Farrar, Eliza (Ware) Rotch

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FARRAR, Eliza (Ware) Rotch

Born 12 July 1791, Dunkirk, France; died 22 April 1870, Spring-field, Massachusetts

Wrote under: Eliza Farrar

Daughter of Benjamin and Elizabeth Barker Rotch; married John Farrar, 1828 (died 1853)

Daughter and granddaughter of Nantucket Quakers who had emigrated to France to establish a tax-free whaling port, Eliza Rotch Farrar went with her family to England during the Reign of Terror. At her father's estate near Milford Haven she received an excellent education and grew up among eminent European and American visitors. When her father lost his fortune in 1819, she went to live with her grandparents in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Disowned as too liberal by the Quaker meeting there, she became a Unitarian. Except for trips to England to visit her parents, she spent the rest of her life in Massachusetts.

In her "Address to Parents" at the beginning of The Children's Robinson Crusoe (1830), Farrar praises Defoe's work for its "spirit" and "naturalness": "It seems to be exactly what it purports to be, the narrative of a profane, ill-educated, runaway apprentice of the 17th century." Farrar then asks, "Can such a tale, though perfect in itself, be suited to children who have been carefully guarded from all profaneness, vulgarity, and superstition?" Her version of Crusoe is accordingly cleansed of such faults as his "disobedience to his parents, and his inordinate love of adventure" and endowed with qualities parents would wish their children to admire and cultivate: "industry, perseverance, resignation to the will of God." To increase the utility of her hero's adventures, Farrar adds "as much information about domestic arts as could well be interwoven with the story" and makes Friday into a native "of a mild, affectionate, and tractable nature."

Farrar presented another proper hero to be emulated by children in The Story of the Life of Lafayette as Told by a Father to His Children (1831). Henry Moreton tells his father he wishes he lived in the days of Alexander or Caesar and could see these great men; his father takes issue with Henry's idea of these men as great, and reminds him that he has seen on Boston Common "one of the most extraordinary men that ever lived!" Again, the hero's life acquires value as an example and lesson, but his actions are generally left to speak for themselves without intrusive moralizing. The tale takes 17 evenings. Stirring events are briskly and clearly related, the moral intent doesn't interfere with the often exciting story and interesting anecdotes, and many vignettes of Moreton family life provide humor.

A manual of advice, The Young Lady's Friend (1836), was Farrar's most important work, widely popular in England and America and reprinted as late as 1880. Farrar addresses her work to middle-class girls who have finished school. It opens with a brisk chapter of warning to those who assume that their intellectual life ends when they leave the schoolroom and a second chapter "On the Improvement of Time." It closes with a chapter on "Mental Culture" and impressive lists of books for a "course of reading" on history, biography, and travel. In between, she holds to an essentially conservative view of "woman's peculiar calling," but emphasizes practical details of behavior and treats these with gentle amusement and, above all, common sense.

The Young Lady's Friend provides valuable insight into the activities and preoccupations of the 19th-century American middle class. Recollections of Seventy Years (1865), Farrar's last book, furnishes fascinating glimpses of life in England and France between 1783 and 1819. Her method is anecdotal, and many of her lively anecdotes seem, in themselves, to furnish enough material for entire novels. Farrar cared for her invalid husband for 14 years before his death in 1853. These are the tales she told to enliven his sickroom. They remain beguiling entertainment today.

Other Works:

John Howard (1833). The Youth's Letter-Writer (1834).


Carson, G., The Polite Americans (1966). Hopkins, V. C., Prodigal Puritan: A Life of Delia Bacon (1959). Lynes, R. J., The Domesticated Americans (1963).Schlesinger, E. B., "Two Early Harvard Wives: Eliza Farrar and Eliza Follen," in NEQ (June 1965).

Reference works:

Female Prose Writers of America, with Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of Their Writing (1852). NAW. NCAB.


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