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The Baldwin Project: Laura E. Richards

Laura E. Richards

(1850 - 1943)

  Florence Nightingale Individual Biography
1908 The Golden Windows Allegorical Faith Stories


Autobiograhical Sketch from the Junior Book of Authors, 1935; courtesy of the H.W. Wilson Company

Dear Junior Readers,

I am asked to tell you something about myself and my work.

I must begin with my father and mother, since without them I should neither have worked nor existed. Dr. Samuel G. Howe, the friend and teacher of the blind, the man who first brought a blind deaf-mute (Laura Bridgman) into communion with ordinary persons; Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"; these were my dear and honored parents.

I was born in Boston, Massachusets, on February 27, 1850. I had three sisters and two brothers, and much of our childhood was passed in a delightful old house set in a lovely garden in a suburb of Boston. I have described this place, which my mother named Green Peace, in When I Was Your Age and in Five Little Mice in a Mouse-Trap, and in several books besides. I loved the place so much, my thoughts have always lived in it more or less, wherever else my home might be. Lawton's Valley, near Newport, where we spent our summers, was hardly less dear to me. In these two houses we children lived, and played, very happily. My brother Henry was nearest me in age, and we were constant playmates. We loved Mayne Reid's books; much of our playtime was given to hunting elephants and rhinoceroses (which other persons did not see) in the garden, and we had wonderful adventures under the dining-room table.

My mother had a beautiful voice, and sang to us a great deal: I knew many songs and ballads of various nations before I could read. I learned them almost without knowing it, and ever since then I have gone on learning by heart—memorizing, it is called today—good poetry, the love of which has been one of the precious treasures of my life. If there were a tune to which the poem might be sung, so much the better; if not, my mother might make one; so singing, as well as memorizing, became a part of me.

When we were little, we had governesses and masters; then in due time we went to school. Always, our parents were the most delightful of teachers, playmates and companions.

The first of my own writing that I remember was a story called "Lost and Found," written when I was ten; it may be found in When I Was Your Age. I cannot read it now without laughing, but it was serious enough to me then.

I never thought seriously of writing till after my marriage to Henry Richards, in 1871; not indeed till after the birth of my first baby. I began to sing to her as my mother had sung to me; first the dear songs and ballads: "Old Crummles," "Fair Eleanor," and the rest; then jingles of my own, which came bubbling up as if from some spring of nonsense. Often they seemed to come without any conscious effort of mine.


The Owl and the Eel and the Warming-pan
They went to call on the soap-fat man!

Of course they did; what else would they do?

In 1873, St. Nicholas came into being. My husband said, "Why not send some of your rhymes to the new magazine?" And that was the beginning.

Seven babies came; the songs bubbled and jingled. By and by the children wanted stories as well as songs. I wrote Five Mice in a Mouse-Trap, and the two "Toto" books, and When I Was Your Age; besides the two books of rhymes, Sketches and Scraps by Papa and Mamma (my husband making the delightful pictures) and In My Nursery.

By and by again, my babies were big girls and boys; I wrote Captain January and my first "girl book," Queen Hildegarde. Some scenes in this were laid in Lawton's Valley. In other "Hildegardes," and the "Margaret" books, I made houses out of Green Peace, and Vaucluse, a beautiful place not far from the Valley. I put in portraits here and there, too: some of them real ones; others mere suggestions, a glance here, a word there. When I read them over, as I do now and then, I seem to go back through the years to when the children were growing. One child said this, and another said that; this one had just such a dress, and that one went to school (call her the "Snowy Owl" if you like—she will not mind!); and these two little ones swung on the. gate.

No one can possibly imagine how I have enjoyed my writing. It was work, but it was also the most delightful play. I am still writing. I have had a very long and very happy life. I hope you will all live as long and be as happy.

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