Annie Adams Fields

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Annie Adams Fields


December 6, 1862, Wheeling               

I meant to write to you dear Annie as soon as I returned from Pa.[1] but have been prevented from one day to another—I wish you and Mr. Fields could have been with me up at that wedding to see a bit of life different from any you know. Our Pennsylvania homesteads are as curious and representative as those in New England. 

Do you know—of course you don’t know how much and good your letter did me? It came on a cloudy day, figuratively and literally and was so cheery, so true to truth that it was like a breath of open sea air.  Write to me often when you feel the missionary spirit strong in you–in that way it does me good—and when one means that in the deepest sense—it is only right to say it—don’t you think? 

Was it you Annie who sent me a paper the other day—Dwight’s Journal?[2] I have received a good many papers and letters about Tom which have amazed me a good deal. One thing I have noticed is those who have heard Tom believe the story—those who never did disbelieve it at which I am not surprised.

You were right not to let Mr. Fields think the Christmas story overdrawn. ‘Lot’ is from life.[3] You know, here, in a town like this it is easy to come into direct contact with every class and the longer I live—the more practical my observation is— The more I am concerned that the two natures remain in the most degraded soul until the last—and struggle until the end for victory.  That reminds me of a touching little incident that if it were in a novel would be called unnatural— There is a man here under sentence of death for a most cold-blooded murder. A vile hardened wretch raised on the streets with neither father nor mother to stand near him in the dock. His whole life has been a singularly lonely vicious one. The day after he was sentenced a wild ring-dove came in the cell window and has remained there ever since— uncaged, close by him. The poor wretch clings to it as if it were a real God sent messenger—as it is.

I did not mean to be so grim Annie dear—  I hope Mrs. Frémont’s book[4] will be here before the week is over. I wish you would tell me privately what success it meets with—I mean what reception from the upper bench of judges. I feel anxious as if it were my own.  Did you see Miss Lily[5] when you were in N. York? I like her, much. What is your programme for the winter, Annie? In my next letter I think I’ll give you mine. You speak of your ‘soldier’s work.’ Are you [] for theirs as a regular employment?

I cannot fancy the library nor my room looking out on a snowy bay and frozen skies. Do you know I happened on a view of Boston the other day—where your house and Cambridge bridge were in the foreground.  It made my heart beat a little faster—in earnest. I was so happy there.  Annie have Mr. and Mrs. Dorr[6] come home? I wrote to her after I left Newport but thought I might have misdirected it as she did not reply. Is Miss Prescott[7] married yet? One would think I was an inveterate gossip-monger to read my letters to you—wouldn’t they?  But I cannot think of Charles Street without a crowd of pleasant faces coming with it, and then—the questions.

I talk of chowders and sea fish, yet with tears in my eyes—tell Mr. Fields.

Do you remember our day at Nahant?  Wasn’t that the top and crown of pic-nics? My brother[8] often speaks of Boston—warmly as I do—and do you know my Virginia friends call me with a mixture of awe and amaze a ‘convert to New England.’ Why don’t Americans know each other. When I see you in the spring I mean to argue this point with you—a regular debating club. ‘Europe or the West.’ Mr. Dicey[9] agreed with me that you (the literary people of Boston) knew his country better than your own. You will think I am going to quote Lover’s ‘Come to the West to my own darling west.’[10] I will.  Next summer you and your faithful knight must undertake a pilgrimage as far back as St. Ives and then you will judge us as we are—

By the bye did you notice Dr. Holmes’[11] remark on your women and those he saw lower down–‘duck and chickens’? Keen touches of his dissecting knife in that article, here and there, weren’t there? That one hit the very marrow. I saw the thing but had no words for it, when I passed from the west to your country. You must look for it when you come to me in the spring. How glad—real heart glad I will be to see you both! You do know, don’t you?

The other day a lady in Philadelphia wrote me that a lady whom I don’t know who had been in Boston told her that “dear Mrs. Fields was quite in love with Miss Harding.’ Only think Annie of that precious bit of heart-break to your ‘Jamie’[12] traveling away out here by such circuitous routes! I send the slander back for you to strangle at your leisure—but send a kiss along with it meaning to make it true if I can some day. I have written you a very ‘dazed’ letter, dear—not begun in half I really wished to say but it is time for the mail to close—so good-bye—with my love to all that love me— Write soon to me— I am hurried, or I would write often, and long letters. Oh how often I wish I could sit down and talk to you if only for half an hour, but good bye— Tell Mr. Fields the new story[13] comes bravely on. I’m in the midst of moonlit love scene No. 2. now, but must leave them dumb until Monday evening— 


Annie – Mr. Axtell!!![14]


[1] Probably Washington, PA, where many of her relatives lived.

[2] Dwight’s Journal of Music had reprinted RHD’s “Blind Tom” from the Atlantic Monthly and received numerous letters, some highly critical, others fascinated with RHD’s commentary. By January 1863 they announced they would publish no more discussions of the article and Thomas Wiggins because it had received “too much space” over the months since RHD’s article appeared.

[3] Reference to “The Promise of Dawn.”

[4] Jessie Benton Frémont’s A Study of the Guard.

[5] The Frémonts’ daughter, Elizabeth (“Lily”).

[6] Neighbors of the Fieldses.

[7] Harriet Prescott (Spofford) (1835-1921), American author and poet. She married in 1865.

[8] Hugh Wilson Harding.

[9] Edward Dicey (1832-1911), English journalist and author.

[10] From “The Land of The West” by Samuel Lover (1797-1868), Anglo-Irish songwriter.

[11] Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-18942), American author and physician. The reference is to his December 1862 article in the Atlantic Monthly, “My Hunt after ‘The Captain.’”

[12] Nickname of James T. Fields.

[13] “Paul Blecker.”

[14] A story by Miss S. J. Prichard that appeared in the October 1862 Atlantic Monthly.


S. M. Harris


S. M. Harris, “1862-12-06
Annie Adams Fields,” Rebecca Harding Davis: Complete Works, accessed March 31, 2023, http://rebeccahardingdaviscompleteworks.com/items/show/95.

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