If in my report of her story, or in any which follow, I shall appear to make her or you speak an older language than it seems probable that you should use, speaking in your own words, it must be remembered, that what is very proper and becoming when spoken, requires to be arranged with some little difference before it can be set down in writing. Little inaccuracies must be pared away, and the whole must assume a more formal and correct appearance. My own way of thinking, I am sensible, will too often intrude itself, but I have endeavoured to preserve, as exactly as I could, your own words, and your own peculiarities of style and manner, and to approve myself
Your faithful historiographer,
as well as true friend,
(By Mary Lamb)
My father is the curate of a village church, about five miles from Amwell. I was born in the parsonage-house, which joins the church-yard. The first thing I can remember was my father teaching me the alphabet from the letters on a tombstone that stood at the head of my mother’s grave. I used to tap at my father’s study-door; I think I now hear him say, “Who is there?—What do you want, little girl?” “Go and see mamma. Go and learn pretty letters.” Many times in the day would my father lay aside his books and his papers to lead me to this spot, and make me point to the letters, and then set me to spell syllables and words: in this manner, the epitaph on my mother’s tomb being my primmer and my spelling-book, I learned to read.
I was one day sitting on a step placed across the church-yard stile, when a gentleman passing by, heard me distinctly repeat the letters which formed my mother’s name, and then say, Elizabeth Villiers, with a firm tone, as if I had performed some great matter. This gentleman was my uncle James, my mother’s brother: he was a lieutenant in the navy, and had left England a few weeks after the marriage of my father and mother, and now, returned home from a long sea-voyage, he was coming to visit my mother; no tidings of her decease having reached him, though she had been dead more than a twelvemonth.