-Men and Women of Nationals renown who once lived in Patchogue and its environs.
-Recollections of Seba Smith and Elizabeth Oakes Smith
Mary Louise Booth
General William Floyd (signer of Declaration of Independence)
Literature, States craft and Art Represented by William J. Bok
At the intersection of the Yaphank and South Country roads, in the intensely rural hamlet of Yaphank, at that time known as Millville, and directly opposite the Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, stands the one and a half story shingled cottage, in a fair state of preservation, hemmed in by a luxuriance of shrubbery and vines trailing all over its weather beaten sides, where on April 19, 1831, Mary Louise Booth, one of America’s leading woman historians, translators, and editors, first saw the light of day. Mary Louise attended the little district schoolhouse at the head of Millville lane, within a stone’s throw of the romantically located birth-house.
Chatting with the writer, one winter’s day in her cozy editorial den at Harper’s, about the modest cottage and her early life in Yaphank, or rather, Millville, Miss Booth laughingly remarked: “How well do I recall that Millville “seat of learning”, if your please, as a little tot I wended my way there. That district school was then a mere hut, and on rainy days we children had our hands full, I assure you, studying our lessons and at the same time avoiding the drippings that fell through the aged schoolhouse roof.”
Like her friend, Mrs. Oakes Smith, this Millville native was a child of wisdom. History tells us that in that amply shaded and unostentatious Long Island cottage, at only sis years of age the future historian and linguist had read her Bible through, and absorbed “ Plutarch’s Lives”, and at eight was reading “Racine” in the original. At nine she took up Latin and at eleven had carefully mastered the writings of such profound leaders of thought as Hume, Gibbon, and Locke.
At the beginning of the Civil War Miss Booth lent her genius to the Federal cause. She did not feel herself qualified to act as a nurse in the military hospitals. Not only having that inherent antipathy to the sight of sickness and suffering common to many poetic natures, but being through her life among books, too inexperienced in such work to venture assuming its tasks with their consequent risk of life. Still something she must do. That she had sent her brother to the front, scarcely more than a boy as he was, seemed not half enough; and, when, while burning with eagerness, she received an advance copy of Count Agenor de Gasperin’s Uprising of a Great People”, she at once saw her opportunity in bringing heartening words to those in the terrible struggle. She took the work without loss of time to Charles Scribner Senior, proposing he should publish it. He demurred a little, saying he would gladly do so if the translation were ready, but that the war would be over before the book was out, Secretary Seward having authoritatively limited its duration, not of weeks, but of days. Mr. Scribner finally said, perhaps, but half believing in the possibility, that if it could be ready in a week he would publish it. “It shall be done,” was Miss Booth’s reply, and she went home and began to work, working twenty hours of of every twenty-four, and received the proof sheets at night and returning with fresh ‘copy’ in the morning. The week lacked several hours of its completion, when the book was out, and in a fortnight the book was out, and its message rang from Maine to California. President Lincoln and Charles Sumner sent the patriotic translator messages of congratulation and Edwin M. Stanton said of the book,” It is worth a whole phalanx in the cause of human freedom.” “The Uprising of a Great People “ was followed within a year by Gasparin’s “America before Europe,” and then came Lahoulaye’s “Paris in America”, and two volumes by Augustin Cochin, “Results of Emancipation” and “Results of Slavery” Cochin’s works translated by her attracted more attention than Gasparin’s had done. These translations found enthusiastic readers throughout the country, and were heavily endorsed by great statesmen and public educators. Famous foreign authors sent her advance sheets of kindred subjects, which she generously translated without desire of payment. At the end of the war she translated Henri Martin’s “History of France”, which was peerless among her work. “The Age of Louis XIV”, and “ The Decline of the French Monarchy” were also striking translations. In 1867 the Harper Brothers invited Miss Booth to become the chief editor of “Harpers Bazaar” which is remarkable for being successful financially from the very beginning. To her indefatigable labors and personal superintendence of every detail, its success was due. For twenty years she performed her editorial works with fidelity and ability, and by her admirable judgment in the selection of manuscripts added greatly to the popularity of a journal for women for which the best talent at home and abroad ever employed. She was a woman broad in her sympathies, charitable in her judgments, and gladly helpful to women who were struggling for a place in the honorable ranks in labor. Mary Louise Booth’s affection for her birthplace and her early associated never waned, and during her life of fathomless energy she made it a point to almost yearly pay visits to Millville (former name of Yaphank). During August 1868 the gifted poetesses, Alice and Phoebe Cary- (the latter of whom wrote the beautiful hymn “One Sweetly Solemn Thought”), accompanied Miss Booth to the place of her humble nativity, and she introduced these loving and learned sisters to the few surviving friends of her early Yaphank life. For hours these three representative women lingered on the stoop of the Episcopal church contemplating the old home and exchanging reminiscences of by-gone happy days in their respective careers,- careers so familiar to the American reading public.
Thomas Buchanan Reed, the poet, and author of “Sheridan’s Hide”, the authors and poets-Frances Sargent Osgood, Emma Catherine Embury, Caroline May, and Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman, the sweetheart of Poe, have all made pilgrimages to the rural dwelling where the creator of “Harper’s Bazaar” made her entrance into life. I n the summer season wheeling tourists level their cameras at the vine clad roadway cottage where this patriotic woman laid the foundations of her interesting after life.
During the last years of her existence Miss Booth was an invalid and frequently for weeks at a time was imprisoned in her apartments. Her elegant home near Central Park, in New York City, was for many years the Mecca of distinguished visitors from this and other lands, but she would never consent to entertain any one who entered her parlors for mere gossip, and only literatures, artists, musicians, scientists, and other clever people found a welcome therein. She was ever a strong disliker of society idlers time fritters and flatterers.
Miss Booth had fine hazel eyes, and a tenderly pale complexion. Her form was graceful and her carriage was marked by great dignity, attractions which were heightened by elegant and winning manners, and her friends jokingly alluded to her as “The Duchess”. Gentle, benevolent, and with instinctive refinement and innate purity, she inspired affection in all who were fortunate enough to know her, and these combined qualities enabled her to wield great personal influence everywhere.
Time had dealt gently with this brilliant maiden writer, leaving her still young and active, despite her later infirmities, and she was “growing old gracefully”. The majority of her early companions had already obeyed the summons of the “Great Dustman” and she might truly have said with Ireland’s glorious bard, Tom Moore:- “I feel like one who treads alone,
Some banquet hall deserted; Whose lights are fled, whose garlands dead, And all but me departed!”
The same fascinating conversation, generous impulses and elegant manners always remained. Her interesting reminiscences of the past held her listeners in raptures, and when she paused it seemed like the ceasing of exquisite music. Her pen had not grown rusty with idleness at fifty-eight.
Mary Louis Booth was a woman of deep religious convictions, and when, in New York
City, on March 4, 1889, the bands that detain here below were dissolved, she passed triumphantly to the realms of everlasting bliss, exclaiming with her last breath, “Jesus, thou art the crown of my hope!”
Edmund Clarence Stedman, Dr Oliver Wendell Holmes, Richard Henry Stoddard, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Edgar Fawcett, Daniel Huntington, Julia Ward Howe, Louise Chandler Moulton, Nora Perry, “Grace Greenwood” , and Margaret Elizabeth Sangster, (the latter who succeeded her as editor of “Harper’s Bazaar”), were among the notables who escorted her remains to the Cypress Hills Cemetery in East New York, Brooklyn, where she joined the beloved parents who long since had preceded her to the grave. Unremitting toil had rewarded
Miss Booth with a moderate fortune, and it was distributed among her surviving kin, domestics, and several charities she had long befriended.