Lincoln Dreamt He Died by Andrew Burstein

Lincoln Dreamt He Died by Andrew Burstein

Author:Andrew Burstein [Burstein, Andrew]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: 2013-04-04T07:00:00+00:00

Caroline Clay Dillard was another who died too young. In her case, the enemy was consumption, the raging lung disease that destroyed untold thousands, if not millions, of lives in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Shortly before she started coughing, breaking out in night sweats, and slowly wasting away, Clay, as friends and family called her, related a dream. It concerned her little nephew Tommy, who had died five years earlier, barely a year old. In her dream, she encountered baby Tommy as a “sweet little cherub boy” who took her by the hand and guided her through a “bright dazzling” dream city.

Despite her early passing, what makes Clay Dillard’s life one worth knowing, and her dream especially poignant, is the dread of a loss of love that infuses the diary she kept in her late teens. After a childhood in Lynchburg, Virginia, she moved to eastern Tennessee with her parents and boarded at the Edgeworth Female Seminary in Greensboro, North Carolina, which she attended along with her older sister, May.

Edgeworth was a special community. It was the only female academy in North Carolina, its students drawn from across the tristate area. The school, founded in 1840, was named for the Irish author Maria Edgeworth. She is barely known anymore, but in the early American republic, “Miss Edgeworth” was far more popular than her English contemporary Jane Austen, the similarly inclined romantic novelist celebrated nowadays as a symbol of the age of gentility. Indeed, to judge by how many times her works were borrowed from the New York Society Library at mid-century, Edgeworth was every bit as popular as James Fenimore Cooper. She wrote morally accented novels about educated women and their emotional trials. She herself was a daddy’s girl when she rose to literary celebrity: it was Practical Education, the popular guide, that first made the Edgeworths, father and daughter, world-famous.

Maria Edgeworth chose to remain unmarried her whole life. She was seventy-three at the time the North Carolina academy was founded, and she died a few years before Clay Dillard’s time there. In 1836, Caroline Lee Hentz of Florence, Alabama, the girls’ school founder whom we met at the beginning of chapter 5, crooned in her diary as she was reading an Edgeworth novel: “Almost divine enchantress! who will ever wear thy mantle when thou art gone.”12

Edgeworth faculty covered writing, grammar, geography, botany, chemistry, and mathematics; piano and guitar lessons were optional. Pupils were obliged to walk around the carriage circle in the front of the sturdy main building twelve times every morning before classes. So wrote Minna Alcott of Albany, New York, who came to teach at Edgeworth because her “constitution” was fragile and her doctor urged her to go where the climate would put less strain on her. A few years before Clay enrolled, Minna wrote home and described the campus, which lay within an oak grove, “luxuriantly planted” with flowering shrubs. She found herself mesmerized by the summer tanager: “its brilliant scarlet plumage makes an exclamation point when glimpsed against the sky.



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