AT THE FOOT OF THE RAINBOW, 1907
by Gene Stratton Porter
A Little Story of Her Life and Work
FOR several years Doubleday, Page & Company have been receiving repeated requests for information about the life and books of Gene Stratton-Porter. Her fascinating nature work with bird, flower, and moth, and the natural wonders of the Limberlost Swamp, made famous as the scene of her nature romances, all have stirred much curiosity among readers everywhere.
Mrs. Porter did not possess what has been called "an aptitude for personal publicity." Indeed, up to the present, she has discouraged quite successfully any attempt to stress the personal note. It is practically impossible, however, to do the kind of work she has done-- to make genuine contributions to natural science by her wonderful field work among birds, insects, and flowers, and then, through her romances, to bring several hundred thousands of people to love and understand nature in a way they never did before-- without arousing a legitimate interest in her own history, her ideals, her methods of work, and all that underlies the structure of her unusual achievement.
Her publishers have felt the pressure of this growing interest and it was at their request that she furnished the data for a biographical sketch that was to be written of her. But when this actually came to hand, the present compiler found that the author had told a story so much more interesting than anything he could write of her, that it became merely a question of how little need be added.
The following pages are therefore adapted from what might be styled the personal record of Gene Stratton-Porter. This will account for the very intimate picture of family life in the Middle West for some years following the Civil War.
She hated mathematics in any form and spent all her time on natural science, language, and literature. "Friday afternoon," writes Mrs. Porter, "was always taken up with an exercise called `rhetoricals,' a misnomer as a rule, but let that pass. Each week pupils of one of the four years furnished entertainment for the assembled high school and faculty. Our subjects were always assigned, and we cordially disliked them. This particular day I was to have a paper on `Mathematical Law.' "I put off the work until my paper had been called for several times, and so came to Thursday night with excuses and not a line. I was told to bring my work the next morning without fail. I went home in hot anger. Why in all this beautiful world, would they not allow me to do something I could do, and let any one of four members of my class who revelled in mathematics do my subject? That evening I was distracted. `I can't do a paper on mathematics, and I won't!' I said stoutly; `but I'll do such a paper on a subject I can write about as will open their foolish eyes and make them see how wrong they are.'" Before me on the table lay the book I loved, the most wonderful story in which was `Picciola' by Saintine. Instantly I began to write. Breathlessly I wrote for hours. I exceeded our limit ten times over. The poor Italian Count, the victim of political offences, shut by Napoleon from the wonderful grounds, mansion, and life that were his, restricted to the bare prison walls of Fenestrella, deprived of books and writing material, his one interest in life became a sprout of green, sprung, no doubt, from a seed dropped by a passing bird, between the stone flagging of the prison yard before his window. With him I had watched over it through all the years since I first had access to the book; with him I had prayed for it. I had broken into a cold sweat of fear when the jailer first menaced it; I had hated the wind that bent it roughly, and implored the sun. I had sung a paean of joy at its budding, and worshipped in awe before its thirty perfect blossoms. The Count had named it `Picciola'- the little one- to me also it was a personal possession. That night we lived the life of our `little one' over again, the Count and I, and never were our anxieties and our joys more poignant. "Next morning," says Mrs. Porter, "I dared my crowd to see how long they could remain on the grounds, and yet reach the assembly room before the last toll of the bell. This scheme worked. Coming in so late the principal opened exercises without remembering my paper. Again, at noon, I was as late as I dared be, and I escaped until near the close of the exercises, through which I sat in cold fear. When my name was reached at last the principal looked at me inquiringly and then announced my inspiring mathematical subject. I arose, walked to the front, and made my best bow. Then I said: `I waited until yesterday because I knew absolutely nothing about my subject'- the audience laughed- `and I could find nothing either here or in the library at home, so last night I reviewed Saintine's masterpiece, "Picciola."' "Then instantly I began to read. I was almost paralyzed at my audacity, and with each word I expected to hear a terse little interruption. Imagine my amazement when I heard at the end of the first page: `Wait a minute!' Of course I waited, and the principal left the room. A moment later she reappeared accompanied by the superintendent of the city schools. `Begin again,' she said. `Take your time.' "I was too amazed to speak. Then thought came in a rush. My paper was good. It was as good as I had believed it. It was better than I had known. I did go on! We took that assembly room and the corps of teachers into our confidence, the Count and I, and told them all that was in our hearts about a little flower that sprang between the paving stones of a prison yard. The Count and I were free spirits. From the book I had learned that. He got into political trouble through it, and I had got into mathematical trouble, and we told our troubles. One instant the room was in laughter, the next the boys bowed their heads, and the girls who had forgotten their handkerchiefs cried in their aprons. For almost sixteen big foolscap pages I held them, and I was eager to go on and tell them more about it when I reached the last line. Never again was a subject forced upon me." After this incident of her schooldays, what had been inclination before was aroused to determination and the child neglected her lessons to write. A volume of crude verse fashioned after the metre of Meredith's "Lucile," a romantic book in rhyme, and two novels were the fruits of this youthful ardour.
Last revised: 16 September 2010