Lucy Larcom was one of a large family of children. She lived in an old-fashioned house in Massachusetts. In those days, people knew nothing about electric light. They did not even have kerosene lamps, or stoves such as we have. The house where Lucy lived was lighted by a tallow candle.
Lucy’s mother had rosy cheeks and happy blue eyes. She pinned her dark curly hair back under a white lace cap. The father had a pale, noble face. Every evening before the children went to bed, they all gathered around the bright, warm fireplace. The father read from the big family Bible. Then he prayed. Lucy lived to be an old lady, but she never forgot her good father and her Christian home.
When Lucy was seven years old, her father died. Then it was necessary for the children to help earn a living. So the family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, where the older children might work in the cotton mill. Lucy’s mother boarded a whole houseful of happy girls from the mill.
Lucy was too young to work in the mill, so she went to school. She loved books and school. When she was only three years old, she could read in the New Testament. Her Aunt Hannah was the teacher. Aunt Hannah was like all the other teachers in those days. She thought the best way to teach children was with a stick. She rapped them on their knuckles with a stick if they missed their lessons.
One day, when little Lucy came home, she said, “Aunt Hannah punished the scholars with the pudding stick.” At this the whole family burst out laughing. The stick Aunt Hannah used in school looked to Lucy like the stick they stirred the pudding with at home, and she thought Aunt Hannah had taken it to school to use.
When Lucy was only three or four years old, she began to memorize hymns. She said she was going to learn all there were in the hymn book! But when she found out that there were a thousand, she thought that would be too many.
“I’ll give you a nice book, Lucy,” said her sister Emilie, “if you learn fifty hymns. And if you will learn one hundred, I will teach you to write, besides.”
Lucy wanted the book, and she wanted to learn to write. So she began to memorize hymns. When she was five years old, she had learned between one and two hundred. Then Emilie gave her a book of poems, and taught her to write.
Before Lucy was seven years old, she had read “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and at least a dozen other books that people nowadays think interest only grown-ups.
“Let’s write some poetry, Lucy, just for fun,” said her brother John one day.
“What fun that would be!” said Lucy.
They both began to write. John soon got tired of that kind of fun, but Lucy wrote two stanzas:
“One summer day,” said little Jane,
“We were walking down a shady lane,
When suddenly the wind blew high,
And the red lightning flashed in the sky.
“The peals of thunder, how they rolled!
And I felt myself a little cooled;
For I before had been quite warm;
But now around me was a storm.”
John was delighted. He thought his sister Lucy was a wonderful little girl. He was so proud of her that he read her verses to the family and to all the neighbors.
When Lucy was thirteen, she had to stop going to school, and begin to work in the cotton mill with the other girls. These girls were bright and interesting. They decided to publish a magazine. They named it The Lowell Offering. They tried hard to write interesting stories for their magazine, so every one would like to read it.
Lucy wondered if she could write some poetry that would be good enough to print in the magazine. She decided to try. She thought hard. She wrote. She corrected. Then she tried again. She had never been so happy in all her life as she was when she saw one of her own poems in the magazine.
After that, Lucy often wrote poems that were printed in The Lowell Offering. They were the best things in the magazine. Everyone liked to read them. The great poet, John G. Whittier, was delighted with them. He asked who wrote them. He said she would one day be a great poet. And she was. She wrote so many beautiful poems that someone said her whole life was a poem. People enjoyed her poems so much that they soon forgot she was once only a poor factory girl.
True Education Reader, Fourth Grade, Pacific Press Publishing Association, © 1931, 116–121.
If I Were a Sunbeam
If I were a sunbeam,
I know what I’d do;
I would seek white lilies
Rainy woodlands through;
I would steal among them
Softest light I’d shed,
Until every lily
Raised its drooping head.
If I were a sunbeam,
I know where I’d go:
Into lowliest hovels,
Dark with want and woe:
Till sad hearts looked upward,
I would shine and shine;
Then they’d think of heaven,
Their sweet home and mine.
Art thou not a sunbeam,
Child whose life is glad
With an inner radiance
Sunshine never had?
Oh, as God has blessed thee,
Scatter rays divine!
For there is no sunbeam
But must die, or shine.