, nothing
being admitted except what was indispensable. Over the mantelpiece hung a silver watch which ticked for over fifty years, measuring off days, weeks, and months, rich in God's work.
When the door of this room was shut, it was set apart from daily life as completely as if it had been transported to another world. Immediately every member of the household began to move about on tiptoe; and whatever words were spoken were uttered in subdued tones. From that moment until twelve, only a matter of the utmost importance made permissible a knock upon the study door. Visitors, no matter from what distance or of what social and literary standing, were all denied admittance. Business exigencies were ignored; and. any Seminary student who unluckily forgot the hours was sent away with a short if not a curt reply. When two old friends asked him to marry them, the hour for the ceremony being fixed for ten o'clock, he refused, saying, " But that is in my study hours! " Even the ordinary housekeeping sounds were made under protest. An unlucky fall, the slamming of a blind, a second summons from the hall door, - all were received with a warning thump from the study, or a pull at its bell. " I cannot be disturbed "; no law of Medes or Persians was ever more absolute. The task of reducing a family so full of life to this state of orderly quiet must have seemed nearly impossible, but Mrs. Stuart succeeded in accomplishing it for many long years.
Out from this closed room came first the voice of prayer. Within, one felt, a sensitive soul was wrestling with its God. Rising and swelling, broken often with emotion, his voice had a pleading, wailing cadence, touching to listen to, tender to recall. Then followed the intoning of passages from the Hebrew Psalms; and here the heart, mellowed and comforted by near intercourse with the Hebrews' God, found full utterance. Into every room of that still house the jubilant words came ringing with their solemn joy. Then came several hours of intense intellectual labor. In the following note, sent during such a period of study to the student who was for the time the librarian at the Seminary, one can see beneath the punctilious politeness of the request the student's utter preoccupation with his work, and his intolerance of finding his " way blocked up," even for a time.
MY DEAR SIR, - Unexpectedly I have come upon an exigency, this morning, wh. renders an appeal to the Coran necessary. Will you do me the kindness to send me the II Vol. of Maraccius, wh. has the Arab. text, with the Versions and Notes, (for I want both these), if I rightly remember. Should it not be so, you may send the copy of Sale's Coran therewith.
I am sorry to trouble you; but I must find my way blocked up, unless I can make the appeal in question.
Another librarian, later the Rev. John Todd, D.D., reports:
" The rapidity with which he examined books was wonderful. The whole library was his lexicon. Being librarian during my senior year, I had occasion to marvel over, as well as to handle, the whole wheelbarrow loads he would send back on the close of every term. He took out, I think, more books than all the rest of the Seminary."
It was always high holiday for his family when there arrived in one of the slow sailing-vessels a package of books bearing a foreign mark. For weeks, perhaps, it had been anxiously looked for. Every morning the small gilt vane on the Seminary chapel had been inspected to see whether the wind was favorable for the coming ship; every evening the last ray of daylight was used for the same purpose; and never did an adverse wind howl more loudly around our house, or a storm seem more pitiless, than when it delayed the coming of the much coveted treasures.
It would have been a study for an artist, - the face of my father, when, the books at last his, the whole family was called together to see and admire them. His eyes, usually a little dull, seemed to flash with delight. His lips, always his most expressive feature, quivered with emotion. The arrival of the books was to him like the coming of much beloved, much longed-for friends, with whom he looked forward to spending hours of delightful and congenial companionship.
Precisely as the college clock struck twelve there came an energetic pushing back of chair and footstool, and the whole family drew a long breath of relief. Morning study hours were over, and we were once more free!
Coming out of his room, always with a pale, weary face, the professor went without delay to his exercise again; seeking the garden, the grounds, the wood-pile, or the walk, as the season or the weather made most desirable. Then home just in time for the half-past-twelve dinner, which, like the breakfast, must always be on the table at the appointed moment, with the family in instant readiness to partake. As he was a thorough dyspeptic, the matter of food was of the greatest importance to him. He was not dainty, but he required and provided the very best the market afforded; and it was curious to notice how even the tones and words of the blessing he invoked were affected by what was spread before him. Good, nourishing food braced the spent nervous system, and gave tone and elasticity to the exhausted vitality, and consequent sunny views of life and its occupations.
After dinner came the social hour of the day. If we had any plans to make, any requests to proffer, now was the moment. Indeed, this was the only time when home and its needs seemed to have any place in the professor's thoughts. Then a newspaper, a review, or some book not connected with his studies, was in his hand, but he was ready to put it down if any other object of interest presented itself. If not, the reading continued until his lecture, which was delivered in the afternoon, and occupied about an hour, or sometimes two. This duty over, came the exercise again, the early tea, and family prayers; and evening was entered upon at the first approach of twilight. Every new lamp that promised assistance was purchased as fast as invented, the scholar, with his enthusiasm for the new and convenient, considering every one, for a time, better than its predecessor.
Study was never severe during these evening hours. Now he was willing to be interrupted, and often hailed as a godsend the visit of an agreeable acquaintance. Eminently social in his literary labors, he found in nothing greater pleasure than in discussing with one of congenial tastes the work upon which he was for the time engaged; and if he absorbed the lion's share of the conversation, his listener was never wearied, and seldom failed to go away a wiser and a better man. With a friend in whose companionship he took especial pleasure, he read Greek plays in the evening for several winters, showing all the enthusiasm of a young man, and the critical acumen of a ripe scholar.
This until nine o'clock; but the moment the hands of the old mahogany clock pointed to that hour, night with the time for needed rest had come. After nine no guest lingered who understood the regime of this student's life.
We children would as soon have been expected to get up a dance or a card-party as to be from home or out of our beds when that hour had come. Many hairbreadth escapes we had from detection, many frights, and many awkward contretemps. Gentlemen callers from the Seminary, ignorant of the nine o'clock rule, or for some unexplainable reason unmindful of the lateness of the hour, have been timidly but urgently requested by one or another of the four daughters of the house to leave cautiously by the side door. In the main, however, the law was another of the Medes and Persians, and kept as inviolable as it could have been kept by seven young people full of occupations and amusements. Dogs and cats, window-blinds, gates, everything imaginable or unimaginable, were now under the ban of stillness. It was not a common stillness that was required; but the only stillness considered such by a man whose sleep was that of a diseased nervous system and an overtaxed brain. Often during the wakeful hours which drew their slow length along, there came from the professor's room the same wailing prayer which had ushered in his day of work; and often he might have been met gliding around the house, seeking for rest but finding none.
When he had grown old and feeble, it was a great delight to him to have one of the young students at the Seminary come in to read to him; and the hour was often forgotten in the interest of the book. Light literature, for the first time in his life, he then indulged in freely. He would often say to his daughters when they were reading to him, " You see the good of keeping this till you are old; it is a tonic to me now." It was not an unusual thing for him to come quietly into the room where these books were kept, possess himself of the novel, his interest in which could not be postponed, and inform us of the denouement at the tea-table.
That the trend of his studies did not narrow his mind, or the quiet Andover life dull his sympathies toward all the great onward movements of the world, is a matter of surprise; but to the last of his busy life no one saw more quickly or enjoyed more keenly the promise of a wonderful future. Vividly comes the memory of a lovely Sunday morning when, as usual, we children, decorous in Sunday garb, surrounded him on the way to church. His Saturday night weekly newspaper had contained an account of a telescopic discovery in the moon. It was not his custom to allow a weekly paper to be read on the Sabbath ; but certain it is that on that morning he had seen the paper, had read the account of the discovery, and was too full of the story to reserve it for the profane Monday so far away. His pale face alight with his interest, looking from one to another of us, he explained rapidly what had been discovered. We listened enthusiastically, while the solemn bell of the chapel tolled unheeded reproofs. When the first steam-engine drew its train of cars through the pleasant meadows that, stretching back of his house, bordered the Shawsheen River, we were at the dinner-table. He started from his seat, and clasping his hands as if in prayer, said fervently, "Thank God! thank God I"
He seemed sometimes to put aside his usual calm judgment, and to enjoy an improbability with particular enthusiasm. It seems almost hard to think how much he lost by dying before electricity, photography, the Atlantic cable, the telephone. X-rays, and all the other modern marvels had been discovered and invented; but perhaps in that other life he pities us, that in our ignorance we should pity him.
Such days stretched out into years with little of change, and such years into half a century of work. Time mellowed the life, smoothing the rougher edges, and ripening and perfecting the Christian scholar. We children grew from childhood to maturity, and one after another dropped out from the still, monastic life of Andover Hill into the great working world. Often, however, we carried back into the seclusion of our old home the interests of our new lives, to gladden the failing days of our father. In him we always found the same enthusiasm for the new, and the same hopeful plans for fresh work yet to be accomplished. But the scholar's task was not to be finished here. In the howling of a fierce winter storm he listened to the summons, " Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
[1a] " Pages from an Old Volume of Life," p. 149. Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1891.
[1b] " Semi-Centennial Celebration," p. 158. Andover, 1859.
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