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THE LIFE OF MARY MEHITABLE CHASE By Robert von Behr* "Do not wonder that I bow in grief," said the old man, "for the light of my old age is set." The elm branches swayed, and the nearby brook seemed to murmur in sympathy, as he and his guest made their way from the grave. A few months earlier, he had seen his daughter buried there, at the age of thirty-one, after a struggle with tuberculosis. Mary Chase seldom enjoyed good health, although her childhood in the Chatham hills in New York State had been vigorous. Her father taught her early to appreciate and understand Nature. On the morning of her death, she said to him, "Father, when I was a little, fragile child, thee took me in thy arms and carried me out into the fields, and told me to look around and see what a good world God had made for little children; and after that, I think I was not as before." Her mother, gifted with delicate tastes and appreciations, though never equipped with the "advantage" of culture, encouraged her interest in Nature. "Sweet Mother," Mary wrote, "how precious to her were the commonest flowers! One pleasant June morning I joined the family circle at breakfast, for the first time in months; how had our invalid mother's hand decorated the table! A branch of blossomed sweet-brier lay by each plate, gemmed with dew. She had plucked them herself, walking falteringly , and leaning on her staff." Mary's upbringing followed strongly in the Quaker tradition, of which her family was a part. The use of discipline was exchanged for an appeal to the conscience and the power of love. As little use as possible was made of reprimand, and as much encouragement as possible for achievement. In her education— religious as well as academic—everything was done to let her develop as an individual. The family attended meeting at nearby Greenbrook, and yet little was ever done to inflict dogma upon * Robert von Behr, a student at the Washington Square College of Arts and Sciences, New York University, wrote this essay as a Senior Thesis at Friends Seminary, New York City. Most of his information came from Mary M. Chase and Her Writings, ed. Henry Fowler (Boston, 1855). His family now owns as a country house the boarding school where Mary Chase once lived. 27 28Quaker History any of the children, so that Mary was as able to listen to organ music in a cathedral as to sit in "humble adoration among a band of silent worshippers," as her brother said. Much Of her childhood education came from her parents, for her father founded and ran a school on the farm property. One day, when she was eight years old, her teacher happened to find a poem she had written on "The Three Days' Revolution in France." With enthusiasm he sent it to a city newspaper, and it was published in the "poet's corner." When Mary found her poem printed, she became flushed and burst into tears; for many years she kept her compositions hidden. At the age of twenty-one, she attended the Albany Female Academy, where her accomplishments were noteworthy. For some years after her graduation she stayed in Albany with relatives and edited a magazine published by the Academy, called the Monthly Rose. She developed a long-lasting friendship with her co-editor, and wrote prose and poetry for this as well as other periodicals throughout the country. The Alumnae Association of the Academy awarded her three gold medals in all, for a poem, "The Visions of Night," a "moral tale" entitled "Life in the Country," and an essay on "Flowers." There was much excitement in the summer of 1849, as she made a collection of the species of flowers growing in the region, some three hundred, and sent them, tastefully mounted, to the World's Exhibition at London, where they were praised highly. An example of her interest in flowers and her natural imagery, almost Biblical, is "How Shall I Think of Thee?" How shall I think of thee? And which of these, thy flowers, Shall be the token meet...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 27-36
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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