In writing this ponderous tome, the author’s desire has been to describe the eminent characters and remarkable events of our annals, in such a form and style, that the young might make acquaintance with them of their own accord. For this purpose, while ostensibly relating the adventures of a Chair, he has endeavored to keep a distinct and unbroken thread of authentic history. The Chair is made to pass from one to another of those personages, of whom he thought it most desirable for the young reader to have vivid and familiar ideas, and whose lives and actions would best enable him to give picturesque sketches of the times. On its sturdy oaken legs, it trudges diligently from one scene to another, and seems always to thrust itself in the way, with most benign complacency, whenever a historical personage happens to be looking round for a seat.
There is certainly no method, by which the shadowy outlines of departed men and women can he made to assume the hues of life more effectually, than by connecting their images with the substantial and homely reality of a fireside chair. It causes us to feel at once, that these characters of history had a private and familiar existence, and were not wholly contained within that cold array of outward action, which we are compelled to receive as the adequate representation of their lives. If this impression can be given, much is accomplished.
Setting aside Grandfather and his auditors, and excepting the adventures of the Chair, which form the machinery of the work, nothing in the ensuing pages can be termed fictitious. The author, it is true, has sometimes assumed the license of filling up the outline of history with details, for which he has none but imaginative authority, but which, he hopes, do not violate nor give a false coloring to the truth. He believes that, in this respect, his narrative will not be found to convey ideas and impressions, of which the reader may hereafter find it necessary to purge his mind.
The author’s great doubt is, whether he has succeeded in writing a book which will be readable by the class for whom he intends it. To make a lively and entertaining narrative for children, with such unmalleable material as is presented by the sombre, stern, and rigid characteristics of the Puritans and their descendants, is quite as difficult an attempt, as to manufacture delicate playthings out of the granite rocks on which New England is founded.
Grandfather had been sitting in his old arm-chair, all that pleasant afternoon, while the children were pursuing their various sports, far off or near at hand. Sometimes you would have said, “Grandfather is asleep;” but still, even when his eyes were closed, his thoughts were with the young people, playing among the flowers and shrubbery of the garden.
He heard the voice of Laurence, who had taken possession of a heap of decayed branches which the gardener had lopped from the fruit trees, and was building a little hut for his cousin Clara and himself. He heard Clara’s gladsome voice, too, as she weeded and watered the flower-bed which had been given her for her own. He could have counted every footstep that Charley took, as he trundled his wheelbarrow along the gravel walk. And though Grandfather was old and gray-haired, yet his heart leaped with joy whenever little Alice came fluttering, like a butterfly, into the room. She had made each of the children her playmate in turn, and now made Grandfather her playmate too, and thought him the merriest of them all.
At last the children grew weary of their sports; because a summer afternoon is like a long lifetime to the young. So they came into the room together, and clustered round Grandfather’s great chair. Little Alice, who was hardly five years old, took the privilege of the youngest, and climbed his knee. It was a pleasant thing to behold that fair and golden-haired child in the lap of the old man, and to think that, different as they were, the hearts of both could be gladdened with the same joys.
“Grandfather,” said little Alice, laying her head back upon his arm, “I am very tired now. You must tell me a story to make me go to sleep.”
“That is not what story-tellers like,” answered Grandfather, smiling. “They are better satisfied when they can keep their auditors awake.”
“But here are Laurence, and Charley, and I,” cried cousin Clara, who was twice as old as little Alice. “We will all three keep wide awake. And pray, Grandfather, tell us a story about this strange-looking old chair.”
Now, the chair in which Grandfather sat was made of oak, which had grown dark with age, but had been rubbed and polished till it shone as bright as mahogany. It was very large and heavy, and had a back that rose high above Grandfather’s white head. This back was curiously carved in open work, so as to represent flowers and foliage and other devices; which the children had often gazed at, but could never understand what they meant. On the very tiptop of the chair, over the head of Grandfather himself, was a likeness of a lion’s head, which had such a savage grin that you would almost expect to hear it growl and snarl.