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Winter’s Evening

by Sarah Stickney Ellis

Fisher’s Juvenile Scrap-Book, vol. 7 (1842)

Pages 69-92

A sample page from Winter's Evening by Sarah Stickney Ellis
From “Winter’s Evening.” Used by permission, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

Introductory Note: “Winter’s Evening” illustrates Sarah Stickney Ellis’ and Fisher’s Juvenile Scrap-Book’s combined goal of addressing children with moral lessons aimed at a middle-class audience and applicable to either sex. This story includes a simple Christian lesson, but delivers that moral in a very round-about way. Lady Caroline Grey entertains and teaches the children in her care by  showing them an engraving titled “Mortimer’s Hole.” By relating the history of King Edward II, Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer, and Nottingham Castle, she is able to illustrate, and invite the children to learn from, these people’s mistakes.

How shall we spend this evening? or, what shall we do in the dark hour?—are questions which not unfrequently occur toward the close of a winter’s day.

Lady Caroline Grey had her own opinions as to the best manner of spending this portion of time; but as she knew that experience was more convincing than argument, she determined to let the young people under her care try their own plans, in order that the one finally adopted, might have the advantage of being chosen by unanimous consent. The little party who composed her fireside circle, during the Christmas holidays, consisted of her own two daughters, Fanny and Ellen, and two nephews and a niece, whose parents were abroad.

But first let us look in upon the family before the arrival of these much wished for guests, and hear for ourselves what were the ideas entertained by these young people of the happiness of a winter’s evening.

“Mamma,” said Fanny, as she sate on her mother’s lap, holding her foot in no very lady-like position, “we shall do nothing but play when our cousins come; shall we?”

“Oh! no, dear mamma,” exclaimed Ellen, who had climbed upon her mother’s chair, and was looking over her shoulder, “we shall do nothing else but play then; and I shall sit up an hour longer, that I may play so much more; shall I not, mamma?”

“Is that you, Ellen?” said Lady Caroline, looking round, “you, who always begin to rub your eyes, and complain that the candles grow dim, before eight o’clock?”

Little Ellen hid her face on her mother’s shoulder, for she knew well how often she was found asleep in the nursery, long before that hour; but Fanny went on, settling all the affair of her cousins’ visit, counting her favourite games upon her fingers, and arranging as she thought, for the whole time of their stay to be one season of uninterrupted happiness.

“That you should do your best to promote the enjoyment of your visitors,” observed Lady Caroline, “is perfectly right; and in order to do this, it is also right to think for them beforehand; but suppose we consult them, as well as ourselves, for some of them are older than you, and all may not be so fond of play as you and Ellen.”

On the following evening, therefore, about the same hour of the day, when the shutters were closed, and a bright fire was burning, Lady Caroline proposed, that, as many hours still remained of what some persons considered the pleasantest part of the day, they should enter upon some occupation or amusement in which all could join.

The little visitors, of course, being not yet quite settled in their new home, felt rather backward in making any choice, but Fanny, considering herself as chiefly responsible for their entertainment, had no hesitation in proposing that the evening should be spent in play.

“Wait a moment, Fanny,” said Lady Caroline. “Your cousins, I dare say, are too polite to dispute this point with you, especially if you insist upon it so earnestly; yet, after all, they may have some choice of their own.” And she then turned the conversation, so as to endeavour to find out what were their peculiar or individual tastes. “My little girls,” she added, “care for nothing so much as play, and I am quite satisfied that they should sometimes be as much in earnest in their play, as they are at other times in their learning. But you, I hope, are able to make a wiser choice, and if you will be kind enough to say what it is, I am sure we shall be happy to act upon it for this evening at least.”

“My cousin Fanny,” said the oldest boy, “has already said what is her wish: suppose we act upon that for one evening, and try how it answers, we shall then be better able to judge for the next.”

“You are right,” said Lady Caroline. “This evening then we give up to play.” She then laid down her work, and asking her niece to assist her in removing the fancy ornaments from the tables, prepared for giving herself up, like the rest, to a whole evening of play.

For some time Fanny’s plan answered wonderfully, and the interruption of tea only made her more impatient to commence operations again.

Even the politeness due to visitors gave place in her mind to brilliant visions of half-forgotten games, so that instead of handing their cups, and helping them to what was on the table, she could think and speak of nothing, but how these games were to be played, whether their party consisted of a sufficient number, or who should be the first to go out, while the secret to be guessed at was whispered round the room.

Lady Caroline, who really enjoyed the romping of children when not carried beyond the bounds which health and natural enjoyment demand, was by this time perfectly satisfied with her share of the evening’s amusement; she therefore retired for a while to her own room, after charging the juvenile party not to allow their lively spirits to carry them beyond all bounds of reason, or all regard to the comfort and order of the apartment, now entirely given up to their use.

Lady Caroline was soon occupied with her own affairs; so much so, that she only listened occasionally to the merry sounds in the room below, which, however, grew considerably more boisterous, until at last they were interrupted by a tremendous crash, to which succeeded instantaneous silence.

Lady Caroline Grey was not one of those mothers who attach as much importance to the fracture of a piece of china, as to the breaking of a moral law; yet she was truly sorry—and she showed by her countenance that she was so—to find that a china vase, the gift of a parent long since deceased, was laid in scattered fragments on the floor. Could the whole of that evening’s enjoyment have been gathered into one moment, it would have been far from equal to the distress which was now written upon every face; yet Lady Caroline reproached no one, made no inquiry into how the accident had happened; but feeling that as much blame attached to her own carelessness in leaving the room, as to that of the little party who remained, she stooped down to gather up the broken fragments, simply remarking, “My poor father gave me this china vase the week before he died.”

“And now,” she added, after taking up the last piece, “there is nothing left to hurt you. You can play again, only do so a little more moderately. But what is the matter with you, Ellen? It is far from bed-time yet, and you know I have given you leave to sit up an hour longer than usual.”

The fact was, little Ellen was completely tired, and, burying her face in her mother’s lap, she gave way to a burst of childish tears, the natural consequence of her over excitement. Fanny, too, was looking but little disposed to renew her play, for she knew the treasure this vase had always been to her mother; she knew also that she herself had had no hand in breaking it, but that she had often warned her cousins from going into that corner of the room; yet at the same time she shrunk from throwing the entire blame on them. They, on the other hand, stood silent and abashed, supposing that the anger of their aunt was only suspended for a season. And thus the evening closed—a whole evening of play, which Fanny had always regarded as equivalent to a whole evening of enjoyment.

“I think,” said Lady Caroline Grey, when the little party were met again around her fire at the dark hour on the following day, “I think Fanny’s whole evening of play has not been quite so successful as she anticipated. It answered very well for a while, and during one hour we all enjoyed it; but amusement may be spun out until it becomes absolutely wearisome, and when our natural spirits are worn out, and we have recourse to noise and violence, or indeed to any other forced means to make us merry, pleasure is sure to end in disappointment, and mirth not unfrequently in accident or distress.”

“Oh yes, dear aunt,” said James, the older boy, who now felt a little ashamed of the childish part he had acted, “you are perfectly right. We will not be so foolish and inconsiderate again. If you will give me leave to choose for this evening, I think I know what will please you better, and make us all more happy.”

James was consequently allowed by the unanimous consent of the company to have his choice, and he proposed, with considerable importance, to tell stories.

“What! for the whole evening?” asked Ellen.

“And will you tell them all yourself?” inquired Robert.

Both questions were answered without hesitation in the affirmative; but before he was permitted to begin, one tried to stipulate that the stories should be short—another, that they should end well—a third, that all should take a part in their recital—a fourth, that any one who was tired might be allowed to go out of the room.

Poor James! these stipulations would have been rather discouraging to a mind of less enterprise than his; but he commenced his task, nevertheless, with considerable energy; and whether he had his stories ready, or they were made up on the spur of the moment, he certainly was at no loss for incidents, both extravagant and strange. He had, however, a slow stammering way of relating them, which tired every body but himself; and as his stories had no moral, and no design in them beyond the amusement of the moment, when they failed in that, they failed altogether.

A story-teller may generally judge of his own skill by the effect he produces on his audience. Had James looked round, even before one hour had elapsed, he would have seen that Ellen was asleep, that Fanny was playing with her dog, and that his brother and sister were whispering and laughing without hearing what he said. This evening’s amusement was therefore considered a failure; and James, endeavouring to bear his disappointment with a tolerable grace, proposed the next day that his sister should be the one to choose.

Now, his sister, though a modest girl, had one prevailing taste, which she was too apt to suppose that others were influenced by as well as herself; she therefore proposed without hesitation that the evening should be spent in looking at pictures.

Little Ellen clapped her hands at this proposal, and Fanny too was pleased; James was glad to join in anything that might cover his defeat; and Robert exclaimed, “Well done, Emma! you have made the best choice of all.”

Lady Caroline Grey was of the same opinion, more especially as she wanted to be at liberty that evening to write letters, and she thought if the young people were well and quietly amused, she could write in the same room with them; for she had not so far forgotten the china vase as to trust her excellent collection of engravings entirely to their hands. She therefore took her seat at another table, only looking sometimes towards the little party, to see that they did no injury to the pictures at which they were looking.

To turn over a large portfolio of pictures without interruption or restraint, had always been regarded by the little girl who now took the lead in this amusement, as the greatest happiness she could enjoy; but there were now so many heads pushed together over the same piece, so many arms leaned upon the table at one time, and so many opinions given upon the same thing, that her annoyance was at least equal to her pleasure, and she sometimes thought even more. Ellen, for instance, would touch everything she pointed at; Fanny would lay her hand flat upon the faces, and make the company guess whether they were old or young; James would hold each picture a certain length of time before he suffered it to be passed on; while Robert called her heroes “fine fellows,” and really cared for nothing but dogs and horses. At last, when the evening was not more than half over, her annoyance had so far overcome her pleasure, that she called to her aunt, and told her she thought it would be better to put the portfolio away.

“Why so? my dear,” said Lady Caroline, surprised at such a request from her niece.

“Because nobody either knows or cares anything about the pictures, except me,” was the reply.

“Then why do you not explain them to the others?” asked her aunt.

The fact was, the little girl was fond of pictures only because they pleased her eye. She understood little more about their meaning than the rest, but she had put herself into a bad humour, because they did not see and value them as she did: and so this evening’s amusement also was a failure, for even pictures quickly tire, when we know no moral, no meaning connected with them.

There still remained two of the juvenile party who had not made their choice, Robert and Ellen. It was of course the part of the former to speak first, and he fearlessly declared that he knew of a thousand ways of spending a winter’s evening pleasantly.

“Then tell us one,” said James, who had not found it quite so easy as he had anticipated. “Tell us one, and we will try that first.”

“Why first,” said Robert, “if it was daylight and summer time—”1The original omits the closing quotation marks after “first.”

“Daylight and summer time!” exclaimed all at once—“we should easily know what to do then.”

“If I was at home then—” said Robert.

“No, no, that will not do,” said his sister, “you told us you knew a thousand ways of spending a winter’s evening pleasantly, and now you fly off to summer, and home, and nobody knows what.”

“And so I do,” repeated the fearless boy again; yet still he went on enumerating all his favourite amusements; all which, however, were as foreign to the comfort of a winter’s fireside, as the cold snows which lay upon the ground, to the sunshine and the flowers of summer. Robert was therefore judged incompetent to choose, and little Ellen was called upon to make her election for the following day.

“I am quite afraid to choose,” said the little child, looking round her with more timidity than any of the others had evinced. “I am quite afraid to choose, for we neither liked Fanny’s play, nor James’ stories, nor Emma’s pictures long; and as I am the youngest, and know the least, how is it likely I should please you all?”

“But you can say something, my love,” said Lady Caroline, “though you are a little child.”

“Then I will make a choice, dear mamma,” replied the child, “and it shall be this—that you shall amuse us through the whole evening.”

The juvenile party were all too well pleased with the suggestion to allow it to pass by as the act of one who was too young to have a voice in the assembly; it was therefore unanimously agreed that Lady Caroline should be looked to as the responsible person for the amusement of the following evening.

“Let us see,” said the lady, taking a slight review of the evenings that were passed, “let us see in what we have failed, in order to profit by experience, and avoid the same in future. Fanny’s play was all very well for a short time, and I propose that before the candles are lighted we should try the experiment of a hearty romp again, more especially as the day has been so cold and wet, that few of us have had sufficient exercise to make us feel either well or comfortable.”

Fanny’s idea of happiness was therefore put to the test again, but with this precaution, that it should not be continued too long; and even before the tea was brought in, Lady Caroline had seated herself before the cheerful fire, and, taking little Ellen on her lap, had beguiled the company into that order and quiet which were necessary before sitting down to tea, by telling them of some poor families she had visited the day before in the village, and describing to them, in her own lively and touching manner, many instances of natural shrewdness, as well as others of integrity, gratitude, and affection, which she had met with amongst the poor.

The party sat down to tea that day with more real cheerfulness and satisfaction than they had yet felt. There was now no anxious calculation about how the rest of the evening should be spent; about whether their schemes would fail, the interest of their auditors flag, or the whole affair turn out a blank. All had enjoyed a reasonable degree of healthy bodily exercise, than which nothing can be more conducive to cheerfulness; and all had been just so far interested as to have their best feelings awakened, than which nothing can be more calculated to diffuse through any circle of society the genial elements of cordiality and good humor.

“And now,” said Lady Caroline, when the social tea was over, “let us try again the experiment of looking over my engravings. But instead of all looking at once, and some looking across the table with the picture to their eyes reversed, let us look as if we really wished to enjoy the beauties and understand the merits of each.

“We will take them then in order, if you please. Every picture shall be passed round, and each of the party shall have an opportunity of seeing it the right way up, of seeing it for a sufficient length of time, and of seeing it also without the interruption of little hands being laid upon it—than which, allow me to observe, no stronger proof can be given of total want of taste, or ignorance of the true value of good engravings.

“As James is the oldest, perhaps his historical knowledge will help us to some explanation of the scene before us, called ‘Mortimer’s Hole.’”

“Let me see,” said James, examining the picture very carefully: “Mortimer’s Hole is connected with Nottingham Castle, and Nottingham is in the neighborhood of Sherwood Forest. I dare say that bold fellow with his face turned towards us is Robin Hood, and these are his ‘merry men all.’”2Reference to a medieval poem, “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne,” line 17: “Buske yee, bowne yee, my merry men all.”

“I think,” said Lady Caroline, “that in reconsidering the subject, you will find that Robin Hood and his followers were as little addicted to wearing armour, as they were to taking castles either by stratagem or force. The former would have been a great incumbrance to them in the woods and wilds, where they lived chiefly by ‘chasing the king’s deer;’ while in attempting the latter, even had they possessed the means of success, their own safety would have been sacrificed as notorious rebels, and violaters of their country’s laws.”3Sir Walter Scott, “The Palmer,” line 6: “From chasing the king’s deer.”

“Then I must give up my favourite hero Robin Hood,” said James, “and I am sorry to do that, for I am sure he deserves a picture being made of him as much as any of your knights in armour.”

“Perhaps,” said Lady Caroline, “we shall find connected with this place a hero at least as worthy of renown as your favourite Robin Hood. From some of the most ancient records of English History, we find that near the town of Nottingham was fought one of the famous battles between the Danes and my favourite hero, King Alfred, whose claims to the surname of Great, are not inferior to those of any other sovereign in the world.4King of Wessex, also known as Alfred the Great (849-899 AD), prevented England from falling to the Danes.

“With this particular scene, however, the events which distinguished his illustrious reign have no connexion, and I, like you, must be content to find the hero of my imagination figuring elsewhere. We approach somewhat nearer in the time of William the Conqueror, by whom the castle of Nottingham was built, and the place fortified; but still we have no clue to this particular scene; and though Richard Cœur de Lion is said to have assembled a parliament here previously to his departure for the Holy Land, and another after his return, his life was too much occupied by feats of arms in distant lands, to have left many records of deep interest relating to his exploits at home.5“William the Conqueror” was also known as William I (1028-1087 AD), who began as a ruler in France and then ruled England. “Richard Cœur de Lion” refers to Richard I “The Lion Heart” (1157-1199 AD) who fought in the Third Crusade and was a popular king in his time.

“The name of Mortimer will perhaps assist us in explaining this otherwise mysterious scene. You probably recollect that during the reign of that weak Prince, Edward the Second, who did more harm to his realm by the choice of improper favourities, than by any crimes of his own, Roger Mortimer, a powerful Welsh chief, distinguished himself by his opposition to the then ruling favourites, Le Despenser and his father.6Edward of Caernarvon (1284-1327 AD) waged a hopeless and unpopular campaign to assert power over other nobility. Hugh Le Despenser was the head of a noble English family.

“It was a year after the celebrated battle of Bannockburn, that the party of King Edward obtained a signal victory at Boroughbridge, where the same Mortimer and his nephew were taken prisoners, and afterwards committed to the Tower. The queen Isabella, disgusted with her husband’s weakness of character, and offended by his neglect, had then fled to the French court, where she formed a strong interest in her favour, being joined by many of the discontented party from England. 7Bannockburn was a battle between June 23-24, 1314 AD where the Scots regained independence. The victory at Boroughbridge allowed Edward II to capture many political opponents, including Thomas of Lancaster. The Tower of London is an important landmark where prisoners were held and executed.

“Roger Mortimer the younger, having probably heard of the strengthening power of the queen, became naturally impatient of his close confinement; and though the part of the Tower which he occupied in company with his uncle, and many of their noble adherents, was a high and narrow turret, he despaired not of effecting his escape. In the hope of aiding this design, he is said to have administered to his attendant a powerful sleeping-draught, after which he broke through the wall of his prison to a part of the neighbouring palace, where, being supplied with a ladder of ropes, he climbed up a chimney to the roof, and thus accomplished his design, though not without imminent danger of detection on his passage to the Thames, from whence he escaped to the seacoast, and subsequently joined the queen at the French court.

“The poor weak king, whose cause became gradually deserted by all, some time after this offered a price for the head of Mortimer; yet such was the contempt in which he was held, that little regard was paid to this offer; and in proportion as his cause declined, that of the queen, and Mortimer, who was now her favourite, advanced.

“When civil dissensions enter a realm, and those who are most nearly connected, either by natural relationship or alliance, become enemies, they are always the most bitter and revengeful in the injuries they heap upon each other. It is possible that Isabella and Mortimer had no deliberate design, at the early stage of their intimacy, of perpetrating the crimes of which they were afterwards guilty; but they suffered themselves to be led on, from one thing to another, until, finding the king deserted by his friends, incapable of defence, and wholly in their power, they ventured so far as to have his person secured, though still he was surrounded with some pretence to regal dignity. In this state he remained for some time a prisoner at Kenilworth, but was afterwards removed to Corfe, and Bristol; at all which places he is said to have been persecuted, or rather tormented, by a mode of treatment cruelly designed to break his heart, or destroy his reason. There is no doubt but this plan was adopted, in the hope that by such inhuman means the charge of murder might be avoided. These means, however, proved to be too slow for the ambition or the hatred of his enemies; and the king was subsequently committed to Berkeley Castle, where he was murdered in a manner the most barbarous and cruel that human ingenuity could invent.

“Mortimer, whose counsels ruled the queen, had now no scruple in assuming the highest power in the realm; but, unfortunately for his interests, those who had aided his designs when their object was the same as his, grew as jealous of his authority as a royal favourite, as they must have been naturally distrustful of his principles as a man. Dark deeds, which in his humbler career had been connived at, were now brought to light; and the young prince especially, though little more than fourteen years of age, was indignant at the influence which Mortimer exercised over his mother.

“It was during the time of a parliament being held at Nottingham, to which the queen and her favourite had repaired in all regal state, that the storm long gathering against them appears to have arrived at its height. Mortimer, like all guilty men, was pursued by secret fears, and harassed by suspicions from which no human being could protect him. Though he and Queen Isabella occupied the castle, and though its strongly-built walls, and the commanding eminence on which it stood, might well appear to be proof against all enemies without, Mortimer is said to have put so little confidence in those within, that he always kept the keys of the castle himself; receiving them every night after the gates were closed.

“Notwithstanding all this care, it is more than probable he was unacquainted with a singular subterranean passage, extending from the court of the castle to the foot of the rock on which it stands. It is said that this wonderful passage was originally excavated during the invasion of the Danes, by some of the Saxon kings, for their better security; and there are many proofs of its having been used both for the purposes of defence and protection in later times. The part which has obtained the name of Mortimer’s Hole, is a narrow dark passage, branching off to the right, and communicating with the keep of the old castle, in which were the state apartments. Through this dark passage, then, the young King Edward was conducted by the governor of the castle, one night after Mortimer had as usual received the keys, and retired to rest, as he supposed, in perfect safety. Nor was it long before the silence of his chamber was broken by the whole party of armed men who followed the young prince in his enterprise, who burst upon him, seized his person, in spite of the tears and the entreaties of the queen, and, dragging him out by the same passage, sent him direct to London, where he was shortly afterwards executed as a traitor.

“Such, then, was the origin of the name of ‘Mortimer’s Hole:’ and we ought to learn afresh by this little history, that there is no peace for the wicked; that, secure themselves as they will, they are never really safe; since those who have assisted them in their crimes, are always the first to execute upon them that judgment which their crimes deserve.”

“What a good thing it is,” said James, led into a train of moralizing by the last sentence of his aunt, “that these wicked people lived such a long time ago; that the old castle of Nottingham is no longer the scene of bloodshed and disorder; and that, if we are not exactly better, we are at least wiser than people were then.”

“I hope we are in many respects both better and wiser,” resumed Lady Caroline; “but the scene you have chosen for your reflections is rather an unfortunate one. Look here!” and she held up to her wondering guests the picture of a castle in flames, with a riotous mob of men, women, and children, thronging the bridge and the road below, and evidently exulting in the destructive work of their own hands.

“What can be the meaning of this?” said James. “Surely, the picture you now hold in your hand is not one of Nottingham Castle?”

“It is,” replied his aunt, “a picture of the very same;—the castle where Richard III. held his court, and summoned his forces to prepare for the battle of Bosworth Field—the castle where Charles I. planted the royal standard when pressed on every hand by opposing powers, and harassed by the civil discord of his realm. Perhaps I ought scarcely to call it the same castle, for during the protectorate the original edifice was dismantled and destroyed, by the order of Cromwell; but after the restoration, the site being claimed by the heirs of the Duke of Buckingham, it was sold by them to the Duke of Newcastle, by whom the building of the present structure was commenced in 1674.”8Richard III (1452-1485 AD) usurped the throne of his nephew Edward V and perished in defeat to Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Charles I (1600-1649 AD) was executed during a civil war that was caused by his quarrels with Parliament. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658 AD) governed as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth after the dissolution of Parliament (1649-1660 AD) until King Charles II was restored to the throne.

“Then the fire,” said James, “was owing to mere accident. For, surely, the English people, from so late a period as that, have been wiser than to burn their own castles.”

“I am afraid,” replied his aunt, “you rather overrate the wisdom of the present generation; for, see! there are unquestionable signs of rejoicing and triumph in the mob represented by this picture; and yet the fire took place at no more distant period than October 10th, 1831. Perhaps you were yourself too young to pay much attention to the great popular event, which at that time excited a strong interest through the country—the passing of the Reform Bill.9A British Parliamentary bill that realigned Parliamentary districts, expanded the electorate for the House of Commons, and set consistent qualifications for the franchise. With the political bearings of this important measure, you will become better acquainted when you are a man; and let us hope you will ever consider it an object of high attainment in your education, to acquire the habit of taking wide and impartial views of all subjects connected with the wellbeing of your country, and, indeed, of mankind in general. It is from the want of these expansive views, that party spirit is so often found to disturb the peace of society, and that ignorant men collect together, not to hear and learn the truth, but to inflame and excite each other’s passions; until, like this blind and reckless mob, they rush upon any act of violence and destruction which happens to present itself to their minds.

“It is probable that amongst this mob, there was not one person in twenty who knew what the nature of the Reform Bill really was; and yet it is equally probable, that the remaining number had talked themselves into a state of eager excitement, which nothing could satisfy but some work of ruin and desolation, in which they might enjoy the satisfaction of feeling their own animal power.

“In this state, then, they scaled the walls of the noble castle of Nottingham; and having effected an entrance into the court-yard, they then ascended the stairs for the purpose of breaking all the windows; after which they collected together all the materials best suited for burning, and having piled them up in different heaps, set fire to the whole, while their shouts and yells were echoed by as many wild voices from below. The fragments of old wood and other materials thus kindled, being so dry as to defy all attempts to arrest the fury of the flames, it was not long before the whole burst forth in one lurid blaze, of such appalling magnitude and height, that even the stately walls, and the proud commanding rock on which the castle stood, appeared as nothing in comparison with the body of devouring fire.

“This work of destruction is said to have been effected by a comparatively small number of ignorant and idle people. The respectable part of the population of Nottingham deeply deplored the loss their ancient town sustained; and when they look at the bare black walls—all that is now left of their once noble and important castle—they must often regret the blind ignorance, which in so short a time was able to destroy the work of years.

“And now,” said Lady Caroline Grey, “as the night is advancing, and little Ellen is growing weary of hearing so much about these pictures, is it not time to put away all our amusements? None of you, I hope, are so sleepy that you cannot join me in singing our evening hymn; and after that, James will, perhaps, read to us from a book, which requires no pictures to make it both interesting and instructive.”

In this manner the winter’s evening closed. All the little party retired to rest, perfectly satisfied with the manner in which it had been spent; though none could tell exactly what was the secret of their happiness. Fanny, therefore, ventured to ask her mother on the following day, how it was that her evening had turned out so much better than any of their’s?

“Perhaps I can explain to you the cause in part,” replied her mother. “You all began with a predetermination to fill up the whole time with one thing; and you all chose the thing which was most pleasing to yourselves, without regard to its being so to others. One amusement—if it be amusement only, without instruction or benefit to the mind—soon tires; and it seldom happens that by pleasing ourselves first, we succeed effectually in pleasing others. A certain degree of bodily exercise is necessary to keep the animal spirits in play; but when this is kept up too long, the spirits naturally flag and grow weary. Again, the experiment of story-telling is a great risk, unless we are gifted with extraordinary talent for it; and, therefore, when we venture even to relate simple facts, we should look round to see whether our audience is attentive, and if not, we ought to be satisfied to leave off as soon as possible; for no perseverance of ours can make up for our want of skill. Pictures afford a fund of never-failing interest to those who have a taste for them; but to those who have not, they are altogether unmeaning, unless accompanied with historical or other interest. Had I regarded only my own pleasure on the evening you call mine, I should have sat down to write a letter, and perhaps made you all do the same. I take no merit to myself that I did not do this, but I wish to convince you that there is a method in making time pass pleasantly, as well as in everything else we would do with success; and in order to do this effectually, we must study the minds and characters of those we associate with, as well as endeavour to set aside all the peculiarities of our own that would interfere with their enjoyment.

“Since, therefore, there is no human being who can forget self entirely, none who can fully understand the mind of another, and none who can so far control events as to make them conduce to the end desired; it is God alone who can make any one really happy; though the more we try to do so, the more happy we shall become ourselves, at the same time that we are more amiable and more beloved.”

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How To Cite (MLA Format)

Sarah Stickney Ellis. “Winter’s Evening.” Fisher’s Juvenile Scrap-Book, vol. 7, 1842, pp. 69-92. Edited by Ashley Hasna. Victorian Short Fiction Project, 25 July 2024,


Ashley Hasna
Isaac Robertson
Alayna Een
Cosenza Hendrickson
Alexandra Malouf


20 July 2020

Last modified

24 July 2024


1 The original omits the closing quotation marks after “first.”
2 Reference to a medieval poem, “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne,” line 17: “Buske yee, bowne yee, my merry men all.”
3 Sir Walter Scott, “The Palmer,” line 6: “From chasing the king’s deer.”
4 King of Wessex, also known as Alfred the Great (849-899 AD), prevented England from falling to the Danes.
5 “William the Conqueror” was also known as William I (1028-1087 AD), who began as a ruler in France and then ruled England. “Richard Cœur de Lion” refers to Richard I “The Lion Heart” (1157-1199 AD) who fought in the Third Crusade and was a popular king in his time.
6 Edward of Caernarvon (1284-1327 AD) waged a hopeless and unpopular campaign to assert power over other nobility. Hugh Le Despenser was the head of a noble English family.
7 Bannockburn was a battle between June 23-24, 1314 AD where the Scots regained independence. The victory at Boroughbridge allowed Edward II to capture many political opponents, including Thomas of Lancaster. The Tower of London is an important landmark where prisoners were held and executed.
8 Richard III (1452-1485 AD) usurped the throne of his nephew Edward V and perished in defeat to Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Charles I (1600-1649 AD) was executed during a civil war that was caused by his quarrels with Parliament. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658 AD) governed as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth after the dissolution of Parliament (1649-1660 AD) until King Charles II was restored to the throne.
9 A British Parliamentary bill that realigned Parliamentary districts, expanded the electorate for the House of Commons, and set consistent qualifications for the franchise.