Mary Eliza Tucker Lambert
MRS. MARY E. TUCKER
cities now contend for Homer dead,
Yes! seven cities claimed the honor of being the birthplace of the immortal "Homer" after he was dead.. I, who am still living, have the credit of being born in three States, not to speak of countless numbers of cities.
Georgia, State of my adoption-the Empire State of the South! proud would I have been had thy red hills given me birth; but-I was not born there.
New York, because Staten Island had the honor of being the birthplace of my noble father, whose ancestors, the Huguenots, left France because of their devotion to a principle, thinks that I should have been born there: I was not.
Providence, Rhode Island, the place of my mother's nativity, intends claiming me upon the plea that I have Yankee ingenuity and perseverance; but-I was not born there. Rhode Island is too small a State to claim me.
That I was born, is an undeniable fact. My father says that Cahaba, Alabama, is the place of my nativity.
Alabama-"Here let us rest!"-the beautiful name which was given my State by the Indian chieftain who, driven by the cruel white man from his native home, sought with his tribe to find peace and rest in the flower-land bordering on the beautiful river which still bears the name of "Alabama." The Indian found no rest-neither did I: in that respect the Indian and I resemble each other.
Posterity may wish to know in what year the light of my genius burst upon the world. My enemies pronounce me somewhere near forty years of age; my friends declare I do not look a day over twenty. Our family Bible was destroyed by the Yankee or negro incendiaries during the late "rebellion"-I use the word "rebellion" sarcastically, for I was a REBEL, and I glory to own it-therefore, unless AI choose to tell my age, posterity will never be the wiser. The Bible said, before it was burned: "The 6th day of November 1838, Mary E. Perine saw the sorrowful light of day."
My mother! Holy influences surround me. No cord of memory thrills at the sacred name of mother: only in dreamland have I seen her. She, the beautiful child of song-loving and beloved, pure as the flowers she cherished-died that I might live.
They buried her under the orange-trees, and often, while a tiny child, have I sought the jasmine-covered grave, and wept for the love of mother.
"Mary Eliza, beloved wife of Edward M. Perine, died in the twentieth year of her age.
daughters have done virtuously,
That is all. What more can I wish? It is enough to make me venerate anything in the shape of woman who bears the sacred title of mother.
My father! It is said I am especially fond of gentlemen. Why should I not be? My father was a gentleman; and, judging all men by him-my standard of a true, honorable, noble image of the Almighty's master-piece-how can I keep, if simply out of respect for my father, from loving his sex? My father! That one word contained my child-world. He was to me all-mother, father, sister, brother, and everything except grandmother; for I had a grandmother, and my earliest recollection is of a kind of buzzing in my ear as she vainly essayed to rock me to sleep in my little cradle. How could I go to sleep, when she would not hush talking? I remember distinctly that, exasperated to frenzy, I told her that if she did not let me alone I would make Uncle Wiley, our negro carriage-driver, cut her head off and throw her in the river.
The power of conversing is a gift greatly to be desired, but I certainly do not wish my children to inherit the fully developed organ of language of their great-grandmother.
Perhaps I do wrong to mention the only failing, if the gift of language can be called a failing, that my grandmother possessed. I could fill volumes with her virtues. I can never forget her untiring and unselfish devotion to me as a child, and to my own little ones, who when her cords of memory quavered with age, took my place in the heart of the dear old lady; and I seemed to her what my dead mother once had been. No-when I want an example of faith, hope, love, and charity, I have only to look upon my grandmother.
I suppose I must have been a very precocious child, for I know that I read the "Pilgrim's Progress," and the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments," and made love to my father's clerks before I was six years old.
When I was eight years of age, my father married Miss Fanny E. Hunter, daughter of Judge John Hunter, formerly of Selma, Alabama, who was well known during his life throughout the Southern States.
The sister of my step-mother married Col. Robert White Smith, of Mobile. Mrs. Smith was, a few years ago, one of the most beautiful ladies I ever saw, and is still very lovely. After my father's marriage, my grandmother went to Milledgeville, Ga., to take possession of some property which came to her on the death of her brother. I, of course, accompanied her. In Milledgeville, I was chiefly noted for my mass of peculiarly colored hair, which strikingly resembled the tendrils of the love vine, which grows so plentifully in the marshes of the South, my light-blue pop-eyes, and also for my large feet and hands, which seemed to be forever in my own way, and in the way of everybody else. "They say" that I used to be a rhymist then-perhaps I was. I only know that every time I climbed a tree, or hid my grandmother's spectacles, I was called bad or mischievous. Now, when my olden pranks are alluded to, they are termed the "eccentricities of genius." I was, of course, sent to school. Being considered fearless and venturesome, I was selected, together with a young classmate from the botany class, to search in the woods for wild flowers as specimens to be analyzed. We liked botany, but preferred zoology, and returned to the school-house with rare specimens. When the teacher opened the box, what was his astonishment and consternation to find it filled with tiny toads, which jumped out and covered the floor, and also a young owl, for which I had taken pains to climb into a hollow tree, to the detriment of my dress!
Poor old Doctor Cotting! he was blessed with a deal of patience, but the frogs proved too much for him, and I was sent home with a message that nothing but the grace of God could do anything with me.
As Topsy says, "I growed up," until I became a fair and goodly tree, as far as size was concerned. My father came to see me, and concluded that I, his eldest hopeful, needed pruning and training. For that purpose he brought me to New York. During my journey, I characterized myself, much to the mortification of my father and step-mother, by drinking lemonade from my finger-bowl, calling nut-crackers pinchers, and blanc-mange pudding-all owing to the want of proper training. I am glad now that my early years were spent with a poor grandmother instead of a wealthy father, for the economy practised in her household gave me habits of frugality which I would not otherwise have possessed, and which proved invaluable to me during the war.
My father placed me in a boarding-school in New York, where I remained one year only; for I was fond of the creature comforts, and as I only received the flow of the soul, I left in disgust. My indulgent parent then placed me in the "polishing mill" of Mrs. Leverett, who still has her school in Eighteenth Street; and to that establishment I am indebted for the elegance of manners for which I am so justly noted.
Here let me mention that Mrs. Leverett was all to me that a tender, gentle mother could have been. She praised my talents, which she, even then, although I could not realize it, seemed to think I possessed, reproved me for my faults, and gently strove to correct or eradicate them. Mrs. Leverett's daughters were also very kind to me, and I remember with gratitude how they seemed to take the ignorant, rough Southern girl into their hearts.
At last I was sent home accomplished.
I was young, rich, and as for looks, why, I could pass in a crowd of ugly girls.
Of course I fell in love. What fool does not? I did not marry the object of my adoration. I fell in love again: this time I married after first saying to my intended:
thou art not my first love:
After my marriage, my husband took me to his home in Milledgeville, Ga., where we lived with his mother for one year. They were all kind to me, and I loved them, but I was glad when my husband said that I should preside over a home of my own.
The next year a little birdling came to cheer our nest, "My Gentle Annie," my dark-haired child, whose deep-blue eyes and sad glances seem ever before me. Then came "Little Mary," the one the preachers call an "imp of mischief"-a white-haired fairy foundling, so loving, and so full of fun.
Perhaps I was happy then: I do not know, but I think I was; any way, we lived peacefully until the war commenced. It brought sorrow to all our land; and I need not speak of its consequences to me, one of the million sufferers.
When the struggle ended, my father and my husband said they had lost all.
It is said, that to become a Christian, one must be born again: poets and Christians resemble each other, for
"Poeta naseitor non fit;"
and I know that the suffering I endured during, and after the close of the war, must have been the pangs of my second birth, which created a poetic nature I am sure I did not before possess.
Leaving my home and little ones, with the full, free consent of my husband, and the approbation of my father, I came to New York, (I cannot speak of the sorrowful parting from my babies,) to seek my fortune as a journalist, and also to procure a publisher for a volume of poems which I had written at various times.
It would be useless to tell how I struggled with poverty, but never lost my precious hope and faith; and how, in time, I found and made friends by scores, Republicans and Democrats, who completely ignored the political question, and gave me not only encouragement, but work, for which they paid me will. Say what you will about the cold, heartless nature of the true-born Northerner, I know by sweet experience, that, beneath the crust of snow, deep hidden in their hearts there blooms the fragrant flower of sympathy, whose perfume gladdens the heart of the homeless, when the outward ice is thawed by the knowledge that one is worthy, industrious, and not totally devoid of brains.
Need I say that I succeeded? and that those who advised me to remain at home and cook and wash dishes, (two kinds of work I could never endure,) and turned their heads the other way when they saw me, now greet me with smiles and say, "I always knew you would succeed, you were so persevering." True, I am still away from my home and those I love, but soon, very soon, I hope to be with my dear ones, never to leave them again until the Great Master calls me to join my mother in that glorious land where all is love.
I have given you a brief outline of my eventful life, in which I have stated the leading facts only. Hundreds of pages could I fill with my journeyings over the United States, and incidents which I am sure would prove interesting; but you remember the old adage, that "shoemakers' children always have to go without shoes;" so I, who am constantly employed in writing the lives of others, cannot spare time to elaborate my own history. So I will only add, that if ever I become famous, it will be owing to the blessing, not the curse-necessity.
From Ida Raymond, ed., Southland Writers (Philadelphia, 1870), 393-8.