The following, transcribed by Amy Feldner Lawlor, was published in the Mar. 7, 1917 issue of the Warwick Valley Dispatch.
It may be said of Mrs. Eliza Benedict Hornby, who passed into the world of immortality on February 27, from the beautiful Warwick Valley, which her pen did much to celebrate, that in a peculiar way she in herself represented the historical perspective of he valley’s social life, stretching backward even to the colonial period of its existence. This was due to the possession of a peculiarly sympathetic nature, which always took hold of and idealized the best in its immediate surroundings, the while it saturated itself in the legends and atmosphere of the past.
Eliza Benedict was born November 26, 1835, in the old homestead on the edge of the village, and was connected by ties of blood with many of the families whose history stretches back into the early days of Warwick and its environs. From her earliest years she manifested those qualities which she carried with her to the grave – love of nature and humanity, a talent for friendship, a sunny, romantic disposition, bright, intuitive mind, and a rare social gift, which brought her into quick sympathy with all, whether young or old.
She died upon the birthday of Francis Aloaton Benedict, that soldier brother whom she loved devotedly, and whose letters, transcribed by her, became a valuable record of the war experiences of the One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Regiment, N.Y.V. – the “Orange Blossoms” of this county.
‘She Truly was the Ideal Elder Sister’
The eldest of a family of sixteen – ten sons and six daughters of William Lewis Benedict and Phoebe Burt, all of whom grew to maturity, she earned a place in the hearts of each that can be epitomized by but one word – “sister.”
She truly was the ideal “elder sister.” Her sympathy and charity were boundless and her one thought in any difficulty was of instant aid and soothing. Her joyous nature and talent for social harmony made her the life of family and neighborhood affairs, her circle far-reaching with the gathering of years. No occasion was complete without Eliza and her attendant band of handsome, gay young kinsmen, among them her eldest brother, Charles Edward, (called “Prince or Lord Charlie” by his intimates), her cousins, James W. (later Major) Benedict and his brother, Hubert, and talented and witty Peter Burt, son of “Young squire James,” humorist, artist and writer, whose productions Mrs. Hornby cherished to her latest day.
In her home, Eliza’s presence as a young woman was that of a singing bird. She had a clear, sweet voice and a natural talent for music, and in her early day sang constantly.
‘The Warwick of Mrs. Hornby’s Early Days’
The Warwick of Mrs. Hornby’s early days was a primitive community, but far from being bucolic. The spirit of the Warwick of the ante-bellum period was best represented in the foundation of the Warwick Institute, leased by her father in 1856 for school purposes, at the same time he purchased the old Ward House as a home for boarding students and teachers.
Eliza was first pupil and then teacher in the Institute. The curriculum in the middle fifties might seem odd at this time. It embraced Latin, French, mathematics, painting, drawing, music, rhetoric, surveying, elocution and the English branches. The principal was always a college man and the subordinate teachers chosen for special experience and intelligence.
There was a literary quality in the Institute and the community. Eliza easily became a leader. Her pen was as facile as her mind. Generously, she was always ready to help those less highly endowed with a puzzling literary task, and many were the occasions that called for the exercise of her gift.
Warwick had its musical society and conventions, famous lecturers came to the village, and it had its own literary and debating societies. Many of Mrs. Hornby’s brightest poems, still cherished in the hearts and homes of the families of that day, were written at this time.
Poem by Eliza Hornby
From a manuscript book of poems, dated 1856, we take two verses, signed “Eliza,” which are so significant of Mrs. Hornby’s mental attitude toward life even in her last days that it is a pleasure to copy them:
“Better trust all and be deceived
And weep that trust and that deceiving,
Than lose one heart that if believed
Had blessed us with a true believing.
Oh! In this mocking world, too fast
The doubting fiend o’ertakes our youth.
Better be cheated to the last
Than lose the blessed hope of youth.
Than lose the blessed hope of truth.”
That her mind early embraced the true Christian hope is evidenced by several verses addressed to a friend who had recently lost a young brother. The last verse reads:
“I see him now, and once again he smiles,
And softly whispers, ‘I am Jesus’ child,
Would you like me be placed at His right hand,’
Love Him on earth and you shall join the band.
That praise Him ever in His Holy land.
A Remarkable Influence Over Her Pupils
Mrs. Hornby had a natural gift for imparting instruction, as well as a remarkable influence over her pupils. Rude and intractable boys yielded with surprising readiness to her unique handling. Youths of this kind were often turned over to her care when the rod itself had been found ineffectual, and the rod was then wielded vigorously.
But she, who had been brought up in a family that numbered many “husky” farmer-boy brothers, had learned the secret of holding the rebellious boyish mind, and easily became Una to a band of restless young human lions. Her gift in this respect often seemed supernatural and one particular case is recalled, that of William (called “Bill”) Shaw, an unruly, turbulent lad, who absolutely resisted any authority but hers. His strong, brave spirit took flight during the Civil War at the furious storming of Port Hudson, La.
Mrs. Bradley’s Fashionable School for Young Ladies
When Mrs. Bradley’s fashionable school for young ladies was opened in Goshen, Eliza Benedict accepted there a position as teacher of French, history, botany and drawing. Her gift of rhyme became quite as conspicuous in Goshen as at home, and when the poem “All Quiet Along the Potomac” appeared, signed “E.B.” (Ethelinda Beers), Miss Benedict received several letters of felicitation from friends who thought it a production of hers.
At Mrs. Bradley’s seminary she met Charles B. Hornby, teacher of music there, and organist at St. James Church. Mr. Hornby was an Englishman, son of Dr. Thomas and Mary Anne Tynley Hornby, of Tuxford, Notts. His immediate ancestors were Yorkshire men, and many of the family lie buried in the glorious York Minister (Cathedral) and in the quaint old St. Michael le Belfrey, Petergate, York. Mr. Hornby left Goshen to become master of the regular army band at Governor’s Island, NY. Harbor, and soon claimed his bride thereafter. They were married at the Warwick homestead, March 25, 1861, and settled down to home life in Amity (now West 3d Street), one block south of Washington Square, and next to old St. Clement’s Church. This section lies close to that long known as the “Old Greenwich Village,” now coming back to its former prestige.
Painter Thomas Hovenden Boarded at Hornby Home
In the same house at the time boarded Thomas Hovenden, destined to become famous as a painter, whose “John Brown on the Way to Execution” is one of the treasures of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was a poor struggling young Irishman, and kept a small shop for artists’ materials on lower Sixth Avenue.
He chose at that period sacred subjects and in pure kindness of heart, Mrs. Hornby often posed for him, because he could not afford to hire a model. He painted her, with her eldest child, later as a Madonna for an altar piece, now in place in one of the Roman Catholic Churches.
‘Draft Riots’ of the Civil War
These were the days of the Civil War, and the city was full of excitement and ferment, which manifested itself in mob-violence and turbulence. The “Draft Riots” especially brought terror to the city dwellers, the foreign element, when forced into war service, venting its rage on the negro race, hanging them wherever found.
In the backyard of the house next to St. Clement’s was found one evening a poor, terror-stricken colored girl, with her baby, nearly dead from fright and exposure, having been hidden three days behind a pile of lumber. She was cared for by the ladies of the household for three weeks before she was permitted to venture forth into the street. Many other reminiscences of this time were often retold by Mrs. Hornby to her children.
Only a few months after her marriage, Mrs. Hornby had the war brought very near to her by the enlistment of her two brothers and husband, the latter of whom became bandmaster to a city regiment. He remained in service nearly two years and while stationed at one of the forts back of Alexandria, Va., played the organ in Old Christ (Washington’s) Church in that city. A sunstroke during the excessive heat of a Virginia summer incapacitated Mr. Hornby for work on his return to the front, and he went to England for treatment.
Raising Three Young Children on Her Own
Mrs. Hornby was left with three young children, the third four weeks old, to take up life alone. She very naturally turned to her early vocation and through the influential relatives on the Board of Education, joined the teaching force of the Institute, by then a public school. The “White School House,” by the cemetery gate, was made in the early ‘70s, a part of the Institute school system, and Mrs. Hornby appointed teacher.
It was a long way from her home, but she bravely breasted the suns of summer and the storms and snows of many old-fashioned winters to fulfill her teaching task here on the village outskirt. In this connection, she often spoke of the unfailing goodness and kind thoughtfulness of the late Thomas Welling, Esq., who lost no opportunity of ministering to the comfort of the young school-mistress and her little charges, stranded in the then desolate spot, with old-time schoolroom equipment.
Wrote for Magazines & Newspapers All Over the Country
At night, often till the small hours, Mrs. Hornby toiled at writing for magazines and newspapers all over the country, from Maine to Illinois, augmenting her income materially by her industry. Plays, several produced in Warwick, small stories, children’s tales and rhymes, poems and all kinds of literary material flowed from her pen point. Her constitution was naturally strong, her energy resistless and her spirits buoyant and pictures taken at this time reveal a bright, earnest countenance, surcharged with an expression of intense purpose and determination.
By strict economy Mrs. Hornby managed to save a small capital and started a private school, which venture met with success. Later she went in business in New York City and prospered fairly well for several seasons.
‘Under Old Roof Trees’
Since early youth she had religiously treasured all the reminiscences of family and town life that came to her, preserving it in written notes with methodical care and precision. A book to embody all this valuable lore was her constant thought in later years, and finally, about 1908, with the help and encouragement of her young brother, Louis Randolph Benedict, her dream became a reality, and “Under Old Roof Trees,” a collection of the lore of old Warwick, appeared. Her delight and gratification in her book was unbounded (although she felt it was far from perfection and said so) and the interest it excited a never-failing source of happiness. Two other books were prepared by her later, and it is to be hoped they will see the sun through type at some future day.
Mrs. Hornby did not claim to be a genius, but often said her success as a historian was attained by saving what others threw away. Well we know that whatever talent she had was never allowed to rust, but kept bright to extreme age by constant use. In dark days of struggle, toil and unending disappointment she turned to her love of letters and found comfort. Time she defied and youth was in her soul to the last.
Incessantly in her last hours she called the names of the friends and relatives of her almost infant days. We believe their hands were even then stretched forth to meet hers. And so, having surmounted the last hard barrier, she floated over the border into Paradise to behold the blossoming of her ideal, with all its world trammels and befoggings forever blown to the far winds. With the sometime lost, now found, her striving spirit makes its home, free and unchecked, in its Father’s house.
Several brothers and sisters, and three children, Mary, Frances Alfred and Claire Virginia, survive their sister and mother.