Brown, Hallie Q.
|HENRIETTA CORDELIA RAY -- Born in New York City--1849 -- Died in Brooklyn--1916|
A tiny rill has its mission as well as a majestic river. Aggregated rain drops unite to form mighty billows. The faint flush of dawn though lacking the resplendence of cloudless noon, is none the less a direct emanation from the primal source of light. Any record of good repute attached to lives of even the obscure, embraces much that is illuminating that contrasts gracefully with the follies and foibles incident to humanity. Such details are worthy of narration for their forceful, healthy influence over every day folk who in so large a majority comprise our work-a-day world.
"As a stained web extended to the sun
Grows pure by being purely shone upon,"
so human beings grow more enduring in spirit, more stable in principle by the contemplation of careers finely illustrative of human possibilities, in attempts to climb the ladder of patience and devotion to duty up to the great heart of the infinite Creator.
It is a fact equally gratifying and indisputable that many, many, of "our women," under most untoward conditions, have lived lives, the persual of whose details cannot fail to interest, should not fail to kindle or intensify a longing for better things. Most of these women had during their existence reputations that were limited and local; it is their due that a wider circle than that composed of reflective personal friends should become familiarized with the diverse yet undeviating admirable traits of character they developed. Most were matrons; a fair minority
The hall-mark of good woman, and all consistently good women are truly great women, is reverence for humanity and faith in God, that benign Father who can transmute pain into peace and who will eventually blend all earth's discords into one grand heavenly harmony.
Once, long ago, a woman sang of her sex in these lines of gloomy prophecy:--
"* * * her lot is on you
To make idols and to form them clay,
And to bewail that worship."
The subject of this sketch, herself a poet, caroled her lay of faith and hope in these gladsome words:--
"With vision clear and purpose true
Humanity's broad scheme will trace;
* * * thus life expands
To sweet fruition, till the waves
of Time are lulled on golden sands."
In the world's great output of poetic literature expressed in our noble English language, a few, a scanty few productions stand unrivalled, unapproachable; for the great singers, those touched with the burning coals of the divine afflatus, are exceptional, each the marvel of his age. But the muse of fancy has many poetical gifts varying in degree but not in satisfaction. Each minor bard is content
"Like an Aeolian's wind played tune,
Makes perfect all the psalm."
Among those who have been responsive to this simple yet unique test are three of our women whose songs have made music during three successive generations. Phyllis Wheatly who carolled at the dawn, was endowed with the highest degree of intellectuality; Frances Ellen Watkins Harper in later times was most prolific in tender thoughts and graceful expression. Her verses brought cheer, stimulated hope and revived faith even when their minor undertones suggested soul conflict through tense and trying experiences. Cordelia Ray's poetry, with less exuberant fancy may be likened to the quaint touching music of a shell murmuring of the sea--a faint yet clear note sounding all the pathos and beauty of undying life. It is the peculiar share of clarity and elevation combined that glorifies and makes so rich the quiet flow of music in her songs.
In the dedication of her book of poems, Miss Ray refers to the memories of a household "made beautiful by the presence of loved ones who have entered the Life Immortal." The tender and delicate appreciation may with propriety be applied to her personally, for in her home she moved serenely, diffusing all the light, warmth and beauty of a sunny presence. The even tenor of her way was apparent from her earliest youth. Her daily walk and conversation, her attitude toward the various affairs in which she took an intelligent and willing part, are well remembered. There was a transfiguring light that radiated from her, for she bore herself as one endowed with an innate sense of things divine.
The home so highly prized by Cordelia was a lovely one both in the material and in the immaterial sense of the term. In it she passed a sheltered childhood growing and developing under the fostering care of a refined, cultured mother and made steady by the inspiring example of a vigorous, energetic father whose natural puritanical stamina were neutralized by deep sense of justice and sincere deside to aid, uplift and make better. Miss Ray came of the primitive Massachusetts stock, being a direct descendant of aboriginal Indian, English and of the first Negroes of New England. To find an ancestor of hers with unmixed blood, one would have to trace back from four or five generations. Emphasis is made of this fact as a vital disproof of the theory that a mixture of blood deteriorates all the component elements. Miss Ray had all the qualifications of a gentle woman. She was well-born, well bred and enjoyed all the advantages accruing to her position in a family where birth, breeding and culture were regarded as important assets. The parents of the Ray Children could afford to give them all the intellectual advantages of the time. Those who lived were well educated and three of the girls were college graduates. Cordelia became proficient in French, Greek and Latin and was an English scholar. By opportunity, habit and inclination, she was essentially a student.
Her life long companion was her next older sister Florence who was an accomplished teacher and a brilliant conversationist. In society, Florence naturally attracted immediate attention but no one who ever met Cordelia could entirely forget her. Her curious air of detachment from things ordinary, her entire absence from affectation, her genuine self-forgetfulness, made her charming. A classmate once said of her that she appeared as one unspotted by the world. Always affable she dispensed only kindness and looked for nothing but goodwill. To describe her in her own words: "Her soul was trust, her eyes a prayer!"
When Florence undertook teaching, Cordelia, ever desirous
Yet she was far from unpractical. She enjoyed imparting to others the knowledge which so attracted her. She almost always had some pupils individually and in small groups whom she taught music, mathematics and the languages. At one time for two successive seasons she conducted a class in English literature composed of teachers. With such a grade of pupils the course was extensive and thoroughly enjoyed.
That such a woman should be accurate, precise, and methodical may seem contradictory; yet she certainly was an example that ideality is not an impracticable adjunct to painstaking. She made an admirable secretary and served in that capacity in several organizations. Her work and her worth were duly recognized and appreciated by friends to whom such help as she was able and willing to render seemed invaluable.
Happy with her friends, her books, her writings, her charities, she lived a simple, blameless life. Her wide range of reading, her habits of sustained and elevated thinking aided to lift her literary efforts far above the ordinary. Gradually she attained an exquisite sense of fitness which
It was fortunate indeed for her to be able to love a life she so enjoyed and for which she was so well fitted. When the closing hour became apparent, she shrunk from the crisis not from fear or selfishness but because it entailed separation from that beloved Florence, long a confirmed invalid whom she had watched and tended with a devotion surpassing the love of a mother. But she rallied to her support that faith that had never failed and meekly said farewell to her whom she has mortalized in verse as her dear "Heart-Sister."
Were it as discreet as agreeable, a critical reading of at least one of her poems would form a fitting conclusion; but such an indulgence may to an extent defeat the intent of this volume. The immediate purpose of this book is to be something beyond a vehicle for information or a source of casual enjoyment. It is designed to arouse that admiration that leads to emulation, to emphasize the doctrine of personal responsibility. The number of talents a person has is of minor importance compared with the realization that each human being is accountable for the development and exercise of all powers and faculties with which he is endowed.
Mention should be made of Miss Ray's filial and fraternal feelings. With Florence she collaborated a memoir
A volume of her poems was published in 1910, a copy of the same would be a valuable addition to any library. It displays as reflected in a mirror, her versatility, love of nature, classical knowledge, delicate fancy, an unaffected piety. She sings like a gladsome child basking in the sun-shine of earth's cheer and beauty; again, like a serious maiden she stands with quiet reverent feet at the edge of sealed mysteries. Whether gleeful or sober, carolling or crooning she is intensely feminine and her flights of fancy, not unduly elevated are always steady.
One of her poems is an unconscious portrait of herself; only two slight verbal alterations have been made to make the picture perfect:
"Her ringlets glistened like the bronze of morn
And framed an oval outline statue fair,
Somewhere a faint blush lingered for awhile,
Sending its ripples to the wavy hair.
Upon her features grace had shed its charm
And in her soul sweetness to naught gave way;
'Twas like a streak of sunshine thrown across
The motionless repose of early day,
No sorrow rested on the calm pure brow
But thought held undisputed empire there,
Eyes like the dusky brown of woodland tree,
Gazed in a dream or in a quiet prayer,
And through her aspect something noble shone
That proved the soul in charity had grown."