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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Readings for the 12 Days of Christmas: samplers

Once upon a time there was a brilliant and lovely young woman named Marsha Parker who wrote a novel called Ghosts. You might recall a movie by the same name with many things in common with the book, but if you thought she got rich off that movie, you thought wrong: nobody in the movie business ever admitted that the two things might possibly be related. Marsha Parker did not particularly like the book business for various reasons having to do with New York and business (and probably with Hollywood as well, I should imagine.) Being a forthright and determined young woman, she kicked the dust from her heels and left that life forever. Well, sometimes I think she might write another novel when she quits moving quite so fast.

Now Marsha runs a wondrous needlework site called The Scarlet Letter. She sells books and supplies and museum reproduction kits that she makes herself; she sells wonderful antique samplers.

And that means that she is still involved with words, though in a very different way. I thought of her today because she sent me some fragmentary lines from an English sampler. One set turned out to be from "Enthusiasm," a portion of "Poetical Frenzy, a Venture in Rhyme" (Author unknown, I believe.)

Sweet religion, cheerful, mild,
Pleasure's course, and reason's child,
Come, array'd in heavenly sheen,
Come and cheer the dismal scene;
Hope, bright beaming in thy eye,
Bid despair and horror fly;
Let us see thy beauteous face,
Come and dwell with human race;
Be but thou our helpmate dear,
We'll begin our heaven here.

The other lines proved not to be a compliment to a particular friend, as the fragments suggested, but the words of Isaac Watts: "thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding, / who taught me betimes to love working and reading."

I thought for today I might offer some of the words from some of Marsha's samplers; they have great charm and come to us from a distance that may appear at first uncrossable (in the ways of both cross-stitches and crosses.) And if you want more of her own words, you might dig up a copy of Ghosts or jump to The Scarlet Letter, where you can also see her lovely farm, many English and American antique samplers, books, reproduction kits, and much more.

Here's the text from the sampler pictured above:

ANN HOW 1794

English sampler worked with silk threads on finely woven tammy (wool) cloth with alphabets and pious verses over a lower register featuring a small flock of sheep, facing stags, and a brick cottage. Stitches used are cross, eyelet and petit point, in shades of green, gold, black, blue, rose, brown and ivory. There is some damage to the background but it does not interfere with the design. The frame is possibly original. The verses read:

Favour is deceitful and Beauty is vain but a
Woman that feareth the Lord she shall be praised.

Virtue the Brightest Gem a maid can Whear nor
can the Indies boast of one so fair all Jewels
far beneath its worth We find they but adorn
the Body not the Mind. Ann How July the 21

Fear God and Keep his Commandments

Love the Lord and he will be a tender Father unto thee. Ann How.

And here is a positively Polonial young lady:

'PROCEED not to speak or to act before
thou hast weigh'd thy words and examin'd
the tendancy of every step thou shalt take.
The thoughtless man bridleth not his tongue
he speaketh at random and is entangled in the
foolishness of his own words.
The first step towards being wise is to
know that thou art Ignorant.
A plain garment beat adorneth a beautifull
woman and a modest behaviour is the great
est ornament of wisdom.
Behold the vain man and observe the aro
gant, he cloatheth himself in rich attire he
walketh in the publick street he casteth round
his eyes and courteth observation.'.

Signed and dated 'Susey Oliver's work finish'd Dec. ye 14th 17?4 Taught by Maryan Robinson of Bradford'


While I hoped to read and post something about the remainder of the books that friends have published this year during the 12 Days, I'm not going to make it--I still have books by Robert Freeman Wexler (who designed Val/Orson) and Philip Lee Williams and a few more to go, but I have college runs and house repairs and much else. I will do them, however, later in the year.


  1. Nicely tied together by the final sampler reading!
    It appears that Marsha Parker is not for the glitzy world of media. I can't say I blame her for it seems to be a horrible place for many people.
    And so to samplers. Simple, direct communication through simple direct art. I rather like them for their rustic charm. They remind me of horse brasses!
    'Home Sweet Home', on the other hand, is akin to 'Kitten and Teddy Luv U' - so it was nice to see that Marsha Parker has not gone in that direction.
    I am tempted to make one (yep!).

    "Come in out of the publick eye,
    Where together both you and I
    Can discuss things or great import
    Or just sit and converse about naught"

    It will have a sampler needle work image of two people drunk over a table.

    I shall now notice 'Ghosts' by Marsha Parker and read it when I do.

  2. Ooops!
    Sampler needle-point is rather like calligraphy!
    That should have read 'of great import'.
    Now it is set in silk. Blast.

  3. Rather a different world. I hope she secretly writes a journal, at least.

  4. My dear Paul,

    You cannot add. There are 12 Days of Christmas. They begin on the 25th and they end on the 6th, which was probably called Epiphany in your British childhood.

    No worry. Who needs math?

    Some. But not us.

    I look forward to seeing your sampler. After, I hope, your poem-movies! XD


    Who knows? She may have a trunk full of novels. She is a very interesting lady who has raised arcane varieties of sheep and saved lots of Finnish buildings and so on. Her farm looks marvelous.

  5. He meant that I had "tied up that blog entry nicely."

    Never tease a Digby! Actually I do frequently--it is such fun.

    Himself: "You started with Marsha not liking what the media world did to her life and finished that blog entry with the final words from a sampler about not pushing oneself forward into the limelight!"



Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.