Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

A Biography Of America's Folk-Song Composer By Harold Vincent Milligan

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Stephen seems to have conquered his first aversion to disciplined instruction, but he was not the type of child to make a teacher's heart throb with joy. The fact that there still remained about him "something perfectly original," was enough to make his school-days a time of trial and tribulation. These school troubles, however, developed later. In the beginning he seems to have been more docile, for his father wrote to brother William from Pittsburgh, July 14th, 1834, "Little Stephen is learning very fast. Mr. Kelly says that he and Morrison are the most sensible children he ever saw in his life."
Later in the same letter occurs this interesting remark:
Mrs. Collins made your Ma a present of an excellent colored girl a few days ago, who has upwards of three years of service, so much saved for girl's hire.
This Mrs. Collins was probably Mrs. Thomas Collins, wife of a prominent Pittsburgh lawyer. She and Mrs. Foster were close friends, and Stephen was named for her only son, who had died at the age of twelve years, just before Stephen's birth. The girl was Olivia Pise, a mulatto, the illegitimate daughter of a West Indian Frenchman who taught dancing to the upper circles of Pittsburgh society early in the last century. "Lieve," as she was called, was very devout and a member of a church of shouting colored people. She was sometimes permitted to take "little Stephy" to church with her, and the singing of the colored people must have made a deep impression on the mind of the sensitive child. To these experiences he doubtless owes much of the spon­taneity and fidelity to type of his negro melodies, many of which are so thoroughly and essentially characteristic as to give rise to the erroneous idea that they are not original, but actual folk-melodies of the colored people.
In 1836, Mrs. Foster went "over the mountains" for a long visit with her relatives. There are several letters from her to William, full of loving confidence in his tact and judgment. From Philadelphia she wrote in May:

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III