My Early Days—Odd Characters in our Village—Distinguished Visitors to Dartmouth—Two Story Tellers of Hanover—A “Beacon Light” and a Master of Synonyms—A Day with Bryant in his Country Home—A Wedding Trip to the White Mountains in 1826 in “A One Hoss Shay”—A Great Career which Began in a Country Store.
I make no excuse for publishing these memories. Realizing that I have been so fortunate as to know an unusual number of distinguished men and women, it gives me pleasure to share this privilege with others.
One summer morning, “long, long ago,” a newspaper was sent by my grandmother, Mrs. Ezekiel Webster, to a sister at Concord, New Hampshire, with this item of news pencilled on the margin:
“Born Thursday morning, July 11, 1839, 4.30 A.M., a fine little girl, seven pounds.”
I was born in my father’s library, and first opened my eyes upon a scenic wall-paper depicting the Bay of Naples; in fact I was born just under Vesuvius—which may account for my occasional eruptions of temper and life-long interest in “Old Time Wall-papers.” Later our house was expanded into a college dormitory and has been removed to another site, but Vesuvius is still smoking placidly in the old library.
Mine was a shielded, happy childhood—an only child for six years—and family letters show that I was “always and for ever talking,” asking questions, making queer remarks, or allowing free play to a vivid imagination, which my parents thought it wise to restrain. Father felt called upon to write for a child’s paper about Caty’s Gold Fish, which were only minnows from Mink Brook.
“Caty is sitting on the floor at my feet, chattering as usual, and asking questions.” I seem to remember my calling over the banister to an assembled family downstairs, “Muzzer, Muzzer, I dess I dot a fezer,” or “Muzzer, come up, I’se dot a headache in my stomach.” I certainly can recall my intense admiration for Professor Ira Young, our next door neighbour, and his snowy pow, which I called “pity wite fedders.”
As years rolled on, I fear I was pert and audacious. I once touched at supper a blazing hot teapot, which almost blistered my fingers, and I screamed with surprise and pain. Father exclaimed, “Stop that noise, Caty.” I replied, “Put your fingers on that teapot—and don’t kitikize.” And one evening about seven, my usual bedtime, I announced, “I’m going to sit up till eight tonight, and don’t you ’spute.” I know of many children who have the same habit of questions and sharp retorts. One of my pets, after plying her mother with about forty questions, wound up with, “Mother, how does the devil’s darning needle sleep? Does he lie down on a twig or hang, or how?” “I don’t know, dear.” “Why, mother, it is surprising when you have lived so many years, that you know so little!”
Mr. Higginson told an absurd story of an inquisitive child and wearied mother in the cars passing the various Newtons, near Boston. At last the limit. “Ma, why do they call this West Newton?” “Oh, I suppose for fun.” Silence for a few minutes, then, “Ma, what was the fun in calling it West Newton?”