The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Sara H. Browne


Sara Hall Browne, the subject of this sketch, was born in Sunderland, Massachusetts, during one of those calamitous periods which not unfrequently interrupt the prosperity of families, where the husband and father is engaged in the mercantile profession. A series of misfortunes and losses had reduced her parents, at the time of her birth, to circumstances of difficulty and embarrassment, which ultimately led to the abandonment of trade for the safer and surer pursuit of agriculture. With this design they removed to Hyde Hillside, a pleasant maternal estate in the retired town of Templeton, Massachusetts, which has ever since been the family residence.

A very quiet place is the Hillside; beautiful and picturesque in its environments. Sequestered like a nest among the hills, it is a sweet, wild, rural abode, every way fitted to be a child’s paradise, and the nursery and school of that species of genius which feasts on natural beauty and unfolds most successfully in solitude.

Hyde Hillside is, some might affirm, a very lonely abode, on the southern slope of a rocky hill, yet surrounded by scenery of remarkable beauty. On the east, the descent is quite abrupt for a few hundred yards to a beautiful expanse of water, partly lying in the shadow of dark pine woods, and again spread out in the sunshine, sparkling like a lake of molten diamonds. Another hill rises from this watery interval, with a smooth and gradual ascent, for a mile or two, on the summit of which stands the pleasant village of Templeton, in full view, with its trees, its church spires, and its white dwellings.

Mount Monadnock rises, hoary and cloud-capped, to the north, while on the south and west the prospect is bounded by hill and woodland.

The venerable ancestral mansion is a large commodious dwelling, which has offered the hospitalities of nearly a century to friend and stranger. In this rural retreat was passed Miss Browne’s childhood; here was she instructed by an excellent mother in all those domestic virtues which are appropriate to the female character, in all stations and circumstances; here were laid the foundations of every valuable attainment which after years may have more fully developed; here dawned those aspirations, which, kindled by the fire of inborn genius, quickened and expanded by judicious parental encouragement, have borne her ever onward in a career certainly not after the ordinary level of common workday life, and which promises to give her a still widening sphere of influence and usefulness.

By the aid of advanced preparation in the home school-room, and the practice of rigorous economy—for her pecuniary resources were by no means abundant—Miss Browne was able to complete an extensive course of study, in one of our best female seminaries, in 1841. For a short time subsequently she engaged in teaching, but a severe and protracted bronchial affection ultimately prohibited effort in that department of congenial labour.

In 1846 occurred her first great sorrow, in the death of a father whose moral and intellectual worth and experience were always a safe anchorage for the doubts and difficulties of children who ever had occasion to rise up and call him blessed, alike for the prudent and judicious policy exercised in their mental training and direction, as for those lessons of piety and benevolence which he was faithful to instil and to exemplify.

Within the last few years Miss Browne has devoted herself mainly to the literary profession, both as a means of giving scope to her inclinations and tastes, and of gaining an independent livelihood. Having encountered trials and overcome difficulties which would have daunted a less courageous heart, she seems particularly prepared to contend in that race in which mind measures with mind, and ultimately to put on the laurels which belong to the victor.

Though yet at the very commencement of her literary career, Miss Browne has won very unequivocal favour both as a vigorous painter of illustrative fiction and a teacher of religious truth.

Her prose is characterized by a very marked originality, force, and point. The moral she invariably inculcates is always apparent in its meaning and strong in its application. The characters she delineates are clearly individualized, and usually contrasted finely with one another, while a tendency to, and keen relish of, the humorous is distinctly perceptible. She unfolds truthfully and happily the workings of the purest and tenderest human sensibilities, yet her style never verges towards sentimentalism, and the entire survey of her published writings would not furnish a single sickly feature, or a single example which would lay her open to the charge of moral cowardice. Light and shadow, joy and sorrow, tears and laughter, tragedy and comedy, follow in the wake of her versatile pen.

As a religious writer, no one can mistake the earnest loving warmth of the Christian heart. Baptized into the spirit of that piety she commends to others, especially to the young, her success in this department of letters has been truly encouraging. Her “Book for the Eldest Daughter,” has had and will continue to have a wide circulation; and she has received from time to time most grateful assurances of its popularity and usefulness. It is indeed a felicitous compound of physical, intellectual, moral, and religious instruction, given in a clear, affectionate, attractive style, which falls on the young ear and heart like those sweet “mother tones” which irresistibly constrain to the path of virtue and holiness.

As a poetess, Miss Browne is not remarkably prolific; she writes deliberately and cautiously, rather than abundantly. She is a poetic sculptor rather than painter—patient to chisel into perfect harmony and proportion, the outline and lineaments of every image whose glowing ideal adorns the inner chambers of her imagination.

A list of Miss Browne’s publications is given in the subjoined note.

For Sartain’s Union Magazine, Miss Browne has furnished various articles of prose and poety, viz.: In 1849, a “Salutation to Fredrika Bremer;” “Waters of Marah,” (poem); in 1850, “The Goblet of Revenge,” (poem); “Song of the Winter Serenaders,” (poem); “Death Bed of Schiller;” in 1851, “The Token of Hope,” (poem); “Sing to me,” (poem). For the Dollar Newspaper, Philadelphia—1847, a prose tale, “Reforming a Husband;” in 1848, “Fretting for a Secret;” “Prescribed by a Physician;” in 1849, “Maying in December;” in 1850, “The Iron Grays.” For the Boston Rambler and National Library, Boston,—1847 “Capt. Gage’s Cousins;” “The First Falsehood;” “The Pauper Bride;” in 1848, “Things Old,” Nos. I. II. III; in 1849, “Mary Stuart’s last Pageant,” (poem); “The Two Homes;” “The Snow Buried,” (poem). For the American Cabinet and Atheneum—1848, “One Among a Thousand;” “John Quincy Adams,” (poem); in 1849, “Mendelssohn’s last Composition,” (poem); “The First Crime,” (poem); in 1850, “Mode and Tense.” For the Lady’s Book several poems: 1845, “Last of the Asmonians,” (poem); in 1843, “The Unknown Flower,” (poem); in 1847, “Madame Roland,” (poem); “The Wife’s Dowry,” (poem); in 1845, “The Costliest Gift,” (poem). Besides a great many other fugitive articles of both prose and poetry for various magazines, papers, and annuals. In 1847, her first volume was published, entitled “My Early Friends;” 1849, “Book for the Eldest Daughter,” a work of between two and three hundred pages; 1850, “Recollections of my Sabbath School Teachers,” besides others now in press, and a volume of poems in course of preparation.