Nine-year-old Elizabeth Harding finished her sampler on March 11th in 1791 during the reign of George III. Sadly, we have been unable to trace Elizabeth, as there are many Elizabeth Hardings born around 1782. However, we do know that the Harding name has its origins in Scandinavia and Germany. It appears to be an old Nordic/Teutonic term for “tough guy”, and is still used as such in Sweden and the Hardanger Fjord in Norway, where people are still called “Hardings” or “Hardinger”.
The original sampler was stitched in silk on fine linen and has maintained its vibrant colours over the centuries. A Georgian red brick mansion house with checkerboard steps proudly takes centre stage and is guarded on either side by pine and apple trees. The doves in flight and the dovecote are a charming feature. Dovecotes were built by wealthy Georgians to supply the household with a luxury food, the tender meat of young pigeons. As dovecotes were always associated with a luxurious way of life, they came to symbolise high social status – or high social aspirations. For this reason, they were prominently situated, usually near the main entrance road to the house.
Elizabeth filled the four sections of her sampler with parrots, squirrels, birds, a small black dog and flowers. The two sprays of roses in bloom and bud in the bottom section of the sampler are particularly beautiful and glow with colour. There are two verses. The first is based on the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15: 11-32, and appears in a book published in 1720 called “New Guide to the English Tongue in Five Parts” by Thomas Dilworth, an English cleric.
Christs Arms do still stand open to receive
All weary Prodigals that Sin do leave
For them he left his Fathers blest Abode
Made Son of Man to make Man Son of God
To cure their Wounds he Life s Elixir bled
And dyd a Death to raise them from the Dead
Dilworth’s books were widely used in schools in England and America. Noah Webster studied this book as a child and it inspired him to create his own spelling book and Dictionary. Abraham Lincoln also used Dilworth’s book, and it was also mentioned in Charles Dickens’ “Sketches by Boz”.
The second verse is a poem attributed to John Dryden (1631-1700).
Fragrant the Rose is but it fades in Time
The Violet sweet but quickly past the Prime
White Lillies hang their Heads and soon decay
And whiter Snow in Minutes melts away
Such and so with ring are our early Joys
Which Time or Sickness speedily destroys.
Dryden translated it from Theocritus’s “The Despairing Lover”. Theocritus was an Ancient Greek poet who was born in Syracuse, Italy (300 – 260BC). John Dryden was an English poet, literary critic, translator and playwright and was a dominant and influential person of his age in the literary world. He was England’s first Poet Laureate in 1668 and heavily influenced many in the literary world including, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, John Keats and TS Eliot. He is also mentioned in Henry Fielding’s “Tom Jones”.
Dryden translated many Ancient Greek authors such as Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Theocritus and Homer. Before he died in 1700 he modernised Geoffrey Chaucer’s book, “The Canterbury Tales”. He is buried in Westminster Abbey in Poet’s Corner.
Elizabeth Harding 1791 has been reproduced in collaboration with Bethany Gallant. At the very core of Hands Across the Sea Samplers is a team of needleworkers who are passionate about antique samplers and being able to share those samplers with you.