September 19, 2011

Rowson debuts in Boston

Susanna Rowson had a varied career as a religious writer, poet, educator, and author of one of the highest-selling novels in the young United States. After that book, however, she did something different: she took to the stage as an actress. After performing first in Philadelphia, she debuted on the Boston stage on September 19, 1796.

The play, a farce titled The Farmer, was staged at the Federal Street Theatre in Boston (the same stage where the mother of Edgar Allan Poe performed). One reviewer said her performance "received many marks of public pleasure." Only two days later, she played a different role in a different drama, another only a few weeks after that. In fact, by the spring of the next year, she had performed at least 13 roles in as many plays - including one written by herself.

The hectic schedule may have been too much for her: within a year, Rowson quit the stage and shifted her focus to teaching. Though she was born in England and lived in Nova Scotia and Pennsylvania, she spent the rest of her life in the Boston area. Though she continued writing the occasional play, she never performed again.

Rowson's poem "Song: Independent Farmer":

When the bonny grey morning just peeps from the skies,
   And the lark mounting, tunes her sweet lay;
With a mind unincumbered by care I arise,
   My spirits light, airy, and gay.
I take up my gun; honest Tray, my good friend,
   Wags his tail and jumps sportively round;
To the woods then together our footsteps we bend,
   'Tis there health and pleasure are found.
I snuff the ffesh air; bid defiance to care,
   As happy as mortal can be;
From the toils of the great, ambition and state,
   'Tis my pride and my boast to be free.

At noon, I delighted to range o'er the soil,
   And nature's rough children regale:
With a cup of good home-brew'd I sweeten their toil,
   And laugh at the joke or the tale.
And whether the ripe waving corn I behold,
   Or the innocent flock meet my sight;
Or the orchard, whose fruit is just turning to gold,
   Still, still health and pleasure unite.
I snuff the fresh air; bid defiance to care,
   As happy as mortal can be;
From the toils of the great, ambition and state,
   'Tis my pride and my boast to be free.

At night to my lowly rooPd cot I return,
   When oh, what new sources of bliss;
My children rush out, while their little hearts burn,
   Each striving to gain the first kiss.
My Dolly appears with a smile on her face,
   Good humour presides at our board;
What more than health, plenty, good humour, and peace,
   Can the wealth of the Indies afford?
I sink into rest, with content in my breast,
   As happy as mortal can be;
From the toils of the great, ambition and state,
   'Tis my pride and my boast to be free.

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