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you read some of it to me?” were the questions she would ask, when one of her children sat down with a book. If the work was either pernicious, or not worth reading, she pointed out its faults, and such were her powers of ridicule, that she readily put the young reader out of conceit of his author, while he remained in perfect good humour with her, and himself. If, on the contrary, the work was either innocent or instructive, the reading was accompanied with her comments on the subject and style. These lectures, if they may be so called, had the appearance of being entirely accidental, and they were so familiar and cheerful, as to be very engaging. “What does that mean? where is that place? who is that person? why does the author employ that phrase? is this mode of expression elegant? is that sentiment sound in its morality ?” were some of the questions asked by her on such occasions; the child would answer, the mother reply, and the point would be discussed at large. Indeed, such was her devotion to her children that she seldom allowed an opportunity for inculcating instruction, to pass without improvement.
Mrs. Hall was an admirable letter writer. The
ease and sprightliness of style, which rendered all she wrote attractive, was particularly adapted for epistolary composition. Ladies always write better letters than men, and few females excelled Mrs. Hall. She wrote just as she talked, without effort or affectation; and the outpourings of her mind, in either form, were as replete with good sense as they were marked by purity of thought, and artlessness of manner. None of her letters were written for effect, or with the most distant thought that any part of them would meet the public eye; and there are, therefore, but few of them from which an extract could with propriety be made.
When the Port Folio came under the direction of her son, the late John E. Hall, who was its editor for more than ten years, she continually aided him in his labours; and her contributions may readily be distinguished, as well by their vivacity as the classic purity of their diction. She survived but a few months that son, her eldest, whom she had encouraged and assisted in his various literary labours for about twenty years. The following extracts, from some of her letters, to one of her sons, brief as they are, may serve to show her style of writing, as well as the character of her employments: a
January 14, 1824.- I suppose you are not at a loss to discover my bagatelles in the Port Folio. When Mr. Editor thinks too little of a work to review it, or sometimes, when he is disinclined, I am obliged to say something to please the anxious authors, who would rather be abused, or put up with such flimsy things as I write, than not be noticed at all. I aim at no profundity of criticism, nor can I command the time to think, if I had the capacity. If I make out a little common sense, Mr. Editor accepts it very courteously. For the January number, I have given him a 'Picture of Philadelphia as it was.' After I had written it, we got a manuscript book of a gentleman, who is hunting up the antiquities of Philadelphia, which has greatly amused us. He has amassed a vast number of interesting particulars, about the early state of the city, documents of Penn's transactions, &c. He does not mean to publish it now,
but hands it about like the Albums, for all to contribute. As fashions are not very slow, in traversing our ambitious empire, I suppose you know that
Albums are nicely bound blank quartos, that ladies and gentlemen carry about to their friends, to write in. Every one must have one, and I am pestered out of my senses to make verses, to please them all. You would be diverted to see the trash, with which they are generally filled.”
“May 28, 1823.-Dr. Miller and Professor Stewart, are now engaged in a controversy—a book written on each side-on a difference of opinion, which you perhaps have never heard of, about the sonship of the Redeemer. One understands the term in one sense, the other in a different oneyet they are both orthodox. They are cordial friends, and assert and deny, in the most amicable and gentlemanly manner. Dr. Miller is so polite as to send me copies of all his publications. His letters on Unitarianism are excellent.”
“ I am glad you liked the 'Spy.' It has gone through two or three editions, in England. I suppose I told you, that I have a copy from the author, one of a few printed in a superior style, with his name on the title page. The artists, both at New York and Philadelphia, are at work on illustrations, both of the Spy and Pioneers. The latter is a work of more ability than the former. There
is less narrative, but more illustration of character, and it more closely resembles the great Unknown: for he is still unknown. The extract from Mrs. Grant's letter to me, which you see in the Port Folio, seems to me to be conclusive, for she speaks of it not doubtfully, and of him as an intimate acquaintance. But the critics are somewhat shaken by an expression in the preface to a new work now in press, of which one volume out. In his assumed character the writer says, that Sir Walter Scott knows nothing about the novels that go under his name. Still there are ways and means of so understanding the expression, as to leave the poet in possession of the honours. A physician who lives here, says, that while he studied at Edinburgh, he dined in company with Scott, and heard him say directly, that he was not the author."
August 13, 1823.-I am almost angry with you for refusing to give Walter Scott the honour of the novels. I think his poems vindicate his claim, as well in the character of his poetry as in the style and subjects of his stories. Do you know any thing in verse so beautiful as the introduction to his first poem, (the Lay,) beginning with, 'The