Follen, Eliza (Lee) Cabot

views updated

FOLLEN, Eliza (Lee) Cabot

Born 15 August 1787, Boston, Massachusetts; died 26 January 1860, Brookline, Massachusetts

Wrote under: Eliza Lee Follen, Mrs. Follen, Mrs. C. T. C. Follen

Daughter of Samuel and Sally Barrett Cabot; married Charles T.Christian Follen, 1828 (died 1840)

One of 13 children, and assured by her family's prominence of a stimulating social and intellectual environment, Eliza Cabot Follen early became a friend and follower of William E. Channing and taught in his Unitarian Sunday school. She married a German political refugee who, from 1830 to 1835, was professor of German literature at Harvard. A son was born in 1830. During the Harvard years, the couple became friends of Harriet Martineau and worked actively in the antislavery cause.

Because Follen had previously written two works of fiction, edited the Christian Teachers' Manual, and composed poems and stories for children, it was natural for her, after her husband's death in 1840, to turn to her pen for a livelihood. She edited Gammer Grethel (1840), the first American edition of Grimm's fairy tales, and the Child's Friend, a juvenile periodical, from 1843 to 1850. In addition to writing a biography of her husband, she composed poetry, plays, and stories for children. Until her death she remained active in the abolition movement, working on committees and writing numerous tracts.

The first and most popular of Follen's stories for children was The Well Spent Hour (1827-28), in which nine-year-old Catherine Nelson learns through benevolence and self-control the meaning of a sermon text: "Let them show their piety at home." Although this didactic tale, suitable for the Sunday school library, substitutes conversations for action and episodes for plot, its kindly tone and benign view of childhood are winning. The Birthday (1832) takes up the history of Catherine just before her fourteenth year, when her father's financial losses force the mother and children to move to a country cottage. The ensuing idyll of family life, which includes stories told during a party, suffers from a contrived plot and the heavy-handed contrast of good and evil so typical of early 19th-century children's literature.

Simpler in content and more graceful in execution are Follen's short tales, such as True Stories about Dogs and Cats (1855), The Old Garret (1855), and The Peddler of Dust Sticks (1855), later collected with other tales in the 12-volume Twilight Stories (1858). In The Old Garret, where discarded objects—a wig, a musket, a broadsword, a tea kettle—give their biographies, Follen adopts the technique associated with Hans Christian Andersen of having inanimate objects assume a narrator's role.

Although her children's poetry is now almost forgotten, Follen was a pioneer who turned from the harsh, morbid verse characteristic of early 19th-century American children's poetry to rhymes frankly meant to give more pleasure than instruction. Little Songs (1833 and 1985), reprinted as the final volume of Twilight Stories, was intended, she tells us, "to catch something of that good-natured pleasantry and musical nonsense which makes Mother Goose so attractive to children of all ages." Even though the verse in this volume lacks the vigor of traditional nursery rhymes, it is remarkable both for its response to children's tastes and for its gentle vision of childhood.

Follen's adult fiction, The Skeptic (1835) and Sketches of Married Life (1838), deals ostensibly with marriage. The first work, however, resembles a religious tract both in the account of Alice Grey's efforts to save her husband from the influence of his freethinking cousin and in Follen's recommendations of Dr. Channing's Unitarian writings. In the second work, a domestic novel, Follen creates a heroine who demonstrates, as Helen Papashvily points out, "the marked ability of women in the practical concerns of everyday life."

Follen's Life of Charles Follen (1840), for which she traveled to Germany to obtain additional material, is a sympathetic but unsentimental treatment of her husband's life.

A woman of conviction, both in her support of religion and in her opposition to slavery, Follen is notable for bringing to American children's literature of the pre-Civil War period a sensitive concern for the feelings and tastes of her young readers.

Other Works:

Selections from the Writings of Fénelon (edited by Follen, 1829). Hymns, Songs, and Fables for Children (1831). Words of Truth (1832). Hymns and Exercises for the Federal Street Sunday School (1839). Nursery Songs (1839). Poems (1839). Sacred Songs for Sunday Schools, Original and Selected (1839). The Liberty Cap (1840). The Works of Charles Follen with a Memoir of His Life (1841-1842). Made-up Stories (1855). Poems (1855). To Mothers in the Free States (1855). Conscience (1858). May Morning and New Year's Eve (1858). Piccolissima by A. Montgolfier (translated by Follen, 1858). Travellers' Stories (1858). What Animals Do and Say (1858). Home Dramas for Young People (compiled by Follen, 1859, reissued 1989). Our Home in the Marsh Land; or, Days of Auld Lang Syne (1877).


Meigs, C., A Critical History of Children's Literature (1969). Papashvily, H. W., All the Happy Endings (1956). Wright, L. H., American Fiction, 1774-1850 (1969).

Reference works:


Other references:

ElemEngR 8 (1931). NEQ 38 (1965).