Rebecca Webb Pennock Lukens
I have latterly
often thought I would pen a sketch of my life which might be interesting
to my children when their mother should slumber in the grave, and in delineating
the events which have marked its course draw for them a portrait of the
noble, the exalted being to whom they owe their existence now I trust
a Saint in a better world. They will be made acquainted by this with all
the incidents which have varied the flight of thirty summers. Of the wild
and romantic reveries of youth, the pure and perfect happiness of a short
period of more mature life, and the feelings agonized and harrowed to
phrensy which followed those few brief years of bliss.
My Paternal ancestors were among the most respectable of those who wearied with the tyranny and oppression of civilized Europe sought amid the solitudes of America a quiet retreat and a secure home. What is it to me, though pride would whisper their titles designated them of Patrician race. They were willing to forego such petty distinctions and rest their claims to respect in the country of their adoption solely to their actions and rights as men willing to devote their talents and their fortunes in aiding to civilize and improve this interesting section of the world.
They settled in Pennsylvania and the heavy stroke of the axe sounded loud and solitary amid its thick and lonely forests. Here the brothers (there were two) reared their future dwellings. The hoses still stand relicks of antiquity, though now surrounded on all sides by more commodious and modern dwellings. That of the older brother still in possession of the family is still an interesting object. The situation is lofty and commands a view for miles over the adjacent country. Tall evergreens surround it and its strong walls, lofty ceilings and spacious apartments would allmost give an idea of a feudal castle. My grandfather, born among the wilds, inherited with the large patrimony of his father all his lofty and unbending principles. Devoted to the country of his birth he served her with fidelity in the Assembly of his native State until the loud toosin of war sounded through the land to awake her sons from the lethargy, in which they were sunk, to vindicate their rights as men and shake off the trammels of despotism. But declining in the vale of years my grandfather felt not its thrilling power, but retiring from publick life devoted the evening of his days to agricultural pursuits, and endeavoured to forget that the angel of Peace had fled before the demon of discord. My father was his youngest child, and had until the period of his marriage allways remained under the Paternal roof. But long before that event the struggle for freedom had ceased, a new government organized and the United States declared and acknowledged independent.
I can well imagine that in her youthful days my mother must have possessed many attractions. Her understanding was superior, though her education had been much neglected and she possessed a vigorous and powerful mind. My father was generous and amiable, full of the kindest feelings, and wishing to make all around him happy. I was the first to name him Father and on me was his affection fondly lavished. My first ideas abound with instances of his endulgence. My mother, occupied with the care of an increasing family, had light control over my actions and I was left to the exercise of my own will in my childish pursuits. The first event which served to impress itself on my momory was the death of my grandfather and myself forming one in the procession which followed him to the grave. Years rolled on and among my greatest enjoyments was the endulgence of being permitted to spend a week occasionally with some near relatives, the children of my father's elder brother. They were all much older than myself and consisted of a brother and two sisters. Then it was I felt of some importance. I was the caressed favorite of the whole family and my arrival was allways hailed with the heart's warm welcome. My uncle and his wife were both invalids and the most affectionate endeavours were allways used by their family to beguile the hours of pain and sickness. Every innocent amusement was allowed me. With my young friends I have bounded over hill and dell as wild, happy and joyous as youth could make me, when I neither knew nor feared misfortune. My cousins I loved with all the warmth of my nature. They were the first to endeavour to train my mind and give it its propper bliss, amiable and endearing in their manners. I eagerly listened to their instructions and wished to practice the lessons they taught. At an early period of my life my father, affluent in his circumstances, had spent a few years in the metropolis of our country to give his family the advantages of education, which our residence at that time denied, but a city life not being congenial to my mother's taste it was abandoned before I had received any permanent advantages from it and at the age of twelve I was laced at a boarding school.
There I continued for a year and I believe made tolerable progress in my studies and formed many intimacies. At the expiration of that term I returned home, and after spending a short time with my family I again resumed my studies, but at a different seminary. The pleasant town of W____ had schools better calculated to meet the views of my friends, and I was placed there to pursue with eagerness the education I wished much to gain.
Now it was that life began to open new charms for me. I was rapidly improving, a favorite with my teachers and at the head of all my classes, and here I first found that the wealth and respectability of my father made many eagerly seek my favour. I had many friends, some that I loved with ardour, and often after the duties of the day had passed over, hanging on the arm of one of these I again indulged in the rambling propensity, which had allmost grown with my growth. Every beautiful and romantic situation was explored with unabated enthusiasm and, when the dusky shades of evening would warn us to regain our home, they were left with regret and again, with the next leisure, revisitted. The banks of the B____ afforded many a delightful view and often were they trod over by the elastic steps of youth.
I was young,
ardent and happy. My preceptor was the best of men. (Peace to his ashes
he now rests in the grave). Every pains was taken to instill religious
impressions into the minds of his pupils. He was a minister in the religious
society of friends, and in truth he practiced what he preached. When he
showed to us the wonderful order of the Heavenly bodies he dwelt with
energy on the Great Glorious Architect, and with a strength of language
and sublimity of expression, which still dwells in my memory. And when
he opened to our view the book of nature it was to draw our minds to nature's
God. I allways look on this period of my life with pleasure and even now
love to retrace it. It is true vanity now began to whisper me I was of
some importance, yet still I was too ful of the untamed spirit of youth
to listen much to its suggestions and my beloved tutor had often warned
against its syren power spending my time between my studies and occasional
visits home I reached my sixteenth year and with much regret bid farewell
for a time to my scolastic pursuits and returned to the Paternal roof.
My cousins still held their influence over me, but I was too little with them at this period for them to be aware of the defect or to remedy it, and my mother, occupied with her domestic concerns, gave no thought about it. I was now rapidly advancing toward womanhood and, to perfect myself in several branches of my studies, again prevailed on my endulgent father to permit my return to W_____. Oh, what were the glad emotions of my heart when the consent was obtained. how did it beat with anticipated pleasure. I could not rest until my dear H. and M. were made partakes of my joy. It was a lovely afternoon when I rode over to inform them of it. They participated in my feelings and assisted me to prepare for the school. Mary was delighted too to see me so happy and as soon as my preparations were completed I again left home.
teacher had now engaged in a larger school. In the interval of my absence
he had suffered severe domestic affliction. His wife had been taken from
him by the hand of death, and he was left a sincere mourner with an infant
family. His relatives had kindly assisted him in taking the charge of
his children and he was left at liberty to attend entirely to the care
of his establishment. It had now become a boarding school where all the
pupils were accommodated under the same roof. here consequently we were
more restricted than before, and, although I could no longer range at
will during the hours of leisure, yet I was happy in devoting my attention
to the different branches in which I wished to perfect myself. Chemistry
and the French language claimed my attention and I devoted myself with
untiring zeal to their acquirement. I was ambitious of distinguishing
myself, considering this as the last opportunity I should have of improving
in those studies. Indeed I was fully employed. Occasionally on a fine
day we were endulged in a ramble to some favorite spot, and in the moonlight
evenings were permitted to promenade through the grounds, and perhaps
there was not a happier family to be found.
The visit was a delightful one for every object wore the charm of novelty to me so long accustomed to secluded retirement. My time was divided among my numerous friends, and during the period of my stay a friend related to my mother called to see me. I heard when I entered the house she was in the parlour above awaiting my arrival and, as I sincerely valued her, I ran hastily into the room with an exclamation of pleasure. I started back, for she was not alone, and felt my face glow as, after welcoming me, she turned and introduced me to her companion, who she named as a Dr. L. who had drove her in his gig to the city. He bowed with a peculiar grace, and for a moment my eyes rested on his interesting face and his tall and commanding figure. He next I bent them with confusion to the ground. After a desultory conversation he rose, and, pleading business, left us.
I spent the
day pleasantly with Mrs. W____. In our walk through the city we again
met the pleasing stranger and in the evening they returned to the beautiful
village of Abington, where Mrs. W. resided, and where her companion, she
informed me, had an extensive practice.
He was in
his person above the common height. An air of grace and dignity were blended
I his form. His hair was of the deepest shade of black, his eyes hazen,
and his other features manly and remarkably handsome. But, although his
was the "gloss of fashion and the mould of form" yet it was
the expression of his countenance "where every good had seemed to
get its seal" that most interested me. It spoke of lofty unbending
principal, of a mind exalted and that felt its own power, while the benevolence
which beamed from his eye and the suavity of his manner won their way
to the heart, and fixed his empire there.
Sprig was now advancing and the country had never looked more lovely. Riding on horseback was a favorite recreation of mine, and often, after the tasks of the day had been completed, would I eagerly enjoy the ride across to my cousins. The kind endulgence which had been lavished on the favorite little girl was not withdrawn from me now, when childish pursuits had ceased to please, and admitted now as the companion of my cousins I enjoyed with a high zest the hours I spent with them.
My aunt had
long been dead, and my uncle, surrounded by his three children, was not
suffered to feel a want which they could relive, and each one strove to
pay him that attention his encreasing age and infirmities required.
her eye on me as I spoke and sighed. Early disappointment had clouded
her youth and saddened the brightest of her prospects. Death had snatched
away the beloved friend to whom her affections had been given and she
would fain guard my heart from the pangs of hopeless, disappointed love.
salutations, which spoke her welcome were over, she smilingly told me
she was not alone, her husband and Dr. L. were with her, and as she spoke
they entered the room. W. shook me familiarly by the hand and I felt my
face and neck glow as I turned from him to meet the approach of his friend.
I was provoked at myself for feeling the confusion I did and mortified I had so little command over those feelings. I determined to keep a strict guard over myself in future, nor let my tell-tale face show I felt any emotion. With this resolve I returned into the room. My father and mother were already there and in conversation with their friends. After tea Mrs. W. proposed a walk, the evening was so lovely, and we followed along the margin of the beautiful stream which passed through my father's grounds.
by the side of Dr. L. and by degrees the reserve I had maintained gradually
wore away, as he conversed with fluency on the beauties of the view before
us. This he did with an animation and strength of expression, which plainly
showed he fully felt and could appreciate its power. I had never before
met with a mind so congenial with my own and I listened with delighted
When I retired for the night I seriously took myself to task and wept, as I felt that m firm resolves had all been useless. Was I without knowing I had caused the slightest interest to surrender my affections unsought to one, who, however, amiable, nay fascinating, he appeared, was nearly a stranger to me. Forbid it all the pride of woman's character. I knew my own heart and felt if I once loved it would be with ardour, and that forever, and as I knelt by my bedside I fervently prayed for strength to still my new and indiscribable feelings. I arose more composed and sought my pillow. I must here observe I had no counsellor, no friend in my own family in whom to repose confidence. Between my mother and me there had never been that endearing familiarity which ought to exist between parent and child. She was even reserved, and rather repelled than claimed my confidence. My sisters were too young and my cousins at a distance. But I wished to act correctly and to guard my feelings with maiden pride from observation.
The next several days were devoted to the duties of hospitality and frequently in the evenings our walks were renewed. Still, though I had determined to the contrary, I ever found the Dr. by my side. Mrs. W. seemed anxious to promote an acquaintance, whether by accident or design I could not tell.
evening of his stay was drawing to a close, when after listening to a
discourse, to me but too interesting, I found we were alone. He gently
drew my arm within his own and silent, and embarrassed, I walked by his
side. The moon had arisen in all her splendour, when we reached the wide
piazza which fronted our dwelling. What a glorious view this is, said
he, as our eyes rested on the beautiful scenery before us softened by
her rays. We paused to contemplate it and, seating ourselves on the bench
of the piazza, he expatiated on the beauties and order of the Heavenly
bodies, of the vast attributes of Him who formed and controlled them,
and that he felt the one who could view them unmoved must possess a mind
dead to every noble, every exalted feeling.
It is now time for me to explain myself. From my first seeing thee in the city I determined, if possible, to excite an interest in thy heart and prevailed with our mutual friend to introduce me. Say then, dear R., have I succeeded and may I hope to win thy love? I cannot make those unmeaning professions found on the tongue of every trifler, but I can offer thee a heart that has never before felt the witchery of female power, a heart that would love and cherish thee as the first, best gift of heaven. Our tastes are alike, our minds assimilate, and may I hope for a reciprocal interest? Mrs. W. has long made me acquainted with thee and first excited my wish to see thee. Do not then think this declaration hasty. Grant my wish and permission to return.
I was agitated with powerful emotion as he urged his suit with irrisistable eloquence. My head rested on my bosom. My heart beat with painful quickness, for I felt happy, aye, the happiest of the happy.
Yet I was
young, inexperienced, and surprise and diffidence kept me silent.