[Jackson, Helen Hunt]
Six Autograph Letters, dated 1833-1844, Signed and Unsigned, of the New England family of author Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

Quarto, six letters, twenty-one pages, neatly inscribed in ink, in very good, legible condition.

Letters of Helen Hunt Jackson’s family written while she was a child and teenager, more than fifty years before she wrote Century of Dishonor, a scathing critique of US Government policy toward the Indian tribes, and then, believing fiction would have a great impact on the reading public, published her best-selling novel, Ramona, which called attention to the plight of Native Americans in California – and, coincidentally, attracted many Easterners to Los Angeles.

The first of these letters was written when Helen was just a three year-old child; the later ones when she was an unhappy teenager, two years after the death of her mother, and a year before her father’s death.

     Both the writers and recipients were close relatives who played an important part in Helen’s upbringing.  Her father, Nathan Fiske, was an Orthodox Calvinist Minister and Professor of Latin and Greek. Her mother, Deborah, like other members of the family, as these letter indicate - had a strong literary bent, but never seriously pursued writing. Mrs. Otis Vinal was her mother’s beloved aunt in Boston. Helen’s mother would sometimes leave her family to stay with Martha Vinal, who had cared for her in her teens. The mother would later send Helen herself to live with the Vinals, “to ease” her own “burdens”. Helen then saw little of either parent and was subjected to the strict regime of Mrs. Vinal, who insisted that the 12 year-old girl be “uniformly pleasant, obedient and cheerful.” When Helen’s mother died in 1844, her father sent the 14 year-old, who was suffering “prolonged” mental anguish and depression”, to live, for more than two unhappy years, with Mrs. Henry Hooker, Helen’s mother’s “pious cousin, and her husband, another “austere Calvinist Minister”.  Helen’s years there were a “miserable early experience…when her aunt Martha Hooker had often forced her to cook and clean instead of study.”

Mrs. Hooker, who wrote the first three of these letters, devoted much of her time to worrying about how she could become a better Christian mother, feeling “very great anxieties” because her daughters gave “no indications of the Spirit’s effect upon their hearts. I know they do not love the Savior and until they do I cannot be happy.” Her next sentence clearly expressed her conviction that “No external or intellectual acquirements seem of any consequence compared with their possessing piety.”

Helen’s father shared that view. When, after her mother’s death, he sent Helen away to the Hookers, then to a Female Academy, he felt strongly, as Helen’s biographer noted, that her education should be “not excessively stimulating but…unmistakably evangelical…” The last letter in this group was written by Mrs. Hooker’s daughter, Helen’s cousin and classmate at the Ipswich Female Academy, just before the school was put under the direction of John and Eunice Cowles, former friends of her mother’s, for whom Helen felt a strong dislike, “and she believed the feeling was mutual.” She later referred to herself as a “survivor” of the “massacres” at Mrs. Hooker’s home and the Cowles’ school.  In the decade after her father’s death in 1847, she completed her formal education, spent a short time teaching, married, had two children – and then began the literary career which would eventually make her famous.

These letters paint a vivid picture of the Calvinist ”missionary” atmosphere in which Helen was raised – and from which she eventually emerged to become an independent and unconventional writer - and, ironically, a sort of secular missionary for the downtrodden closest to home. The letters offer here supplement the brief account of Jackson’s early years in Kate Phillips' 2003 biography, Helen Hunt Jackson, A Literary Life.

See: American National Biography, vol. 11, pp. 747-748

·         Rev. and Mrs. Henry B. Hooker. Autograph Letter Unsigned. Lanesboro, Mass., Jan. 6, 1833. 4pp. including stamp-less address leaf. To “Dear Aunt”, Mrs. Otis Vinal, Boston.

[From Rev. Hooker] “…There is some satisfaction in the thought that if we can in no other way do any thing for our friends, we can pray for them, commending them to him who is able to reward them abundantly for all they have done for us…We are now permitted in great kindness to enter upon a new year…committing ourselves and one another to our only safe Guardian, our Heavenly Father…[who cares] for us, even we, so insignificant and so unworthy…He remembereth the hair of our heads, that is, enter minutely into our affairs, our wants, our temptations and our sorrows….We may be perfectly certain that whatever he does do, will be the very best that could have been done, perhaps not the most pleasing to us… what an individual might do for Christs glory and the eternal good of man…how many prayers we shall have opportunely of offering, what opportunities for shedding around us the light of an holy example, what good may be done by our conversations with saints and sinners…God…calling the poorest disciple a friend, a brother! It should be our delightful study how to please and honor such a Savior…You have read, I suppose, Plea for the Heathen. I felt great interest in writing it in hope of its usefulness. It is approved by some of our leading ministers here in this region, who desire its circulation in their congregations. I shall write some this year for the [Congregationalist] Recorder. Several communications will appear soon, signed H… This last describes the case young Oswald who I cannot hope has truly turned unto the Lord. My signature… in the Recorder will hereafter be the same…So you will always know if it be worth knowing when I write…There are some mistakes in the Plea, viz. p.20 for “acts of tenderness”, read “licentiousness…”

[Hooker’s “Plea for the Heathen” was published anonymously by the Massachusetts Sabbath School Society]

[From Mrs. Hooker] “…I am much pleased [with] Martha’s proposition to send the Youths Companion to Sarah [her elder daughter]…It will be very useful and acceptable present…of books they now get weary…Mr. H. has not written for it…he was just finishing a letter to the Ed. of Recorder. [Her younger daughter] is beginning to read easy sentences, can spell some. She knits well…”

·         Mrs. Henry Hooker, Autograph Letter Unsigned. Lanesboro, Mass. March 10-April 1, 1833. 4pp. including stamp-less address leaf. To “Dear Aunt and Martha”, (Mrs. Otis Vinal, Boston)

Christian papers arrive weekly, which her daughter Sarah finds very useful. Her other daughter reads “The Visitor”.

"I have sent one piece to the V. which they were condescending enough to print, probably out of regard to the feelings of my good husband, who might have been mortified had it been rejected. My name was not upon it but it was sent on the same sheet with Mr. H's and but for a different signature would probably have passed for his...The Mother's Magazine is taking deep hold of the feelings of our Christian Mothers. I never knew of a periodical which has excited so much interest. We have 6 or 8 engaged and probably shall have more subscribers. I think it an excellent work – Has Deborah [Fiske] seen it? They ought to have a Maternal Association in Amherst…Nothing would induce me to have ours given up. It is becoming more and more interesting; and every day I feel more and more the need of all the help I can obtain to assist me in my family duties.  I am happy in knowing that you feel for and pray for our dear children. I have very great anxieties on their account. I see no indications of the Spirit's effect upon their hearts. I know they do not love the Savior and until they do I cannot be happy. No external or intellectual acquirements seem of any consequence compared with their possessing piety...Mr. H has just received an appointment to make one of the addresses before the Mass. Sab. School Society at the anniversary in May. I do not know whether he intends to accept or not but I believe he thinks that little fish had better keep in shore. You observed a notice of the ‘Plea for the Heathen; in the last Recorder…one in the Visitor… similar notice in the Vermont Chronicle also...Western Recorder published at Utica. The 'little book' attracts more notice that I ever thought it would. I was quite faithless about it and wished many times that it had never gone to Press. Mr. H has commenced a plan of preaching a missionary sermon every month on the Sab. preceding the monthly concert. Our Monthly Concerts are attended by very few so that very little of the Missionary intelligence that we receive does any good to the people. It will occasion a good deal of labor but I think it will be very useful...”

·         Mrs. Henry Hooker. Autograph Letter Unsigned. Lanesborough, Mass. Dec. 27, 1833. 4pp., including stamp-less address leaf. To Dear Aunt, Mrs. Otis Vinal, Boston, by favor of Mr. Gibbs.

“…The bearer of this is Capt. Gibbs, a very worthy and much respected member of our society though not a pious man...He will spend a portion of the winter in Boston, as he is the representative from Lansborough. You will find him a very intelligent man and a true friend to Mr. H. ......I saw advertised in the Recorder 'The Child at Home'  by Abbot of Worcester. If it bears any comparison to the 'Mother at Home' I would like to have you send it to me…I think that little work must be excellent. I not only want myself to be a better mother but I want my children to be better children and this I should think would help them if anything will. I have been very much interested in reading Dr. Spurzheim on Education. I think his sentiments very rational though but few in this region have ever embraced them. Dr.  Cushing and I agree exactly. He has the evidence in his own family of the evil of crowding at too early an age the minds of children. I have the promise of some more works on the same subject from Dr. C. when I can get the time to read them.  I have seen advertised also  'Aids to mental development or hints to parents', do you know anything of the character or excellence of ths work? I have never seen it or heard it spoken of. There is so much published at the present day that it is desirable to get the best if possible. You may send me from time to time anything that may assist me in my arduous and trying duties. I do not with to avoid any trouble nor any reasonable expense if I may only better qualify myself for a mothers labor. I sink down occasionally in utter discouragement, thinking I shall never accomplish what I have aimed at and yet I do not think my children any more difficult to manage than others, on the contrary I have evidence that others are even worse than ours. Were it not for the privilege of commending myself in my weakness and my children in their sinfulness to a prayer hearing and a prayer answering God and were it not for the hope that he will hear and help and guide and sanctify I should sink under what I view to be a mothers responsibility. But I remember him who has said 'My grace is sufficient for thee' and I am never quite cast down. Out Maternal Association does not flourish as it ought nor as it might. There are but a few mothers who being to feel at all as they should. Sometimes I think the fault is mine. The principal direction of the meetings devolves on me and very often I blame myself that no more avail themselves of these delightful privileges....I am interested to learn by the Recorder that there is a growing interest in religion among you. Our prayer is that our dear friends may be sharers in the blessed work. Where do you attend meeting now? D.[eborah] mentioned in her letter to me that the Groger family had been afflicted but did not say how… [As for plans to visit her]…Everything… in this life even our very existence… seems to uncertain that I endeavor to keep it out of mind as much as possible. The idea of it seems like a delightful vision in prospect. I cannot think of any temporal comfort which I do not enjoy already that would add so much to my happiness... I am a good deal troubled about sleep. I have the past fall gone to bed and got up again in the morning without having a moments sleep and for 4 days in succession. I was able to sleep only 3 hours out of the 24.... I should greatly rejoice to step into your new abode. May it become of health of body and of soul, holy peace and holy love....”

 

·         Mrs. [John William Hooker]. Autograph Letter Unsigned, with a postscript from her husband, signed with initials J.W.H., Rutland, Vermont. July 11, 1841. 3pp. + stamp-less address leaf. To Rev. Henry B. Hooker (John William’s twin brother) Falmouth, Mass. “Dear Brother Henry and Sister Martha”.

       Account of their trip from Massachusetts to Vermont:

“...those men of wealth and selfishness at Nantucket have many a curse...from poor belated steam boat passengers...we put up at the temperance house with a dozen others in the same predicament...in the evening Mr. J. William and myself went to see the Burning of Moscow, it was rather an imposing thing...[to Boston] next morning went over to Mr. Vinals...they are the kindest hearted people in the world. Miss Martha and her Uncle were unwearied in their attentions to us...went to visit Mount Auburn and the insane Hospital. Mr. Vinal put his horse into our carriage and went with us. Mount Auburn is certainly a lovely spot...we saw one beautiful girl, a daughter of a celebrated singer in Boston…she sang most splendidly, poor thing they say she is just fit for a play actress and wishes to be one. Mr. Vinal insisted upon our visiting Nahant…splendid view of the sea... We had a very pleasant visit in Boston and we shall often think of Mr. Vinal and Martha with a great deal of pleasure... next morning...into Amherst. Went directly down to Professor Fisk's to deliver letter for Mrs. Vinal and Miss Schofield, they had on their bonnets and were just going out in the stage for Boston, we saw them only a moment. William admires Mrs. Vinal very much and to me she seems much nearer than some who call themselves our cousins...We were much pleased with Mrs. Fisk and husband. Mrs. F. was very polite and kind, we staid but a few moments...Mrs. Clark is a unitarian indeed, the world is all with her…the husband of Mrs. Clark's oldest daughter, she was married but a few weeks since.  I should think she would feel more like crying… he was an unprincipled fellow, his character was bad every way....his Father was rich. What a sad mistake the poor woman has made.  Saturday afternoon we wished to hear Professor Hitchcock address to the Cold Water Army at the old church... Temperance meeting....arrived at Brattleboro before dark, went to the Lunatic Asylum and saw Augusta. The Physician says she can never be cured. ... Next day found us safe at home....I wish you to say to Martha Vinal that we wish she would come up to Vermont and make us a good long visit...Have you succeeded in getting your housekeeper and how do you like your darkey…”

·         [Sarah Hooker]. Autograph letter Unsigned as a student at Miss Cole’s School for Girls.  Charlestown, Nov. 29 , 1844. 3pp. + stamp-less address leaf. To her Mother, Mrs. Henry B. Hooker, Falmouth, Mass.

 

“...I was glad to hear such good accounts from your all...I thought you had a Lowell Offering like the one I sent you and should have sent the one with an index…Miss Cole thinks that narrow ribboned velvet will soon be out of fashion as there is so much of it in the market, besides that it has risen very high...They trim altogether with furs and yard wide velvet cut cross wise...I hope you will not prefer ribboned for I think it is very very ordinary looking now. The other is a newer fashion...if I have been too lengthy...I wanted you to hear every side of the question...Martha S. and I went shopping...we all played Dr. Busby and parched corn....I played and sung from 6 till 8 and then over the fire in aunt’s room heard Mr. Fiske and uncle tell dog stories or rather fish stories. So much for my Thanksgiving….What a splendid eclipse...the moon...was as real as fire...I was quite alarmed at first. I thought eclipses were always dark but I suppose the purity of the atmosphere was the occasion of its red appearance....Mr. Fiske and Anne go to Weston at one today. I think it likely Mr. Fiske will come down Tuesday or Thursday of next week and return with father. He cannot stay more than two or three days. (He feels anxious about Helen. Your wishes are made known and will be regarded.)...Cousin M. has interested me about their missionary society very much. Also that blue covered book I copied poetry into. Also that manuscript book I write compositions in. I don’t want you to tear a single leaf out of it...If you will put in four little lace buttons...As small as they can be. I have finished one night-cap and got an inch or two for the other...stocking finished...hemmed and marked my handkerchiefs...How do you like Helen Fleetwood? I want you to get Personal Recollections. They are very interesting. I have read Pleasant Memories of Pleasant Lands by Mrs. Sigourney since my stay here, which is very good....Give my best love to Helen tell her when she writes to me again she must direct the letters to me. The note she wrote to me had no direction and was scanned by junior and senior before I got it. I hope she will like her apron...the tassels are like Annies...If I understand rightly I am to take Helen's Academy and Social Choir. Her father brought them down...Ann sends love to Helen. She is taking her music lesson now. Tell Annie I had the extreme pleasure of hearing the quartette of Richmond, also of seeing Thomas Bricker. What a homely creature.  I vexed Martha by discoursing his merits or rather demerits…”

 

·         Sarah B. Hooker. Autograph Letter Signed. Norton, Mass. Nov. 7, 1846. 3pp.+ stamp-less address leaf. To Mother, Mrs. Martha W. Hooker, care of Rev. H. B. Hooker, Falmouth, Mass.

 

“Your letter my dear mother… arrived this morning. I was anxious to hear, as I feared lest you might write to Helen respecting the change. The letter you received last night will explain the reason of my fears. I’ve heard nothing more than that save that the plan was more and more doubtful. I overheard Maj. Bliss ask Miss Sawyer if 'things were hopeful still', she said 'very dark', she was or is a trustee. I was with her at the time and she said to me that there was a strong reason to fear Mr. and Mrs. Cowles would decide not to come. I don’t exactly like to question her so I wait till information comes to me...I shall not say anything about the matter referred to in the letter unless it is known they are coming and then I am willing to say anything to Cousin Mattie about Helen that you may wish, as Cousin Mattie seems so interested. She asked me if Helen had made known her mind on the subject and from what she said before the matter was so doubtful I judge she thinks something as you do. We ought to know soon as there not many more days in the term…I am exceedingly anxious to know who is 'rule and reign' over us. I think the trustees will spare no expense nor pains to get Mrs. Cowles…Yesterday and day before there was a Missionary convention held at Attleborough. A great many went from town and Miss Sawyer gave all the young ladies permission to go so I went. I can conceive how interesting the meetings of the Board must be for though we were there only one day, yet I was almost sorry we could not stay another. Nearly all of the Clergymen in the vicinity were present. Mr. David Greene… [was] there also our missionary Mr. Spaulding. I am glad I went if it was for no other reason than to see him once more before he leaves this country…Rev. Mr. Barrows was with me and he told my name. I had quite a long chat with him. He sent a great deal of kind regard and best wishes in abundance to father and you and Annie. He said he should write to you all as soon as he arrived at Ceylon and told me to tell you to remember your promise and to Anna that she must make music in heart. He made many inquiries about Helen. He saw her father in New York. Did you know Henry Hill was going out to the Sandwich Islands with Mr. Chamberlain in the course of a week or two? For his health I guess…I don’t dread Examinations a bit except as it regards singing for I am so confident of my thorough knowledge of each one of my studies this term that I do not fear of missing…the more I go away from home and the longer I stay way the more I want to come back again….”