‘A very serious thing indeed!’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
After a summer holiday in Manchester, the Grays [1] were back in Boston. The engagement of a family friend reminded Mrs. Gray of some of the undercurrents which must have swirled unnoticed about her own engagement in 1844:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 11 September 1864: A dull lowering day has settled into a steady rain – so we shall probably not get out to “The Pines”[2] tomorrow, as proposed, to dine – for which I am sorry. I want to go myself, and I want Sue [Shober][3] to see the place & house. I hear it is handsome and commodious enough within, to amply compensate its outward unsightliness – which is saying a good word for its accommodations certainly, as externally the house does not satisfy the eye at all.

Mary [Gray][4] is at Milton with R.P.W.[5] – she will come back tomorrow, and go down to Manchester for a few days with Elise [Richards][6] – and then to Lucy Bowditch’s[7] till school begins. Frank [Gray][8] is quite interested in getting up the mock parts for his [Harvard] class. Sam [Gray][9] has just had two very nice copies of Flaxman[10] framed neatly for Frank’s birth-day present; a Minerva and [a] Mars – fine figures, wh. he drew before he went out of town. And now he has just finished a beautiful copy of the “Descent of Juno & Minerva,” [two] lovely female figures in a car drawn by 4 coursers.

Mrs. Shober[11] invited Sue and me to go with her to the Organ Concert yesterday at noon. Mr. J.K. Paine[12] the performer – and a magnificent concert he gave us…

Thursday, 15 September 1864: Yesterday was a lovely day, after the two days’ rain storm. Sue, Mary & I dined at “The Pines.” Fanny [Gray][13] drove in for us. Dr. [Gray] could not go, [and] it was well he did not, for he was obliged to off to Providence, very suddenly, with a patient suffering under delirium tremens – the father of the young man not daring to go alone with him. Dr. G. returned at 5½ this morning, pretty tired. I staid up till midnight packing my trunk last night. We start for Philad[elphia], Sue & I, this p.m…

[The diarist’s daughter] Mary C.G. came home from her visit at Milton, bringing news of Isaac Wainwright’s engagement to a Miss Fannie Skinner of M.![14] What Isaac expects to support a wife upon, is a mystery to outsiders!

[After a visit to the Shobers in Philadelphia, Mrs. Gray returned home to Boston:]

Saturday, 8 October 1864: …R.P.W. spent part of Thursday morning with me. They will remain at Milton yet awhile. Isaac’s fiancée is making them a visit, and impresses them favorably. She is of a Boston family, at the South End – of whom none of us know anything – but they are highly respectable people, though having no part in what we call “Boston society.”

How opinions change as years go on! When I was engaged to Dr. Gray, I did not at all realize to what a test I was putting the amiability, forbearance, & good feeling of his family, when I came among them a total stranger, of whom they knew only that he thought me worthy to be presented to them, as the one of their family circle who was to claim the regard & consideration due to his wife.

The cordial kindness with wh. they received me seemed quite as natural then as it was gratifying – now it seems much more gratifying than natural. I realize now, that it is a very serious and not always satisfactory thing, when the impulsive young people of a family claim your confidence and consideration in that way, for some person of whom you know little or nought beyond the fact that nolens volens[15] they are to be admitted into the sacredest intimacy of your family circle, and with whom its interest, honour, and happiness are to be evermore, in a certain degree bound up & involved. A very serious thing indeed!

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] The new country house belonging to Dr. Gray’s brother and sister-in-law in Brookline.

[3] The diarist’s sister, Susanna Budd Shober (1823–1898?), who was married to Dr. John Davies of Fayal in the Azores 1867–81.

[4] Mrs. Gray’s daughter Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923).

[5] The diarist’s best friend, Rebecca Parker Wainwright (1820–1901).

[6] Mary’s friend Eliza Bordman Richards (1848–1924).

[7] Mary’s friend Lucy Bowditch (1850–1918), who married Richard Stone in 1875.

[8] The diarist’s son Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904).

[9] Mrs. Gray’s son Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926).

[10] The sculptor John Flaxman (1755–1826).

[11] The diarist’s stepmother, Lucy Hall Bradlee (1806–1902), was married to Samuel Lieberkuhn Shober 1830–47.

[12] John Knowles Paine (1839–1906), one of the “Boston Six” composers and Harvard’s choirmaster for more than forty years.

[13] Dr. Gray’s niece, Frances Loring Gray (1843–1919), who married William Adams Walker Stewart in 1874.

[14] Frances Caroline Skinner (b. 1838) was married to Rebecca Wainwright’s brother Isaac 1867–71.

[15] Willingly or unwillingly.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward