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“Mama, may I tell my little story?”

You will not now remember how often these words began your play-hours and your fancy ran faster than your feet. These are remembrances of those days, pleasanter than this anniversary of one which ended more than twenty years of suspense and hope deferred.

July 20th 1826

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December 31st 1830

My dear little daughter,

The trifles you will find in my portfolio were chiefly written for a young friend not more than twice your age. She had a very infirm mother for whose amusement she placed a little box of Athenian cedar, the gift of Professor Flaxman, in the corner of her drawing-room; and all who were acquainted with the aperture in its side slid in such pieces of prose or verse they thought acceptable. On the first and second Wednesdays of the winter months, the Attic Chest was unlocked by its owner after tea, and the contents read to the small party of her select friends. On the last of these evenings, each acknowledged his or her share, and a dance concluded the social pastime. My dear friend’s marriage with Sir John Franklin, whose adventures at the North Pole you have already heard, and her early death closed the Attic Chest; and its principal contributors, Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s only son, Dr. Hatton and his grandson, Flaxman and his gifted wife and sisters, William Hayley and two or three friends of Walter Scott and Lord Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth, are gone from us. Many of the tales composed in prose or verse have appeared in annuals or other miscellanies; some you will find in manuscript, and three were added lately, to preserve in remembrance facts which seemed to prove that many evils in a woman’s life might be prevented by an early knowledge of the laws which regulate her place and property. This year deprived you of the Father who would have guarded both, therefore I can offer you no better gift for the next.

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The “Imitations of Minor Greek Poets” and the “Pleasures of Human Life” were intended only for the perusal of a fond parent and partial friend — your Grandfather and Lindley Murray. The fragments of the Attic Chest are more calculated for your amusement, having been collected from the conversation of the antiquaries, travellers, and civilians who attended its owner’s happy evenings. The pleasure of remembering such conversations is one of the many advantages gained by a habit of attention to every source of knowledge. If these relics enliven or improve yours, the Attic Chest will be still delightful to your fond Mother.

A. J. N.