Miss Wilkins's Studies in Child Life

From The Critic Vol. 18 No. 558 (Oct 29, 1892)

In ‘Young Lucretia, and Other Stories,’ Mary E. Wilkins has done for child-life in New England what ‘A New England Nun’ did for the older community of that singular country. She has made an accurate and sympathetic record of their quaint and interesting little lives, and she has done it in such subdued and tender colors that the stories seem to us like the first outdoor April sketches of an artist when the warm tones of new spring life have just begun to soften the atmosphere, and the first fitful patches of green grass show here and there on the bosom of the thawing earth. Nothing that Miss Wilkins has done has been otherwise than picturesque. She has the gift of making her characters live before one. And she does this without effort, and by the simplest means. It is the secret of her touch. Cheerful, loyal, sturdy young Lucretia, with the smooth lines of yellow hair on her temples and her honest blue eyes, giving herself Christmas presents on the school-tree to keep up the family honor, because the other girls had called her aunts, who did not approve of such nonsense, ‘awful mean,’ is as distinct a personality as if we had seen the little girl ourselves stand up tremblingly to receive the pudgy bundles when her name was called out. And if we cannot agree with the sudden transformation of character of the two aunts, who were so touched by this act that they thereupon reversed all the crystallized habits of a lifetime, and in an hour became loving and giving, we know that the exigencies of the short story, like those of the drama, demand these sudden changes of heart. But we think that the heroism of Ann Liza, who confessed to her grandmother, after she had had several hours in which to hesitate, that she lost her patchwork on purpose, and little, obedient, gentle Mehitable Lamb, who endured disgrace and three bowls of thoroughwort-tea before she would be a ‘tell-tale’ and tattle on Hannah Maria, who had taunted her with such impeachment, are the gems of the collection. And when we see the evidences of the germs of this rigid rectitude flourishing in the childish hearts of these soft little bodies, we realize the training and environment that have made life to the true New Englander, from the first moment of consciousness, a constant decision between right and wrong, and understand the high degree of perfection to which conscience — a mysterious and troublesome inheritance to most of us — can be brought in its native atmosphere.