We are all willing to gossip about ourselves, sometimes, with those who are really interested in us. Girls especially are fond of exchanging confidences with those whom they think they can trust; it is one of the most charming traits of a simple, earnest-hearted girlhood, and they are the happiest women who never lose it entirely.
I should like far better to listen to my girlreaders' thoughts about life and themselves than to be writing out my own experiences. It is to my disadvantage that the confidences, in this case, must all be on one side. But I have known so many girls so well in my relation to them of schoolmate, workmate, and teacher, I feel sure of a fair share of their sympathy and attention.
It is hardly possible for an author to write anything sincerely without making it something of an autobiography. Friends can always read a personal history, or guess at it, between the lines. So I sometimes think I have already written mine, in my verses. In them, I have found the most natural and free expression of myself. They have seemed to set my life to music for me, a life that has always had to be occupied with many things besides writing. Not, however, that I claim to have written much poetry: only perhaps some true rhymes: I do not see how there could be any pleasure in writing insincere ones.
Whatever special interest this little narrative of mine may have is due to the social influences under which I was reared, and particularly to the prominent place held by both work and religion in New England half a century ago. The period of my growing-up had peculiarities which our future history can never repeat, although something far better is undoubtedly already resulting thence. Those peculiarities were the natural de- velopment of the seed sown by our sturdy Puritan ancestry. The religion of our fathers overhung us children like the shadow of a mighty tree against the trunk of which we rested, while we looked up in wonder through the great boughs that half hid and half revealed the sky. Some of the boughs were already decaying, so that perhaps we began to see a little more of the sky, than our elders; but the tree was sound at its heart. There was life in it that can never be lost to the world.
One thing we are at last beginning to understand, which our ancestors evidently had not learned; that it is far more needful for theologians to become as little children, than for little children to become theologians. They considered it a duty that they owed to the youngest of us, to teach us doctrines. And we believed in our instructors, if we could not always digest their instructions. We learned to reverence truth as they received it and lived it, and to feel that the search for truth was one chief end of our being.
It was a pity that we were expected to begin thinking upon hard subjects so soon, and it was also a pity that we were set to hard work while so young. Yet these were both inevitable results of circumstances then existing; and perhaps the two belong together. Perhaps habits of conscientious work induce thought. Certainly, right thinking naturally impels people to work.
We learned no theories about "the dignity of labor," but we were taught to work almost as if it were a religion; to keep at work, expecting nothing else. It was our inheritance, banded down from the outcasts of Eden. And for us, as for them, there was a blessing hidden in the curse. I am glad that I grew up under these wholesome Puritanic influences, as glad as I am that I was born a New Englander; and I surely should have chosen New England for my birthplace before any region under the sun.
Rich or poor, every child comes into the world with some imperative need of its own, which shapes its individuality. I believe it was Grotius who said, "Books are necessities of my life. Food and clothing I can do without, if I must."