BENJAMIN HARRIS and His Wife Patience. 3

By H. K.  —

CHAPTER III.

THE NEW WORLD, AND BACK AGAIN TO OLD GRACECHURCH STREET FOR GOOD.

Benjamin Harris and his wife Patience crossed the Atlantic, beyond which Scotch Covenanters and French Huguenots were fain to wander. They reached that America which was still in its vastness virgin soil, but in which town-steads and meeting-houses and governors’ mansions were fast rising in many quarters.

They tarried at one of those youthful log-built cities, among the pumpkin beds and bean-fields, and closing around them in the distance the shades of the great forest from which the dusky Indian, with his war-paint and his poisoned arrows, stalked and traded warily with the settlers, and through which John Elliot journeyed to reach the tribes with the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith. There stood their own miniature gables round the centre chimney and the shingled roof-tree, beneath which they took up their abode, while Benjamin Harris easily established his trade among the intellectual wants of the thoughtful population.

A community of earnest, devout men, so bent upon purity that they condescended in their turn to pile the faggots for witch hags, and lash, brand, and hang wretched Quaker men and women, it might have been thought that it would have been congenial to the serious, storm-tossed young couple; but even here there were exceptions.

Benjamin Harris, a Nonconformist’s son, reared as it were under penalty, was one of those true men, who, whatever the nature or origin of their defects, are capable of receiving light from every quarter and for all time. It has been seen that the harshness of his youth was mellowing amidst crosses, privations, and persecutions; how much more here, where his life was full, his love, his friend, his godliness, morality, and independence no longer grievously offended.

Another motive: Harris had been born a Londoner, and to London in those days, Nature, primitive and fresh from God’s hand, as it lingers on the moors and the mountains, was a clasped book in an unknown tongue. This new world was as much, and even more, the grand, gracious teacher to Benjamin Harris, that it must have been to the single hearts among the company of yeomen, soldiers, merchants, preachers, and brave women who first trod its rock-bound shores; for he was not driven back upon himself and his fellows by its awful loneliness, or distracted by physical hardships and perils. This unweighed power must have helped effectually to combat the counter depths of bigotry and covetousness which the Harrises sounded.

At first the Harrises attracted considerable attention from the magnates of the place; but they were soon suffered to drop into obscurity, save among a few extravagant dreamers, or humble minded fools, when it was on record that, in spite of all their trials they were so weak, or had been so corrupted, as to prove shy in their experiences and loose in their discipline.

Then Benjamin Harris was left to re-print his forbidden English books, his Baxter, Howe, and beloved Milton, with the many charters and missives already in request, to cultivate his garden, and bring in wild plants and wild birds, to ponder and hold converse with his dear wife Patience, the children born to them, and the few congenial spirits who adhered to him — and grew well-to-do, and bland too, and jocose in his works and his amusements before a rival rose to supersede him, by the charm involved in the preservation of fierce denunciations.

“Good wife,” owned Harris, one day, after he had been listening long to the chattering and warbling of some feathered favourites. “I must think that God has also ordained singing men and singing women to express mere human sympathies, and instinctive gladness in addition to deliberate thanksgiving, which part no man disputes. I will not assail the class again, though, alas! many wax miserably wanton; just as I have had objections to summing up the arguments against the smoker’s weed here, after I once saw how it cooled down Governor Hawley’s intemperate heat which might have been the destruction of the whole state.”

“Why it seemeth to me, that you have been always merciful, Benjamin, save to yourself and the boys when froward,” alleged Patience.

“I would be a craven to spare myself and my own flesh and blood; but the lads understand me, think you not, Patience?”

“I fear they regard you before the minister; even Sam who, you say, is upright, but tempted to doggedness.”

“And they regard you, Patience, the most of the three.”

Patience plaited the curtain of her matronly hood round a face fuller and fairer than in her youth, though she had been always, in what she would have called her graceless days, a woman of a sweet, good favour, and she smiled sunnily.

“I do not say so, and yet you may give me our sons, Benjamin, our tall, active sons, for you know you have the chief share in the hearts of our foolish daughters.”

“Tush, not foolish, Patience, woman; free from care, and, perchance slow of thought yet awhile, though swift of feeling; but modest, and maidenly, and docile, and children of many prayers.”

“I know not why it is, Benjamin, but the sons do always in some respect belong most to the mother — the daughters to the father.”

“Because the daughters be the pictures of the good wife, and the sons be the marrows of the good man.”

Yes, Patience, who had grown grave with her young husband (what he had not bargained for), was wise and happy in adopting his new humour as indefatigably. In truth, the wife and mother promoted to her just dignity regained her lost health and cheer, and was as contented and bright, as she was laborious and untiring.

The news salted by months on shipboard, had long ago reached the Puritans, that another king reigned in England in the room of the vain and forbidding sons of the “Man Charles,” that toleration was proclaimed, and the fetters on men’s consciences and liberties for ever broken. In the end the Harrises resolved to return to the old business, if possible to the old house in Gracechurch Street, to bear no malice, to restore to the mother country their children, to be received by the unblushing, untroubled Chiswells as honoured kindred, fit to be called to court, or to receive a pension — and to bestow on Mrs. Lucy Soule, to cure her moping, and arrest her flights, and bring her back to the soft, cordial self under her whims, their lads and lasses for the dear, bodily presence of her aged mother in the dust.

These indomitable, buoyant people did it all. They came again in joy where they went out weeping; flourished, Phoenix-like, out of their ashes, because these were the ashes of the righteous; dwelt in London under Anne, when Newton occupied an ordinary house in Leicester Square, and Swift and De Foe were the nameless scribblers; walked with their children in the Mercers’ Gardens, and were not frightened or ashamed to show them where the pillory was reared in Chepe; and, depend upon it, Benjamin Harris found space and time for his curious plumed pets, his seeds, his sapling trees in pots, his creepers for porches, balconies, and terraces, besides his collection of battered black-letter volumes, and his ragged MSS; while Patience had her china closet containing, among its valuables, some barbarous quill-work, and a few tufted heads of gorgeous feathers.

Benjamin Harris and his wife were not people of quality, nor did they let loose their principles more than righteousness warranted, so that they were not likely to frequent auctions and masquerades; but Benjamin humoured his young daughters once by tucking them tightly under each arm, and standing in a door way near Burlington House, somewhat sheltered from the crowd of sedans, link-boys, and general spectators, to watch the company pour into one of those fashionable and perilous diversions.

As he kept his ground, with his grave, manly face, and his modest but eager pair, a country gentleman by the cut of his square coat, and the full hose tied at the knee, which had gone out as far back as King Charles, eyed Harris carefully, and as if satisfied with the investigation, taking off his three-cornered hat, begged mildly to be allowed to occupy a place near him and his party. The stranger was attended by a young daughter, and he wished that rustic folks like them might enjoy the gaiety with more comfort and safety, than exposed to the pressure and restlessness of the people.

Benjamin readily assented, and made way for the petitioner, an old man with a very homely, kindly cast of countenance, his beard close shaven, and in place of a periwig his own hair of a silvery whiteness, which no powder could emulate, and “my daughter Dorothy,” a buxom, barn-door lass, with such a demure hood, as her mother and grandmother might have worn before her.

The younger members of the little company were soon familiar, and the seniors conversed in a friendly way. The squire, or vicar, as he could only be, commenting on the weather with an earnestness that was scarcely in keeping with the vicinity of Bow-bell, and remarking that it was a rare fine season for the hay crop.

“I perceive your heart is in your rural domain, sir,” says Benjamin, with a slight smile.

“Where better?” asks the gentleman simply; “it hath been there this many a year, since it was a sore burdened heart within the precincts of Whitehall. Nay, I do not need to hide it now, I am Oliver Cromwell’s son, Master Richard.”

Harris started unfeignedly and removed his hat, but Master Richard declined the compliment.

“I receive only neighbourly tokens of good will, and I will be glad to accept such from you or any man — but none else. You see, sir, my father was born Oliver Cromwell, whom the Lord compelled all men to acknowledge; but I was nought save Master Richard — as such I am not ashamed to be greeted down in our shire, where, I trust, it shames no man to greet me, and where I know it would grieve my own folk if I failed them.”

But Harris bowed lower to good Master Richard than to Richard Cromwell; and the printer and the Protector’s son stood lovingly together and took note of the stream that flowed past them.

Would that a painter’s hand could arrest some of these groups and single figures! Sailors and soldiers, nuns and Turks, Italians and Savoyards, Highlandmen and highwaymen, mackrel women and broom-sellers; and where there was no disguise there were still some of the high lace and ribband plaited commodes which Mary brought in from Holland, rising like steeples above the brows of the women, and there were everywhere the grotesquely wide skirts and the tremendous Marlborough wigs making up the men; there were the political patches and the hideous carved ashen walking-sticks, and, to the delight of the unsophisticated lasses, the fans whose manoeuvres Mr. Spectator had wickedly arranged into an exercise:

“Handle your fans, unfurl your fans, discharge your fans, ground your fans, recover your fans, flutter your fans.”

It was a perceptible fact that those who were famous in any way, even for so small a matter as a fair face or a fine figure, did not much affect either mask or mantle, so that the populace might shout at their notorieties. There was Dr. Sacheverell bewigged with the best, with his bold blustering face equally “firm” to the Church of England and his holiness the Pope.

There was starred and gartered, exquisitely moulded, evil-eyed Koenigsmark, before he shot Mr. Thynne in broad day in the park — certainly the most direct way in which an heiress was approached through a friend by a villain who wished to plunder her — the brother of that other Koenigsmark who slept so darkly under the floor of Princess Sophia’s dressing-room over in Hanover.

There was a fellow squire of Master Richard’s nodding frankly to him, a man of greater mind and bearing, a goodly gentleman as any present in other particulars than velvet coat and lace cravat, with mingled humour and simplicity in his eye, and a union of heat and benevolence in brow, mouth, and chin. Shut your eyes and you can spy him riding as high sheriff, noticing the yeomen and their families at the church door, giving alms to the poor in his great hall, spoiled by the wheedling gipsy, remembering with pride and tenderness the “vain, cruel widow,” visiting Westminster Abbey and Vauxhall in this very town sojourn.

Among the belles is “the little Whig,” with flowing chesnut hair like her mother’s and Queen Anne’s, and yet more marketable, for she bribes the Tory gentlemen with a sight of these tresses while she entertains them at her toilet. “Dulcinea!” groans Benjamin, and turns his back almost vexed that he had allowed his humble, industrious girls to behold — a syren.

But clear the way for two still more potent women; one in the seat of honour, in the glass-coach, the other with her back to the horses, meditating how their places are to be reversed. There can be no mistake here; the large, brilliant, fierce-eyed dame, blazing with jewels and in scarlet stockings, is one who certainly loved her husband and wept her son; “the wicked woman Marlborough” of the dramatist and architect, Vanbrugh, the dreaded Mrs. Freeman of cowering Mrs. Morland; the pale, quiet, soft, sleek, poor relation, in uncourtly Pinners, is her assistant and successor, Mrs. Masham. Benjamin sighs again, though he scarcely guesses how far Sarah and Abigail have played into Louis’ hands, have governed — and will govern — mighty England.

At this moment a slight stoppage occurs in the procession. Sarah waves her mittened hand, and calls out furiously to her coachman to get on. The scared Jehu whips out of the way and dashes across the kennel, and Sarah and Abigail bespatter, from head to foot, those representatives of other interests in the realm; the enlightened printer and the contented tiller of the ground — the asserter of the truth, who suffered without dreaming of compensation — and Richard Cromwell, who, with his brother Henry, bore the best testimony to their great father’s honesty, inasmuch as standing in his shoes, they had yet no mind to play the parts of Hippias and Hipparchus.

But there was quite another sort of enterprise with which Benjamin Harris and his wife had more concern. After Patience could no longer pretend to a necessity for keeping accounts and revising columns of figures on the example of good methodical painstaking Mrs. Dunton in her grave, years and years agone, and her too vagabond and easy John, not only married to another, but separated from his second spouse, waned into shabbiness and disrepute, and fallen out of sight; or with a happier reference to cordial Mrs. Walton, without whom patient Izaak had no heart to carry on the business, but wound it up in a prodigious hurry, and strolled off from the halfshop in Fleet Street to his angling, to escape the dreary gap in the old pleasant drudgery and cheerful routine.

Now Benjamin Harris and his wife Patience, in the leisure of their age and ripeness of their wit, are conjectured to have had shares, interests and personal tokens, in that petted and prosperous child of the Society of Stationers, the ” Ladies’ Diary,” once mainly under the conduct of a lady as a reward for the services of her deceased husband, Mr. Henry Bleighton, “the most eminent civil engineer of his time,” and editor of the said work for upwards of twenty years.

Benjamin certainly wrote accounts of the American wolf, partridge and snake, as he had met them in the other world; and Patience, who had inherited a little talent for painting, long allowed to rust, when spurred on by the admiration of her children and grandchildren, after her hands began to tremble, coloured from memory and her husband’s directions, those sheets of engravings of foreign plants which adorned one of the Diaries, and were so much admired, that hundreds of young ladies throughout the kingdom copied them, and hung them up framed above their harpsichords.

Is any one grossly ignorant of the first “Ladies’ Diaries,” and arrogantly contemptuous of their merits? Let them learn that (shall it be said in the face of their title? certainly, in opposition to some of their assertions,) their renown was that of mathematics. They are believed to have exerted “a great and beneficial influence upon the state of mathematical science in this country for nearly a century and a-half.” The “Ladies’ Diary” was not married to the “Gentlemen’s Diary” till 1841.

Tu this age of new publications, it may be worth while, before leaving old Benjamin Harris and his true dame on the list of contributors, to look back to their title-page and study the intentions which they sought in their unfading energy and noble spirit, in advanced life, to promote and fulfil. Here it stands. “The Lady’s Diary, or Woman’s Almanack, containing Directions of Love and Marriage, of Cookery, Preserving, Perfumery, Bills of Fare for every Month, and many other things peculiar to the Fair Sex” — strange that mathematics should have been among them.

The first number consists of “a Preface to the Fair Sex, containing the Happiness of England under the reign of Queen Elizabeth and the present Queen, with an account of the subject of the present and future Almanacks (if any be).” Ah! modest doubt! Then follows “a Copy of Verses in Praise of the Queen, which were actually spoken (with others), at the Maiour’s Parlour by one of the Blew Coat Boys (at the last Thanksgiving Day, about the Vigo business), with universal applause.”

Next, “an Account of the Calendar at large.” Then, “the Calendar itself on one side (of each leaf), and on the other side an Account of Bills of Fare for each Month,” and, also, “Medicinal and Cookery Receipts, collected from the best Authors.” Then succeeds “the Common Notes of the Year, the four Terms, the Times when Marriage comes in and out, the Eclipses, and all in one page.” After this is the second part of the Almanack, which contains the “Praise of Women in general, with directions for Love and Marriage, intermixt with delightful stories,” (Oh! for the stories of those “Old Ladies’ Diaries,” like the tales in Charlotte Bronte’s “Ladies’ Magazines.”)

Then ensues “the Marriage Ceremonies of divers Nations, together with several Enigmas, some explained and others omitted to be explained, till next year” (the patience of the ancients!). “All this second part is intermixt with poetry, the best of the kind, to the best of my judgment;” lastly is “a Table of the Births of all the Crowned heads in Europe, with the time when they began to reign, and how long they have reigned.” “The Calendar part (I should have noted before) has a great variety of particulars all at length, because few women make reflections, or are able to deduce consequences from premises.”

Another communication on the subject, apologises for the absence of the song of “Dear Albana,” and intimates ” I shall fill one page with a Chronology of famous Women, according to your directions last year. I think to put in Eve, Deborah, and Jael, Queen of Sheba, Delilah, Jephtha’s daughter, Esther, Susannah, Judith, the Virgin Mary, Lot’s wife out of Sacred story; and Helen, Cleopatra, Roxana, Hero, Lucretia, Penelope, Alceste, Semiramis, Boadicea, Zenobia, Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Anne; or as many of them as a page will hold. But for the ages of Susannah, Judith, and of the rest that follow (except the two last Queens), I cannot yet find out.” *

A little comforted by the concluding doubt, we hide our diminished heads in contemplating the enterprise of our predecessors, and quit Benjamin Harris and Mistress Harris, their children and grandchildren, commenting on their last editions of this “Ladies’ Diary,” which the Maids of Honour were so solicited to patronise, because innumerable women throughout the kingdom would adopt their practice, over the dishes of tea which had pushed an inch or two aside the cider and the ale, the sack and the sweet waters, of the days of the Merry Monarch.


* Letters of Mr.John Tipper, of Coventry. Edition 1704.

 

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