From The One I Knew the Best of All: A Memory of the Mind of a Child
[The Autobiography of] Frances Hodgson Burnett
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1893

[From] CHAPTER IV. Literature and the Doll.

  She always spoke in a whisper or an undertone, unless she was quite alone, because she was shy of being heard. This was probably an instinct at first, but it was a feeling intensified early by finding out that her habit of "talking to herself," as others called it, was considered a joke. The servants used to listen to her behind doors and giggle when they caught her; her brothers regarded her as a ridiculous little object. They were cricket-playing boys, who possibly wondered in private if she was slightly cracked, but would have soundly thumped and belabored any other boy who dared to suggest the same thing.

  The time came when she heard it said that she was "romantic." It was the most crushing thing she had ever experienced. She was quite sure she was not romantic. She could not bear the ignominy of the suggestion. She did not know what she was, but she was sure she was not romantic. So she was very cautious in the matter of keeping to her own corner of the Nursery and putting an immediate stop to her performance the instant she observed a silence, as if anyone was listening. But her most delightful life concentrated itself in those dramatized stories through which she "talked to herself."




  At the end of the entrance hall of the house in which she lived was a tall stand for a candelabra. It was of worked iron and its standard was ornamented with certain decorative supports to the upper part. What were the emotions of the Small Person's Mamma, who was the gentlest and kindest of her sex, on coming upon her offspring one day, on descending the staircase, to find her apparently furious with insensate rage, muttering to herself as she brutally lashed, with


one of her brother's toy whips, a cheerfully hideous black gutta-percha doll who was tied to the candelabra stand and appeared to be enjoying the situation.

  "My dear, my dear!" exclaimed the alarmed little lady, "what are you doing?"

  The Small Person gave a little jump and dropped at her side the stalwart right arm which had been wielding the whip. She looked as if she would have turned very red, if it had been possible for her to become redder than her exertions had made her.

  "I—I was only playing," she faltered, sheepishly.

  "Playing!" echoed her Mamma. "What were you playing?"

  The Small Person hung her head and answered, with downcast countenance, greatly abashed.

  "I was—only just—pretending something," she said.

  "It really quite distressed me," her Mamma said, in discussing the matter afterward with a friend. "I don't think she is really a cruel child. I always thought her rather kind-hearted, but she was lashing that poor black doll and talking to herself like a little fury. She looked quite wicked. She said she was 'pretending' something. You know that is her way of playing. She does not play as Edith and Edwina do. She


'pretends' her doll is somebody out of a story and she is somebody else. She is very romantic. It made me rather nervous the other day when she dressed a baby-doll in white and put it into a box and covered it with flowers and buried it in the front garden. She was so absorbed in it, and she hasn't dug it up. She goes and strews flowers over the grave. I should like to know what she was 'pretending' when she was beating the black doll."

  Not until the Small Person had outgrown all dolls, and her mother reminded her of this incident, did that innocent lady know that the black doll's name was Topsy, but that on this occasion it had been transformed into poor Uncle Tom, and that the little fury with flying hair was the wicked Legree.

  She had been reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin." What an era it was in her existence. The cheerful black doll was procured immediately and called Topsy; her "best doll," which fortunately had brown hair in its wig, was Eva, and was kept actively employed slowly fading away and dying, while she talked about the New Jerusalem, with a hectic flush on her cheeks. She converted Topsy, and totally changed her gutta-percha nature, though it was impossible to alter her gutta-percha grin. She conversed with Uncle Tom (then the Small Person was Uncle Tom); she cut


off "her long golden-brown curls" (not literally; that was only "pretended": the wig had not ringlets enough on it), and presented them to the weeping slaves. (Then the Small Person was all the weeping slaves at once.) It is true that her blunt-nosed wax countenance remained perfectly unmoved throughout all this emotion, and it must be confessed that at times the Small Person felt a lack in her, but an ability to "pretend" ardently was her consolation and support.

  It surely must be true that all children possess this right of entry into the fairyland, where anything can be "pretended." I feel quite sure they do, and that, if one could follow them in the "pretendings," one would make many discoveries about them. . . .

[from] Chapter XIII. Christopher Columbus.

  . . . said Mamma. "I have had a letter from your Uncle John, in America. He thinks it would be a good thing for us to go there. He believes he could find openings for the boys."

  "Oh!" gasped the Small person, "America! Do you—do you think you will go? Oh, Mamma," with sudden rapture—"do—do!"

  It seems so incredibly delightful! To go to America! The land of "Uncle Tom's Cabin!" Perhaps to see plantations and magnolias! To be attended by Aunt Chloes and Topsys! To


make a long voyage—to cross a real Atlantic Ocean—in a ship which was not the Green Arm-Chair!"