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Susanna Moodie to Catharine Parr Traill
December 25 1853
Traill Family Collection (National Archives of Canada)

Dec. 25, 1853

My dearest Catherine,1

I have delayed writing in the hope of having some home news to communicate, but mail after mail has arrived and no letter. Mr. Bentley seems to have forgotten me altogether. And from Reydon, I never hear, and suppose I never shall, as my correspondence is confined to the poor Mamma, whose will to write is perhaps beyond her power – I have nothing left but patience, which never was a sterling virtue of mine. Ours has been a dull quiet Christmas day, but the children have been superlatively happy, and I, happy seeing them so full of glee. I know not how it was, that Mary2 and I, fancied all yesterday and today, that we should see her father walk in, and the little woman attended me like a familiar sprite watching me make mince pies and Christmas cake and pudding talking all the while, of her own household Gods, and wondering what Mamma and Papa, and all the brotherhood and sisterhood of home were about – while Rob was wondering what old St. Claus would bring for them – Poor dears! it was little Aunt had to give, but such as the good old Patron of childhood brought, was received this morning, with extatic delight, and Papa and I chatted a full hour over our bedroom fire last night, Laughing as we filled the socks left very diffidently by our stove pipe, and wondering what the children would say in the morning – what a little swells to overflowing the gay glad heart of childhood. On Christmas morning – I always wish I was a child again. Jane3 went out last night and did not return until it was too late this morning for me to go to church. But Papa went with the little ones and after dinner, took them a long sleigh drive, and introduced Mary to a new world at Caniffs Mills and Smithville4 and they did not return until tea delighted with their drive. They have now walked hand in hand to church and I sit down to scribble to you. The holidays have commenced. The dreaded school examinations over, and the children have brought home books and slates not to be idle during the holidays. Mary is making rapid progress in figures and is already in multiplication sums. She learns fast and if she remains only a twelvemonth with me, she will attain a great deal of useful knowledge. She is a darling good child, and I feel no difference in my love to her than to my own. She and Robby love one another as all brothers and sisters should love. They have never had one word of difference, and are a great help and happiness to each other. You need not fear my tiring of her. It is not my nature to tire of anyone I really value. My obstinacy of purpose gives an obstinacy of affection. A good springing out of evil – but still a good in its own peculiar way. She has fewer faults than most children of her age, and her self denial and good feeling are very great. The weather has now set in cold, but very pleasant. I have made her two flannel jackets to wear next her skin and quilted her a good warm petticoat, and keep her as comfortable as my present empty purse will allow and she seems very contented and very happy. We see no company, but it is as well for her as it does not take her away from her studies. She occupies Katie's warm bed and room during her absence where she and Rob sit in the sunny window sill and read alternately aloud for hours together. We had another long letter from dear Dunbar. This was however, written to Katie, dated the 8th of Nov – it was only five weeks reaching us. The letter like most of his, full of amusing matter. By the by, he tells us a queer thing if true – Three Americans were lately tried at Nevada for murdering a Chinaman. It was a most interesting trial which kept the court sitting for a fortnight. At first the judge refused the evidence of the poor injured pig tails, affirming that their evidence as uncivilized men was not worth taking. The chinamen indignant at this, affirmed that they were civilized and that they were the first discoverers of America, and built all those ruined cities which have filled the world with wonder. And they produced in court an historical book to that effect which was read by their interpreter proving what they said – which had the effect of convincing judge and jury, and ended in the murderers being sentenced to dance upon nothing. Dunbar is full of this discovery which he believes firmly. He had narrowly escaped with life from a frightful accident. In going up the mountain, he had to traverse a deep trench along the hill side made by the miners and jumping upon a large piece of rock about a ton weight in order to leap the ditch it gave way with him and he rolled down the mountainside about twenty yards, the stone rolling repeatedly over him, before he could free himself, bruising him terribly but without breaking his bones. A few feet farther from the spot where he was able to arrest its course would have carried him over a ledge and down a sheer descent of forty feet, which he says would have been certain death.

     I was indignant at M'Clear wanting to cheat you out of your hard earned rights – 16 pages is a sheet of the Anglo-American – as any book or magazine of that size. Bentley's Miscellany is not so large, and I receive 10 guineas sterling for every such sheet I write. Don't put up with such a base fraud – for such it is. Your Mr. Hope has just written to Moodie to dun him for contributions from me – but really – I can't afford to write for the old twadler for nothing. He is going to publish a pamphlet containing Lord Ellsmere's5 and your contributions and wants me to add my mite. As this is solely for his own benefit I shall do no such thing. There is a capital article in the last Albion, on table turning. Tell your Katie to read, mark, and inwardly digest it. I read it twice with infinite glee. I send the Examiner for though a radical paper it is one of the very best published in the Province. Though the Editor did call me an 'Ape of the Aristocracy – too poor to lie on a sofa, and too proud to work for my bread' – I was too much amused to be angry with him. I have as yet received no copies of my last book. I will try and send you a copy when they do come. I have not seen much of the Murneys lately. Mrs. M. 'is very weary looking out for land,' and I have been very busy with household duties. Rob was sick last week but is better. Excessive bleeding has left him very weak. All my boys are subject to this bleeding to excess. We heard of Donald but not from him, though I think we may get a letter tomorrow. He was well and in high spirits studying hard to pass his Latin examination in January and he hopes with success. Mr. Bains one of the older students who lodges with him is instructing him for love. Donald makes friends wherever he goes. He seems one of those beings born for popularity, and is a finehearted noble boy. His last letter to his father surprised me – it was written so well – so full of shrewd remarks and life like pictures. Should God grant him life, I think he will be a credit to us. God has been very good to us in our dear children. Tell Annie6 the bones to which Mary alludes were two skeletons that Donald has collected and put together and which he looks upon as his earthly treasures to the cleaning and arranging of which he devotes all his spare time. It will cost us one hundred pounds his seven months at college, and this for the four succeeding years. But I will work with more zeal in the hope of serving my darling boy. He will remember my labor of love when the hand that now writes is dust.

      Katie leaves Peterboro for Toronto next week. She has been up to Douro – Rather – I should say deeply disgusted with the education in progress to the poor lads at the Agricultural College.7 Her letter on the subject is admirable so wise and just. You would like my Katie did you know her more. She is to many proud and cold. But depths of tenderness are in her heart. She is her father in women's guise. She will not show her love like a true Scot, but she feels it – with her it is not on the lip, but forms part of her being – Her true sisterly love for Donald is beautiful. To us her affections are like living water refreshing the soul. I look up to her with reverence, but Moodie idolizes her.

      I have been reading Goethe's biography of his early years written by himself. A very interesting book. Have been delighted with the memoirs of Margaret Fuller Countess Ossoli. What a precious women. How little one seems while reading the record left of such a mind. It is a noble book. I am now reading Lorenzo Benoni's life, and am much pleased with it.8 As to writing, I am doing but little. I feel dispirited and lazy and hate the mechanical task of copying but it must be done.

     When I heard from my dear Addie she and my little ones were well. Moodie is pretty well now. He was far from well for several weeks. He is letting his beard grow. Beards are all the fashion. I am glad for it was always a favourite hobby of mine. I have lived to see the day when men are not ashamed of shewing their claims to manhood, and wearing this kingly appendage to a fine face.

     I must say goodbye. Mary will add a note to her dear Mother, and with love to dear brother Traill and all the household of young hearts, and wishing them many happy returns of the season, believe me ever thine in all affection

Susanna Moodie


1. Susanna spelled her sister's name variously, using either 'a' or 'e' as fifth letter. At this time Catharine was living on the farm she called 'Oaklands,' on the south shore of Rice Lake.

2. Mary, Catharine's youngest living daughter, was staying with the Moodies to attend school in Belleville. Susanna's mother, Elizabeth Strickland, was eighty-one.

3. Probably a servant, although Catharine in her journals mentions a cousin named Jane Allcock

4. Two hamlets north of Belleville in the Moira River valley, probably also known as Cannifton and Foxboro.

5. Lord Ellsmere, Francis Egerton (d. 1857)

6. Catharine's second daughter.

7. Samuel Strickland's Agricultural College (see contemporary account cited in Morris, Gentle Pioneers)

8. Truth and Poetry from My Own Life; or, The Autobiography of Goethe was published by several American firms at mid-century: Susanna may be referring to the edition published by Putnam in 1850, like others edited by Parke Godwin; Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, 2 vols., ed. R.W. Emerson, W.H. Channing, and O.F. Clarke (Boston 1852); Giovanni Ruffini, Lorenzo Benoni, or Passages in the Life of an Italian (NewYork: Redfield 1853)


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