I WAS twenty-two years old when I first went to Boston to visit the family of my father’s eldest brother, Mr. John Allston, who at an early age there settled into business prosperity.”
Thus did a comparatively unknown writer, who passed by the name of Margaret Allston, introduce herself to the readers of the Ladies’ Home Journal in a series of chapters called ” Her Boston Experiences.” She had something to say something witty, something satirical, some-thing caustic. It was about baked beans, Beacon Hill, and the people who live near by ; and she said it under a name of gentle and truly puritanic simplicity, and quite in accord with the honest shafts of sarcasm she not only aimed at the dwellers of the Hub, but had before plunged, with satire quite as delicate and sharp, into that cosmopolitan assemblage of notables known as Washington society.
” The Inner Experiences of a Cabinet Officer’s Wife ” had been a faithful picture of the complexity of ambitions, which the outsider who has eyes to see, ears to hear, and wit to appreciate, would be astonished to meet with at the Capital. It had been so true to life, in fact, that certain personages began to remove the beam in their own eyes, and, with delicate introspection, to question themselves and wonder if some of the characters were not within their own lives, and, as nothing interests the world (especially the feminine world) more than gossip or than skeleton-in-the-closet history, it became immediately essential to that great assemblage which is directly answerable to the movement of govern-mental cog-wheels, to find out ‘hat a certain person who had more kenness of perception and more literary a oility than they, was saying about them That is what made this author an in – rrogation point which many desired to have explained. And that is the r: ason why ” The Inner Experiences of a C binet Officer’s Wife” was a story that fund itself beside the glimmer of an unus al number of lamps upon an unusual nu u ber of library tables.
There are certain characteristics which men admire in each other above all others. There are certainly some characteristics which they do not expect to find in women, or, if they do expect to find them, they always imagine them to be far less developed than in one of their own sex. That is the reason why the answer to the interrogation point above is, in many respects, a remarkable individual.
Margaret Allston’s real name, until January, 1900, was Anna Farquhar, and as Anna Farquhar and as Anna Farquhar Bergengren she has possessed the quality of perseverance in an extraordinary measure.
Of Scotch-English ancestry, the forebears of Anna Farquhar first came to America in Lord Baltimore’s time and were ceded property of considerable extent at a distance of some forty miles from Baltimore, in Maryland. To this blood may perhaps be traced her ardent affiliation with English friends and sympathy with English thinkers. She was born December 23, 1865, at Brookville, Indiana, her father being lawyer and congressman. Thus the author of certain phases of Washington life was early associated with diplomacy and diplomatic ideas. After a short residence in Cincinnati, Ohio, her family moved t Indianapolis, where Mr. Farquhar became president of one of the foremost city banks. Here the daughter received the usual education that falls to the lot of an American girl whose family are in the best of circumstances. Similar to James Russell Lowell and other persons who left names of merit in literature or in art, her particular aversion was the study of mathematics. While still quite young she showed a distinct inticlination toward languages and history, and an overwhelming love for music. At six-teen she attended a boarding-school in Maryland, but soon returned to a life of the gayest society, “educating her heels far better than her head will ever be educated.”
But this life soon palled upon the girl with ambition, for she had now determined upon a career and to obtain for herself a musical education. In order to realize the money for its pursuit, the family property was mortgaged and she left her native town for Boston. The death of her father several years before had made this a possibility. Here she struggled nobly to cultivate her voice and soon received recognition of her growing musical powers by appointment to a position in a church choir. But the raw east winds of New England had already begun to undermine a constitution never very robust, and her throat was so affected that further study was useless.
The next few years of life were a gallant fight to attain sufficient strength to warrant a strenuous application to the musical career she was so bent upon, and a residence in the genial Maryland climate and in New York and Washington stimulated the hope that, in the end, she might accomplish the longed-for results of her pains and energy.
It was now she first applied herself to literary work, for, not being able to sing, she found in this an outlet for a istic expression. The next years were a period of toil, of sickness, and of renewed literary endeavor.
As a teacher of singing she was still able to keep in touch with music, an*, under the skillful treatment of a New York physician the lost voice gradually turned, but it was very unstable. A visit to England shortly after a short residence in Boston, where she had held an e . torship on a periodical devoted to music, decided her future career. The years of patient endeavor to be a musician had unfortunately been wasted as far as per ‘anent results were concerned, for, said London’s foremost teacher of music, “You, physique and temperament can never stand the strain of the musical life.” This was indeed a sad blow, but the many disappointments which had come in years gone by had perhaps prepared her for the acknowledgment of failure not in willingness, or in fortitude, or in bravery, but in physical strength to stand the wear and tear of an exacting and strenuous profession. It is for this grit and determination that Anna Farquhar is admired by her friends, and it is for this reason that her literary career has been a succession of upward steps upon the rungs of the ladder of literary fame.
She herself says that hers is the gospel of work, that for years her life has been one of unremitting hard labor and struggle for very existence. A motto which hung in her room during her years of fierce combat bore the words ” All things come round to those who will but wait.” “And,” she says, ” to this I added out of my own belief, ‘ and work.’ Work is the highest privilege and hope of mankind. And of late years I have taken to myself the beautiful Italian proverb ‘ When God sh is a door he opens a window.’ ” These are incidents which but prove her indomitable spirit of perseverance.
“A Singer’s Heart,” published Boston, was her first literary endeavor and to some extent expressed the professional ambitions which she herself halo experienced in her musical career. Al hough it was not a ” popular ” production, its notices were most flattering, and when a certain Philadelphia paper of distinct lite ary conservatism bought twelve copies fo its editorial staff, her spirits were naturally raised and stimulated to renewed endeavor.
The Inner Experiences of a Cabinet Officer’s Wife ” she was well qualified to pen, for the associations she had formed with the life of the Capital were those which eminently fitted her for a description of the inside political and social workings of its complexities. A host of personal letters which crowded her mail showed that some shafts had struck dangerous ground, but the story swung gracefully on, through threatened libel suits and denunciations of every description. ” There was not a single specific and living character in city life that was intentionally put down,” she says, ” with perhaps one exception, and that was of a woman, and by her permission.”
The Professor’s Daughter ” first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, when it had its great expansion, a few years ago. It was the story of simple people in a simple Rhode Island country neighborhood, whose characteristics she ell knew, for among them she has lived a quiet, studious life for many summers. It contained that human element which has ade both Shakespeare and Mark Twain immortal, and it was very popular.
” Her Boston Experiences,” which first appeared in a magazine, ran through many editions in book form. As some worthy New Englander has said: ” Any good Bostonian who doesn ‘t mind a bit of satire at his own expense may send this description of his beloved city to strangers and foreigners with the serene conviction that they will thus gain a be ;r idea of the place and society than an number of guide-books could afford.” It was trenchant, frank and comic, and gave an excellent picture of many sides of Boston life. It stopped at least one sale of real estate by a satirical slap at a part of town the reputation of which was morally questionable, and it is said that a Cambridge professor has permanently annexed it to his lectures, to be read to the students as an antidote for some of his dryest hours.
But this was not art of the highest type, and a woman who had studied the lives of Carlyle, Huxley, Darwin, Spencer, and other great thinkers of the middle nineteenth century, in order to imbibe their spirit of work and energy, was naturally desirous of accomplishing something of greater and more lasting artistic excellence.
As a result of a sympathetic acquaintance with the territory occupied by the French Jesuits at the earliest period of their missionary efforts in North America, and also with Mr. Parkman’s history of their vigorous lives, she received a vivid impression of the romantic possibilities of that period. This led to a rapid development of the romantic co implications surrounding the hero of ” The Devil’s Plough,” but the study of the French characteristics and habits of the seventeenth century required the painstaking investigation of several months before the plot could be expanded into a book. The material once at her command, the writing took but a short time. When the book had been completed she was temporarily exhausted; too much dramatic force had been expended in the preparat on. As a play, in fact, it was first conceived, and that is why it found such immediate favor with the dramatic profession when it appeared in book form. The story is of a struggle between pure ideals and the baser emotions, in which the high impulse eventually triumphs. It is not strange then that her feelings were similar to that of a great perhaps the greatest American sculptor, who, after completing a statue of marvelous spirit and expression, was forced to retire to the quiet of a country life for full six months.
In January, 1900, Anna Farquhar was married to Ralph Bergengren, a talented Boston journalist. The marriage took place under circumstances of unusual romance, for they were wedded at the side of her bed of illness, with only two or three witnesses present.
As a type of Anglo-Saxon womanhood Mrs. Bergengren well exhibits her English ancestry. Above the medium height, with light hair, blue eyes, high color, and regular features, her personal appearance distinctly announces the land of her forefathers. That peculiar look of high intellectuality which is so marked in many literary women of our own country, is very prominent in the expression of her face.
As a conversationalist she is bri iant, and is consequently much sought of after as an addition to society. ” But I se dom go,” she says, “because I am here to work, and work and society are fatal and absolute enemies.”
Her literary method is to ” walk miles and miles when a story, comes to me, and when my story people begin to talk, I sit and stitch on some hand sewing (when a man would smoke) until eve ‘thing is ready to go down, then it goes like an explosion of ideas, so to speak, fo lowed by careful modelling and severe, searching criticism.” With an individual ho is so eager in the endeavor to perfect her art, it is indeed to be expected that the master-piece will yet come, although in her own words she tells us that ” I cannot say that I have a conquest of the world in ew; my ambition always is simply to do my best.”