This month’s free read is a short story about two teenage friends Isabella described as:
“Sensible young ladies” who were “older at fifteen than their grandmothers at the same age thought of being.”
As is always the case with Isabella’s stories, it’s thoughtfully written to illustrate what she would call a “home truth.” But the story also gives us some hints about her personal life.
For example, she fondly describes her memories of May Day celebrations as “good times” gone by.
And later in the story, one of the characters mentions her “Mental Philosophy” class at school. When Isabella wrote the story in 1896, Mental Philosophy involved the study of the consciousness, functional thought, and religion. It was the precursor of what we now call the study of psychology. With her strong background in teaching, it isn’t surprising that Isabella would weave the latest educational innovations into her story.
When teenagers Eva and Cassie are tempted to visit the village fortune-teller, it seems like nothing more than a bit of harmless fun, until a wise friend shows them what their futures truly hold.
You can read “A Glimpse into the Future” for free!
It’s that time of year, when students “commence” higher studies or the business of life. It’s the season for graduation ceremonies, when young men and women—as well as their parents—attend closing exercises of the school year, exchange cards of congratulations and bestow graduation gifts.
It was the same way in Isabella’s day. Being an educated woman, and having been a teacher herself, Isabella knew that graduation was a significant milestone in a young life. The characters she wrote about in her novels worked hard for their education, and they had good reason to celebrate their achievements.
Just as we do today, it was the fashion in the late 1800s and early 1900s to give graduates a gift of some kind to mark the occasion.
Acceptable gifts came in many forms. Boys and young men received neckties, gloves, fountain pens, and pocket watches.
Young women received watches, too; but instead of pocket watches, bracelet watches were in style, like the ones mentioned in this 1914 ad:
Stores carried a variety of gifts for the graduate, from handkerchiefs and gloves, to hosiery and stationery.
Stores also offered plenty of gift ideas that featured the latest in 1912 technology. The ad below mentions Kodak cameras and field glasses (binoculars) as desirable gifts for men and boys.
An ad in a 1916 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine suggested the gift of a table lamp, with a floral painted glass shade:
Lamps like that could be expenses; they cost anywhere from $15 to $50 each. For more budget-conscious gift-giving, books were always an appropriate option.
And if your taste didn’t run toward novels, Bibles and prayer books were an excellent choice, especially if the gift giver added a loving, hand-written message of congratulations on the fly leaf or title page.
What is the best graduation gift you ever received or gave?
“A plainly attired lady of medium hight [sic] wearing a brown dress and lace collar, was introduced to a large audience at the Case avenue Presbyterian church last evening as Mrs. G. R. Alden, or the first “Pansy” of the season after an unusually severe winter.”
Isn’t that a charming way to describe Isabella?
Those are the first lines of a newspaper article about a public reading she gave at a Cleveland church in 1885.
Isabella regularly drew large crowds whenever she appeared at an event, especially if there was a chance she might read one of her stories; and on this particular evening, she read chapters from her short story “Circulating Decimals.”
Here’s the newspaper’s full description of the event:
You can read Isabella’s story “Circulating Decimals” for free!
Choose the reading option you like best:
You can read the story on your computer, phone tablet, Kindle, or other electronic device.
When Grace Livingston Hill’s short story “The Livery of Heaven” was published in a popular Christian magazine in 1897, she probably had no idea the controversy it would cause.
After all, Grace was 31 years old and had been writing and publishing her stories and novels since 1889, and they all sold very well. So it might have been a bit surprising that the magazine that published “The Livery of Heaven” began to receive letters from readers like this one:
I have been reading “The Livery of Heaven,” and, as one hoping your paper meets the highest standard of merit and helpfulness, I desire to make an emphatic protest against the unreality of some of the characters and descriptions of that story.
The character of Mrs. Wallace, for instance, seems to me too absurd even for a story. Is it possible that a woman of her intelligence and honesty of purpose could be so absolutely blind as not to know the inevitable consequences of giving to one with a passion for liquor “brandy peaches” so strong with brandy as to scent a whole room?
Or that she could be so utterly inconsistent as to go out and work zealously in the cause of temperance reform when she had just finished putting up a lot of peaches saturated with brandy, which she purposed to serve indiscriminately?
Impossible! Unless she were a bold hypocrite, and obviously hypocrisy is not intended or thought of.
And if not a hypocrite, such rank inconsistency and incongruity of character could not exist except in a vivid imagination. It is not real life.
If my ideas are wrong, I would like to be set right.
It just so happened that Grace’s aunt, Isabella Alden, was one of the magazine’s editors, and she decided she would personally answer the critics who wrote in about Grace’s story and “set them right.”
Here is Isabella’s response:
There is more to this letter, and I wish we had room for its entirety, for it is carefully and thoughtfully written.
It seems to me that the writer is wrong, not in his deductions, but in his statement of facts. He distinctly states the impossibility of so inconsistent a woman as Mrs. Wallace. What will he do with her if I own that she, to my certain knowledge, exits—that she is not only “true to life,” but she is life? I have no means of knowing whether the Mrs. Wallace about whom the author in question writes is the Mrs. Wallace of my acquaintance; but I do know that exactly such an instance of moral blindness occurred but a few years ago.
I knew a woman who would walk miles on hot summer afternoons to secure signers to a “no-license” petition within the precincts of her ward, and would discourse eloquently on the evils of the saloon and the dangers attending her young son, and the miseries resulting from “acquiring a taste for intoxicants;” and then offer that same young son at her own dinner table a pudding, the sauce of which was so highly flavored with wine as to make its very presence offensive to certain of her guests.
I knew another woman who wept copious tears over the downfall of a beloved brother, and besought us earnestly to help her plan ways and means of reaching and saving him “even yet”; and then offered us in the next breath a bit of her fruit-cake so well flavored with brandy as to be detected by the sense of smell as well as that of taste; and she remarked that she always kept it on the sideboard where her brother could help himself.
The dense ignorance that exists in regard to these matters on the part of many people who consider themselves almost temperance fanatics, is proverbial among workers who have studied into the subject.
In our mothers’ meetings that I conducted for years this matter of cookery was continually coming to the front; and at not a single meeting did we fail to have represented the puzzled woman who said:
“Why, do you suppose, that the little bit of brandy that I put in my mince-pies to keep them, or the few drops with which I flavor my sauces, can have any effect on a person’s appetite for liquor? Won’t such strained notions as these do more harm than good?”
Also, almost as regularly, we had that other woman who said:
“Well, there’s no use in talking to me about such things. John wouldn’t eat mince-pies if they hadn’t brandy in them. He doesn’t like the flavor without it; and I’m not afraid of its doing any harm in my family.”
Understand, these are good temperance women—every bit as good as Mrs. Wallace; much like her in every respect; women who, by reason of their upbringing and their present environment, are utterly unable to see the connection between liquor-eating and liquor drinking; women who believe that what their mothers and their mothers’ mothers always did must be right and best.
What the temperance cause needs today, in my judgment, more than any other thing, is some apostle who will undertake to open the eyes of the army of Mrs. Wallaces that infest the land, who labor zealously with their strong right hands to put out the fires of rum, and industriously feed the flames with their ignorant left hands all the while.
What did you think of Grace’s story? Do you agree with the letter writer’s critique?
Like everyone in her immediate and extended family, Grace Livingston Hill was a dedicated temperance worker. She was well-educated in the effects alcohol had on individuals and their families.
And because the production and sale of alcohol was unregulated at the time (and often included addictive ingredients such as cocaine, morphine, cannabis, and chloroform), she knew it was not uncommon for people to become addicted to some alcoholic beverages.
She wrote about the harm alcohol caused in a short story titled, “The Livery of Heaven.”
Mrs. Wallace is proud of her work in the temperance cause. Her latest project is raising money to build a play-ground at the Home of Inebriates’ Children. It’s a worthy cause, so when she has a chance to host a famous temperance lecturer in her very own home, she jumps at the chance, certain that his lecture will draw the support and donations she needs.
But little does Mrs. Wallace realize, a dark force is using her efforts to harm the people she loves the most.
At the core of the story is a lesson about the seemingly small and thoughtless ways Christians can cause others to stumble in their daily walk with Christ.
After a Christian magazine published the story in 1896, “The Livery of Heaven” set off a bit of a fire storm.
Join us next week to find out how some readers reacted to Grace’s story “The Livery of Heaven.”
You can read “The Livery of Heaven” for free!
Choose the reading option you like best:
You can read the story on your computer, phone, tablet, Kindle, or other electronic device.
Would you like to learn more about the life of Isabella’s best friend, Theodosia Toll Foster? Under the pen name Faye Huntington she wrote dozens of novels and short stories, many of which Isabella published in The Pansy magazine.
On Saturday, April 29 Theodosia’s great-granddaughter Susan Snow Wadley will be giving a free lecture about Theodosia’s life in New York and her influence on the area’s culture.
“The Life and Times of Theodocia Maria Toll Foster”
Oneida County History Center 1608 Genessee Street Utica, New York 13502
Saturday, April 29, 2023, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern
Susan Snow Wadley, Theodosia’s great-granddaughter
If you live near Oneida County you can attend the lecture in person for free.
Readers often wrote to Isabella asking how they could study the Bible on their own, and Isabella was always happy to suggest a method that seemed to fit their individual circumstance.
Here’s what she wrote to one reader, a harried housewife who had very little time each day to call her own:
As to methods of Bible study, there are numberless ways, and they are all good. The main point is to choose one of them and study. There are books that help wonderfully in the understanding of the Bible. Some of the very little ones contain a great deal of instruction.
This is notably the case with a wee booklet of not more than fifty small pages. It is called “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth,” and contains ten outline studies on the divisions of the Bible. It is prepared by C. I. Scofield and published by the Asher Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minn.
You can read the “wee booklet” Isabella recommended.
“Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth” by C. I. Scofield is available online.
You can read an electronic version for free on one of these websites:
In the late 1800s a new and exciting form of entertainment swept across America. It was called the Authors’ Carnival. It had all the fun of a community fair, as well as dazzling theatrics on a magnificent scale.
The Authors’ Carnival drew great crowds in every city in which it was staged, so it had to be set up in a large space, such as a town hall or tabernacle. The concept, though, was simple: the Carnival was comprised of a number of booths, each of which depicted a scene from a famous author’s works.
For example, there was a booth devoted to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. Costumed actors portrayed scenes from the book in an elaborately decorated submarine compartment behind a gauze curtain that simulated water.
Another booth was devoted to John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyll.”
There were booths dedicated to Shakespeare, Longfellow, and Washington Irving, and many more literary figures, including Mother Goose. One of the most popular booths was lavishly decorated as Aladdin’s Cave.
In many cases, booths were set up so the costumed actors could interact with the people passing by.
The highlight of the Authors’ Carnival occurred on a center stage where tableaux vivant were enacted at intervals throughout the day and evening. The most popular tableau was the colorful, well-choreographed “The Fan Brigade.” It illustrated an essay by British satirist Joseph Addison on how ladies in the eighteenth century used their fans as weapons in flirtation and romance.
In 1881 the Authors’ Carnival arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, where sixteen-year-old Grace Livingston lived with her father Charles and mother Marcia (who was Isabella Alden’s older sister). Already an aspiring author, Grace visited the Authors’ Carnival one afternoon and wrote the following account of her experience:
The Author’s Carnival in Cleveland
It was impossible for me to attend the evening entertainment of the Author’s Carnival, but when a matinee was announced for the next afternoon, I thought I would go.
It was held in the tabernacle. As you entered the door, directly opposite you was the stage, where the most beautiful tableaux were exhibited every twenty minutes, the performers never having rehearsed before, but being picked out and arranged on the spot, from the different booths.
The booths were ranged around the sides, and the center left for the audience to promenade. We took a look at the booths before the first tableaux.
The “Alhambra,” which, having a piano, and a few good players, managed to keep such a crowd around it all the time, that one could hardly get a peep at it.
Whittier’s “Snow Bound,” with its soft gray costumes, which harmonize wonderfully with the neat room, and fire-place, and cupboard, with its rows of bright, shining dishes, and the strings of dried apples hanging from the ceiling. Whittier’s “grandmother” happened to be a friend of mine, so I stepped up to her, and she said, “How does thee do, friend Grace?”
There was the “Arabian Nights” booth, where they sold miniature “Aladdin Lamps,” said to be exact copies from the original.
“Lalla Rookh” and the “Jules Verne” booths were beautiful and picturesque, with their mermaids, and flowers, and sea-weeds.
Longfellow’s “Hiawatha,” where the Indians flourished their tomahawks, and gave war-whoops, attracted a great deal of attention, and really was one of the most fascinating.
The “Egyptian” booth had beautiful, rich costumes.
The “Addison” booth had, perhaps, the most beautiful costumes, but the characters were all ladies.
The “Dickens” booth, with all its comical characters, was just refreshing.
As I walked up to the “Shakespeare’s” booth, the “Duke of York,” an old schoolfellow, stepped forward and shook hands with me.
The tableaux-bell rang, and we all rushed to the center of the floor, each one trying to get the best position for seeing. The most beautiful and quaint pictures succeeded each other; lastly, the beautiful “Fan Drill.” If you have never seen it, seen the perfect time and graceful motions, you cannot imagine how beautiful it was.
But there was one blight on all this beauty. At the “Spanish” booth they sold cigars and cigarettes, and some ungentlemanly persons even smoked among all that company of ladies. It was Satan’s way of joining in the Author’s Carnival.
Tableaux and theatricals were common forms of entertainment during Isabella Alden’s lifetime, and she wrote about them in several of her novels. You can read more about tableaux in these previous posts: