Fanny Fern Hints To Young Wives Analysis Essay

Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio, series one (Auburn: Derby & Miller, 1853)

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and
fifty-three, by
In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the Northern District of New-York.


This Book

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I never had the slightest intention of writing a book. Had such a thought entered my mind, I should not long have entertained it. It would have seemed presumptuous. What! I, Fanny Fern, write a book? I never could have believed it possible.

How, then, came the book to be written? some one may ask. Well, that’s just what puzzles me. I can only answer in the dialect of the immortal “Topsy,” “I ’spect it growed!” And, such as it is, it must go forth; for “what is written, is written,” and—stereotyped.

So, dear readers (for I certainly number some warm, friendly hearts among you), here is my book, which I sincerely wish were worthier of your regard. But I can only offer you a few “Fern leaves,” gathered at random, in shady spots, where sunbeams seldom play, and which I little thought ever to press for your keeping.

Many of the articles submitted were written for

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and published in the Boston Olive Branch, Boston True Flag, and the New York Musical World and Times, while many are now here published for the first time.

Some of the articles are sad, some are gay; each is independent of all the others, and the work is consequently disconnected and fragmentary; but, if the reader will imagine me peeping over his shoulder, quite happy should he pay me the impromptu compliment of a smile or a tear, it is possible we may come to a good understanding by the time the book shall have been perused.


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“The Still Small Voice” … 11

Look on This Picture, and Then on That … 16

The Widow’s Trials … 17

My Little Sunbeam … 25

Self-Conquest … 26

“Our Hatty” … 33

Two in Heaven … 40

“Summer Days"; or, The Young Wife’s Affliction … 41

Comfort for the Widow … 47

Thorns for the Rose … 49

Thanksgiving Story … 59

Summer Friends; or, “Will is Might” … 61

“Nil Desperandum” … 67

Cecile Grey … 69

Childhood’s Trust … 74

Elise De Vaux … 75

The Wail of a Broken Heart … 81

Mary Lee … 83

A Talk About Babies … 89

Elsie’s First Trial … 91

A Night-Watch with a Dead Infant … 98

A Practical Blue-Stocking … 100

The Little Pauper … 105

Edith May; or, The Mistake of a Life-Time … 108

Mabel’s Soliloquy … 114

How Husbands May Rule … 116

Little Charley … 120

The Lost and the Living … 122

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On a Little Child, Who Had Crept Before a Looking-Glass that was Left Upon the Sidewalk … 126

Kitty’s Resolve … 128

Woman … 133

The Passionate Father … 135

The Partial Mother … 139

The Ball-Room and the Nursery … 141

All’s Well … 146

How Woman Loves … 149

A Mother’s Soliloquy … 157

The Invalid Wife … 159

The Stray Lamb … 163

Lena May; or, Darkness and Light … 166

Thoughts Born of a Caress … 173

A Chapter on Literary Women … 175

He Who Has Most of Heart … 180

Dark Days … 182

Night … 186

Children’s Rights … 188

Sorrow’s Teachings … 192

“An Infidel Mother” … 194

Little Charlie, the Child-Angel … 197

The Cross and the Crown … 202

Lilla, the Orphan … 204

Observing the Sabbath … 210

The Prophet’s Chamber … 214

Lilies of the Valley … 219

Grandfather Glen … 221

The Widow’s Prayer … 227

The Step-Mother … 230

A Word to Mothers … 234

The Test of Love … 236

Child-Life … 240

“The Old House” … 243

“Seeing the Folly of It” … 246

The Transplanted Lily … 250

No Fiction … 257

Incident at Mount Auburn … 260

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A Sunday Morning Soliloquy … 263

Little Allie … 265

The Flirt; or, The Unfaithful Lover … 271

Fern Glen … 277

Minnie … 282

Sweet-Briar Farm … 284

“The Angel-Child” … 290

Not a “Model Minister” … 293

“Merry Christmas!—Happy Christmas!” … 295

Leta … 298

The Model Step-Mother … 301

A Page from a Woman’s Heart; or, Female Heroism … 303

Little May … 311


Nicodemus Ney. A Dash at a Character Whom Everybody has Seen … 315

Advice to Ladies … 317

The Model Widow … 320

The Model Widower … 322

The Tear of a Wife … 324

Editors … 326

Bachelor Housekeeping … 329

Borrowed Light … 331

Mistaken Philanthropy … 333

The Model Minister … 335

The Weaker Vessel … 337

A Tempest in a Thimble … 339

The Quiet Mr. Smith … 341

Prudence Prim … 343

Men’s Dickeys Never Fit Exactly … 345

A Little Bunker Hill … 346

Soliloquy of Rev. Mr. Parish … 348

Tim Treadwell … 350

Important for Married Men … 352

Mr. Clapp’s Soliloquy … 354

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What Mrs. Smith Said … 355

Everybody’s Vacation Except Editors’ … 357

Old Jeremiah; or, Sunny Days … 359

“I Can’t” … 362

A Chapter on Clergymen … 364

Uncle Jabe … 367

An Interesting Husband … 369

The Model Lady … 372

Indulgent Husbands … 373

A Fern Soliloquy … 375

Aunt Hetty on Matrimony … 377

Was n’t You Caught Napping? … 380

A Lady on Money Matters … 382

Mrs. Croaker … 384

To the Empress Eugenia … 386

Empress Eugenia’s Maids of Honor … 389

Fast Day … 391

The Bore of the Sanctum … 392

Owls Kill Humming-Birds … 397

“The Best of Men Have Their Failings” … 399

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Poor, tired little Frank! He had gazed at that stereotyped street panorama, till his eyelids were drooping with weariness. Omnibuses, carts, cabs, wheelbarrows, men, women, horses, and children; the same old story. There is a little beggar-boy driving hoop. Franky never drives hoop;—no, he is dressed too nicely for that. Once in a while he takes the air; but Peter the serving-man, or Bridget the nurse, holds his hand very tightly, lest he should soil his embroidered frock. Now little Frank changes from one foot to the other, and then he creeps up to his young mamma, who lies half-buried in those satin cushions, reading the last new novel, and lays his hand on her soft curls; but she shakes him off with an impatient “Don’t Franky;” and he creeps back again to the window.

There winds a funeral slowly past. How sad the mourners look, clad in sable, with their handkerchiefs to their eyes! It is a child’s funeral, too; for there is no hearse, and the black pall floats from the first carriage window, like a signal of distress. A sudden thought strikes Franky,—the tears spring to his eyes, and

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creeping again to his mother’s side, he says, “Mamma, must I die, too?”

The young mother says, abstractedly, without raising her blue eyes from the novel she is reading, “What did you say, Frank?”

“Mamma, must I die, too?”

“Yes—no! What an odd question! Pull the bell, Charley. Here, Peter, take Frank up stairs to the nursery, and coax Bruno along to play tricks for him;” and Frank’s mamma settles herself down again upon her luxurious cushions.

The room is very quiet, now that Franky is banished; nobody is in it but herself and the canary. Her position is quite easy; her favorite book between her fingers,—why not yield herself again to the author’s witching spell? Why do the words, “Must I die, too,” stare at her from every page? They were but a child’s words. She is childish to heed them; and she rises, lays aside the book, and sweeps her white hand across her harp-strings, while her rich voice floats musically upon the air. One stanza only she sings, then her hands fall by her side; for still that little, plaintive voice keeps ringing in her ear, “Must I die, too, mamma?”

Death!—why, it is a thing she has never thought of;—and she walks up to the long mirror. Death for her, with that beaming eye, and scarlet lip, and rosy cheek, and sunny tress, and rounded limb, and springing step?

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Death for her, with broad lands, and full coffers, and the world of fashion at her feet? Death for her, with the love of that princely husband, who covets even the kiss of the breeze as it fans her white brow? Darkness, decay—oblivion? (No, not oblivion! There is a future, but she has never looked into it.)


“Well, which is it, my pet, the opera, the concert, or Madame B.’s soirée? I am yours to command.”

“Neither, I believe, Walter. I am out of tune to-night; or, as Madame B. would say, ‘Vaporish;’ so I shall inflict myself on nobody. But—”

“O, I beg your pardon, Mrs. Rose; I am fond of a merry face, too. Smile, now, or I’m off to the club, or the billiard room; or, as husbands say when they are ‘hard up’ for an excuse, I have ‘a business engagement.’ What! a tear? What grief can you have, little Rose?”

“You know, Walter, what a strange child our Frank is. Well, he asked me such an odd, old-fashioned question to-day, ‘Must I die, too mamma?’ in that little flute-like voice of his, and it set me thinking, that’s all. I can’t rid myself of it; and, dear Walter,” said she, laying her tearful cheek upon his shoulder, “I don’t know that I ought to try.”

“O, nonsense, Rose!” said the gay husband, “don’t

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turn Methodist, if you love me. Aunt Charity has religion enough for the whole nation. You can’t ask her which way the wind is, but you have a description of ‘Canaan.’ Religion is well enough for priests; it is their stock in trade;—well enough for children and old people;—well enough for ancient virgins, who like vestry meetings to pass away a long evening; but for you, Rose, the very queen of love and beauty, in the first flush of youth and health—pshaw! Call Camille to arrange your hair, and let’s to the opera. Time enough, my pet, to think of religion, when you see your first gray hair.”

Say you so, man of the sinewy limb and flashing eye? See!—up Calvary’s rugged steep a slender form bends wearily beneath its heavy cross! That sinless side, those hands, those feet are pierced—for you. Tortured, athirst, faint, agonized,—the dark cloud hiding the Father’s face,—that mournful wail rings out on the still air, “My God! my God! why has thou forsaken me?”

The dregs of life, our offering for all this priceless love, O sinless Son of God! The palsied hand, and clouded brain, and stammering tongue, and leaden foot of age, thy trophies? God forbid! And yet, alas! amid dance, and song, and revel, that “still small voice” was hushed. The winged hours, mis-spent and wasted, flew quickly past. No tear of repentance fell; no sup-

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pliant knee was bent; no household altar flame sent up its grateful incense.


“Must I die, too?”

Sweet child!—but as the sun dies; but as the stars fade out; but as the flowers die, for a resurrection morn! Close the searching eye beneath the prisoning lid; cross the busy hands over the pulseless heart. Life—life eternal! for thee, thou young immortal!

Joy to thee, young mother! From that little grave, so tear-bedewed, the flour of repentance springs, at last. No tares shall choke it; no blight or mildew blast it! God’s smile shall be its sunshine, and heaven thy reward.


Dear reader; so the good Shepherd hides the little lamb in his arms, that she who gave it life may hear its voice and follow.

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“Father is coming!” and little, round faces grow long, and merry voices are hushed, and toys are hustled into the closet; and mamma glances nervously at the door; and baby is bribed with a lump of sugar to keep the peace; and father’s business face relaxes not a muscle; and the little group huddle like timid sheep in a corner, and tea is dispatched as silently as if speaking were prohibited by the statute book; and the children creep like culprits to bed, marvelling that baby dare crow so loud, now that “Father has come.”


“Father is coming!” and bright eyes sparkle for joy, and tiny feet dance with glee, and eager faces press against the window-pane; and a bevy of rosy lips claim kisses at the door; and picture-books lie unrebuked on the table; and tops, and balls, and dolls, and kites are discussed; and little Susy lays her soft cheek against the paternal whiskers with the most fearless “abandon;” and Charley gets a love-pat for his “medal;” and mamma’s face grows radiant; and the evening paper is read,—not silently, but aloud,—and tea, and toast, and time vanish with equal celerity, for jubilee has arrived, and “Father has come!”

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The funeral was over, and Janie Grey came back to her desolate home. There were the useless drugs, the tempting fruits and flowers, which came all too late for the sinking sufferer. Wherever her eye fell, there was some sad reminiscence to torture her. They, whose life had been all sunshine, came in from cheerful homes, whose threshold death’s shadow had never darkened, to offer consolation. All the usual phrases of stereotyped condolence had fallen upon her ear; and now they had all gone, and the world would move on just the same that there was one more broken heart in it. She must bear her weary weight of woe alone. She knew that her star had set. Earth, sea and sky had no beauty now, since the eye that worshipped them with her was closed and rayless.


“Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth,” said Uncle John, joining the tips of the fingers of either hand, and settling himself in a vestry attitude, to say his lesson. “Afflictions come not out of the ground. Man is cut

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down like a flower. God is the God of the widow and the fatherless. I suppose you find it so?” said he, looking into the widow’s face.

“I can scarcely tell,” said Janie. “This was a lightning flash from a summer cloud. My eyes are blinded; I cannot see the bow of promise.”

“Wrong; all wrong,” said Uncle John. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. You ought to be resigned. I’m afraid you don’t enjoy religion. Afflictions are mercies in disguise. I’ll lend you this volume of ‘Dew-Drops’ to read. You must get submissive, somehow, or you will have some other trouble sent upon you. Good morning.”

Uncle John was a rigid sectarian, of the bluest school of divinity; enjoyed an immense reputation for sanctity, than which nothing was dearer to him, save the contents of his pocket-book. It was his glory to be the Alpha and Omega of parish gatherings and committees; to be consulted on the expediency of sending tracts to the Kangaroo Islands; to be present at the laying of corner-stones of embryo churches; to shine conspicuously at ordinations, donation visits, Sabbath-school celebrations, colporteur meetings,—in short, anything that smacked of a church-steeple, or added one inch to the length and breadth of his pharisaical skirt. He pitied the poor, as every good Christian should; but he never allowed them to put their hands in his pocket;—that was a territory

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over which the church had no control,—it belonged entirely to the other side of the fence.

Uncle John sat in his counting-room, looking very satisfactorily at the proof-sheets of “The Morning Star,” of which he was editor. He had just glanced over his long list of subscribers, and congratulated himself that matters were in such a prosperous condition. Then he took out a large roll of bank bills, and fingered them most affectionately; then he frowned ominously at a poor beggar child, who peeped in at the door; smoothed his chin, and settled himself comfortably in his rocking-chair.

A rap at the door of the counting-room. “May I come in, uncle?” and Janie’s long, black veil was thrown back from her sad face.

“Y-e-s,” said Uncle John, rather frigidly. “Pretty busy,—’spose you won’t stay long?” and he pushed his porte-monnaie further down in his pocket.

“I came to ask,” said Janie, timidly, “if you would employ me to write for your paper. Matters are more desperate with me than I thought, and there is a necessity for my doing something immediately. I believe I have talents that I might turn to account as a writer. I have literally nothing, Uncle John, to depend upon.”

“Your husband was an extravagant man;—lived too fast,—that’s the trouble,—lived too fast. Ought to have been economical as I was, when I was a young man. Can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Can’t expect me to

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make up for other people’s deficiencies. You must take care of yourself.”

“Certainly, that’s just what I wish to do,” said Janie, struggling to restrain her tears. “I—I—” but she only finished the sentence with sobs; the contrast between the sunny past and the gloomy present was too strong for her troubled heart.

Now, if there was anything Uncle John mortally hated, it was to see a woman cry. In all such cases he irritated the victim till she took a speedy and frenzied leave. So he remarked again that “Mr. May was extravagant, else there were have been something left. He was sorry he was dead; but that was a thing he was n’t to blame for,—and he did n’t know any reason why he should be bothered about it. The world was full of widows;—they all went to work, he supposed, and took care of themselves.”

“If you will tell me whether you can employ me to write for you,” said the widow, “I will not trouble you longer.”

“I have plenty who will write for nothing,” said the old man. “Market is overstocked with that sort of thing. Can’t afford to pay contributors, specially new beginners. Don’t think you have any talent that way, either. Better take in sewing, or something,” said he, taking out his watch, by way of a reminder that she had better be going.

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The young widow could scarcely see her way out through her fast-falling tears. It was her first bitter lesson in the world’s selfishness. She, whose tender feet had been so love-guided, to walk life’s thorny path alone; she, for whom no gift was rich, or rare, or costly enough; she, who had leaned so trustingly on the dear arm now so powerless to shield her; she, to whom love was life, breath, being, to meet only careless glances,—nay, more, harsh and taunting words. O, where should that stricken heart find rest, this side heaven?

Yet she might not yield to despair; there was a little, innocent, helpless one, for whom she must live on, and toil, and struggle. Was the world all darkness? Bent every knee at Mammon’s shrine? Beat every human heart only for its own joys and sorrows?

Days and months rolled on. Uncle John said his prayers, and went to church, and counted over his dear bank bills; and the widow sat up till the stars grew pale, and bent wearily over long pages of manuscript; and little Rudolph lay with his rosy cheek nestled to the pillow, crushing his bright ringlets, all unconscious of the weary vigil the young mother was keeping. And now it was New-Year’s night; and, as she laid aside her pen, memory called her back to rich, sunny days,—to a luxurious home. Again she was leaning on that broad, true breast. Troops of friends were about them. O, where were they now? Then she looked upon her small, plainly

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furnished room, so unattractive to the eye of taste and refinement;— then it fell upon her child, too young to remember that father, whose last act was to kiss his baby brow.

Still the child slumbered on,—his red lips parted with a smile,—and, for the first time, she noted the little stocking, yet warm from the dimpled foot, hung close by the pillow, with childhood’s beautiful trust in angel hands to fill it; and, covering her face with her hands, she wept aloud, that this simple luxury must be denied a mother’s heart. Then, extinguishing her small lamp, she laid her tearful cheek against the rosy little sleeper, with that instinctive yearning for sympathy, which only the wretched know. In slumber there is, at least, forgetfulness. Kind angels whisper hope in dreams.

The golden light of New-Year’s morning streamed through the partially opened shutters upon the curly head that already nestled uneasily on its pillow. The blue eyes opened slowly, like violets kissed by the sun, and the little hand was outstretched to grasp the empty stocking. His lip quivered, and tears of disappointment forced themselves through his tiny fingers; while his mother rose, sad and unrefreshed, to meet another day of toil. And Uncle John, oblivious of everything that might collapse his purse, sat comfortably in this rocking-chair, “too busy” to call on his niece. Treading, not in his Lord’s footsteps, where sorrow, and

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misery, and want, made foot-tracks, but where the well-warmed, well-clad, and well-filled, sat at Dives’ table.

Time flew on. A brighter day dawned for Janie. She had triumphed over disappointments and discouragements before which stouter hearts than hers had quailed. Comfort and independence were again hers,— earned by her own untiring hand. Uncle John was not afraid of her now. He turned no more short corners to avoid her. She needed no assistance. Uncle John liked to notice that sort of people. He grew amiable, even facetious; and, one day, in his uproariousness, actually sent a three-cent-piece to his nephew, whom he had not inquired for for three long years.

Janie’s praises reached him from every quarter; and he took a great deal of pains to let people know that this new literary light was his niece. Had he known she would have turned out such a star, he would have employed her. Now she was swelling other editors’ subscription lists, instead of his. That was a feature of the case he was fully prepared to understand!

“No talent that way!” said Janie to herself, as she saw him, at last, very coolly transfer, with his editorial hand, her articles to “The Morning Star,” without credit, without remuneration to herself. Sanctimonious, avaricious Uncle John! Did you count the weary vigils they cost the writer? Did you count the tears which blistered their pages? Did you dream of the torturing

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process by which the bird was blinded, ere it could be learned to sing so sweetly? Knew you that those gushing notes reached you, through prison bars, from a weary captive’s throat? No, no, Uncle John! how should you? For where your heart should have been, there was a decided vacuum.

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Never saw my little sunbeam? Well, she was a little creature who passed my window each day, on her way to school, and who made my acquaintance, child fashion, with a smile. Perhaps none but myself would have called her pretty; but her eyes were full of love, and her voice of music. Every day she laid a little bunch of violets on my window. You might have thought it a trifling gift, but it was much to me; for, after my little sunbeam had vanished, I closed my eyes, and the fragrance of those tiny flowers carried me back, O, whither?

They told of a fragrant, shadowy wood; of a rippling brook; of a bird’s song; of whispered leaf-music; of a mossy seat; of dark, soul-lit eyes; of a voice sweet, and low, and thrilling; of a vow that was never broken till death chilled the lips that made it. God shield my little Sunbeam! May she find more roses than thorns in her earthly pathway.

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“Well, Bridget, what do you think of the bride?”

“O, she’s a pretty young thing; but if she had known as much as you and I do of her husband’s mother, she never would have come to live with her. She’s a regular old hyena, and if she don’t bring the tears into those blue eyes before the honeymoon is over, my name is n’t Bridget. Why, she’s the most owdacious old thing! She overhauled all her wardrobe yesterday, before she could get here; and, as I passed through the entry, I heard her muttering to herself, ‘Silk stockings, humph!—ruffled under-clothes! Wonder if she thinks I’ll have them ironed here? Embroidered night-caps, silk dresses! Destruction and ruin!”

“I’ll tell you what, Bridget, there never was a house built yet, that was big enough for two families to live in; and you’ll find out that this won’t be, I reckon.”


“What! tears, Emma?—tears!” said the young husband, as he returned from his counting-room one day, about a month after their marriage; and, with a look of

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anxiety, he drew her closer to his breast. “Tell me, you do not so soon repent your choice?” The little, rosy mouth was held up temptingly for a kiss; and in those blue eyes he read the answer his heart was seeking.

“What, then, is your pet canary sick? Can’t you dress your hair to suit you? Or are you in despair because you can’t decide in which of all your dresses you look prettiest?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Harry!” said Emma, laughing and crying together. “I feel nervous, that’s all. I’m so glad you’ve come home.”

Harry felt sure that was not all; but he forbore to question her, for he felt very sure she would tell him all in good time.

The truth was, Harry’s mother had been lecturing her daughter-in-law, all the morning, upon the degeneracy of the times;—hoped she would not think of putting on all the fine things her friends had been so foolish as to rig her out in!—times were not now as they used to be!—that if Harry gave her pocket-money, she had better give it to her to keep, and not be spending it for nonsense;—that a young wife’s place was in her husband’s house;—and she hoped she would leave off that babyish trick, of running home every day to see her mother and sisters.

Emma listened in silent amazement. She was a warm-hearted, affectionate girl, but she was very high-spirited. The color came and went rapidly in her cheek; but she

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forced back the tears that were starting to her eyes, for she had too much pride to allow her to see them fall.

After old Mrs. Hall retired, she sat for a moment or two, recalling her words. “ ‘Babyish,’ to love my own dear home, where I was as merry as a cricket from morning till night; where we all sang, and played, and read, in mother’s dear old room, and father and mother the happiest of us all—‘babyish!’ I won’t be dictated to!” said the young wife. “I’m married if I am only nineteen, and my own mistress;” and the rebellious tones would come in spite of her determination. But then she thought of Harry,—dear Harry,—whom she had already learned to love so well. Her first impulse was, to tell him. But she had a great deal of good sense, if she was young; and she said to herself, “No, that won’t do;—then he’ll have to take sides with one or the other, and either way it will make trouble. It may wean his love from me, too. No, no, I’ll try to get along without; but I wish I had known more about her, before I came here to live.”

And so she smiled and chatted gayly with Harry, and hoped he had set it down to the account of “nervousness.” Still the hours passed slowly, when he was absent at his business; and she felt uneasy every time she heard a step on the stairs, lest the old lady should subject her to some new trial.

“I wonder what has come over our Emma?” said one

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of her sisters; “she has grown so grave and matronly. I half-hated Harry when he carried her off, and I quite hate him now, for she’s so sedate and moping. I desire to keep my neck out of the matrimonial noose.”

Shortly after this, Emma’s mother sent her some little delicacy, manufactured by herself, of which she knew her daughter to be particularly fond. Mrs. Hall brought it into her room, and set it down on the table as if she were testing the strength of the dish, and said, “I wonder if your mother is afraid you’ll not have enough to eat here. One would think you were a child at a boarding-school.”

Emma controlled herself by a strong effort, and made her no reply, simply taking the gift from her hands, with a nod of acknowledgment. Every day brought her some such petty annoyance; and her father-in-law, who was old and childish, being quite as troublesome as his wife in these respects, it required all Emma’s love for Harry to carry her through.

She still adhered to her determination, however, to conceal her trouble from her husband; and though he noticed she was less vivacious, perhaps he thought the mantle of matronly dignity so becoming to his young wife, that he felt no disposition to find fault with it. In the mean time, old Mrs. Hall being confined to her room with a violent influenza, the reins of government were very unwillingly resigned into Emma’s hands. What endless charges she received about the dusting and sweeping, and

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cooking, ending always with this soliloquy, as the door closed upon Emma’s retreating form, “I am a goose to tell her anything about it. She’s as ignorant as a Hottentot,—it will all go in one ear, and out the other.” And the old lady groaned in spirit, as the vision of the nose of the tea-kettle pointing the wrong way, or the sauce-pan hung on the wrong nail, flitted through her mind. Emma exerted herself to the utmost to please her; but the gruel was always “not quite right,” the pillows not arranged easily behind her back, or she expected to find “Bedlam let loose” when she got downstairs, and various other encouraging prognostications of the same character.

“Emma,” said Harry, “how should you like living five miles out of the city? I have seen a place that just suits my fancy, and I think of hiring it on trial.”

Emma hesitated. She wished to ask, “Does your mother go with us?” but she only said, “I could not tell, dear Harry, how I should like the place, till I saw it; but I should fear it would take you too much from me. It would seem so odd to have five miles’ distance between us for the whole day. O, I’m very sure I should n’t like it, Harry!” and the thought of her mother-in-law clouded her sunny face, and, in spite of herself a tear dropped on her husband’s hand.

“Well, dear Emma, now I’m very sure you will like it,”—and his large, dark eyes had a look she did not

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quite understand, even with all her skill and practice in reading them,—“and so I’m going to drive you out there this very afternoon, and we’ll see,” said he, gayly kissing her forehead.

“O, what a little Paradise, Harry! Look at that cluster of prairie roses! What splendid old trees! See how the wind sweeps the drooping branches across the tall grass! And that little, low window, latticed over with sweet briar; and that pretty terraced flower-garden,—O, Harry!”

“Well, let us go inside, Emma;” and, applying a key he held in his hand, the door yielded to his touch, and they stood side by side in a little rustic parlor, furnished simply, yet so tastefully. Tables, stands, and mantel, covered with vases, sending forth fragrance from the sweetest of wild-wood flowers; the long, white muslin curtains, looped away from a window, whence could be seen wooded hill, and fertile valley, and silvery stream. Then they ascended into the old chamber, which was quite as unexceptional in its appointments. Emma looked about in bewildered wonder.

“But who lives here now, Harry?”


“Nobody? What a tease you are! To whom does all this furniture belong,—and who arranged everything with such exquisite taste? I have been expecting every minute to see the mistress of the mansion step out.”

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“Well, there she is,” said Harry, leading her gayly up to the looking-glass. “I only hope you admire her hair as much as I do. Do you think I’ve been blind and deaf, because I’ve been dumb? Do you think I’ve not seen my high-spirited little wife, struggling with trial, day by day, suffering, enduring, gaining the victory over her own spirit, silently and uncomplainingly? Do you think I could see all this, and not think she was the dearest little wife in the world?” and tears and smiles struggled for mastery, as he pressed his lips to her forehead. “And now you will have nobody to please here, but me, Emma. Do you think the task will be difficult?”

The answer, though highly satisfactory to the husband, was not intended for you, dear reader; so please excuse Fanny Fern.



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She might have had twenty other names, but that was the only appellation I ever heard. It was, “Get out of the way, Hatty!”—“I dare say, Hatty broke that vase, or lost that book!”—“Don’t come here; what a fright you are, Hatty!” till the poor, sensitive child almost felt as if she had the mark of Cain upon her forehead. She had brothers and sisters, but they were bright, and saucy, and bold, cunning; and, when they wished to carry out a favorite scheme, could throw their arms about the parental neck, flatter some weak side, carry the day, and then laugh at their juvenile foresight; so their coffers were always filled, while poor Hatty’s was empty;—and she laid all these things up in her little grieved heart, and, as she saw duplicity better rewarded than sincerity, began to have little infidel doubts whether the Bible, that her father read so much out of, was really true; while Joseph’s “coat of many colors” flaunted ever before her tearful eyes! All her sweet, childish impulses were checked and crushed; and, where the sweet flowers of love and confidence should have sprung up, the weeds of distrust and suspicion took bitter root!

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She took no part in the conversation of the domestic circle. “She was stupid,” so they told her; and she had heard it till she believed it true. Sometimes, as was often the case, some talented person made part of the family circle; on such occasions, Hatty would listen in her corner till her great, wild eyes glowed and burned like living coals of fire. But there was one spot where none disputed Hatty’s right to reign,—a little lonely room at the top of the house, which she had fitted up in her own wild way, and where she was free from reproof or intrusion.

You should have seen her there,—with her little yearning heart half broken by neglect,—doubtful of her own powers, and weeping such passionate tears, that she was “so stupid, and ugly, and disagreeable,” that nobody could ever love her! And so she made friends with the holy stars, the fleecy clouds, and the brilliant rainbow, the silver moonbeam, and the swift lightning; and an artistic eye, seeing her soul-lit face at that small window, might have fancied her some Italian improvisatrice! There, the fetters fell off, the soul was free, and the countenance mirrored it forth. Back in the family circle, she was again “Our Hatty!”


“That young daughter of yours differs very much from the rest of the family, Mr. Lee,” said a maiden lady, who was visiting there.

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“Yes, yes!” said the old man, with a shrug. “She don’t look much like a Lee; in fact, she’s very plain. She’s a strange, unaccountable child,—likes her own company better than anybody’s else, and don’t care a rush-light for all the nick-nacks other girls are teasing for. Sometimes I think she belongs to another brood,—got changed in the cradle, or something.”

“How does she spend her time?” said Miss Tabetha.

“I’m sure I don’t know. Wife says she has a little den at the top of the house, where she sits star-gazing. Queer child, that Hatty!—plain as a pike-staff;” and Mr. Lee took up his newspaper, and put his feet on the mantel.

Miss Tabetha was confounded! She had an uncommonly warm heart, for an old maid. She had never been a parent;—she wished she had, just to show some people what a nice one she’d have made! She inwardly resolved to know more of “Our Hatty.”

Rap, tap, on the door of Hatty’s little den,—what on earth did it mean? She hoped they were not going to take that away from her; and, with a guilty, frightened look, she opened the door.

Miss Tabetha entered.

“Are you vexed with me for coming here, child? You don’t look glad to see me.”

“No, no!” said Hatty, pushing back a tangled mass

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of dark hair; “but it’s so odd you should want to come. Nobody ever wanted to see me before.”

“And why not, Hatty?”

“Well, I don’t know,” said she, with touching meekness and simplicity; “unless it’s because I’m ‘stupid, and ugly, and disagreeable.’ ”

“Who told you that, Hatty?”

“All of them down stairs,” said she; “and I don’t care about it, only—only,”—and the tears rolled down her cheeks,—“it is so dreadful to feel that nobody can ever love me!”

Miss Tabetha said, “Humph!”

“Hatty,” said she, “come here. Do you ever look in the glass?”

“Not since a long while,” said the young girl, shrinking back.

“Come here, and look in this little mirror. Do you see those large, dark, bright eyes of yours? Do you see that wealth of raven hair, which a skilful hand might render a beauty, instead of that tangled deformity? Do you see those lithe, supple limbs, which a little care and training might render graceful as the swaying willow? There is intellect in your brow; soul in your eyes; your voice has a thrilling heart-tone. Hatty, you are a gem in the rough!—you cannot be ‘ugly;’ but, listen to me. It is every woman’s duty to be lovely and attractive. You have underrated and neglected yourself, my poor

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child. Nature has been no niggard to you. I do not say this to make you vain, but to inspire you with a proper confidence in yourself. But—what have we here?” as a large portfolio fell at her feet.

“O, Miss Tabetha, please don’t! It’s only a little scribbling, just when I felt wretched!—please don’t!”

“Yes, but I shall, though. It’s just what I want to see most;” and she went on reading paper after paper, while Hatty stood like a culprit before her. When she had finished, she said, very slowly and deliberately:

“Hatty, come here! Did you know that you were a genius?”

“A what, Miss Tabetha?”

“A genius, you delicious little bit of simplicity,—a genius! You’ll know fast enough what it means; and to think I should have been the first to find it out!” and she caught the astonished child in her arms, and kissed her, till Hatty thought a genius must be the most delightful thing in the world, to bring so much love with it.

“Look here, Hatty,—does anybody know this?” holding up the manuscripts.

Hatty shook her head.

“So much the better. ‘Stupid, ugly and disagreeable!’ humph! Do you know I’m going to run off with you?” said the little old maid. “We shall see what we shall see, Miss Hatty!”


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Five years had rolled away. A new life had been opened to Hatty. She had grown into a tall, graceful woman. Her step was light as a fawn’s. Her face,—not beautiful, certainly, if tried by the rules of art,—and yet, who that watched its ever-varying expression, would stop to criticize? No one cared to analyze the charm. She produced the effect of beauty; she was magnetic; she was fascinating. Miss Tabetha was satisfied;—“she knew it would be just so.”

They had almost forgotten her at Lee house. Once in a while they wondered “if Miss Tabetha was n’t tired of her.” Miss Tabetha thought she would let them know! Unbounded was their amazement, when Miss Tabetha ushered “Our Hatty” in. It was unaccountable! She was really “almost pretty!” Still there was the same want of heart in their manner to her; and the little old maid could not have kept within bounds, had she not had powerful reasons of her own for keeping quiet awhile.

“By the way, Miss Tabetha,” said Mr. Lee, “as you are a blue-stocking, can you enlighten me as to the author of that charming little volume of poems, which has set all the literary world astir? It is n’t often I get upon stilts but I’d give something to see the woman who wrote it.”

Miss Tabetha’s time had come. Her eyes twinkled with malicious delight. She handed him a volume, saying, “Well, here is a book I was commissioned to give you by the authoress herself.”

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Mr. Lee rubbed his glasses, set them astride his nose, and read the following on the fly-leaf:

“To my dear father, James Lee; from his affectionate daughter, The Author.”

Mr. Lee sprang from his chair, and, seizing his child by both hands, ejaculated, “Hatty Lee! I’m proud of you!”

Tears gathered slowly in her large eyes, as she said, “O, not that! Dear father, fold me once to your heart, and say, ‘Hatty, I love you!’ ”

Her head sank upon his shoulder. The old man read his child’s heart at last; he saw it all,—all her childish unhappiness,—and, as he kissed her brow, and cheek, and lips, said, in a choking voice, “Forgive your old father, Hatty!”

Her hand was laid upon his lips, while smiles and tears chased over her face, like sunshine and shadow over an April sky.

O, what is Fame to a woman? Like the “apples of the Dead Sea,” fair to the sight, ashes to the touch! From the depths of her unsatisfied heart, cometh, ever a voice that will not be hushed,—Take it all back, only give me love!

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“You have two children,” said I.

“I have four,” was the reply; “two on earth, two in heaven.”

There spoke the mother! Still hers, only “gone before!” Still remembered, loved and cherished, by the hearth and at the board;— their places not yet filled; even though their successors draw life from the same faithful breast where their dying heads were pillowed.

“Two in heaven!”

Safely housed from storm and tempest. No sickness there, nor drooping head, nor fading eyes, nor weary feet. By the green pastures, tended by the good Shepherd, linger the little lambs of the heavenly fold.

“Two in heaven!”

Earth less attractive. Eternity nearer. Invisible cords, drawing the maternal soul upwards. “Still small” voices, ever whispering, Come! to the world-weary spirit.

“Two in heaven!”

Mother of angels! Walk softly!—holy eyes watch thy footsteps!—cherub forms bend to listen! Keep thy spirit free from taint; so shalt thou “go to them,” though “they may not return to thee!”

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A delightful summer we passed, to be sure, at the —— Hotel, in the quiet village of S——. A collection of prettier women, or more gentlemanly, agreeable men, were never thrown together by the necessity of seeking country quarters in the dog-days. Fashion, by common consent, was laid upon the shelf, and comfort and smiling faces were the natural result. Husbands took the cars in the morning for the city, rejoicing in linen coats and pants, and loose neck-ties; while their wives were equally independent till their return, in flowing muslin wrappers, not too dainty for the wear and tear of little climbing feet, fresh from the meadow or wild wood.

There were not separate “cliques” or “sets.” Nobody knew, or inquired, or cared, whether your great grand-father had his horse shod, or shod horses for other people. The ladies were not afraid of smutting their fingers, or their reputation, if they washed their children’s faces; and did not consider it necessary to fasten the door, and close the blinds, when they replaced a missing button on their husband’s waistband, or mended a ragged frock.

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Plenty of fruit, plenty of fresh, sweet air, plenty of children, and plenty of room for them to play in. A short nap in the afternoon, a little additional care in arranging tumbled ringlets, and in girdling a fresh robe round the waist, and they were all seated, in the cool of the evening, on the long piazza, smiling, happy, and expectant, as the car bell announced the return of their liege lords from the dusty, heated city. It was delightful to see their business faces brighten up, as each fair wife came forward, and relieved them from the little parcels and newspapers they carried in their hands, and smiled a welcome, sweet as the cool, fresh air that fanned their heated foreheads. A cool bath, a clean dickey, and they were presentable at the supper-table, where merry jokes flew round, and city news was discussed between the fragrant cups of tea, and each man fell in love with his pretty wife over again,—or his neighbor’s, if he liked!

It was one harmonious, happy family! Mrs. —— and her husband were the prime ministers of fun and frolic in the establishment. It was she who concocted all the games, and charades, and riddles, that sent our merry shouts ringing far and wide, as we sat in the evening on the long, moonlit piazza. It was she who planned the picnics and sails, and drives in the old hay-cart; the berry parties, and romps on the green; and the little cozy suppers in the back parlor, just before bedtime, that nobody but herself could have coaxed out of the

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fussy old landlord. It was she who salted our coffee and sugared our toast; it was she who made puns for us, and wrote verses; it was she who sewed up pockets in overcoats, or stole cigars, or dipped the ends in water; it was she who nursed all the sick children in the house; it was she who cut out frocks, and pinafores, and caps for unskilful mothers; it was she who was here, and there, and everywhere, the embodiment of mischief, and fun, and kindness; and as she flew past her handsome husband, with her finger on her lip, bent upon some new prank, he would look after her with a proud, happy smile, more eloquent than words.

He was the handsomest man I ever saw—tall, commanding and elegant, with dark blue eyes, a profusion of curling black hair, glittering white teeth, and a form like Apollo’s. Mary was so proud of him! She would always watch his eye when she meditated any little piece of roguery, and it was discontinued or perfected as she read its language. He was just the man to appreciate her,—to understand her sensitive, enthusiastic nature,—to know when to check, when to encourage; and it needed but a word, a look; for her whole soul went out to him.

And so the bright summer days sped fleetly on; and now autumn had come, with its gorgeous beauty, and no one had courage to speak of breaking up our happy circle; but ah, there came one, with stealthy steps, who had no such scruples!

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* * * * * *

The merry shout of the children is hushed in the wide halls; anxious faces are grouped on the piazza; for in a darkened room above lies Mary’s princely husband, delirious with fever! The smile has fled her lip, the rose her cheek; her eye is humid with tears that never fall; day and night, without sleep or food, she keeps untiring vigil; while,—unconscious of her presence,—in tones that pierce her heart, he calls unceasingly for “my wife!” She puts back the tangled masses of dark hair from his heated forehead; she passes her little hand coaxingly over it; she hears not the advice of the physician, “to procure a nurse.” She fears not to be alone with him when he is raving. She tells no one that on her delicate breast she bears the impress of an (almost) deadly blow from the hand that was never before raised but to bless her. And now the physician, who has come once, twice, thrice a day from the city, tells the anxious groups in the hall that his patient must die. No one dare break the news to the wretched Mary! There is little need! She has gazed in their faces, with a keen, agonized earnestness; she has asked no question, but she knows it all; and her heart is dying within her! No entreaty, no persuasion, can draw her from the bedside.

The old doctor, with tearful eyes, passes his arm round her trembling form, and says, “My child, you can not meet the next hour—leave him with me.”

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A mournful shake of the head is her only answer, as she takes her seat again by her husband, and presses her forehead low upon that clammy hand, praying God that she may die with him.

An hour of time—an eternity of agony—has passed! A fainting, unresisting form is borne from that chamber of death.

Beautiful, as a piece of rare sculpture, lies the husband!—no traces of pain on lip or brow; the long, heavy lashes lay upon the marble cheek; the raven locks, damp with the dew of death, clustered profusely round the noble forehead; those chiselled lips are gloriously beautiful in their repose! Tears fall like rain from kindly eyes; servants pass to and fro, respectfully, with measured tread; kind hands are busy with vain attempts to restore animation to the fainting wife. O, that bitter, bitter, waking!—for she does wake. God pity her!

Her hand is passed slowly across her forehead; she remembers—she is a widow! She looks about the room—there is his hat, his coat, his cane; and now, indeed, she throws herself, with a burst of passionate grief, into the arms of the old physician, who says, betwixt a tear and a smile, “Now, God be praised,—she weeps!”

And so, with the falling leaves of autumn, “the Great Reaper” gathered in our noble friend. Why should I dwell on the agony of the gentle wife; or tell of her return to her desolate home in the city; of the disposal of

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the rare pictures and statuary collected to grace its walls by the refined taste of its proprietor; of the necessary disposal of very article of luxury; of her removal to plain lodgings, where curious people speculated upon her history, and marked her moistened eyes; of the long, interminable, wretched days; of the wakeful nights, when she lay with her cheek pressed against the sweet, fatherless child of her love; of her untiring efforts to seek an honorable, independent support? It is but an everyday history, but—God knows—its crushing weight of agony is none the less keenly felt by the sufferer!

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A little fatherless boy, four years of age, sat upon the floor, surrounded by his toys. Catching sight of his mother’s face, as the tears fell thick and fast, he sprang to her side, and peeping curiously in her face, as he put his little hand in hers, said—“You’ve got me!” Simple, artless little comforter! Dry your tears, young mother. There is something left to live for; there are duties from which even your bleeding heart may not shrink! “A talent” you may not “bury;” a stewardship, of which your Lord must receive an account; a blank page to be filled by your hand with holy truth; a crystal vase to keep spotless and pure; a tender plant, to guard from blight and mildew; a dew-drop that must not exhale in the sun of worldliness; an angel, for whom a “white robe” must be made; a cherub, in whose hands a “golden harp” must be placed; a little “lamb,” to be led to the “Good Shepherd!”

“You’ve got me!” Ay! Cloud not his sunny face with unavailing sadness, lest he “catch the trick of grief,” and sigh amid his toys. Teach him not, by your vain repinings, that “our Father” pitieth not his children; teach

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him to love Him, as seen in the sky and sea, in rock and river; teach him to love Him in the cloud as in the sunshine! You will have your gloomy hours; there is a void even that little loving heart may not fill, but there is still another, and He said, “Me ye have always.”

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“It will be very ridiculous in you, Rose, to refuse to give up that child,” said a dark-looking man to the pretty widow Grey. “Think what a relief it will be, to have one of your children taken off your hands. It costs something to live now-a-days,”—and Uncle Ralph scowled portentously, and pushed his purse farther down in his coat-pocket,—“and you know you have another mouth to feed. They’ll educate her, clothe and feed her, and—”

“Yes,” said the impetuous, warm-hearted mother, rising quickly from her chair, and setting her little feet down in a very determined manner upon the floor, while a bright flush passed over her cheek,—“yes, Ralph, and teach her to forget and disrespect her mother!”

“Pshaw, Rose, how absurd! She’ll outgrow all that when she gets to be a woman, even if they succeed now. Would you stand in your own child’s light? She will be an heiress, if you act like a sensible woman; and, if you persist in refusing, you may live to see the day when she will reproach you for it.”

This last argument carried some weight with it; and Mrs. Selden sat down dejectedly, and folded her little

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hands in her lap. She had not thought of that. She might be taken away, and little Kathleen forced to toil for daily bread.

Uncle Ralph saw the advantage he had gained, and determined to pursue it,—for he had a great horror of being obliged eventually to provide for them himself.

“Come, Rose, don’t sit there looking so solemn; put it down, now, in black and white, and send off the letter, before one of your soft, womanish fits comes on again,”—and he pushed a sheet of paper toward her, with pen and ink.

Just then the door burst open, and little Kathleen came bounding in from her play, bright with the loveliness of youth and health, and springing into her mother’s lap, and clasping her neck, frowned from beneath her curls at Uncle Ralph, whom she suspected somehow or other to be connected with the tear-drop that was trembling on her mother’s long eye-lashes.

“I can’t do it, Ralph,” said the young widow, clasping her child to her breast, and raining tears and smiles enough upon her to make a mental rainbow.

“You are a fool!” said the vexed man, “and you’ll live to hear somebody there tell you so, I’m thinking;” and he slammed the door in a very suggestive manner, as he passed out.

Poor Mrs. Selden! Stunned by the sudden death of a husband who was all to her that her warm heart craved,

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she clung the more closely to his children. No woman ever knew better than Rose Selden the undying love of a mother. The offer that had been made her for Kathleen was from distant relatives of her husband—of whom she knew little, except that Mr. and Mrs. Clair were wealthy and childless, and had found a great deal of fault with her husband’s choice of a wife. They had once made her a short visit, and, somehow or other, all the time they were there,—and it seemed a little eternity to her for that very reason,—she never dared to creep to her husband’s side, or slide her little hand in his, or pass it caressingly over his broad white forehead, or run into the hall for a parting kiss, or do anything, in short, save to sit up straight, two leagues off, and be proper!

Now you may be sure this was all very excruciating to little Mrs. Rose, who was verdant enough to think that husbands were intended to love, and who owned a heart quite as large as a little woman could conveniently carry about. She saw nothing on earth so beautiful as those great dark eyes of his,—especially when they were bent on her,—nor heard any music to compare with that deep, rich voice; and though she had been married many happy years, her heart leaped at the sound of his footstep as it did the first day he called her “wife.”

Cared “the Great Reaper” for that? Stayed he for the clasped hands of entreaty, or the scalding tear of agony? Recked he that not one silver thread mingled

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in the dark locks of the strong man? No! by the desolation of that widowed heart, no! he laid his icy finger on those lips of love, and chilled that warm, brave heart, and then turned coldly away to seek another victim. And Rose pressed his children to her heart, with a deeper love,—a love born of sorrow,—and said, we will not part. She knew that fingers that never toiled before, must toil unceasingly now. She knew, when her heart was sad, there was no broad breast to lean upon. She had already seen days that seemed to have no end, dragging their slow, weary length along. She dared not go to a drawer, or trunk, or escritoire, lest some memento of him should meet her eye. She struggled bravely through the day to keep back the tears, for her children’s sake; but night came, when those little, restless limbs needed a respite,—even from play,—when the little prattling voices were hushed, and the bright eye prisoned beneath its snowy lid; then, indeed, the long pent-up grief, held in check through the day by a mother’s unselfish love, burst forth; till, exhausted with tearful vigils, she would creep, at the gray dawn, between the rosy little sleepers, and, nestling close to their blooming faces, dream—God knows how mockingly—of happy hours that would never come again.

And O! the slow torture of each morning waking; the indistinct recollection of something dreadful; the hand drawn slowly across the aching brow; the struggle to

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remember! Then,—the opening eye, the unfamiliar objects, the strange, new, small room; nothing home-like but those sleeping orphans.

God help the widow!


And now, as if her cup of bitterness were not full little Kathleen must leave her. Must it be? She paced the room that night after Uncle Ralph had left her, and thought of his words, “She may live to tell you so.” Then she went to the bed-side, and parted the clustering hair from Kathleen’s forehead, and marked with a mother’s pride the sweet, careless grace of those dimpled limbs, and noted each shining curl. There were the father’s long lashes, his brow, his straight, classic profile. O, what would he tell her? And, then, old memories came back with a rushing tide that swept all before it! Poor Rose!

Kathleen stirs uneasily, and calls “Mamma,” and smiles in her sleep. O, how could she part with that little, loving heart? Countless were the caresses she received from her every hour. Watchful and sensitive, she noted every shade of sorrow on her mother’s face; and, by a thousand mute remonstrances, testified her unspoken sympathy. That little, impulsive heart would be cased in an armor of frigidity at Clairville. She might be sad, or sick, or dying, and Rose shuddered and

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sat still nearer to her child. What companionship would she have? what moral influence exerted? Might she not even be weaned from the heart she had lain beneath?

Ah, Uncle Ralph! you little knew, as you sat in your office the next morning, and folded a little slip of paper back in its envelope, upon which was written these simple words, “Kathleen shall go,”— you little knew at what cost! You marked not the blistered paper and the unsteady pen-marks, as you smiled satisfactorily, and said, “Very concise and sensible, for a woman.”

Uncle Ralph did think of it again once, as he walked home to his dinner; but it was only to congratulate himself that if Rose should be unable to support herself,—which he doubted,—there would be one less for him to look after! As to a woman’s tears,—pshaw! they were always crying for something; if it was n’t for that, it would be something else.


We will pass over the distressful parting between mother and child. The little trunk was duly packed; the little clasp Bible down in one corner. A book-mark, with a lamb embroidered upon it, was slipped in at these words,—“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” Mother’s God would care for Kathleen; there was sweet comfort in that.

And so Rose choked back her tears, and unclasped

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again and again the little clinging arms from her neck, and bade her sunny-haired child “good-by!” and laughed hysterically, as the little hand waved another, and a last adieu. Even Uncle Ralph felt an uncomfortable sensation about his fifth button, gave his dickey a nervous twitch, and looked very steadily at the tops of the opposite houses!

* * * * * *

Two months had passed! Little Kathleen sat very quiet in that heated, close school-room. There was a dark shadow under her eyes, either from illness, or sorrow, and her face was very pale. Rose had written to her, but the letters were in the grave of Mrs. Clair’s pockets, never to be resurrectionized; so Kathleen was none the wiser or happier. Uncle Ralph made it a principle never to think of anything that impaired his digestion; so he dismissed all uneasy thoughts of, or care for, his niece, and made no inquiries; because he was firmly of the opinion, that “Where ignorance is bliss, ’t is folly to be wise.”

“You are uncommonly obtuse about your lesson this morning,” said Kathleen’s tutor; “you’ve told me twice that France was bounded south by the Gulf of Mexico. What are you thinking about?” said he, as he grasped her arm.

“Sir?” said little Kathleen, abstractedly.

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“I say, what ails you, to be so stupid this morning?” said the vexed pedagogue.

“My head aches badly,” said Kathleen; “and—and—”

“And what?” said Mr. Smith.

“And—I—want—to see—my—mother!” said the child, with a burst of tears.

“Fiddlestick!” said the amiable Mr. Smith; “if she cared much about you, I reckon she would have written to you before now. Mrs. Clair thinks she’s married again, or something of that sort; so don’t worry your head for nonsense. How’s France bounded, hey?”

The division lines on the atlas were quite concealed by Kathleen’s tears; so she was ordered into the presence of her grim relative, who coaxed and threatened in vain, and finally sent her to bed.

For two long, weary months the free, glad spirit of the child had been fettered and cramped at Clairville. No one spoke to her of home, or her mother; or, if they chanced to mention the latter, it was always in a slurring, sneering manner, more painful to the loving, sensitive child than their silence. But why did mamma not write?—that was the only wearing thought by day and night. And so Kathleen drooped, and lost color and spirits, and walked, like an automaton, up and down the stiff garden-walks, and “sat up straight,” and “turned out her toes,” as she was bid; and had a quick, frightened, nervous

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manner, as if she were constantly in fear of reproof or punishment.

“Bridget,” said Mrs. Clair, “how is Kathleen? got over her hysterics? I must break her of that.”

“Dear heart, no ma’am! She’s just fretting the soul out of her, for a sight of her mother; it’s nater, I s’pose,” said Bridget, polishing her face with her checked apron.

“Stuff, Bridget! The child’s just like her mother; and that’s saying enough! However, give her a little valerian, and sleep at the side of her bed to-night. I’ll look in, in the morning,” said the angular lady, as she smoothed out her dress and her wrinkles.

And so Bridget, obedient to orders, stretched her stout Irish limbs “at the side of the bed,” though she might as well have been in Ireland as there, for any response she made to that plaintive petition, through the long night, “O, do call my mamma! please call my mamma!”

And so night passed! and the golden morning light streamed in upon the waxen face of little Kathleen. No breath came from those parted lips; no ringlet stirred with life; the hands lay meekly beside her, and the last tear she should ever shed lay glittering like a gem upon her cheek!


“Ralph,” said Mrs. Seldon, “I shall start for Clairville tomorrow; I can stay away from Kathleen no longer.”

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“You’ll be mad if you do,” said Uncle Ralph; “the child’s well enough, or you would hear; you can’t expect them to be writing all the time. Your welcome will be a sorry one, I can tell you; so take my advice, and let well alone.”

Mrs. Seldon made no reply, but began to pack her trunk, and Uncle Ralph left the house.

In about an hour’s time he returned, and found Rose trying, in vain, to clasp the lid of her trunk.

“Do come here, Ralph,” said she, without looking up, “and settle this refractory lock. Dear little Kathleen! I’ve crammed so many traps in here for her. How glad she will be to see me!” and she turned and looked up, to see why Ralph did n’t answer.

Brow, cheek and lip were in an instant blanched to marble paleness. A mother’s quick eye had spared his tongue the sad tidings.

* * * * * *

If you visit the Lunatic Asylum at ——, you will see a very beautiful woman, her glossy ringlets slightly threaded with silver. Day after day, she paces up and down that long corridor, and says, in heart-rending tones, to every one she meets, “O, do call my mamma! won’t you please call my mamma!”

p. 59


“Mary!” said the younger of two little girls, as they nestled under a coarse coverlid, one cold night in December, “tell me about Thanksgiving-day before papa went to heaven. I’m cold and hungry, and I can’t go to sleep;—I want something nice to think about.”

“Hush!” said the elder child, “don’t let dear mamma hear you; come nearer to me;”—and they laid their cheeks together.

“I fancy papa was rich. We lived in a very nice house. I know there were pretty pictures on the wall; and there were nice velvet chairs, and the carpet was thick and soft, like the green moss-patches in the wood;—and we had pretty gold-fish on the side-table, and Tony, my black nurse, used to feed them. And papa!—you can’t remember papa, Letty,—he was tall and grand, like a prince, and when he smiled he made me think of angels. He brought me toys and sweetmeats, and carried me out to the stable, and set me on Romeo’s live back, and laughed because I was afraid! And I used to watch to see him come up the street, and then run to the door to jump in his arms;—he was a dear, kind papa,” said the child, in a faltering voice.

p. 60

“Don’t cry,” said the little one; “please tell me some more.”

“Well, Thanksgiving-day we were so happy; we sat around such a large table, with so many people,—aunts and uncles and cousins,—I can’t think why they never come to see us now, Letty,—and Betty made such sweet pies, and we had a big—big turkey; and papa would have me sit next to him, and gave me the wishbone, and all the plums out of his pudding; and after dinner he would take me in his lap, and tell me ‘Red Riding Hood,’ and call me ‘pet,’ and ‘bird,’ and ‘fairy.’ O, Letty, I can’t tell any more; I believe I’m going to cry.”

“I’m very cold,” said Letty. “Does papa know, up in heaven, that we are poor and hungry now?”

“Yes—no—I can’t tell,” answered Mary, wiping away her tears; unable to reconcile her ideas of heaven with such a thought. “Hush!—mamma will hear!”

Mamma had “heard.” The coarse garment, upon which she had toiled since sunrise, dropped from her hands, and tears were forcing themselves, thick and fast, through her closed eyelids. The simple recital found but too sad an echo in that widowed heart.

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“It is really very unfortunate, that forgery of Mr. Grant’s. I don’t see what will become of Emma. I presume she won’t think of holding up her head after it. I dare say she will expect to be on the same terms with her friends as before,—but the thing is—”

“Quite impossible!” said the gay Mrs. Blair, arranging her ringlets; “the man has dragged his family down with him, and there’s no help for it that I can see.”

“He has no family but Emma,” said her friend, “and I suppose some benevolent soul will look after her; at any rate, it don’t concern us;” and the two friends (?) tied on their hats for a promenade.

Emma Grant was, in truth, almost broken-hearted at this sad faux pas of her father’s; but, with the limited knowledge of human nature gleaned from the experience of a sunny life of eighteen happy years, she doubted not the willingness of old friends to assist her in her determination to become a teacher. To one after another of these summer friends she applied for patronage. Some “could n’t in conscience recommend the daughter of a

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defaulter;” some, less free-spoken, went on the non-committal system—“would think of it and let her know,”—taking very good care not to specify any particular time for this good purpose; others, who did n’t want their consciences troubled by the sight of her, advised her, very disinterestedly, to “go back in the country somewhere, and occupy the independent position of making herself generally useful in some farmer’s family;” others, still, dodged the question by humbly recommending her to apply to persons of greater influence than themselves; and, one and all “wished her well, and hoped she’d succeed,”—thought it very praiseworthy that she should try to do something for herself, but seemed nervously anxious that it should be out of their latitude and longitude; and so, day after day, foot-sore and weary, Emma reached home, with a discouraged heart, and a sad conviction of the selfishness and hollow-heartedness of human nature.

In one of these discouraged moods she recollected her old friend, Mr. Bliss. How strange she should not have thought of him before! She had often hospitably entertained him, as she presided at her father’s table; he stood very high in repute as a pious man, and very benevolently inclined; he surely would befriend with his influence the child of his old, though fallen, friend. With renewed courage she tied on her little bonnet, and set out in search of him. She was fortunate in finding him in; but, ah! where was the old frank smile, and extended

p. 63

hand of friendship? Mr. Bliss might have been carved out of wood for any demonstration of either that she could see. A very stiff bow, and a nervous twitch of his waistband, was her only recognition. With difficulty she choked down the rebellious feelings that sent the flush to her cheek and the indignant tears to her eyes, as she recollected the many evenings he had received a warm welcome to their hospitable fireside, and timidly explained the purpose of her visit. Mr. Bliss, employing himself during this interval in the apparent arrangement of some business papers, with an air that said, “If you were not a woman I should n’t hesitate to show you the door in a civil way; but as it is, though I may listen, that’s all it will amount to.” Like many other persons in a like dilemma, he quietly made up his mind that if he could succeed in irritating her sufficiently to rouse her spirit, he would in all probability be sooner rid of her; so he remarked that it was “a very bad affair, that of her father’s; there could be but one opinion about its disgraceful and dishonorable nature; that, of course, she was n’t to blame for it, but she could n’t expect to keep her old position now; and that, in short, under the circumstances, he did n’t feel as if it would be well for him to interfere in her behalf at present. He had no doubt in time she might ‘live down’ her father’s disgrace;” and so he very comfortably seated himself in his leather-backed armchair, and took up a book.

p. 64

A deep red spot burned on Emma Gray’s cheek, as she retraced her steps. Her lithe form was drawn up to its full height; there was a fire in her eye, and a firmness and rapidity in her step, that betokened a new energy. She would not be crushed by such selfish cowardice and pusillanimity; she would succeed,—and unaided, too, save by her own invincible determination. It must be that she should triumph yet.

“Will is might,” said Emma, as she bent all her powers to the accomplishment of her purpose; and when was that motto ever known to fail, when accompanied by a spirit undiscouraged by obstacles?

It did not. True, Emma rose early, and sat up late; she lived on a mere crust; she was a stranger to luxury, and many times to necessary comforts. Her pillow was often wet with tears from over-tasked spirits and failing strength; the malicious sneer of the ill-judging, and the croaking prophecy of the ill-natured, fell upon her sensitive ear; old friends, who had eat and drank at her table, “passed by on the other side;” and there were the usual number of good, cautious, timid souls, who stood on the fence, ready to jump down when her position was certain, and she had placed herself beyond the need of their assistance! Foremost in this rank was the correct and proper Mr. Bliss, who soiled no pharisaical garment of his, by juxtaposition with any known sinner, or doubtful person.

p. 65

At the expiration of a year, Emma’s school contained pupils from the first families in the city, with whose whole education she was entrusted, and who, making it their home with her, received, out of school hours, the watchful care of a mother. It became increasingly popular, and Emma was able to command her own price for her services.

“Why don’t you send your daughter to my friend, Miss Grant?” said Mr. Bliss to Senator Hall; “she is a little protege of mine—nice young woman!—came to me at the commencement of her school for my patronage;—the consequence is, she has gone up like a sky-rocket. They call it the ‘Model School.’ ”

Condescending Mr. Bliss! It was a pity to take the nonsense out of him; but you should have seen the crestfallen expression of his whole outer man, as the elegant widower he addressed turn on him a look of withering contempt, saying,—“The young woman of whom you speak, sir, will be my wife before the expiration of another week; and, in her name and mine, I thank you for the very liberal patronage and the many encouragement you extended to her youth and helplessness in the hour of need.”


It is needless to add how many times, in the course of the following week, the inhabitants of ——, who had

p. 66

found it convenient, entirely to forget the existence of Miss Emma Grant, were heard to interlard their conversation with “My friend, Mrs. Senator Hall.”

Alas! poor human nature!

p. 67


No, never! Every cloud has a silver lining; and He who wove it knows when to turn it out. So, after every night, however long or dark, there shall yet come a golden morning. Your noblest powers are never developed in prosperity. Any bark may glide in smooth water, with a favoring gale; but that is a brave, skilful oarsman who rows up stream, against the current, with adverse winds, and no cheering voice to wish him “God speed.” Keep your head above the wave; let neither sullen despair nor weak vacillation drag you under. Heed not the poisoned arrow of sneaking treachery that whizzes past you from the shore. Judas sold himself when he sold his Master; and for him there dawned no resurrection morning! ’Tis glorious to battle on with a brave heart, while cowering pusillanimity turns trembling back. Dream not of the word “surrender!” When one frail human reed after another breaks, or bends beneath you, lean on the “Rock of Ages.” The Great Architect passes you through the furnace but to purify. The fire may scorch, but it shall never consume you. He will yet label you “fine gold.” The narrow path may be thorny to your tender feet; but the “promised land”

p. 68

lies beyond! The clusters of Hope may be seen with the eye of faith; your hand shall yet grasp them; your eyes revel, from the mountain top, over the green pastures and still waters of peace. You shall yet unbuckle your dusty armor, while soft breezes shall fan your victor temples. Nil desperandum!

p. 69


“Alas for Love! if this be all,

And naught beyond; O earth!”

“ ’T is a girl, sir; my lady has a daughter.”

“Heaven be praised!” said the discontented father of six unruly boys. “Now I shall have something gentle to love. Small comfort to me, those boys; house topsy-turvy from morning till night, with their guns, fishing tackle, pointers, setters, hounds, spaniels and what not. Tom’s college bills perfectly ruinous—horses, oysters and cigars all lumped under the general head of et ceteras; I understand it all—or my purse does! But this little, gentle girl,—climbing upon my knee, making music and sunshine in the house, with her innocent face and silvery laugh,—this little, human blossom by life’s rough, thorny wayside, she’ll make amends. I’m not the happiest husband in the world; my heart shall find a resting-place here. She must be highly educated and accomplished. I shall spare no pains to effect that. Ah, I see, after all, I shall have a happy old age.”

Very lovely was the little Cecile. She had her mother’s soft hazel eye and waving auburn hair, and her

p. 70

father’s Grecian profile. There was a winning sweetness in her smile, and grace and poetry in every motion. It was a pretty sight, her golden tresses mingling with those silver locks, as she rested her bright head against the old man’s cheek. Even “the boys” could harbor no anger at her quiet reign. She wound herself quite as closely around their hearts. Then it was a new tie to bind the sundered husband and wife together. Something of the old, bygone tenderness crept unconsciously into their manner to each other. It was their idol; and they pressed her rapturously to the parental heart, forgetting she was but clay.

Tutors and governesses without limit went and came, before the important selection was made. Then, so many injunctions! She “must not study so much as to spoil her fine eyes;” she “must draw only a few minutes at a time, lest it should cause a stoop in her shoulders;” she “must not go out in the sun, for fear of injuring her complexion.” She was told, every hour in the day, of some rare perfection; now her attitude—then her eyes—then her shape; she “danced like a fairy”—“sang like a seraph”—in short, needed wings only, to make her an angel!

Every servant in the house knew that his or her fortune was made if Miss Cecile was pleased, and shaped their course accordingly. If “the boys” were doubtful of the success of a request, Cecile was employed secretly

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to negotiate. The reins of household government were in those little, fairy fingers.

No wonder the little Cecile thought herself omnipotent. No wonder she stood before her “Psyche,” arranging, with a maiden’s pride, those glossy ringlets. Small marvel that she saw with exultation those round, polished limbs, pearly teeth, and starry eyes, and tossed her bright curls in triumph, at the hearts that were already laid at her feet. Her mirror but silently repeated the voice of flattery that met her at every step. Cecile was beautiful! The temple was passing fair; but, ah! there rose from its altar no incense to Heaven. Those bright eyes opened and closed like the flowers, and like them drank in the dew and the sunlight, regardless of the Giver.

It was Cecile’s eighteenth birthday. The most expensive preparations had been made to celebrate it. She was to electrify the beau monde with her debut. A gossamer robe, fit for a Peri, silvery and light, floated soft as a fleecy cloud around those matchless limbs. Gems and jewels would have been out of place beside those starry eyes. Nature’s simplest offering, the drooping lily, blended with her tresses. The flush of youth and hope was on her cheek; her step was already on the threshold of that brilliant, untried world, which her beauty was to dazzle and conquer. Other sylph-like forms there were, and bright faces, that made sunlight in

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happy homes; but the peerless Cecile quenched their beams on that happy birth-night.

The proud father looked on exultingly. “Beautiful as a dream!” echoed from one end of the saloon to the other. His eye followed her, noted every glance of admiration, and then he said to himself, “The idol is mine.” Say you so, fond father? See, her head droops heavily,—her limbs relax,—she has fainted! They gather round her,—they bathe her pale face and powerless hands; then they bear her to her dressing-room, and she lies on that silken couch, like some rare piece of sculpture. The revellers disperse; the garlands droop; darkness and silence reign where merry feet tripped lightly. The physician sits by the bedside of his fair patient, and, with mistaken kindness, he says to the frantic parents, “She will be easier soon,—she will be free from pain tomorrow;” and then he leaves her with the anxious watchers.

Fanny Fern, born Sara Willis (July 9, 1811 – October 10, 1872), was an American newspaper columnist, humorist, novelist, and author of children's stories in the 1850s-1870s. Fern's great popularity has been attributed to her conversational style and sense of what mattered to her mostly middle-class female readers. By 1855, Fern was the highest-paid columnist in the United States, commanding $100 per week for her New York Ledger column.[1]

A collection of her columns published in 1853 sold 70,000 copies in its first year. Her best-known work, the fictional autobiography Ruth Hall (1854), has become a popular subject among feminist literary scholars.


Early life[edit]

Sara Payson Willis was born in Portland, Maine, to newspaper owner Nathaniel Willis and Hannah Parker; she was the fifth of nine children. Her older brother Nathaniel Parker Willis became a notable journalist and magazine owner.[2] Her younger brother Richard Storrs Willis became a musician and music journalist, known for writing the melody for "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear".[3] Her other siblings were Lucy Douglas (born 1804), Louisa Harris (1807), Julia Dean (1809), Mary Perry (1813), Edward Payson (1816), and Ellen Holmes Willis (1821).[4]

Inspired by Reverend Edward Payson of Portland's Second Congregational Church, her father intended to name his fifth child after the minister. When the child was born a girl, he intended to name her after Payson's mother, Grata Payson. The reverend urged the Willises to reconsider, noting that his mother had never liked the name.[4] In accordance with this request, the family called her Sara instead.

Willis's surname was to change often in her life, throughout three marriages and the adoption of her chosen pen name "Fanny Fern". She decided on the pen name because it reminded her of childhood memories of her mother picking ferns. Feeling that this chosen name was a better fit, she used it also in her personal life; eventually most of her friends and family called her "Fanny."[5]

Willis attended Catharine Beecher's boarding school in Hartford, Connecticut. Beecher later described her as one of her "worst-behaved girls" (adding that she also "loved her the best".) Here, the girl had her first taste of literary success when her compositions were published in the local newspaper.[6] She also attended the Saugus Female Seminary[2]. After returning home, Willis wrote and edited articles for her father's Christian newspapers, The Puritan Recorder[7] and The Youth's Companion.

First marriage and early career[edit]

In 1837, she married Charles Harrington Eldredge, a banker,[8] and they had three daughters: Mary Stace (1838), Grace Harrington (1841), and Ellen Willis (1844). Her mother and younger sister Ellen both died early in 1844; in 1845 her eldest daughter Mary died of brain fever (meningitis); soon afterward, her husband Charles succumbed to typhoid fever.[2]

Willis was left nearly destitute. With little help from either her father or her in-laws – and none from her brother N.P. Willis – she struggled to make ends meet for her surviving young daughters. Her father persuaded her to remarry.

Second marriage[edit]

In 1849 the young widow married Samuel P. Farrington, a merchant.[8] The marriage was a mistake. Farrington was so intensely jealous that in 1851 Willis left him, scandalizing her family,[7] and they divorced two years later.[8]

Willis published her first article, "The Governess", in November 1851 in the new Boston newspaper Olive Branch, followed by some short satirical pieces there and in True Flag; soon after she regularly began using the pen name "Fanny Fern" for all her articles.[7][9] In 1852, on her own with two daughters to support, she began writing in earnest. She sent samples of her work under her own name to her brother Nathaniel, by then a magazine owner, but he refused them and said her writing was not marketable outside Boston. He was proved wrong, as newspapers and periodicals in New York and elsewhere began printing Fanny Fern's "witty and irreverent columns".[10]

In the summer of 1852, Fern was hired by the publisher Oliver Dyer at twice her salary to publish a regular column exclusively in his New York newspaper Musical World and Times; she was the first woman to have a regular column. The next year, Dyer helped her find a publisher for her first two books: Fern Leaves from Fanny's Portfolio (1853), a selection of her more sentimental columns, and Little Ferns for Fanny's Little Friends (1853), a children's book. She had to reveal her legal name to the publishers. As it was then still Farrington and disagreeable to her, she tried to keep her name secret.[11] The former book sold 70,000 copies in its first year,[12] "a phenomenal figure for the time."[13]

Highest-paid columnist[edit]

James Parton, a biographer and historian who edited Home Journal, the magazine owned by Fern's brother Nathaniel (known as N.P. Willis), was impressed by Fern's work. He published her columns and invited the author to New York City. When her brother discovered this, he forbade Parton from publishing any more of Fern's work. Instead Parton resigned as editor of the magazine in protest.[10]

Fern's first book, Fern Leaves (1853), was a best seller. It sold 46,000 copies in the first four months, and over 70,000 copies the first year. She received ten cents a copy in royalties, enough for her to buy a house in Brooklyn and live comfortably. Three years into her career, in 1855 she was earning $100 a week for her column in the New York Ledger, making her the highest-paid columnist in the United States.[14] Her first regular column appeared on January 5, 1856, and would run weekly, without exception, until October 12, 1872, when the last edition was printed two days after her death.[15]

Fern wrote two novels. Her first, Ruth Hall (1854), was based on her life - the years of happiness with Eldredge, the poverty she endured after he died and lack of help from male relatives, and her struggle to achieve financial independence as a journalist. Most of the characters are thinly veiled versions of people in her world. She took revenge by her unflattering portrayals of several who had treated her uncharitably when she most needed help, including her father, her in-laws, her brother N.P. Willis, and two newspaper editors. When Fern's identity was revealed shortly after the novel's publication, some critics believed it scandalous that she had attacked her own relatives; they decried her lack of filial piety and her want of "womanly gentleness" in such characterizations.[16] At the same time, the book also garnered positive attention. The author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had earlier complained about the "damned mob of scribbling women", wrote to his publisher in early 1855 in praise of the novel. He said he "enjoyed it a great deal. The woman writes as if the devil was in her, and that is the only condition in which a woman ever writes anything worth reading."[17]

Wounded by the criticism and ambivalent about the wide publicity she stirred up, Fern tried to reduce the autobiographical elements in her second novel, Rose Clark. But while it features a conventionally sweet and gentle heroine, a secondary character makes a poor marriage of convenience, an act which Fern had regretted in her own life.

Fern's writing continued to attract attention. In her Ledger column of May 10, 1856, she defended the poet Walt Whitman in a favorable review of his controversial book Leaves of Grass.[18] She noted Whitman's fearless individualism and self-reliance, as well as his honest and "undraped" portrayal of sex and the human body.[19] Criticized for her admiration, she continued to champion literature that was ahead of its time.[10] It has been suggested that Whitman imitated her Fern Leaves in his choice of cover art for the first edition.[5]

Third marriage[edit]

Sara Willis and James Parton were married in 1856 when she was 45 and well established.[8] She and her husband lived in New York City with Ellen, one of her two surviving daughters. They also raised Ethel, her granddaughter and orphan of Grace, who died in 1862.[20]

In 1859, Fern bought a brownstone in Manhattan at what is now 303 East Eighteenth Street near Second Avenue; she and Parton lived in this house for the next 13 years until her death.[21]

Final years[edit]

Fern continued as a regular columnist for the Ledger for the remainder of her life. She was a suffrage supporter, and in 1868 she co-founded Sorosis, New York City's pioneer club for women writers and artists, formed after women were excluded from hearing the author Charles Dickens at the all-male New York Press Club dinner in his honor.[20]

Fern dealt with cancer for six years and died October 10, 1872.[2] She is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts next to her first husband. Her gravestone was inscribed simply "Fanny Fern." After her death, her widower James Parton published Fanny Fern: A Memorial Volume (1874).[10]

Published works[edit]

Overall, Fanny Fern produced two novels, a novella,[22] six collections of columns, and three books for children.[2]

Column collections

  • Fern Leaves from Fanny's Portfolio (1853)
  • Fern Leaves, second series (1854)
  • Fresh Leaves (1857)
  • Folly As It Flies (1868)
  • Ginger-Snaps (1870)
  • Caper-Sauce (1872)


  • Ruth Hall (1854), autobiographical; this is her most well-known work to modern readers.
  • Fanny Ford (1855), serialized in the Ledger beginning June 9, 1855.[22]
  • Rose Clark (1856)

Children's books

  • Little Ferns for Fanny's Little Friends (1853)
  • The Play-Day Book (1857)
  • The New Story Book for Children (1864)[2]

Literary criticism[edit]

Fern was extremely successful in her lifetime as a columnist. She was said to fit her material and subject matter to the audience. Many readers of weekly literary papers were women, and Fern addressed them in a conversational style, often using interjections and exclamation points, while tackling topics that concerned the daily life of ordinary women. Her readers were wives and mothers who worried about their children, current fashions, difficult husbands, and aggravating relatives. Sometimes they felt oppressed, depressed, or stressed. Fern expressed their problems in plain language, addressing women's suffrage, the woman's right to her children in a divorce, unfaithful husbands, social customs that restricted women's freedom, and sometimes just having a bad day.[2]

Critics of "women's literature" considered some of these strengths to be weaknesses. They attacked her conversational style as unprofessional, feminine, and too spontaneous. Many male critics labeled her as "sentimental." This has led to counter-criticism about what exactly "sentimental" writing is, and why it is considered bad. The criticism showed women's lower status in society almost as well as Fern did in her work—who decides the standards by which literature is judged, and who does the judging? [2]Nathaniel Hawthorne praised her as an exception to the "damned mob of scribbling women", who wrote "as if the devil was in her".[23] Fern was straightforward when she wrote of subjects such as men's economic and social victimization of women.[18]


  • Fanny Fern is credited with coining the phrase, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach".
  • Henry D. Butler dedicated his 1858 book The Family Aquarium to "the gifted litterateuse whose nom de plume is 'Fanny Fern'"[25]
  • Fern's granddaughter Ethel Grace Thompson Parton became a correspondent for the periodical The Youth's Companion (founded by her great-uncle, Nathaniel Willis).[20]
  • In 2005, Susan Stoderl's opera about Fern, titled A.F.R.A.I.D. (American Females for Righteousness Abasement Ignorance & Docillity), premiered as the inaugural show of the Brooklyn Repertory Opera, at the New York International Fringe Festival.[26]

Further reading[edit]

  • Nancy A. Walker, Fanny Fern (1993)
  • Debra Brenegan, Shame the Devil (2011) [27]



  1. ^Fern, Fanny. Ruth Hall and Other Writings (Joyce W. Warren, editor). Rutgers, 1986, p. xv & p. xviii.
  2. ^ abcdefgCanada, Mark. "Fanny Fern (Sarah Willis)"Archived 2010-02-12 at the Wayback Machine., Antebellum and Civil War America, All American: Literature, History, and Culture, Ed. Mark Canada, 7 March 2000. University of North Carolina at Pembroke, 19 December 2006
  3. ^Baker, 160
  4. ^ abWarren, 5
  5. ^ abWhite, Barbara A. "Fanny Fern (Sara Willis Parton)", Heath Anthology Online Instructor’s Guide. 19 December 2006.
  6. ^Warren, Joyce W., Ruth Hall, p. xii
  7. ^ abcMichael, Naomi. "Meet Fanny Fern: An Insight into the Life of Sara Payson Willis Parton, With a Reprint of One of Her Newspaper Columns". 19 December 2006.
  8. ^ abcdDouglas, Ann. The Feminization of American Culture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977: 336. ISBN 0-394-40532-3
  9. ^Warren (1994), Fanny Fern, p. 99
  10. ^ abcd"Fern, Fanny, 1811-1872". Retrieved July 31, 2008. 
  11. ^Warren (1994), Fanny Fern, p. 108
  12. ^Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 8. ISBN 0-19-503186-5
  13. ^Baker (1998), Sentiment, p. 164
  14. ^Warren (1994), Fanny Fern, p. 146
  15. ^Warren (1994), Fanny Fern, p. 211
  16. ^Warren, Joyce W., Ruth Hall, pp. ix & xvii
  17. ^Warren (1994), Fanny Fern, p. 121
  18. ^ abReuben, Paul P. "Early Nineteenth Century: Fanny Fern (Sara Willis Parton)". PAL: Perspective in American Literature. (2003) 19 December 2006.
  19. ^Warren (1992), p. 167
  20. ^ abc"Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA". Fanny Fern and Ethel Parton Papers, 1805-1982. Retrieved July 31, 2008. 
  21. ^Warren (1994), Fanny Fern, p. 245
  22. ^ abWarren (1994), Fanny Fern, p. 195
  23. ^Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 424. ISBN 0-87745-332-2
  24. ^Henry D. Butler. The Family Aquarium. NY: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1858. Internet Archive
  25. ^[1]
  26. ^Brenegan, Debra. "Shame the Devil". 

External links[edit]

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Fanny Fern, in or around 1866.

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