New England in Letters

New England in Letters – Rufus Rockwell Wilson

Mr . Wilson, who is widely and favorably known through his ” Rambles in Colonial Byways” and similar works , describes a series of pilgrimages to all the noteworthy literary landmarks of the New England States . These carry the reader to the birthplace of Longfellow and the scenes sung by Whittier, to the Salem of Hawthorne, to the Concord of Emerson and Thoreau, to Cambridge with its memories of Holmes and Lowell, to Boston and the land of the Pilgrims, and then westward to the Berkshires, where Melville wrought upon his best romances and Bryant found inspiration for his loftiest verse. The work of each author is dealt with in association with its environment , and this method makes Mr. Wilson’s book both a guide for the pilgrim and an illuminating review for the student.

New England in Letters

New England in Letters.

Format: eBook.

New England in Letters.

ISBN: 9783849663278.


Excerpt from the text:


CHAPTER I. Through Longfellow’s Country


WHEN it was ended there was reason to rejoice that the pilgrimage here recorded had its beginning in Portland, for Longfellow, best beloved of our poets, was born in the beautiful old town by the sea, cherished it beyond any place on earth and sang its charms in some of his sweetest verse. Here, as a youth, amid scenes upon which the eye never tires of feasting, he drank in the undying beauty of nature, and with it the lessons of love, patience and resignation which were the master influences in his literary career. One has but to read ” My Lost Youth,” “The Sea Diver,” “The Skeleton in Armor,” “The Lighthouse,” and his other poems of the sea to know how abiding recollection of his boyhood home helped to shape the children of his fancy.

Portland honors Longfellow’s memory in more than one graceful and appreciative way. There is a statue of the poet in the western end of the city, and the house at the corner of Hancock and Fore Streets where, in 1807, he was born is visited every year by a throng of pilgrims. It is still in a fair state of preservation, but the neighborhood has deteriorated since Longfellow’s father lived in it, and it now wears an unkempt and slovenly air. Longfellow passed his youth in the house on Congress Street known as the Longfellow mansion and often mistaken for his birthplace. This house was bequeathed by his sister in 1901 to the Maine Historical Society upon condition that it should be kept in its present form, as a memorial to Longfellow and his family. Built in 1785 by General Peleg Wadsworth, grandfather of the poet, it was originally two stories high, a third being added in 1826; but it has undergone no alteration since the latter date, though it stands now in the heart of the business quarter of the town.

Portland was also the birthplace of Nathaniel Parker and Sara Payson Willis –– ” Fanny Fern ” –– and for the latter its beauty and charm were precious memories until her death. She tells us in her touching “Story About Myself” that while writing the book in widowed poverty her thoughts went back to her childhood home. She had often, in the olden time, wandered in the woods about Portland with her mother, who ” always used to pluck a leaf of the fern to place in her bosom for its sweet odor.” Living over again the vanished days, she said to herself: “My name shall be ‘Fanny Fern,’ little dreaming that anybody would ever know or care anything about it.” “Many long days after this,” she writes in another place, ” I visited my birthplace, Portland. I wandered up and down the streets of that lovely, leafy city and tried to find the church where good Dr. Payson used to preach. Then, too, I wanted to see the house where I was born, the house where he laid hands of blessing on my baby forehead when it was purple with what they thought was the ‘death agony.’ But where it was that the little flickering life began, I could not find out.”

Others have since discovered what she tried in vain to learn. On the site of a neat cottage at 72 Franklin Street once stood the house in which Nathaniel and Sara Willis were born. Their pious yet militant father was the founder of the Portland “Argus,” and underwent imprisonment for his too caustic comments on the doings of his neighbors. James and Erastus Brooks were also Portland editors in their youth; and so was Seba Smith, one of the drollest of our early humorists, while there James G. Blaine tried his ‘prentice hand at journalism. Another Portland editor of the old days, and one native to the soil, was John Neal, a prolific and gifted maker of books, who needed only the power of concentration to have left an enduring mark upon the literature of his time.

Portland also claims as her own Nathaniel Deering and Isaac McLellan, “poet of the rod and gun”; Ann S. Stephens and Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, whose once popular novels still find readers, and Elizabeth Akers Allen, whose “Rock me to Sleep, Mother,” won for its author sure if slender fame; while Eliza Oakes, though born in another part of Maine, lived for a number of years in Portland, and there became the wife of Seba Smith. This gifted and beautiful woman was the first of her sex in this country to appear as a public lecturer, and among the first to speak from a pulpit. Sixty years ago her popularity was at its flood, and her writings in prose and verse carried her name to other lands. Men pass away, however, and their idols with them, and long before old age she had disappeared from public view. Her death in 1892 was notable chiefly because it reminded a busy and careless world that such a woman as Eliza Oakes Smith had ever lived.

While Longfellow was still a boy in Portland, Nathaniel Hawthorne came to dwell in another part of the same county. The latter was fourteen years old when, early in 1818, he was taken by his widowed mother to live in a house built for her by her brother in the town of Raymond, now as then a secluded, forest-girt hamlet, reached by a twenty-mile drive from Portland through the lovely valley of the Presumscott, or by an equal journey from the railway station at the southern end of Lake Sebago. The house occupied by the Hawthornes, a large two-storied wooden structure, was subsequently remodeled into a church. Though Mrs. Hawthorne and her daughters remained three or four years at Raymond, the son at the end of a twelvemonth was sent to school in Salem, and two years later he entered Bowdoin College. He returned, however, to spend his yearly vacations in the wilderness, and these visits compassed some of the most gratefully remembered experiences of his life.

Hawthorne, at a later time, spoke of Raymond as the place where” I first got my cursed habit of solitude “; yet he always relished solitude, and, he declares in another place, ” I lived in Maine like a bird of the air, so perfect was the freedom I enjoyed.” During the long days of summer he roamed, gun in hand, through the great woods; and during the moonlight nights of winter he would skate for hours all alone upon Lake Sebago, with the deep shadows of the snow-clad hills on either hand. Now and then, when he got too far away from home to return, he would seek shelter in some logger’s cabin, and there pass the night, warmed by a roaring wood-fire, watching the silent stars. ” I ran quite wild, “he wrote in 1853, “and would, I think, have willingly run wild till this time, fishing all day long, or shooting with an old fowling-piece, but reading a good deal, too, on the rainy days, especially in Shakespeare and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ and any poetry or light books within reach.”

Though Bowdoin when Hawthorne entered it in 1821 was a struggling institution of slender resources, it numbered poets and statesmen among its undergraduates, for his fellow-students included Longfellow and Franklin Pierce. Both of these men became his lifelong friends, but the one of his classmates who stood closest to him was Horatio Bridge, his chum and inseparable companion. Bridge, who afterwards served with distinction in the navy, seems earlier even than the embryo writer himself to have divined his true calling. “If anybody,” Hawthorne wrote him in later years, ” is responsible for my being an author, it is yourself. I know not whence your faith came; but while we were lads together at a country college, gathering blackberries in study hours under those tall academic pines; or watching the great logs as they tumbled along the current of the Androscoggin; or shooting pigeons or gray squirrels in the woods; or bat-fowling in the summer twilight; or catching trout in that shadowy little stream which, I suppose, is still wandering riverward through the forest though you and I will never cast a line in it again –– two idle lads, in short (as we need not fear to acknowledge now), doing a hundred things the faculty never heard of, or else it had been worse for us –– still it was your prognostic of your friend’s destiny that he was to be a writer of fiction.”

Hawthorne’s college room was 17 Maine Hall, one of the three dormitories of brick and stone which flank Bowdoin’s wide-spreading campus. There remains no other visible memorial of his residence at Brunswick, though the site of the inn he describes in “Fanshawe” is marked by an elm. The presence of Longfellow, on the other hand, is felt in more than one corner of the old college town. The poet’s room when a student was 27 Winthrop Hall; upon his return to Bowdoin in 1829 to become professor of modern languages he made his home in the house now occupied by General Joshua L. Chamberlain at the corner of Maine and Potter Streets; and at 23 Federal Street, an elm-shaded thoroughfare running from the Androscoggin to the college campus, one finds the house to which he brought his bride.

Mary Potter had been a schoolmate of Longfellow in their native Portland, and tradition has it that on the young professor’s returning to the town after three years’ absence in Europe, whence he had gone to fit himself for his duties at Bowdoin, he saw her at church and was so struck with her beauty and grace as to follow her home without venturing to accost her. But on reaching his own house, one of his biographers tells us, ” he begged his sister to call with him at once at the Potter residence, and all the rest followed as in a novel.” The husband was twenty-four and the wife nineteen years of age when they began married life in the Federal Street house –– a two-storied wooden structure of the type so often seen in New England, but still attractive under its goodly elms. The main portion of the house has a porch in front with the entrance hall behind it and a hall window above. Four windows on either side light corresponding rooms, and a large ell extends backward from the main house to the edge of a small bluff, marked by two old pine trees.

Longfellow has left us a pleasant picture of his study on the ground floor of the main house. ” I can almost fancy myself in Spain,” he writes on a June day in 1831, ” the morning is so soft and beautiful. The tessellated shadow of the honeysuckle lies motionless upon my study floor, as if it were a figure in the carpet; and through the open window comes the fragrance of the wild briar and the mock orange. The birds are caroling in the trees, and their shadows flit across the window as they dart to and fro in the sunshine; while the murmur of the bee, the cooing of the doves from the eaves, and the whirring of a little humming-bird that has its nest in the honeysuckle, send up a sound of joy to meet the rising sun.” Such was the nook in which Longfellow laid the corner-stone of his fame. Here he gave final form to his ” Outre Mer ” and his translation of the ” Coplas of Jorge Manrique,” and in a Brunswick shipyard found the material and impulse to write ” The Building of the Ship.” But his connection with Bowdoin came soon to an end. He left it in 1834, on the way to his long professorship at Harvard, and, save for an occasional visit in after years, the scene of his early labors knew him no more.

Sixteen years after Longfellow’s departure from Bowdoin Calvin E. Stowe joined its faculty as professor of divinity, and with his wife, Harriet Beecher, took up his residence in a house at 63 Federal Street, soon to become historic as the birthplace of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Mrs. Stowe ‘s father was Lyman Beecher and Henry Ward Beecher was her brother. She had passed her early married life in southern Ohio, on the border line between the free and slave States, and her experiences had bred an interest in the anti-slavery agitation which was shared to the full by her husband. Thus, when they settled in Brunswick, both were distressed at the apathy with which their new neighbors regarded the abolition movement, and it was not long before the wife conceived the idea of writing some sketches that should give the world a picture of slavery as she had seen it. One day while looking over a bound volume of an anti-slavery magazine she read an account of the escape of a slave and her child from Kentucky over the ice of the Ohio River. This was the first incident of a story that swiftly assumed shape in her mind, and for the model of Uncle Tom she took the husband of a former slave employed in her own family.

The scene of Uncle Tom’s death, in which the pathos and dramatic force of the story reach a climax, was the first put on paper. This came to her mind while attending communion service in a Brunswick church. She went home and at once wrote out the chapter with such effective truth as to capture completely the sympathies of her children. After that the story took form rapidly, and, when the opening chapters were submitted to the “National Era,” an anti-slavery journal published in Washington, the editor at once accepted it for serial publication. It was enthusiastically received from the outset, and without delay John P. Jewett, a young Boston publisher, offered to issue the whole in book form. His offer was accepted, and in March 1852, the first edition of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” came from the press.


Dieser Beitrag wurde unter American History (English), Massachusetts veröffentlicht. Setze ein Lesezeichen auf den Permalink.

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht.