‘More than books can give’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In this installment from the Gray diary, it is interesting to read Regina Shober Gray’s[1] description of a grand new house in the latest style, one marred – in her view – by a lack of “works of art, …bronzes, marbles or even Parians – not a picture worth glancing at…”[2] She is happier on a visit to Manchester in June 1863: “[I] gaze my fill with ever new delight at this lovely panorama of sea and shore, pasture and woodland, hoar old cliffs and long cruel reefs where the tormented waters churn themselves into white foam and froth, and long swaying streamers of sea-weed are tossed to and fro in ceaseless unrest.”[3]

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 15 March 1863: A clear cold day – fine sleighing. Sallie G[ray][4] called for us yesterday p.m. in her large sleigh to go to Milton Hill…

Thursday p.m. we went to a party at Mrs. Hunnewell’s,[5] about 200, not a young party, and no dancing – a house warming in their splendid new house. The dress was quite magnificent – splendid laces and jewelry and plenty of room to display them in. I wore my blue & white moiré, and had my hair dressed in this modern antique style, for really one looks too dowdy for full dress otherwise. The children were greatly interested in the process, and when the last touch was given, in the placing over the brow [of] a wreath of deep pink hyacinths, they burst out with “Oh, you look splendid, just like a queen, &c.” – all but Sam [Gray][6] who, less flattering and more boy like, wondered “How I could make such a guy of myself!”

The house is very large and elegant. Wainscotted in carved satin-wood and ebony – mantles and mirror frames to match – and draperies &c in imitation of the old Moorish leather hangings, stamped in scarlet velvet, and gilded arabesques, for one parlor – the other in white and gold – the dining room in oak, with encaustic tiles, imitating Florentine mosaic set in the panels – hall and stairway of black walnut, with floors in parquetrie of oak and walnut. All very fine – but it was strange to see in this magnificent house, no works of art, no bronzes, marbles or even Parians[7] – not a picture worth glancing at – this for people always wealthy and no longer young, betrayed some great want in taste & culture.

Sunday, 12 April 1863: …We dined on Thursday with Emily Adams[8] – a small party, to meet Dr. & Mrs. John Ware – she was the Miss Chandler[9] who wrote that admirable book “Elements of Character.”[10] Emily has seen a good deal of her at the “Mammoth sewing circle”[11] this winter and is charmed with her; she is a remarkably agreeable, unpretending woman, with a little rusticity of manner, but easy and lady-like. I am going to see her some day with Emily.

Monday, 13 April 1863: Rebecca [Wainwright][12] sent me her ticket for Miss Sedgwick’s readings to-day, as she was too tired to go. Miss S. is a cousin of the authoress,[13] and is reading to several sets of ladies, at different private houses. This was at Mrs. Bennet Forbes,[14] who has old Mrs. Upham’s house this winter. Her reading seemed to me affected and sometimes false in emphasis. Her selections from the Brownings,[15] Hood,[16] [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow &c. &c. were excellent. After dinner I took the little boys to get capped and shod – then shopped for other matters, [and] went to tell Emily Adams that Sam and I could not go to Manchester tomorrow with her, much as we would like to.

The sewing circle[17] meets here. Called at Rebecca’s, and Mother Gray’s,[18] and while at the readings this morning missed a visit from the Misses Schuyler, to my regret. Mary [Gray][19] is full of some theatricals for which she is studying. Mrs. Richards[20] has dramatized a popular story – “Louie’s Last Term at St. Mary’s,”[21] restoring Louie to health and happiness at the end – instead of killing her off, as the book does.

Manchester, Thursday, 4 June 1863: We came here on Monday, Mary & I; found Sam waiting at the station, delighted to see us. The dear boy is brown as a berry, and looks very much better. We live out-doors on the beach or the cliffs from morning till night; it is delightful; the children fish or press wild-flowers &c &c while I, perched on some crag or under some shade tree, gaze my fill with ever new delight at this lovely panorama of sea and shore, pasture and woodland, hoar old cliffs and long cruel reefs where the tormented waters churn themselves into white foam and froth, and long swaying streamers of sea-weed are tossed to and fro in ceaseless unrest. I never weary of it – the plunge of green walled breakers on the sands, with wash and swirl and roar – the mad white crests that chase each other so wildly far up the cliffs, and leap snorting back only to surge up again and again – it is ever new to me. I carry a book in my pocket – but rarely take it out. I drink in more than books can give, from earth and sea and sky…

A very cheering letter yesterday from F.H.G.[22] has quite relieved my mind about him; he was so poorly, when I left, as to make one very anxious about him – but now that his troubles have passed off, I can begin to enjoy myself unhaunted by thought of coming serious sickness.

A letter from Mrs. Shober[23] too yesterday asking if either of my artist children could undertake two or three small illustrations for a book. It was a very kind recognition of their young abilities in that way – but they have never attempted any thing so ambitious in original designs, and have no knowledge of the rules of perspective as yet – so I wrote at once their regrets, and suggested her applying to Kate Drinker,[24] who is very expert at dashing off such things, in effective style.

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Entry for 15 March 1863.

[3] Entry for 4 June 1863.

[4] Sarah Frances Loring (1811–1892) married Dr. Gray’s brother William in 1834. The Grays lived at 20 Mount Vernon Street; William Gray’s mother and some of his unmarried siblings were at 22 Mount Vernon. See also Note 18.

[5] Isabella Pratt Welles (1812–1888) married Horatio Hollis Hunnewell in 1835. They had previously lived at 24 Mount Vernon Street; their new house was at 130 Beacon Street.

[6] The diarist’s son Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926).

[7] A recent invention, Parian porcelain mimicked marble.

[8] The diarist’s close friend Emeline Matilda Adams (1823–1883), who married Caleb Agry Curtis in 1864.

[9] Mary Greene Chandler (1818–1907) married Dr. John Ware in 1862.

[10] The Elements of Character (1854).

[11] A Civil War-era amalgamation of smaller sewing circles in Boston.

[12] The diarist’s best friend, Rebecca Parker Wainwright (1820–1901).

[13] Catherine Maria Sedgwick (1789–1867), author of popular “domestic fiction.”

[14] Rose Greene Smith (1802–1885) married Captain Robert Bennet Forbes in 1834.

[15] Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1806–1861), author of Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850) and Aurora Leigh (1856), married the poet Robert Browning (1812–1889) in 1846.

[16] Perhaps Thomas Hood (1799–1845).

[17] Mrs. Gray was taken into the 1842 Sewing Circle at the time of her marriage in 1844.

[18] The diarist’s mother-in-law, Mary Clay (1790–1867), was married to William Rufus Gray 1809–31.

[19] Mrs. Gray’s daughter Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923).

[20] Cornelia Wells Walter (1813–1898) was married to William Bordman Richards 1847–72.

[21] Louie’s Last Term at St. Mary’s (1860) by Miriam Coles Harris (1834–1925).

[22] Dr. Gray.

[23] The diarist’s stepmother Lucy Hall Bradlee (1806–1902) was married to Samuel Lieberkuhn Shober 1830–47.

[24] Mrs. Gray’s cousin Catharine Ann Drinker (1841–1922), who married Thomas Allibone Janvier in 1878.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

One thought on “‘More than books can give’

  1. Mrs. Gray’s eloquent description of Manchester-By-The-Sea, as it is known now, sent me to Google. There I found several images that almost do justice to her words. Also, a movie by the same name will be out this December. It was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
    Beverley Ballantine

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.