Sunday, October 02, 2005

Miss Sarah Thorne, Her Book

Here are a few of the writings of Sarah Lefman.

In these poems I think you can see some of the cultural pressures on a young woman in the years just prior to the dawn of the Victorian era: the socially-acceptable values of humility and meekness and a preference for religion and high culture over other aspirations. They depict romantic love in extremes of pleasure and pain ("rapture," "ecstacy," "But oh! to mingle souls, and part / It burns a death blow to the heart") but also, it seems fair to infer, from a passive and somewhat Platonic perspective.

Still, I think it would be a mistake to see them as no more than reflections of common attitudes of the time in which they were written.

I suggest they be read not as examples of the bourgeois literary conventions of the 1830s, but as sincere explorations of personal feeling: examples of what people of the time might call a true sensibility. As you know from my Busy Bee post, I once dismissed stuff such as this as smothering, probably hyocritical sentimentalism.

What I see in these poems now is an attempt to establish a personal voice, honest and sometimes apparently painful exploration of feeling and belief, and maybe also a struggle to bridge from adolescence to maturity.

I am particulary fond of their immediacy and grounding in one person's own experience. Notice the ellipsis (which is Sarah's) in the "Warm Embrace" poem: "And round .......'s bright form dancing."

About the author: Sarah Lennington Thorn was born in 1816 in Albany and died in 1881 in NYC. She was the daughter of Abby Lennington and John Edmund Thorne and step daughter of Elias Wolf. In 1836 she married a German immigrant, Henry Lefman. Lefman was the benefactor and a distant relative of my great-grandfather, Louis Windmuller. The Lenningtons were an old American family and Sarah's grandfather, Thomas Lennington, had served ably in the Revolutionary War and afterwards had become a banker in Albany, NY.

Extracts from Sarah's commonplace book begun when she was 18 years old:

Miss Sarah Thorne
Her book
24 February 1834

The winged hours flew along, we met --
Embraced -- and parted -- but oh! yet
There was a rapture in the eye,
A veilless glow of ecstasy

A treasure in that warm embrace,
A lingering smile upon the face;
Then was the soul in every word
My marvelling ear with ardour heard,
There was a charm in every tread,
That thrilled my heart, and pleasures bred.
A thousand loves were vision glancing,
And round .......'s bright form dancing,
And all the scene of full delight
Was warming, beautiful, and bright.
'Tis heaven to meet the forms we love,
When our dull eyeballs widely rove,
Around the earth, o'en vacancy,
Nor catch a glimpse of beauty nigh;
But oh! to mingle souls, and part --
It burns a death blow to the heart.
Yet, yet, we must ere long again,
And then we'll link a golden chain.

O; I would walk a weary journey
To the furthest verge of the big world,
To Kiss that good mans hand,
Who in the blare of wisdom and art,
Preserves a lowly mind, and to his God,
Feeling the sense of his own littleness,
Is as a child in meek simplicity.

O love - Religion - music -
All that's left of Eden upon Earth,
The only blessing since the fall of our weak souls,
That still recalls a trace of their high glorious birth.

Tis the worst passion I protest
That's known to haunt the human breast
Of all vile habitudes the worst
The most delusive and accurst
When such a victim we behold
Urged by the rampant lust of gold

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