Hannah Maynard Thompson
The novelist Hannah Maynard (Thompson) Pickard was born to Ebenezer and Hannah Thompson (who were devoted Methodists) on 25 November 1812 in the small town of Chester, Vermont. When she was about three years old, her family relocated to Concord, Massachusetts, where she resided for ten years. Thompson read extensively as a child and was “animated with an eager desire, and persevering purpose, to acquire all the knowledge within her reach” (Otheman 14). In the spring of 1826, her family moved to Wilbraham, Massachusetts, her parents taking charge of the boarding establishment associated with the Wesleyan Academy that was located there. Thompson attended school at the Academy, where she was “considered a successful and proficient scholar” (Otheman 16) and where, after being spiritually affected by the words of the Methodist preacher Dr. Fisk, she decided to be baptized and join the Methodist Church.
In 1828, her family moved to Boston, where Hannah joined them after spending one more year at the Academy. In Boston, she taught at the Bromfield Street Sabbath School and later at the Russell Street Sabbath School. During her years of teaching, she made rapid improvements in her writing. D.S. King, in his history of the Russell Street Sabbath School, gives the following account of Thompson: “She was one of the first teachers in our Sabbath School, and one of the best. She wrote freely such articles as were needed for school examinations and exhibitions. She wrote extensively for the Sabbath School Messenger, and some for the Guide to Holiness, and other periodicals” (82).
In 1838, Thompson received and accepted an invitation to become preceptress at the Wilbraham Academy. The history of that Academy reports of Thompson that “pupils were stirred by her teaching and moulded by her gentle spirit and beautiful example. The memory of her virtues and gracious deeds were cherished in the institution” (Sherman 236). In the spring of 1839, Thompson met Humphrey Pickard, who she would later marry. Pickard was a student at the Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut at the time, but he had chosen to visit the Wilbraham Academy during a school vacation. He graduated in the summer of that year and returned to his native province of New Brunswick, but he and Thompson maintained a correspondence with each other.
On 18 March 1841, Thompson’s mother died, and at the end of the spring term of that year, she left her position at the Wilbraham Academy to stay with her father in Boston and prepare for her marriage to Mr. Pickard. On 2 October 1841, she married Humphrey Pickard in the Bromfield Street Church in Boston. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved to the Portland parish in Saint John, N.B. where Rev. Pickard was appointed to preach.
On 7 September 1842, the Pickards’ first child, whom they named Edward, was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where Hannah was visiting her sister Emma’s family. The Pickards moved to Sackville, New Brunswick in 1843 after Rev. Pickard was appointed principal of the Wesleyan Academy. Mrs. Pickard assisted her husband immensely in both his ecclesiastical and administrative affairs. On 19 February 1844, her second child was born, but he died after a week. Less than a month later, on 11 March, Hannah Pickard died (in Sackville) at the age of thirty-two.
During her short life, Hannah (Thompson) Pickard wrote two novels (both of which were published anonymously as “By a Lady”), the first being Procrastination, or, Maria Louisa Winslow, published in 1840, and the second The Widow’s Jewels: In Two Stories, published posthumously in 1844. Both novels were concerned with imparting Christian morals or lessons to their readers. In Procrastination, Thompson/Pickard encourages the reader to “delay not those things of infinite importance to a moment when it may be for ever too late” (80), “those things” being one’s commitments to God. Toward the end of the novel, after the protagonist has made this very mistake, Thompson/Pickard gives the following advice to the reader:
Learn, then, from these little details, here given, not to neglect the still small voice which invites us to the cross of Christ. It is the Spirit of God within; not one fear of death, not one desire for religion, not one aspiration for Heaven, comes to the mind, but is imparted by this holy messenger. If these fail to secure attention, if the lessons we may learn, from the fate of those around, fail to influence us,―God will speak no louder, nor use more striking means to draw us to Him. Then, if these fail, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (104)
Indeed, the message that Thompson/Pickard communicates here is, from a Christian perspective, one of the utmost importance. Characteristically, her message is presented in a way that attempts to appeal not only to the Christian reader, but to the irreligious one as well; it speaks to readers who have gone through their lives giving little or no thought to spiritual concerns.
In The Widow’s Jewels, which is comprised of two separate short stories (“Robert McCoy” and “Dennis Brooks”), Thompson/Pickard aims similarly to demonstrate to the reader that devoting one’s life to God has an eternal value that transcends and far exceeds the transient worth of materiality. Declaring the novel’s purpose in the introduction, Thompson/Pickard writes that “every lesson, however simple, which you treasure up [from this novel] and profit by, will be imparting another ray of beauty to ‘Jewels’ which are to shine for ever and ever in the Paradise of God” (8).
Thompson/Pickard also wrote numerous poems, sketches, and prose fragments centered around religious ideas and/or the beauty of nature, some of which are contained in the Memoir and Writings of Mrs. Hannah Maynard Pickard (1845) that her brother-in-law compiled and published after her death. For example, one of the poems found in this work is called “The Spider,” and it is accompanied by a sketch about how spiders, in spite of their frightening appearance, are God’s “faithful witnesses, and upon their supple web, in fadeless characters, weave this truth ― God liveth forever” (qtd. in Otheman 269). In short, the argument of the piece is that the artistry of the spider is evidence of the intelligent design of the universe by God. While Thompson/Pickard’s writing was extremely well-received among her friends and colleagues―David Sherman, for example, wrote that her novels “were among the best of the time” (235)―her work does not appear to have gained a wide readership in Canada or New Brunswick.
Gaelyn Armstrong, Fall 2019
St. Thomas University
Bibliography of Primary Sources
Otheman, Edward, ed. Memoir and Writings of Mrs. Hannah Maynard Pickard; Late Wife of Rev. Humphrey Pickard, A.M., Principal of the Wesleyan Academy at Mount Allison, Sackville, N.B. Boston: David H. Ela, 1845.
Pickard, Hannah Maynard. Procrastination, or, Maria Louisa Winslow. Boston: D.S. King, 1840.
---. The Widow’s Jewels: In Two Stories. Boston: Waite, Peirce & Co., 1844.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
“Died.” Weekly Chronicle [Saint John] 22 Mar. 1844: 3.
King, D.S. History of the North Russell Street M.E. Church & Sabbath School: With a Brief Account of St. John’s Church at the Odeon. Boston: J.P. Magee, 1861.
Lochhead, Douglas. “Thompson, Hannah Maynard (Pickard).” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 7. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1988. 853-54.
“Married.” New Brunswick Courier [Saint John] 16 Oct. 1841: 3.
“Pickard, Hannah Maynard Thompson.” SFU Digitized Collections. 2016. Simon Fraser U. 15 Oct. 2019 <https://digital.lib.sfu.ca/ceww-935/pickard-hannah-maynard-thompson>.
Rose, George MacLean. “Pickard, Rev. Humphrey.” A Cyclopaedia of Canadian Biography: Being Chiefly Men of the Time: A Collection of Persons Distinguished in Professional and Political Life. Vol 2. Toronto: Rose Publishing Co., 1888. 140-42.
Sherman, David. History of the Wesleyan Academy, in Wilbraham, Mass. 1817–1890. Boston: The McDonald & Gill Co., 1893.
Watters, Reginald Eyre. A Checklist of Canadian Literature and Background Materials, 1628–1960. 2nd ed. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1972. 366.