1863-06-15, Annie Adams Fields

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1863-06-15, Annie Adams Fields


June 15, [1863], Philadelphia

Dear Annie

The cheque came so immediately after my writing that I concluded you had not received my letter and that this was a pure business transaction of Mr. ‘Clarke for T&F’ and so did not write to tell you that it was in time and now I will be able to gratify my whim—thanks to you both—I’m so glad to catch a breath of your mountain air through your notes and the sweet-briar—oh Annie did you ever see some verses called The Briarwood Pipe?[1] They are curiously dear to Clarke and me—I hardly know why. But I like the sweetbriar more—through them— They’re the song of a Fire[?] Zouave recruit—‘when his turn for picquet is over. And he lies, with his pipe in his mouth, half asleep on the hefty clover’ A Rough’s words and habit of thought, with the unutterable hunger for something better & higher in life crying out fiercely through them. Perhaps, though, they might not impress you as they did me. How did I come away off here I don’t think you and Mr Fields altogether liked this last story[2] (outside of the bitten hand) from your way of speaking—Tell me true what you thought so wrong. Though mind, I don’t acknowledge any infallible Pope—you liked Paul Blecker and I don’t. Not one paragraph of it. As for this last I hardly know what it was. My fancy was to show God’s hand of order under the worst-thwarted life and I know I did not do it forcibly. Clarke would not read it until it was in print, so I had nobody’s opinion before—

I must tell you that we have been vagabonding since I wrote—went up Saturday week to New York and stayed until Monday. Mr Davis could not stay longer. But we had such a thoroughly good satisfying visit. The General was at home and took a recess while we stayed so as Mrs Frémont[3] said we all were out on a holyday together & Mr Davis came home more of a Frémont man than before. They have bought a home you know, ready furnished—a solid cozy home looking house with heavy woodwork inside and pear trees in the garden and are cleaning out the old furniture and putting in their own fancies and old memories for you know they are people who hang a remembrance over every nail. We had Lily’s room. The only one quite furnished—blue and white—with a bright morning look in it. They all seemed more even happy with this sure home-basis than I ever knew them. Besides the General you know is President of the Pacific Railroad and is busy arranging bureaus of emigration etc.—and planning work for negro regiments. As Mr Davis says it is a rare piece of poetic justice that this great work should be committed to him now—late in life—a sort of resume of the surveys and adventures of his youth. Isn’t it? We only went out to look at the park—stayed indoors the rest of the time. They had a wedding in the house the week before—[] niece—her lover troth plight when they were children—coming from Austria to claim his bride just like a story-book—I tell you all this because I know you like them all—

We are going out to Reading for a day or two to see Mr & Mrs Peterson[4] you met here—and that will be all until—home[5] which comes in August. You tempt us so much by your letters—with your farm-house and ‘Paradise’ But we’ll have to leave that castle with rest of its enchanted brethren in Spain for a while. How much I like Louisa Alcott’s[6] second sketch! Like is not the word—it cost me a nervous miserable night last night—as every glimpse of the war does lately. Such a weak puppet-like feeling comes over me—How long—oh Lord how long? is all the prayer such real sights of horror gives—I don’t know if they are healthful or not. That story of John is terrible in its truth and simplicity—I was so weak Annie that I shut my ears part of the time while they were reading it.[7] Not for this man—but the thousands. Mr Davis was silent after he laid the paper down and then quoted those words of Dickens’ Christmas Tree—‘Yet it was beautiful for among its branches was the image of the Raiser of the dead friend and the widow’s son’[8] It is so hard to me to keep that as a present living feeling, as he does. It is so often an after-thought. But about Miss Alcott—this sketch interested me in her though the others did not, vivid and piquant though they were— What is she doing now? Or do you know?

We were out spending yesterday with Mrs Mott.[9] The Edward Davises[10] were there & & we went over to see Mrs. Lucretia Mott in the afternoon. What a grand carving her life has done in her face! Frances D. Gage[11] was there. Ugh! if I should be sick and she should have to nurse me! That is a mean thing to say. She’s had a hard life, they say, and it may have been vice-like enough to wring all the sap and freshness out but leave tough strong helpful fibre—I don’t know. But we had such a happy time out there—They are such natural people one wasn’t afraid to talk the sheerest nonsense—or not talk at all. I brought in flowers and branches and a small tree and a hanging basket and divers ants and spiders who are careening over my cozery now & then. But I must stop. Clarke says to tell you his wife is living on a pillar at present having got a mission against tobacco. I’ve brought him down to three cigars per day and mean to shut them off this week. Meanwhile he asks your sympathy and I want to know if T&F couldn’t issue a tract for the times. King James’ counterblast would do if they’ve nothing handier. But you ought to turn reformer Annie. I like it. I make him take ice-cream instead of cigars in the evenings and then I have half— Goodbye very abruptly for I want to send this directly off. Remember me to Mr Fields. Mr Davis sends some message that I won’t hear

Yours always

Do write soon—

We had a letter from Mrs Wallace[12] yesterday. The books had come & she was quite overwhelmed by the munificence of the gift and so gratified. She describes her nice house so graphically that I have such ideas of taking some stock in pigs & chicken & going out to open another circulating library. What will you say? Fifty volumes in blue & gold?


1. Possibly Henry Perry Leland’s “My Briar Pipe.”

2. “Stephen Yarrow,” published January 1864 in the Atlantic Monthly.

3. General John Frémont and his spouse Jessie Benton Frémont, friends of RHD who had been stationed in Wheeling and now lived in New York. Their daughter Lily is mentioned later in the letter.

4. Charles J. and Elizabeth Peterson; he was editor of Peterson’s Magazine.

5. RHD’s family home in Wheeling, West Virginia.

6. Alcott’s Hospital Sketches was being serialized in the Commonwealth.

7. The Davises and Clarke’s sister, Carrie Davis Cooper, with whom they lived, often read stories aloud from newspapers and magazines in the evenings.

8. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Tree (1850).

9. Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), a renowned Quaker activist who lived outside Philadelphia.

10. Lucretia Mott’s daughter Maria (1818-1887) was married to Edward M. Davis (1811-?); the Davises were ardent abolitionists, like Lucretia.

11. Frances Gage (1808-1884) was a leading activist in abolition and, later, in the women’s suffrage movement.

12. Sarah Cochran Wallace, a widow RHD had encouraged the Fieldses to help establish a circulating library.


S. M. Harris


Richard Harding Davis Papers, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia



S. M. Harris, “1863-06-15, Annie Adams Fields,” Rebecca Harding Davis: Complete Works, accessed January 21, 2021, http://rebeccahardingdaviscompleteworks.com/items/show/140.

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