MARY L. WARE, THE PHILANTHROPIST.
Shall chant itself its own beatitudes
After its own life-working. A child’s kiss
Set on thy sighing lips, shall make thee glad :
A poor man, served by thee, shall make thee rich ;
A sick man, helped by thee, shall make thee strong;
Thou shalt be served thyself by every sense
Of service which thou renderest.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Sweet lips whereon perpetually did reign
The summer calm of golden charity. . . .
The stately flower of female fortitude,
Of perfect wifehood and pure lowlihead.
The intuitive decision of a bright
And thorough-edged intellect
It is a common fallacy for people with good intentions, but of little energy or firmness of principle, to fancy while listening to the recital of great deeds, that they, too, should have acted nobly had their lot been cast in stirring and eventful times. Doubtless circumstances develope character, and are, as it were, a setting to the picture of a life; but, on the other hand, character controls circumstance, and it may be asserted that there is no position so unfavourable that a high and earnest nature placed in it must, of necessity, fade away to the dull and common-place. It is good to feel assured of this truth ; good to have a perfect faith that, if we take up the duties which lie in our path, they will surely expand till they present sphere enough for the exercise of all our virtues ; and good to study with loving admiration and sisterly sympathy a life passed almost from first to last in gentle charities and heroic self-denial.
Mary Lovell Pickard, born in Boston, America, the 2d October, 1798, might be called an only child, since a babe who died in its infancy before her birth was the only other offspring of her parents. Her father was an English merchant who had settled in the United States. Mrs. Pickard, whose maiden name was Mary Lovell, was the daughter of an American gentleman who had distinguished himself in the revolutionary war, been a prominent member of the Continental Congress, and, finally, had received the appointment of naval officer in the Boston custom-house. She was a woman of vigorous intellect, of deeply-rooted principles, and of natural generosity of heart. Considerably the junior of her husband, she yet, perhaps, surpassed him in depth of character ; but their opinions harmonised so well, that there was no divided influence in the education of their child.
Early in 1802 business obliged Mr. Pickard to visit England, and he was accompanied thither by his wife and their little daughter. Young as the child was, the new scenes to which she was introduced made a lasting impression on her mind, and twenty years afterwards she recognised houses and objects with which she had been familiar. Nor was she forgotten by any one who had once known her. Not that she was particularly handsome, or clever, or graceful, or entertaining, or, in fact, that she possessed any of the attributes which people are apt to associate with the idea of a heroine ; but there was an open truth, and a kindness and goodness about her, which won hearts even in her earliest childhood. It was remarked on the voyage home, which took place when she was five years old, that if, childlike, she attempted to run hither and thither, perhaps in the way of danger, it was enough for Mrs. Pickard to say, ‘ It will make me unhappy, my child, if you do that,’ for her to be quiet in a moment. Even in those early days her mother wrote of her as an inexhaustible source of comfort, and as a child of the sweetest disposition, who was ‘ always happy.’
There is good reason to believe that Mrs. Pickard was an equally wise and tender mother; one who, as a friend said, indulged her child in healthful sports, in abundance of playthings, in pleasant excursions, and in companionship with other children ; but who, at the same time, taught her, both by example and precept, lessons of piety, industry, gentleness, and generosity. Until she was thirteen, Mary Pickard seems to have been entirely educated by her excellent mother. At this time, however, she was placed at a very superior boarding-school at Hingham, where she quickly endeared herself to her teachers and schoolfellows. She is described as tall for her age, not beautiful, but with a sweet expression of countenance, as evincing good abilities and great industry, and as being one of the most lively and playful girls in the school. But her leading characteristic already showed itself, her strong desire to do good in some way or other to her fellow-creatures.
Mary had only been five months at school when she was recalled in consequence of the illness of her mother. It was now November, and through the months of winter, with the terrible shadow of her coming bereavement upon her, the young daughter played the part of a tender, indefatigable nurse. To do so was a precious privilege and mournful consolation, but her trial was an early introduction to the deep sorrows of life. Mrs. Pickard died in May 1812, and Mary, not yet fourteen, found herself suddenly surrounded with the responsibilities of womanhood. Her father was in the decline of life, broken in spirits, and decayed in fortune; while her maternal grand-parents, who resided in the same house with them, required also her constant care and attention. Even in the early days of her sorrow she had to rouse her energies, to stanch her tears that she might comfort others, and to exert her faculties in dealing with the hardest realities of life. Mr. Pickard’s affairs had been long embarrassed, and now the strictest economy was necessary.
Mary did not return to Hingham until two years after her mother’s death, but meanwhile she had the advantage of improving her education at the best school in Boston. Already one is struck with the combination of good sense and good feeling her remarks display, and with the fact that all her self-culture is leading her to the point of practical usefulness. Writing to her father during a temporary absence from home, she said, ‘ I am no advocate for destroying that delicacy which forms, or ought to form, so great a part of the female character. But such a degree of it as is not compatible with sufficient firmness to command one’s self in danger, appears to me to be false modesty, or sickly sensibility of soul, beneath the dignity of beings endowed with power for higher feelings.’
So far as we can judge from her letters, Mary must have had some trifling inheritance—probably from her mother’s family — though invested in her father’s business. In the spring of 1815, Mr. Pickard’s circumstances had become yet more involved, not from his own personal fault, but from the deranged state of mercantile affairs consequent on the recent misunderstanding of England and America; and he thought it necessary to correspond with his daughter on the subject. He told her in one of his letters that she would be a joint loser with his other creditors, although he hoped that out of the wreck enough would be saved for her support. For himself, he must get his own living as best he could, and was already seeking employment. To this saddening intelligence Mary replied by a beautiful letter. The good feeling it displayed might have been found in many an affectionate daughter; but the good sense it evinced is not often shown at sixteen. After expressing a hope that her dear father does not think her so weak as to bend under a change of fortune, or rebel under the decrees of Providence, she says :—
‘ I can, I think, enter in some measure into your feelings, and believe I can feel as you do with regard to being dependent on others. I am prepared for almost any trial; if my ability is equal to my desire of being of service to you in misfortune, I do not fear but that I shall be able to support myself, and at least not be a burden to you. I am sorry you think so much of my situation. I shall never regret the loss of indulgences which I have never been taught to consider as essential to my happiness, and which do not, in any great degree, conduce to it. I shall be content in any circumstances while I know you have not brought on yourself calamity. I am not so proud that I should feel the least repugnance to gaining a living in any useful employment whatever; I feel that kind of pride which assures me that local situation will not disturb my peace within, and with that I could combat almost anything. I can only regret the loss of property when it makes me an incumbrance to my friends, and limits my power of communicating good.’
She was not so proud that she should feel the least repugnance to gaining her living in any useful employment ! That was not a phrase to be thrown off lightly as the thought of the moment; for noble sentiments of that description are not mere flashes of feeling, but must have taken root and grown by slow degrees in the mind. The words, too, were all the worthier to be commended for being written nearly forty years ago. Since those days earnest thinkers have asserted the just claims of the ‘ worker,’ however lowly, to be exalted over the mere idler of any degree; but when Mary Pickard was a young girl such wholesome opinions were by no means prevalent. People, both kindhearted, and in many respects clear-headed, were found nursing their class prejudices, and insinuating, if they did not assert, that there was a degradation in gentlewomen labouring for bread. Mary Pickard, by the divination of her own true heart, knew better; and with her we may be very sure that ample means would only have enlarged her sphere of usefulness, not brought immunity from toil.
In the summer of 1815, Mary once more returned home to share her father’s cares and anxieties, and to aid him in carrying out his schemes of economy. About this time her grandfather Lovell died, and for nearly two years Mrs. Lovell was a confirmed invalid, indebted in a thousand ways to her grandchild’s services. It was during this period that Mary Pickard’s constant attendance on the preaching of Dr. Channing deepened and confirmed the religious views she had long entertained. Her love of knowledge was great; and there is evidence in her correspondence that she deeply lamented that circumstances should have so much limited her opportunities of mental improvement; yet she had now brought herself to a state of contentment. In a letter to her dear governess, written in her nineteenth year, she says, after speaking of her aspirations after knowledge :—’But this is all over, and I am satisfied that I must be content with a very low degree in the scale of knowledge. But I trust I may be good if never great, and am confident that the peculiar situation in which I am placed is one more calculated for me than any I could choose for myself.’
At the death of her grandmother, in 1817, some trifling accession of income came to Mary Pickard, but it made no change in her own personal economies. She assisted her father with money, and had always an open hand for those that needed her aid to the utmost extent of her means. The decease of Mrs. Lovell occasioned Mr. Pickard to remove from the house which they had jointly occupied; and endeared to Mary as it was by tender recollections of her mother, and as the scene of her happy childhood, she felt the change as a great sorrow. However, as usual, she roused herself to do instead of to fret, and seems, in many ways, to have been a great help to her father.
She even undertook business journeys for him, and on one of these occasions paid her first visit to New York. Whatever her specific occupations were, she was so much engaged that she wrote of herself as only able to obtain four hours’ sleep. One cannot help fancying that her father was rather severe and exacting — although she never says so — for she seriously displeased him at this time by undertaking a short pleasure excursion to visit some friends without first obtaining his sanction. She must have lost the opportunity altogether had she waited to consult him; but unfortunately ho heard of her journey by accident, and immediately wrote to a lady in New York, expressing his astonishment at his daughter’s conduct. He could not conceive how she would be able to justify herself for doing so foolish a thing. ‘ I have been expecting daily,’ he says, ‘ to hear what has been done with some muslins she had the charge of; but instead of attending to that, she is flying like a wild goose about the country.’ However, not only did she fully ‘justify herself,’ but expressed such contrition for having displeased him that the father’s anger took a new turn, and he reproached himself for having used intemperate language to so good and dutiful a child. For our own part, we have no doubt ‘ the muslins’ were disposed of in a perfectly satisfactory manner.
In the summer of 1821, Mr. Pickard and his daughter left Boston for a country residence; and the circumstance is chiefly remarkable in Mary’s life as having afforded her more leisure for reflection and self-examination than she had yet known. Every earnest person, with a serious view of life and duty, must be a self-questioner; and probably Mary found that the habit of reducing her thoughts and opinions to words rendered them more clear and exact. However this might be, she had a most dear friend to whom through life she wrote confidentially on the subjects nearest her heart. From her country retreat, and alluding to her former life, she thus expressed herself: ‘ I knew not the whole weakness of my mind. In the bustle of a busy life — idly busy, perhaps, but not the less exciting— I had almost lost sight of my natural propensities. Accustomed to find objects to occupy my powers wherever I turned, I mistook the simple love of being employed for real energy of mind, and therefore did not even apprehend, the want of power to direct these energies to whatever I pleased. But it is not as I thought.’ She then proceeds to acknowledge her love of reverie and passive contemplation rather than of action, but expresses her desire to conquer what she thinks an idle indulgence.’ I suppose,’ she adds,’ I must set about some new study or dry book, if I cannot find some animate subject to interest and fix my mind. There is a little deaf and dumb girl just opposite to us, and if I knew the process I would teach her to read. I must have something to do which will rouse my mind to exertion. I have employment enough, but it is not of my mind, and that is unfortunately one which will retrograde if it does not progress.’
But Mary Pickard was not destined long to seek for active duties to fulfil. Through life they came upon her fast and thick. In the autumn of 1823 she lost her father, after an illness in which she had attended him with the utmost devotion. His death was sudden at last; she had only been informed of his danger a few hours before, and though she preserved her outward composure as long as her services could be useful, the shock was so great that her hand was loosened from that of the dead by others, and she was taken away insensible.
Her position was now lonely and desolate in the extreme. Without the tie of near relationship to any one in America; without there being any spot which she could properly call her home—for she and her father had boarded in a family, not occupied a house of their own—she was like a waif cast upon tho world. Yet, instead of repining, she dwelt with gratitude on the kindness she received from friends and acquaintances; and when she fully realised the truth of her position, saying, ‘ I seem to hang so loosely on the world, that it is of little importance where I am,’ she began to arrange her plans less with reference to her own comfort and pleasure than with the view of being useful to others. The few relatives she could claim on her father’s side were in England, and of these several were in obscure circumstances. More especially there was an aunt whom she was aware her father had been in the habit of assisting, but of whom she knew nothing save that she was old and feeble, and subject to fits of extreme melancholy. So little intercourse had been kept up with her, that Mary did not even know the names of her children; nevertheless she felt an anxious desire to visit this old lady and judge from personal investigation what her necessities were. Accordingly, she took the first opportunity which presented itself of visiting England. It was scarcely possible that a young girl could cross the Atlantic on such an expedition quite alone ; but when she heard that a friend was going to Europe who was willing to take charge of her, she made her arrangements for the voyage in less than a fortnight.
Mary Pickard brought letters of introduction, which gained her admission into the best London society; and but for the illness of the friends with whom she travelled, she would probably have seen yet more than she did of the sights and celebrities of England. As it was she visited many places and persons of interest, and even made a short trip to Paris before she fulfilled the chief objects of her visit to Europe. Her letters, conveying the fresh impressions of what she saw, were lively and graphic; but we must hurry on to those scenes which have made her memory dear to every heart that reverences the heroism of self-denial and pure benevolence.
It was about the end of August 1825, that Mary Packard found herself at last on the road to visit her poor aunt at the little village of Osmotherly, in Yorkshire. She had been making a tour in Scotland with some American friends, but had parted from them about eighty miles from her aunt’s residence. A portion of this distance she travelled by stage-coach, and the remainder by post-chaise, the road running for the most part through a picturesque but lonely country. In writing to that dear friend who was her constant correspondent, Mary described her arrival, and the joy of her aunt on seeing her; and then, after giving a penand-ink picture of her relative as ‘ a small, thin old lady, with a pale complexion, and the very brightest black eyes,’ she proceeds thus,— ‘ She lives in a comfortable little two-story cottage of four rooms, which far exceeds anything I ever saw for neatness. I find that I could not have come at a better time to do good, or a worse for gaining spirits. My aunt’s two daughters are married, and live in this village ; one of them, with three children, has a husband at the point of death with a fever; his brother died yesterday of the small-pox, and two of her children have the whooping-cough; added to this, their whole dependence is upon their own exertions, which are, of course, entirely stopped now. One of the children, a year and a half old, is with the grandmother, but so ill with the cough that she is almost sick with taking care of it. It has fortunately taken a fancy to me at once, and I can relieve her a little. But, worse than all, one of her sons has come home in a very gloomy state of mind, and all her efforts had failed to rouse him to exertion. I hope to be more successful, for he seems willing to listen to me.’
Osmotherly is described as the most primitive place imaginable, inhabited almost entirely by uncultivated labouring people. One cannot help fancying that Mary’s ‘aunty’ had married beneath her own station in life, and that her children were very little elevated above their village associates; clearly Mary Pickard, accustomed all her life to intellectual intercourse, and fresh from good society, found no companionship, in the true sense of the word, at this Yorkshire village. Even the clergyman of the place, in whom she might have been expected to find a sympathiser and adviser, was an exception and disgrace to his class—a drunkard, who neglected his duties, and every way so ignorant and worthless a man, that it was amazing how, even in that out-of-the-way place, he was retained in orders. Then the relatives whom Mary Pickard found in such a depth of misery were not endeared to her by habit or association; she had not seen her aunt for upwards of twenty years, and the cousins were entirely strangers to her. Surely any commonplace girl would have run away from such a scene of gloom and suffering—would have accepted some of the agreeable invitations which she had received to visit in congenial circles, and would have thought herself generous had she debarred herself some luxury of attire to make a present to the sick and needy.
Mary thought differently. She felt that she had no close tie which rendered it a fault in her to risk her own health for the good of others; and consequently was of opinion that it was her duty to stay and minister to the afflicted family. Some of her friends had tried to dissuade her from the journey in the first instance, and probably they now urged her to shorten her visit; at any rate, in a letter dated Osmotherly, she wrote, ‘ Though it was said that I could do as much good by sending money as by coming myself, I do not think so; and though I may be thought foolishly scrupulous for subjecting myself to the evils I must meet with here, when I might have avoided them, I am sure I never could have felt satisfied that all was done for my poor aunt as well as it could be unless I had managed it.’ But we cannot rightly weigh the sacrifices she was making, without remembering that her heart had already begun to pine with home-sickness after America and the friends she had left there.
The description of the state of Osmotherly in the autumn of 1825 more resembles the records of a plague-stricken town than anything else. Fever small-pox, whooping-cough, were raging around, and Mary’s fellow-occupants of the four-roomed cottage were a sick child, a decrepit old woman worn down with sorrow, and a man, whose intellect, ranging on the border-line of sanity and madness, was more uncertain and more dangerous than a positive lunatic. Early in September, as we have seen, the cousin’s brother-in-law died ; and a few days afterwards Mary closed the eyes of the sick husband. He left a wife in feeble health, and three children, the youngest but three weeks old—’ without a penny to support them.’ Already was the stranger looked on as chief helper and adviser. Her own means were too limited for her to make large money benefactions, but she helped the widow to the extent of her ability, and almost relieved the mother from the charge of the baby, whom Mary ‘ got to love dearly.’ When the father was buried, the infant was baptised, Mary standing godmother, but her little charge died in her lap the third night afterwards. It was the first night that the poor widow had slept under her own roof since her bereavement, and out of compassion for her mournful recollections, Mary Pickard had volunteered to remain with her. She did not attempt to rest, but while the mother sought forgetfulness of her sorrows in slumber, Mary watched beside the cradle, intending to keep herself awake by writing letters. But when the terrible cough came on she took the infant in her arms to soothe and assist it, and after one of these occasions it sank away and died from exhaustion so peacefully, that for a time she thought it had fallen into a gentle slumber.
The suffering helplessness of this child had endeared it to Mary’s heart, and when she ‘ could bring herself to give it up,’ she arranged its little body for its last home, and then resumed her duties of nurse and comforter to its mother and grandmother. ‘Do not be uneasy about me,’ she wrote to a friend, ‘ I shall do very well when I get a little sleep ;’ but, she added, ‘ I cannot write or think ; I seem to feel that ‘ bonnie little bairnie’ in my arms, and my nerves are sometimes shaken. The worst of the whole is, that poor unhappy young man, whose low moans are continually sounding in my ears, but I send him away to-morrow for his own sake, as well as ours, and all will go well.’ We gather from the long letter in which these sentences occur, that it was from no stoical indifference, or constitutional insensibility to suffering, that Mary Pickard persevered in her offices of charity ; and, on the other hand, we clearly see that keen as her feelings were, they never over-mastered her reason or judgment. The sending away the poor imbecile youth was a proof of her good sense, and a proceeding which, most probably, the spirit-broken mother would not have had energy enough to carry out. Yet at this very time Mary was herself worn and ill from three nights’ want of rest, and her eyes were so ‘ dazzled ‘ that she could scarcely write. Little could she foresee what further claims were to be made on her patience and devotion.
Within three weeks from the baby’s death its afflicted mother expired, her illness having passed into the worst form of typhus fever. For seven nights and days Mary never quitted her cousin, and so terrified were the villagers on hearing the nature of the sufferer’s disease, that they fled from the cottage, and for many whole nights the self-installed nurse was left to her lonely watch by the bedside of the dying. No selfish fears unnerved her, and she began to reason with herself that she had already been so exposed to infection that no further danger could be run. Then the physician watched her narrowly, he whom she calls ‘ the good doctor,’ and who seems to have been the only person with whom she could exchange ideas. The dying ‘Cousin Bessy’ was sensible enough to express her thankfulness and affection to the young relative, who only a few weeks before was a stranger to her, and left her children and all her affairs to the sole direction of Mary.
The charge of two orphans was a startling responsibility, and the childlike exclamation of the eldest boy, ‘Cousin Mary, you will let me live with you, won’t you ?’ knocked at her heart and made her sigh for large means as she had never done before. But it was only for a moment ; her perfect faith rose clear and strong, she knew that help would come to her when it was most needed, and never suffered anxiety and distrust to mar her present usefulness. As a friend said of her, she ‘ never worried,’ but in the emergencies of life she always considered what was right and best to be done—then did it, and left the issue in heavenly hands.
Hardly was the mother buried when the eldest boy sickened ; he had asked to live with Cousin Mary, but there was a surer than any earthly rest provided for him. Before October ended she closed his eyes, his death making the fourth she had witnessed within eight weeks. Of course night and day she had again been the untiring nurse ; but, instead of complaining, she could only speak of ‘ the endearing ways of a sick child,’ and of her intense interest in him because ho was an orphan, and wholly dependent on herself.
One would have thought now that death had mown down almost an entire family, that Mary Pickard might rest from her self-imposed labours. But no ; the typhus, or spotted fever, had by this time spread among the villagers, and her feeling heart could not suffer them to languish unassisted. She forgot how many of these people had fled from the precincts of her cousin’s humble dwelling, and left her without help by the side of the dead and dying ; and because her late experience in the disease was so precious, and because she was ‘the only person in the village who had no fear of infection,’ she occupied herself from morning till night in attending the sufferers. Ignorant, uncouth they were, and they spoke so broad a Yorkshire dialect that it was with difficulty Mary Pickard understood their words ; but the true and grateful side of human nature soon showed itself among these poorpeasants. Their veneration for Mary took almost an extravagant turn, and ‘ the good American lady’ was looked on as something approaching an angelic visitor. Not until nearly the end of November, when the epidemic fever appeared to have spent itself, did Mary prepare to recruit her health and spirits by visiting some dear relatives at Penrith, in Cumberland. Before leaving Osmotherly she clothed the sole remaining orphan for the winter, and made a temporary provision for his support; set her poor cousin’s affairs in a way for settlement—there being apparently some sort of business to dispose of—and took care that her aunt was not without necessaries and comforts. No wonder that those she had so much benefited were drowned in tears on her departure.
Every kindness and attention that sympathy and affection could prompt was heaped on Mary Pickard by her friends at Penrith. One of the family brought a carriage to meet her at Greta Bridge, and the whole household devoted themselves to render her visit agreeable. That she fully appreciated their endeavours to restore her to health we gather from one of her letters at this time. ‘ Nothing can exceed the kindness of this family to me,’ she writes; ‘ indeed I am made to feel that I am at home with them, as if I had always belonged to them. After all I have had to suffer, it is almost like the rest of the Sabbath to the weary labourer; and if kindness and petting will cure one, I shall soon recover all I may have lost during my dreadful siege at Osmotherly. To be sure, I am almost bewildered at the change from constant anxiety and labour to a state of perfect idleness and indulgence, but I will try and make a good use of it; and I feel so entirely convinced that this most amazing preservation of my life must be for some useful end, that I think I never can fall into an insensible or cold state again.’
How weak and ill she really was we gather from the fact, that writing was too great an exertion for her; she closed the letter from which we have borrowed abruptly, saying, ‘ It tires me so much that I can scarcely write intelligibly.’ Nevertheless, within a month from this time she was back at Osmotherly, called thither by a letter from the ‘ good doctor,’ who apprised her that her poor aunt was apparently dying of typhus fever, and begged, if possible, that she might see her once more. Mary was not insensible to the risk she ran in returning to that infected region, nor indifferent to the comforts and cheerfulness she was leaving to encounter toil and privation. But she looked such trials in the face without being dismayed by them; and her friends at Penrith loved and honoured her too well to dissuade her from the performance of what she considered a duty. Accordingly, the morning after Christmas-day, she left their hospitable house to travel alone in the bleak December, on her mission of charity. After a journey of eight hours she arrived safely at the humble cottage, and immediately installed herself as sole nurse and chief directress of affairs.
The room in which her aunt lay was the one in which Mary had watched beside her cousin’s child and closed his eyes; and now, brought back to the same scene, under such similar circumstances, her pleasant sojourn at Penrith must have seemed to her like the interlude of a dream. All her life she had been in the habit of writing to one of her dearest friends on the eve of the New Year; and she did not allow her present circumstances to deprive N___ of this customary affectionate memento. How light Mary Pickard made of her own exertions may be gathered from the following words : ‘ Here am I now writing you by the light of a rush candle, with my little work-box for a desk, almost afraid to breathe lest I should disturb my aunt’s slumbers. We two are the only beings in this little cottage, for I have sent her sons out to sleep, as a precaution against the fever, and put a bed into a corner of the room for myself. Could you see me acting in the fourfold capacity which I adopt in this humble cottage, you would hardly believe me to be the same being, who, a week ago, was installed in all the honours of a privileged visitor amid the luxuries of Cockel House, acting ”lady” solely to the utmost of my ability. It amuses me to find how easily it all sits upon me, and how readily we may adapt ourselves to varieties of situation, and find something to enjoy in all.
Aunty is much better, and I think there is a good chance for her recovery, at least to as good a state of health as she was in before this illness. I feel little evil in the contrast, great as it is to myself, except a slight cold, which the very sudden change of weather, from warm and damp to excessive cold, has brought me.’
But, like many another ardent, eager doer of good works, Mary Pickard over-rated and overtried her powers of endurance. The severity of the season amid the discomforts of the cottage — the lower floor of which was only of clay and sand — together with her unremitting exertions, so told upon her frame, that one night she was seized with a sudden and severe cramp, and fell down helpless on the floor. There she lay for a considerable time, until her groans attracted attention ; and this seizure reduced her to such a condition, that for a long time the ” good little doctor” paid her two professional visits daily. While the doctor’s care and medicines, however, helped to restore her bodily health, her mind and spirits were not less benefited by the companionship of the doctor’s sister, who, since Mary’s first sojourn at Osmotherly, had come to take the management of her brother’s house. This young lady is described as gentle and winning, of cultivated mind and elegant manners; and it is easy to understand how naturally the two must have been drawn together.
The same disposition which had caused Mary in her childhood to seem ‘always happy’ remained to her still, undimmed, unchanged by suffering. She thought little of her own illness, even when confined to her bed; rejoiced that her ‘aunty’ was now able to sit up in her easy chair ; enjoyed the conversation of her new acquaintance ; and found infinite amusement in the childish traits of the little Jamie, who, though not two years old, seemed to have some understanding of the worth of his cousin. When she had left Osmotherly in November his grief had been passionate and distressing, and when she returned his ecstasy was affecting. He jumped in her lap, and stroked and kissed her face, as if to confirm the evidence of his eyesight, and then burst into tears of joy. He insisted on calling her ‘uncle;’ and he besought ‘Uncle Mady ‘ not to go away, but ‘to live with Jamie every day.’ The parting from this child was a great trial, and had she felt justified in separating him by such a distance from his grandmother and other relatives, she would certainly have taken him with her to America. On the 30th of January, 1826, Mary Pickard was sufficiently recovered to travel, though still so weak that, in moving about a room, she held by chairs and tables, ‘like a child just going alone.’ On that day she again took leave of Osmotherly, when the whole village, young and old, came out to escort her on her way. Many a touching tribute of gratitude and respect she received from those poor people, who, though they did not always understand her words, could read her actions. Not only had she tended the dying as a nurse, but she had tried to open their hearts and minds; to do away with the superstitions which in many instances clouded the light of religion, and to teach them wholesome rules of life that would help to keep away disease. Of several she took leave separately, and if they never forgot ‘the good lady,’ she, too, carried away a kind recollection of them when she returned to her relatives at Penrith, once more to be nursed and petted into convalescence.
Again, her letters overflow with gratitude for the kindness she is receiving, and her description of the hospitalities of Cockel House presents a lively contrast to the sorrow and suffering to which she had just been ministering. ‘Aunty George, Selina, and I,’ she says, ‘are seated in true spinster style round a large fire in the drawing-room up-stairs ; Aunty at full length upon the sofa, reading, at one side; Selina on the other, writing ; and I, in the front, doing the same, at the same table with her. Around us are arranged, in the most convenient places, piano, flowers, tables covered with books, writing – desks, &c.; ottomans, ditto ; all sorts of comfortable chairs — easy, rocking &c.; in the corners, shelves, with collections of shells, minerals, and other odd things, to say nothing of the living ornaments. It is the very picture of comfort; and I could tell you of certain sensual luxuries which make their appearance upon the centre table some three, four, five, or, perhaps, six times a-day, now that I am prohibited from descending to the dining-room; but that would destroy the intellectual charm which must hang round the image of Aunty George. Mrs. M’Adam writes me that she received your letter …. She has been in a fine taking about this illness of mine, but is cooling a little, now she finds I am not satisfied with less than four meals per day.’
Others beside ‘ Mrs. M’Adam’ had been painfully anxious about Mary Pickard’s illness ; and even before she was thoroughly well, she began to receive letters from America, which must have shown her how warmly she was regarded. The news of her heroic exertions had not surprised those who knew her best; but the distance from England and slowness of communication had aggravated and prolonged their fears that she would sink under her exertions. Her friend ‘Emma’ began a letter, ‘My dearest live Mary,’ and wrote with natural pathos of the hopes and fears which had swayed all their hearts, and of the joy which had been felt at receiving a letter dated Penrith—unconscious that Mary had afterwards returned to the scene of pestilence. The same writer had in a previous letter repeated an anecdote which shows the sort of estimation in which Mary Pickard was held; and that she was looked on as one of those to whom is permitted the privilege of being a benefactor. ‘With all their desire for your return,’ she said, ‘nobody murmurs; everybody says it is much better for you to stay. And Mrs. Barnard says, when she expressed her sorrow about it to Dr. Charming, he gave her for the only time in his life almost an angry look.’
Mary Pickard returned to America in the summer of 1826, and was received by her Boston friends with every demonstration of affection and delight. Some of the most truly estimable people in that city sought her acquaintance; and though she herself seemed surprised that any one should consider her a heroine, her worth was very generally acknowledged and appreciated. Warm-hearted as she was, and delighting in congenial society, all the allurements of agreeable visiting could not turn her mind from deeds of charity. During the winter of 1826, though in society she seemed ‘more lively and joyous’ than ever, her days were chiefly occupied in visiting the poor, making herself acquainted with their ways and their wants, gently leading them to better habits of life, and, while helping their present need, showing them the true way to help themselves. On the Sabbath she taught classes of poor children in more than one Sunday-school; and yet so managed her time, that she seemed ever ready to meet the claims of friendship. But the most momentous event in a woman’s life was now drawing near.
Some dozen years before, when a mere girl, Mary Pickard had been greatly impressed by the character, the intelligence, and the manners of Henry Ware, then a theological student at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and three or four years her senior. Since then they had been separated by circumstances; and though possibly Mary, on a few occasions, might have heard him preach, they had never met in private again until now. In the interval Henry Ware had become a husband, a father, and a widower, and had won for himself a recognition as a man of large intelligence, and an eloquent minister of increasing influence. A sister of his had been school-fellow to Mary Pickard, and perhaps the acquaintance with her was at this time renewed; or, probably, without such intervention, the chances of Boston society again brought two persons together who were eminently suited to be lifelong companions. Henry Ware quickly appreciated the benevolence, the patience, the good sense, and the affectionate nature of Mary Pickard, while she in him found a character she could wholly revere and trust. At the end of January 1827 she promised to be his wife, and the marriage took place on the 11th of June in the same year.
To battle successfully with a prejudice is one of the most difficult, and seldom accomplished, feats in the world; and perhaps of all the false ideas current among people who do not take the trouble to think for themselves, few have been more productive of misery than the unreasoning prejudice which prevails against stepmothers. Really persons often speak as if the very act of an amiable high-toned woman marrying a widower must of necessity change her whole character; and that she who, in all her former relations of life, had been affectionate and sincere, just and generous, forbearing and self-denying, must suddenly become imperious and manoeuvring, and harsh, unjust, and unfeeling to the very objects who have the greatest claim on her womanly sympathy and tenderness. It is to be feared that the children of the first marriage, if past early childhood, or their maternal relatives, too often indulge in an unworthy jealousy, which causes them to look at every action of the newcomer with jaundiced eyes, to resent every exercise of wholesome authority, and to plant between the second wife and her adopted children those seeds of distrust, which, growing up, bear all manner of bitter fruit. It is time the parrot cry of ‘the cruel stepmother’ should die away out of hearing; and some new voice be raised to inquire how often the stepmother’s trials have been great; how often, after performing a mother’s part, she has met with black ingratitude, and received but taunts in requital for tender nursing, and teaching, and guidance.
Mary Pickard was perfectly aware of the prejudice she had to encounter, but she brought to her new duties a simple faith in God’s providence and in the strength of right doing. Her heart was too noble to admit into its meanest corner an emotion of selfish jealousy; and it was a joy inexpressible to her husband to find that she reverenced the memory of his first wife—who had been a very noble woman — and so far from desiring oblivion of her name, loved that he should cherish the recollection of her worth. Her recent biographer says, ‘She had no sympathy and little respect for that narrow view which insists that one affection must crowd out another;’ and when some surprise at her feeling on this subject was expressed to her, she answered, ‘She was the nearest and dearest to him, how then can I do otherwise than love her and cherish her memory ?’ The children—a boy and a girl—she took to her heart at once; and so won their perfect love, that in after years any allusion to the fact of her not being ‘their own mother,’ would occasion in them a start of regret; and when at last they had the anguish to lose her, the son, then grown to manhood, exclaimed, ‘Surely God never gave a boy such a mother, or a man such a friend.’
In her case the experiment was fairly worked; no ignorant, heartless ‘friends’ instilled suspicion into the young minds of her adopted children, but they met her tenderness with trust and affection, and proved to the world how sweet may be the tie of the so often maligned stepmother. From the first, Henry Ware was conscious of the treasure he was taking to himself, and when he wrote to his sister announcing that he was about again ‘to build up his family hearth,’ he said, ‘Providence has thrown in my way one woman whose character is all that man can ask of a singular and exalted excellence. You know how admirable she is, and how well suited to fill the vacant place at my side… I feel, that if the departed know what is transacting here, my own Elizabeth would congratulate me as sincerely as any of my friends. I have sought for the best mother to her children, and the best I have found. I have desired a pattern and blessing for my parish, and I have found one. I have wished some one to bear my load with me, and to help, confirm, and strengthen my principle by her own high and experienced piety, and such I have found. All these things meeting in one person, I might have looked for each alone ; but where else are they to be all found in such excellent proportions united ?’ And he asked for his sister’s congratulations with the full certainty that from ‘no one would they be more sincere and affectionate.’ Assuredly, no wife was ever received into a family more completely with open arms and hearty rejoicings ; the sister—her school companion at Hingham—knew her excellence, and knew that time had only matured her character and developed her virtues. Even the ladies of Mr. Ware’s congregation shared the enthusiasm of his relations, and when the bride returned to her ‘own home’ after a short tour, she found that the ladies of the parish had not allowed workwomen to be employed in the house, but had done everything that was necessary with their own hands. Even the poorest of the parishioners paid her visits of respect, and Mary Ware entered on her wedded life among loving hearts, and without one jarring element to disturb her peace. It is true, Mr. Ware’s means were not large, but Mary had been used to economy; and though from his position they were obliged to receive many visitors, she contrived to make the most frugal entertainment welcome and agreeable. Busy in her parish, busy in her home duties, Mrs. Ware called her responsibility a ‘blessing,’ not a burden; but for her there was only permitted a single year of uninterrupted earthly happiness. At the expiration of that period Mr. Ware’s health gave way. He had been preaching at some distance from Boston, and on his way home was attacked with fever. Although herself in a precarious state of health, his wife hastened to his side, and remained with him until he was able to be removed. Only a few weeks from this time Mary Ware’s eldest child was born, a son who lived but a few years, just long enough to endear himself firmly and fondly to his parents’ hearts.
On the 1st of April, 1829, Mrs. Ware and her husband sailed from Boston, and the next seventeen months were occupied in the tour which was thus undertaken as a search for health. It involved many sacrifices, not the least of them being the necessary separation of the parents from their children. Of the two elder, one was placed at school, and the other established in the family of Mr. Ware’s brother, at New York ; while one of his sisters took charge of the infant. Perhaps only a mother can fully realise the anguish of Mary Ware at parting from her first-born, not yet a twelve-month old; but they were too poor to think of adding to their travelling expenses the charge of a nurse, and she was well aware that all her own energy would be required in tending her invalid husband. No murmurs, however, escaped her; she saw the path of duty clear before her, and followed it.
The summer of 1829 was spent in travelling through England, Scotland, and Ireland; and Mary visited Osmotherly and many of the gayer scenes familiar to her four years before. They obtained introductions to Wordsworth and Southey, Miss Edgeworth and Mrs. Hemans, and carried away agreeable personal recollections of many persons whose names they had previously learned to honour. Unhappily, Mr. Ware’s health improved but slowly, and the sense of his uselessness and incapacity for exertion—so painful a consciousness to an active mind—weighed down his spirits until his wife could not wholly escape the contagion of his depression. Indeed, in after years she spoke of this period as the most trying of her life. In the autumn they went on to the Continent, and passing through Switzerland into Italy wintered there. At Rome, in March 1830, a daughter was born.
Meanwhile, they had not been idle. As soon as Mr. Ware at all rallied, he occupied himself with his pen, and began his work on ‘The Christian Character.’ Long afterwards, in referring to this book, his wife said, ‘Its pages are to my memory a sort of diary of our progress, associated as they are with the pleasant evenings when, after our autumnal day’s journey, having despatched our supper, we settled ourselves at a little table before a cheerful wood-fire in our inn, and he with his writing materials, and I with my work, or writing or reading, could almost imagine ourselves at home. Thus were my evenings spent in alternate writing, reading, and criticism, until I almost felt as if I had written the book myself.’ They were travelling between Rome and Naples at the opening of the new year; but, faithful to her beloved N___ , Mary wrote her ‘Annual’ from the little village of St. Agatha.
About June, Mrs. Ware returned to England with her husband, and it is mournful to perceive that by this time there were indications that the fine constitution which had borne and braved so many trials was at last giving way under the pressure of anxiety and fatigue. Even in Italy she had suffered greatly ; and in writing confidentially to her physician she alluded to the great effort she had made while there to appear, for her husband’s sake, well and cheerful, adding, ‘ But the degree of tension to which every faculty was stretched all the time, was just as much as my reason could bear unshaken ; and more than it could have borne, I believe, had not my nerves found relief in hours of tearful prostration when Henry was asleep, or so far out of the way as not to detect it.’
Preparatory to returning to America, Mr. Ware settled his wife and infant for a little time in lodgings at Waltham, while he made an excursion for his health. The truth was, they could not prudently afford that the mother and child should accompany him; yet at this very time there is evidence that they were assisting the poor aunt at Osmotherly with money; and Mary, in corresponding with her husband, begged him to write to Aunty if he could not visit her, saying, ” It will please her; and pay the postage.” Ever unselfish, ever thoughtful for others, in small things as well as great, was Mary Ware.
But we must hurry on. Mr. and Mrs. Ware left England at the end of July, and on the passage home he was attacked with an alarming illness, in which his wife had to act the part of physician as well as nurse. With a young child in her arms, without a servant, among strangers, who, however kind and compassionate, could do little to aid her; and amid all the discomforts of a ship, her exertions might well be called, as they were, ‘almost superhuman.’ The crisis passed, and before they arrived in the United States he was nearly as well as when he embarked; but she felt the effects of her trial for months afterwards. In October 1830, they took up their residence in Cambridge, U.S. where Mr. Ware, though still in very feeble health, entered upon the professorship which had been created for him, that of ‘Pulpit Eloquence and Pastoral Care.’ It was a position entirely congenial to his feelings, although he clung through life with sentiments of affectionate regard to his old congregation at Boston, whom his ill-health had compelled him to abandon.
The life of Mary Ware, for the next dozen years, was chiefly marked by the fluctuating health of herself and husband, by the death of her eldest child and by the birth of others ; she having all the time to contend with straitened circumstances and those sordid cares which naturally result from them. There has been some want of truthful sentiment in much that has been talked and written about the inefficacy of wealth to promote happiness, and about the sweetness of ‘poverty’ with ‘content.’ Certainly the possession of great wealth brings with it so heavy a responsi-
bility, that a volatile character would do wisely to shrink from its grave stewardship; but it would be well for young people earnestly to believe that dull poverty has its cruel temptations, and that only the very highest order of minds can resist unscathed the gnawings of daily fretful cares. It should ever be a settled purpose in life, no matter at what sacrifice of labour or inclination, to strive at least for that moderate independence which may leave our minds free to soar above the petty anxieties of life. If sickness comes—as it did to Henry Ware — to thwart well-laid schemes and cripple exertion, we must bow meekly to a higher Will than that of man, and receive poverty as a trial of our patience and principles; it may be that it is a trial, also, of the rich, who may depend upon it, that if they have the hearts to give largely, ways and means of doing good will always present themselves with the feeblest possible search after them.
One’s heart vaguely conjectures the amount of good deeds that was lost to the world, because through those long years of suffering Mary Ware was poor. When we see what she did do for others amid all her cares, we can partly guess what a philanthropist under happier circumstances she might have proved. It is true that philanthropy does not consist in giving money ; but then Mary gave her time, her thoughts to others, when time and thought were money’s worth to her. She visited the sick, she advised the ignorant, and when she had not money to bestow, she begged of the rich for the poor. What time and thought would she not have given had the home pressure been lighter!
In 1842 it became evident that Mr. Ware must resign his professorship, his health being quite unequal to his duties. We will not dwell upon the breaking up of innumerable social ties, upon the parting from his scholars, to whom he and his wife had been like parents, or the severance from the home of so many years. The eldest son was now of an age to go out in the world; and the rest of the family withdrew to the village of Framingham, being enabled to do so by the generous contributions of friends, whose assistance they could not refuse. Her letters to the absent son and to her many friends at this time were very beautiful; breathing as they did of Christian resignation, and at the same time of that kindred bravery which enabled her to perform her active duties amid all her sorrows.
Henry Ware expired at Framingham on Friday morning, September the 22d, 1843. The whole family had been long prepared for the event, and Mrs. Ware was so anxious that the children should not associate the idea of Death with restraint and gloom, that they should learn to consider their dear father not as lost to them, but only ‘gone before,’— that, contrary to established usage, she took them the Sunday following, while their father’s corpse remained unburied, to their accustomed place of worship. Twice that day the voices of the mourners were raised in prayer and praise in the presence of fellow-worshippers, many of whom felt tenderly drawn to the widow and the fatherless even by this very innovation on established custom. The body of Henry Ware was brought to Cambridge for interment, Mary Ware and the eldest son accompanying it in the same carriage. ‘We could not feel willing,’ she said, ‘to let strangers do anything in connexion with him which we could do ourselves.’
But though to superficial observers Mary Ware appeared strangely calm under her bereavement, those who knew her best were aware of the intensity of that heart-anguish with which she struggled. It was necessary for her children’s sake that she should exert herself; the duty of both parents now devolved on her; and with a meek, yet resolute spirit, she endeavoured to fulfil it. Many of her observations on education are well worthy the attention of parents and teachers, showing, as they do, a knowledge of human and of child nature, without some share of which a merely intellectual teacher is little better than a talking automaton. Mary Ware’s innate sympathy with her fellow-creatures enabled her to read young hearts, and to distinguish individual character; and her fine moral sense prevented her from making the common blunder of reproving some fault of ignorance or manners in as grave a tone as she would a moral delinquency. Her rule was a rule of religion, of reason, and of love ; and one cannot but feel that, after all, her vocation was probably that of an instructress.
While Mrs. Ware’s plans were still unsettled, she received an earnest request from a gentleman at Milton to take up her abode there, and devote two or three hours a-day to the instruction of his children. The proposal seems, in a pecuniary point of view, to have been a very advantageous one ; but before she accepted it, Mary Ware weighed all the influences such a plan must have upon her children. Their welfare she considered her first object and duty, her second was to be useful, and ‘the possibility of living without debt was a sine qua non anywhere.’ Finally, she accepted this engagement, which, through the few remaining years of her life, she never regretted. Even before her husband’s death Mary Ware had suspected in herself the first symptoms of a painful malady ; and a year or two afterwards her fears were confirmed. Still the outward tenor of her life was but little altered ; she kept school as usual for a long time still, and made scarcely any confidant of her state, except her physician. Not until it was impossible to conceal the truth from them, were her children — seven in all — apprised of her danger.
In the summer of 1848, feeling that her disease was gaining ground, she prepared a paper for her children, containing her last wishes and advice ; but after this she rallied again, and few who witnessed her energy of will and action would have believed her true condition. In the following spring something touched the heart of “little Jamie,” now grown a man, and prompted him to write to his early benefactress; he had never done so before, but at last he poured out his feelings of gratitude for all she had done and suffered for him and his parents long years ago, and for her continued remembrance of his grandmother as long as she lived. But the letter arrived just too late for Mary Ware on earth to know how tenderly she was still remembered at Osmotherly.
‘On a lovely April day, the windows of her room all open that she might breathe freely, she looked up at one who entered, and said, with a smile, ” What a beautiful day to go home!” ‘ Her sufferings were great, but to the last she thought more of others than herself. Many hours of the last days she held in her hand a note which her husband had written to her at a time when absent from her he thought himself dying. It contained these words : ‘Dear, dear Mary, if I could, I would express all I owe to you. You have been an unspeakable, an indescribable blessing. God reward you a thousand-fold ! Farewell till we meet again.’ The hour was come.
In the soft twilight of another April day, on Good Friday, 1849, their dust was reunited, and the body of Mary laid beside that of her husband in the beautiful cemetery of Mount Auburn.”
Source: Memorable Women, by Camilla Crosland, David Bogue, London, 1854, pages 203-243