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FRIENDLY LETTERS TO GIRL
MY GIRLHOOD'S FRIEND:
66 THE MAN WHO MOST INFLUENCED ME."
How can a woman write about that? How can anybody write about it? These were the questions that confronted and opposed the proposition to furnish a contribution for a symposium on this given subject.
How deep and intimate-how personalmust the revelation be? Or how far back must it go, when one comes to think of it? In all history, in all thought, what hero-worship, what opening of truth through master-minds, what spirit-contact has done most for me? Is that the question?
Must I answer it with the name of Moses, or David, or St. John, or St. Paul, -refraining reverently from the Name above every name, in which, under differing dispensations,
these all said their great words and did their great work?
Or may we treat the matter more literally, circumstantially; tracing back through ordered event and antecedent personalities to that which started a line of cause and consequence that has resulted in all the environment of place, relation, tendency, incentive, to which may be referred one's making? This would lead back through parentage, through national story and framing of condition, through Puritan ancestry, -ah, where not? And at what man, among what men, should one stop?
Or will it do to be content with a nearer influence, one even of our own day, through
which, as through that of the former prophets, saints, and heroes, has come, by act, character, or teaching, the decisive or formative power of one's most real life?
Perhaps, speaking practically and inclusively, and to make a point somewhere, I might say that really the man who did most to settle what my trend of life should be, was the first of the family into which I was afterward born, who crossed the Atlantic some time in the middle of the eighteenth century,
I believe, and pitched his tent among the Colonists in Massachusetts. How else should I ever have found my own surroundings, and taken up my foreordained threads of connection, and been me? How otherwise should I ever have come across the person or persons who most directly controlled my thought, won my sympathies, shaped my wishes, inspired my aims? I am thoroughly grateful to that great, or great-great grandfather, that he came, - with his two inevitable brothers, and that all three settled in Watertown, eight miles from Boston. I am very glad that his descendants naturally gravitated or slid over the spokes to that pivot of the New England. wheel, which has since centralized to itself so much of the universal system of things that it has been breveted "Hub," with emphatic prefix of the definite article. Yet even this is too remote, I am well aware, for the present purpose.
We are to go back, I take it to be intended, only so far as consciousness and memory reach; but I think that even so, many of us must go farther than the recent salient points, where these at first glance most readily
arrest themselves, saying, "Here was one who in act, in written or spoken thought, in personal knowledge, in chosen companionship, counsel, help, example, has been of highest, deepest, greatest, dearest esteem and value to you." I think behind all that seems to have been most critical, as separate influence, in our experience, or most vital in our association, has been something or somebody because of which or whom the later influence had force; somebody who first put into our hands a key to things, a test of values, who opened or trained understanding, directed choice, fixed standards, became an authority to us. Because of whom, whether we knew it all the while or not, we have reverenced, desired, loved, accepted or discarded in ourselves or in the world, as we have done, and become what we have become, instead of a different thing, better or worse, that we might have been.
This being understood, I retrace the years for more than half a century to pause before a noble and beloved memory and declare, “This was the man."
-It was upon a beautiful morning in the early spring of my thirteenth year that I
walked with quick steps and an eager, if slightly trepid heart, across Boston Common from the Spruce Street entrance through the old wooden fence, to the Tremont Street mall opposite Temple Place, and over into the quiet, distinguished little "no-thoroughfare” that the place then was (I think I have since bought bonnets on the very spot where my brain-furnishing seriously began), along its left side to a passage midway down, opening between the dwelling-houses and giving rear access to two of them; up the uncarpeted stairways leading from story to story of the nearer building, and landing me at the doors of a suite of upper rooms in which some fifty or sixty young girls were assembling for morning school.
I think it was significant that home and school were always, as I knew them, under one roof, with the man who taught there. At this very time he was already building his new, beautiful house on Pemberton Hill, where the pleasant Square was just laid out and a few fine residences were growing up in a chosen retirement, now entirely reversed by the bustle of business and law offices; and the twin doorways with their separate flights of steps led