The germ of the Original Stories was, I imagine, a suggestion (in the manner of publishers) from Mary Wollstonecraft’s employer, Johnson of St. Paul’s Churchyard, that something more or less in the manner of Mrs. Trimmer’s History of the Robins, the great nursery success of 1786, might be a profitable speculation. For I doubt if the production of a book for children would ever have occurred spontaneously to an author so much more interested in the status of women and other adult matters. However, the idea being given her, she quickly wrote the book—in 1787 or 1788—carrying out in it to a far higher power, in Mrs. Mason, the self-confidence and rectitude of Mrs. Trimmer’s leading lady, Mrs. Benson, who i... (From: Gutenberg.org.) These conversations and tales are accommodated to the present state of society; which obliges the author to attempt to cure those faults by reason, which might never to have taken root in the infant mind. Good habits, imperceptibly fixed, are far preferable to the precepts of reason; but, as this task requires more judgment than generally falls to the lot of parents, substitutes must be sought for, and medicines given, when regimen would have answered the purpose much better. I believe those who examine their own minds, will readily agree with me, that reason, with difficulty, conquers settled habits, even when it is arrived at some degree of maturity: why then do we suffer children to be bound with fetters, which their half-formed facult... (From: Gutenberg.org.) Mary and Caroline, though the children of wealthy parents were, in their infancy, left entirely to the management of servants, or people equally ignorant. Their mother died suddenly, and their father, who found them very troublesome at home, placed them under the tuition of a woman of tenderness and discernment, a near relation, who was induced to take on herself the important charge through motives of compassion.
They were shamefully ignorant, considering that Mary had been fourteen, and Caroline twelve years in the world. If they had been merely ignorant, the task would not have appeared so arduous; but they had caught every prejudice that the vulgar casually instill. In order to eradicate these prejudices, and substitute good habits ... (From: Gutenberg.org.) One fine morning in spring, some time after Mary and Caroline were settled in their new abode, Mrs. Mason proposed a walk before breakfast, a custom she wished to teach imperceptibly, by rendering it amusing.
The sun had scarcely dispelled the dew that hung on every blade of grass, and filled the half-shut flowers; every prospect smiled, and the freshness of the air conveyed the most pleasing sensations to Mrs. Mason’s mind; but the children were regardless of the surrounding beauties, and ran eagerly after some insects to destroy them. Mrs. Mason silently observed their cruel sports, without appearing to do it; but stepping suddenly out of the foot-path into the long grass, her buckle was caught in it, and striving to disentangle h... (From: Gutenberg.org.) After breakfast, Mrs. Mason gave the children Mrs. Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories; and the subject still turned on animals, and the wanton cruelty of those who treated them improperly. The little girls were eager to express their detestation, and requested that in future they might be allowed to feed the chickens. Mrs. Mason complied with their request; only one condition was annexed to the permission, that they did it regularly. When you wait for your food, you learn patience, she added, and you can mention your wants; but those helpless creatures cannot complain. The country people frequently say,—How can you treat a poor dumb beast ill; and a stress is very properly laid on the word dumb;—for dumb they appear to those... (From: Gutenberg.org.) In the afternoon the children bounded over the short grass of the common, and walked under the shadow of the mountain till they came to a craggy part; where a stream broke out, and ran down the declivity, struggling with the huge stones which impeded its progress, and occasioned a noise that did not unpleasantly interrupt the solemn silence of the place. The brook was soon lost in a neighboring wood, and the children turned their eyes to the broken side of the mountain, over which ivy grew in great profusion. Mrs. Mason pointed out a little cave, and desired them to sit down on some stumps of trees, whilst she related the promised story.
In yonder cave once lived a poor man, who generally went by the name of crazy Robin. In his youth he... (From: Gutenberg.org.) A few days after these walks and conversations, Mrs. Mason heard a great noise in the play-room. She ran hastily to inquire the cause, and found the children crying, and near them, one of the young birds lying on the floor dead. With great eagerness each of them tried, the moment she entered, to exculpate herself, and prove that the other had killed the bird. Mrs. Mason commanded them to be silent; and, at the same time, called an orphan whom she had educated, and desired her to take care of the nest.
The cause of the dispute was easily gathered from what they both let fall. They had contested which had the best right to feed the birds. Mary insisted that she had a right, because she was the eldest; and Caroline, because she took the ... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The little girls were very assiduous to gain Mrs. Mason’s good opinion; and, by the mildness of their behavior, to prove to her that they were ashamed of themselves. It was one of Mrs. Mason’s rules, when they offended her, that is, behaved improperly, to treat them civilly; but to avoid giving them those marks of affection which they were particularly delighted to receive.
Yesterday, said she to them, I only mentioned to you one fault, though I observed two. You very readily guess I mean the lie that you both told. Nay, look up, for I wish to see you blush; and the confusion which I perceive in your faces gives me pleasure; because it convinces me that it is not a confirmed habit: and, indeed, my children, I should be sorry... (From: Gutenberg.org.) Mrs. Mason had a number of visitors one afternoon, who conversed in the usual thoughtless manner which people often fall into who do not consider before they speak; they talked of Caroline’s beauty, and she gave herself many affected airs to make it appear to the best advantage. But Mary, who had not a face to be proud of, was observing some peculiarities in the dress or manners of the guests; and one very respectable old lady, who had lost her teeth, afforded her more diversion than any of the rest.
The children went to bed without being reproved, though Mrs. Mason, when she dismissed them, said gravely, I give you to-night a kiss of peace, an affectionate one you have not deserved. They therefore discovered by her behavior that t... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The next morning Mrs. Mason met them first in the garden; and she desired Caroline to look at a bed of tulips, that were then in their highest state of perfection. I, added she, choose to have every kind of flower in my garden, as the succession enables me to vary my daily prospect, and gives it the charm of variety; yet these tulips afford me less pleasure than most of the other sort which I cultivate—and I will tell you why—they are only beautiful. Listen to my distinction;—good features, and a fine complexion, I term bodily beauty. Like the streaks in the tulip, they please the eye for a moment; but this uniformity soon tires, and the active mind flies off to something else. The soul of beauty, my dear children, con... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The evening was pleasant; Mrs. Mason and the children walked out; and many rustic noises struck their ears. Some bells in a neighboring village, softened by the distance, sounded pleasingly; the beetles hummed, and the children pursued them, not to destroy them; but to observe their form, and ask questions concerning their mode of living. Sheep were bleating and cattle lowing, the rivulet near them babbled along, while the sound of the distant ocean died away on the ear—or they forgot it, listening to the whistling of the hay-makers, who were returning from the field. They met a whole family who came every year from another county where they could not find constant employment, and Mrs. Mason allowed them to sleep in her barn. The ... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The children were allowed to help themselves to fruit, when it made a part of their meal; and Caroline always took care to pick out the best, or swallow what she took in a hurry, lest she should not get as much as she wished for. Indeed she generally eat more than her share. She had several times eaten more than a person ought to eat at one time, without feeling any ill effects; but one afternoon she complained of a pain in her stomach in consequence of it, and her pale face, and languid eyes, plainly shewed her indisposition. Mrs. Mason gave her an emetic, and after the operation she was obliged to go to bed, though she had promised herself a pleasant walk that evening. She was left alone, for Mary was not permitted to stay at home wit... (From: Gutenberg.org.) Mrs. Mason who always regulated her own time, and never loitered her hours irresolutely away, had very frequently to wait for the children, when she wished to walk, though she had desired them to be ready at a precise time. Mary in particular had a trick of putting everything off till the last moment, and then she did but half do it, or left it undone. This indolent way of delaying made her miss many opportunities of obliging and doing good; and whole hours were lost in thoughtless idleness, which she afterwards wished had been better employed.
This was the case one day, when she had a letter to write to her father; and though it was mentioned to her early in the morning, the finest part of the evening slipped away whilst she was finishi... (From: Gutenberg.org.) Mary’s procrastinating temper produced many other ill consequences; she would lie in bed till the last moment, and then appear without washing her face or cleaning her teeth. Mrs. Mason had often observed it, and hinted her dislike; but, unwilling to burden her with precepts, she waited for a glaring example. One was soon accidentally thrown in her way, and she determined that it should not pass unobserved.
A lady, who was remarkable for her negligence in this respect, spent a week with them; and, during that time, very frequently disconcerted the economy of the family. She was seldom fit to be seen, and if any company came by chance to dinner, she would make them wait till it was quite cold, whilst she huddled on some ill-chosen ... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The children not coming down to breakfast one morning at the usual time, Mrs. Mason went herself to inquire the reason; and as she entered the apartment, heard Mary say to the maid who assisted her, I wonder at your impertinence, to talk thus to me—do you know who you are speaking to?—she was going on; but Mrs. Mason interrupted her, and answered the question—to a little girl, who is only assisted because she is weak. Mary shrunk back abashed, and Mrs. Mason continued, as you have treated Betty, who is ten years older than yourself, improperly, you must now do every thing for yourself; and, as you will be some time about it, Caroline and I will eat our breakfast, and visit Mrs. Trueman. By the time we return, you may per... (From: Gutenberg.org.) One afternoon, Mrs. Mason gave the children leave to amuse themselves; but a kind of listlessness hung over them, and at a loss what to do, they seemed fatigued with doing nothing. They eat cakes though they had just dined, and did many foolish things merely because they were idle. Their friend seeing that they were irresolute, and could not fix on any employment, requested Caroline to assist her to make some clothes, that a poor woman was in want of, and while we are at work, she added, Mary will read us an entertaining tale, which I will point out.
The tale interested the children, who chearfully attended, and after it was finished, Mrs. Mason told them, that as she had some letters to write, she could not take her accustomed walk; but... (From: Gutenberg.org.) As it was now harvest time, the new scene, and the fine weather delighted the children, who ran continually out to view the reapers. Indeed every thing seemed to wear a face of festivity, and the ripe corn bent under its own weight, or, more erect, shewed the laughing appearance of plenty.
Mrs. Mason always allowing the gleaners to have a sufficient quantity, a great number of poor came to gather a little harvest; and she was pleased to see the feeble hands of childhood and age, collecting the scattered ears.
Honest Jack came with his family; and when the labors of the day were over, would play on a fiddle, that frequently had but three strings. But it served to set the feet in motion, and the lads and lasses dancing on the green sod, s... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The harper would frequently sit under a large elm, a few paces from the house, and play some of the most plaintive Welsh tunes. While the people were eating their supper, Mrs. Mason desired him to play her some favorite airs; and she and the children walked round the tree under which he sat, on the stump of another.
The moon rose in cloudless majesty, and a number of stars twinkled near her. The softened landscape inspired tranquility, while the strain of rustic melody gave a pleasing melancholy to the whole—and made the tear start, whose source could scarcely be traced. The pleasure the sight of harmless mirth gave rise to in Mrs. Mason’s bosom, roused every tender feeling—set in motion her spirits.—She laughed ... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The next morning Mrs. Mason desired the children to get their work, and draw near the table whilst she related the promised history; and in the afternoon, if the weather be fine, they were to visit the village school-mistress.
Her father, the honorable Mr. Lofty, was the youngest son of a noble family; his education had been liberal, though his fortune was small. His relations, however, seemed determined to push him forward in life, before he disobliged them by marrying the daughter of a country clergyman, an accomplished, sensible woman.
Some time after the birth of his daughter Anna, his elder brother, the Earl of Caermarthen, was reconciled to him; but this reconciliation only led him into expences, which his limited fortune could not... (From: Gutenberg.org.) As soon as the cloth was removed, Mrs. Mason concluded the narration; and the girls forgot their fruit whilst they were listening to the sequel.
Anna endured this treatment some years, and had an opportunity of acquiring a knowledge of the world and her own heart. She visited her mother’s father, and would have remained with him; but she determined not to lessen the small pittance which he had anxiously saved out of a scanty income for two other grand-children. She thought continually of her situation, and found, on examining her understanding, that the fashionable circle in which she moved, could not at any rate have afforded her much satisfaction, or even amusement; though the neglect and contempt that she met with rendered her v... (From: Gutenberg.org.) Their dress was soon adjusted, and the girls plucked flowers to adorn themselves, and a nosegay to present to the school-mistress, whose garden was but small.
They met the children just released from confinement; the swarm came humming round Mrs. Mason, endeavoring to catch her eye, and obtain the notice they were so proud of. The girls made their best courtesies, blushing; and the boys hung down their heads, and kicked up the dust, in scraping a bow of respect.
They found their mistress preparing to drink tea, to refresh herself after the toils of the day; and, with the ease peculiar to well-bred people, she quickly enabled them to partake of it, by giving the tea-board a more sociable appearance.
The harvest-home was soon the subject ... (From: Gutenberg.org.) I have often remarked to you, said Mrs. Mason, one morning, to her pupils, that we are all dependent on each other; and this dependence is wisely ordered by our Heavenly Father, to call forth many virtues, to exercise the best affections of the human heart, and fix them into habits. While we impart pleasure we receive it, and feel the grandeur of our immortal soul, as it is constantly struggling to spread itself into futurity.
Perhaps the greatest pleasure I have ever received, has arisen from the habitual exercise of charity, in its various branches: the view of a distressed object has made me now think of conversing about one branch of it, that of giving alms.
You know Peggy, the young girl whom I wish to have most about my person; I m... (From: Gutenberg.org.) In the afternoon they visited Mrs. Trueman unexpectedly, and found her sitting in the garden playing to her children, who danced on the green sod. She approached to receive them, and laid aside her guitar; but, after some conversation, Mrs. Mason desired her to take it up again, and the girls joined in the request. While she was singing Mary whispered Mrs. Mason, that she would give the world to be able to sing as well. The whisper was not so low but a part of it reached Mrs. Trueman’s ears, who said to her, smiling, my young friend, you value accomplishments much too highly—they may give grace to virtue—but are nothing without solid worth.—Indeed, I may say more, for any thing like perfection in the arts cannot b... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The children had been playing in the garden for some time, whilst Mrs. Mason was reading alone. But she was suddenly alarmed by the cries of Caroline, who ran into the room in great distress. Mary quickly followed, and explaining the matter said, that her sister had accidentally disturbed some wasps, who were terrified, and of course stung her. Remedies were applied to assuage the pain; yet all the time she uttered the loudest and most silly complaints, regardless of the uneasiness she gave those who were exerting themselves to relieve her.
In a short time the smart abated, and then her friend thus addressed her, with more than usual gravity. I am sorry to see a girl of your age weep on account of bodily pain; it is a proof of a weak m... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The girls were visibly improved; an air of intelligence began to animate Caroline’s fine features; and benevolence gave her eyes the humid sparkle which is so beautiful and engaging. The interest that we take in the fate of others, attaches them to ourselves;—thus Caroline’s goodness inspired more affection than her beauty.
Mary’s judgment grew every day clearer; or, more properly speaking, she acquired experience; and her lively feelings fixed the conclusions of reason in her mind. Whilst Mrs. Mason was rejoicing in their apparent improvement, she received a letter from their father, requesting her to allow his daughters to spend the winter in town, as he wished to procure them the best masters, an advantage that... (From: Gutenberg.org.) As they walked in search of a shop, they both determined to purchase pocket-books; but their friend desired them not to spend all their money at once, as they would meet many objects of charity in the numerous streets of the metropolis. I do not wish you, she continued, to relieve every beggar that you casually meet; yet should any one attract your attention, obey the impulse of your heart, which will lead you to pay them for exercising your compassion, and do not suffer the whispers of selfishness, that they may be impostors, to deter you. However, I would have you give but a trifle when you are not certain the distress is real, and reckon it given for pleasure. I for my part would rather be deceived five hundred times, than doubt once ... (From: Gutenberg.org.) After the impression which the story, and the sight of the family had made, was a little worn off; Caroline begged leave to buy one toy, and then another, till her money was quite gone. When Mrs. Mason found it was all expended, she looked round for an object in distress; a poor woman soon presented herself, and her meager countenance gave weight to her tale.—A babe, as meager, hung at her breast, which did not seem to contain sufficient moisture to wet its parched lips.
On inquiry they found that she lodged in a neighboring garret. Her husband had been out of employment a long time, and was now sick. The master who had formerly given him work, lost gradually great part of his business; for his best customers were grown so fond of... (From: Gutenberg.org.) The day before Mrs. Mason was to leave her pupils, she took a hand of each, and pressing them tenderly in her own, tears started into her eyes—I tremble for you, my dear girls, for you must now practice by yourselves some of the virtues which I have been endeavoring to inculcate; and I shall anxiously wait for the summer, to see what progress you have made by yourselves.
We have conversed on several very important subjects; pray do not forget the conclusions I have drawn. I now, as my last present, give you a book, in which I have written the subjects that we have discussed. Recur frequently to it, for the stories illustrating the instruction it contains, you will not feel in such a great degree the want of my personal advice. Som... (From: Gutenberg.org.)