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A History of the Breese Family

A Pastorale by Kathryn Grace Breese


Chapter VIII

The Passing of the Second Generation


We have now reached the third generation in these memoirs of no real importance except to ourselves and we find that we have to record practically the same things over again. It sifts itself down into the problem of wax and multiply which, taken alone, brings changes but no variations. There have been no highlights to record, nothing much to tell. It's quite another thing to set down one's reflections when one may deal with great personages and great deeds, but we are reminiscing upon the long forgotten existence of a plain people of the soil, far away from the great world. This fact limits our possibilities even were we fortunate enough to possess any, a thing we do not pretend.

After all, what are great people really? Are they of a different clay? Is it those in the high places who alone deserve our undivided attention? Is it the fine coat or the power to dominate or the gathering of gold, or beauty of form, the only interesting things to talk or write abut? Is it a fact that the world was made only for some of us, booted and spurred, and that the others are a better sort of donkeys for us to saddle and ride; that there is really a "canaille" such as the French aristocracy perceived in the old days, which is incapable of feeling? Subsequent events prove the contrary and we believe in the saying that "many a Napoleon has passed his life on a bench, pegging the soles of shoes". Thus, we believe that in this little world we are trying to depict that, lacking the trappings of the mighty and the glory of the really great, we find the same food for thought, even the same love and hopes, anyway the same pain and especially the same end which is in store for us all.

But let us go back to our task. Here again is a time when education lagged. If our ancestors really did bring any culture and instruction from abroad, where habits had been for centuries old and tried, some of which their children retained, it faded almost entirely away in their grandchildren; swallowed up as it were in the newly turned earth. A wilderness absorbs the mind as well as the body, a tribute demanded as a toll to be paid before the finer side of life can assert itself. This process takes time and big minds, developing only here and there, are the exceptions which prove the rule.

Thus it was a sort of transitory period, an awaiting the natural development, a leaving off of the old before a taking on of the new. Schools and colleges were indeed springing up and people were reaching out for higher and better things, but by no means had this ambition become general. It was the privilege of the few at best. While the country was rapidly developing merchant and professional classes, the backbone of the whole fabric was still the land population. The time was coming when nothing would prevent the isolated farmer from rearing college bred sons but at the time of which we speak such ambitions were great exceptions. Brains being born and not manufactured were there as always. The opportunity of cultivating them, however, was lacking.

After these reflections we feel it wise to pass rapidly over these next years as they follow each other in such quick succession and resemble each other so closely. Touch upon them gently in order to take a final leave of our old friends Stephen and Nancy.

For them, youth was gone now long ago. Middle age that had brought them sorrow as well as joy was gone, too. Even some of their daughters were already sleeping under the old oak and they themselves knew the time was approaching when they must join them.

Of Stephen's last year we know nothing. He outlived his father thirty years, when in 1833 on the 23rd day of October, in the hush of a quiet Indian summer afternoon, Bailey saw his father lowered into the kindly earth for his last long sleep. Around this grave stood in silent tears many tender leaves and sturdy branches, offsprings of the parent tree, bearing other names for the most part. Of the Breeses there could have been only Bailey with his sons and perhaps Azariah's only son John. Stephen lived to be seventy-eight years of age, saw the new century on its way and Jersey bidding fair to become a prosperous state, but not in the kind of work that had been his. Agriculture had been falling off very materially. Younger men were leaving for the west, for the old fields at home were no longer yielding as of old. The church, too, was not like it used to be for the old congregation divided up and built other places of worship, leaving the old oak to the very old inhabitants. In a word, Basking Ridge was on the decline at this period and began to show signs of never being more that the little village it was and is.

Nancy, like Dorothy before her, on this 23rd day of October, returned to her lonely home, crushing the autumn leaves under her weary feet as she walked, drawing unto herself the last warm rays of the early evening sun. She led a lonely life for eight years after this, and in 1840 in the month of June, when the roses she had loved so well were at their height, Bailey stood again in the same place to mourn the loss of his beloved mother. He, himself, was long past the meridian of life now and the old saying "Dust thou art, to dust returneth" must have plainly revealed itself to him on that day. He seemed to wish to turn away from the old ways and the old habits. Since his parents were gone a restlessness came upon him. Now we see hi, in a feverish developing of plans and a hurried wish for a change, which Phebe did not share with hi,. But drawbacks and stumbling blocks could not prevent hi, from evolving the idea of leaving the old place forever.

For this reason we, too, are obliged to bid farewell to Basking Ridge and to shift our scene from now on, to go with hi, on a long journey. It was at the close of Phebe's life that this happened, although she lived to reach her new destination. Since we shall soon take a final farewell of her, too, and as we have studied her character and those of Dorothy and Nancy all separately, as well as our meagre material affords, we should like here to sum up the characters of these three women together and regard them as a whole.

Their combined lives, from the birth of the first to the death of the last, totaled a term of one hundred and twenty-nine years. They represented three generations. They collectively gave to the world thirty children. This fact alone gives us a striking illustration of that great force, that ever-being and ever-changing, which is the prime factor of the human race.

They all must have had a great amount of will power. They must have had great hopes and could not have shirked for a moment the immense obligations that constantly arose about them. All three labored under what we would call unsurmountable difficulties. Without comforts, without care, lacking almost every resource, everwhere withal which we today demand as necessities, absolutely ignorant of medical science aside from home remedies or hygiene or any health saver except what the mighty elements afforded them in their primitive surroundings, still they succeeded under handicaps and impediments which would stagger the woman of the twentieth century.

They were their own physicians, their own teachers, their own manufacturers and builders and they must have been independent of any outward sympathy or moral support, for the hard lives of the men left little time for kind cooperation or tenderness. All three had the savage to fear and to deal with, though on the whole in that respect they were spared.

They had no books to read or study, other than the Bible; they had no art of any kind to soften their ideals other than what rugged nature gave them. They had no relaxation, no changes of environment, no time to reflect upon the beauties of life with which the world has always abounded. No uplifting of the soul, aside from the cold and hard rules laid down by their Scotch Presbyterian belief which as late as their time was even preaching infant damnation. They saw nothing other than their little homes and farms and the uncleared forest amidst which they lived and where their children were born.

Yet, in the face of this appalling evidence they reared their entire families, for they seem to have lost no children. They toiled incessantly so long as their strength held out. They seemed to lose sight of themselves in this great work, so they must upon the whole have been happy, for we know that peace and happiness is to be gained only by first ridding ourselves of the ever-present ego.

Dorothy, Nancy, Phebe - all admiration to you! Your lives' work is a beacon light to those who look upon it, the only thing that remains today of your seething activities. Surely the earth rests lightly upon your bones. Across the great silence of these years long past, your achievements stand out and speak in a mighty voice together!

It is not that we wish or even could imitate your example. That is no longer necessary. But in the spirit of your lives as it is handed down to us, there is to be found a vital strength for those who are able to draw from it. Not that you were different or better than the others of your day. They did as much as you and some even more. But, taken as a unit, you three women form a side glance into the history of your times, giving us a perfect picture that is to be cherished as an inheritance of the past.


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