1869 Letter from Leila Seward to Her Mother Describing a Visit to the Poet John Greenleaf Whittier
This letter was written in 1869 by 23-year-old Leila Seward, daughter of Rev. D. M. Seward, to her mother, Lydia Huntington (North) Seward. It sounds as though she and her father were spending some time in Bethel, Maine during the summer. Leila was born April 27, 1846 in West Hartford, Connecticut as Lydia E. Seward. They moved to Yonkers, N.Y. in 1851. (Source: Genealogy and Ecclesiastical History [of the First Church in New Britain, Conn.] by Alfred Andrews (Hartford, Conn.: Case, Lockwood and Co., 1867.)
Sept. 2nd '69
My Dearest Mother,
Before I had been long at Hampton Beach, I found to my surprise that the ocean rivalled the sky in the brilliancy & variety of its color. Purple, green, crimson, mauve, orange, bronze flash out upon the waves & then go under, as though to shine & then to sink, were all their wish. Sometimes an intense blue, stretching as far as the eye could reach, made us think that before us lay the sapphire pavement which Moses & the seventy elders saw under the feet of the God of Israel. Sometimes
"Rivermouth rocks, so fair to see,"
Reading Whittier where the waves "beat the rhythm & kept the time," filled me with longing to see him, who to my mind "his human heart hath laid to nature's bosom nearer," than
Whittier lives in a low buff-colored house on Friend St. The vines & flowers outside did not exhibit special esthetic taste. I fancied that I perceived a "dearth of woman's care" around the house of the lonely poet. He came to the door himself & welcomed us in with true Quaker hospitality. His study into which he bid us, is a pleasant sunny room with low ceilings & plainly
Whittier's likenesses do him no justice. There is a tenderness & subdued sadness in his face which they utterly fail to give. His forehead is finely developed both in the perceptive & in the
When Father spoke to him of his war poems which were many times as "drawn swords,"
Father spoke of the rapturous joy expressed in "My Psalm." (You remember it commences "The windows of my soul I throw wide open to the sun.") "Ah," said he, "a man can seldom feel like that." "You hardly felt like that yourself when you wrote "My soul & I," I said to him, & with a
When I told him the "The Last Walk in Autumn," brought fresh joy to me every returning Fall, the sunshine broke over his face, & he said that he was better pleased with that than with most of his poems but such he thought was not the popular verdict. We alluded to whole poems, & to single verses, which had struck responsive chords in our hearts, & become as household words in our homes, & the lowly minded man seemed surprised & humbled
He gave us a message for Mr. Randolph testifying to his appreciation of his poems, which it will be very pleasant to carry. When we came away & he saw us picking leaves as mementoes, he stepped from
Dear Quaker poet with the lowly mien! I love him better than ever now that I have seen him. He told us that his first remembrance was that of having pain in his head, which he inherited from his father, & all his life long he has had this foe to contend with. All the brave war poems, all the sweet home verses, "Barbara Fritchie," equally with "Maud Muller," "Tent on the Beach" as well a "Snow Bound," have been wrought out with keen bodily anguish. The more excited his brain became, the greater, so he told us, his physical pain; another reminder to
Henceforth to me Whittier will be invested with the pathos of suffering; & the poet seems doubly brave now that I know he dares to struggle against & conquer his own weakness, as well as attack a nation's sin.
No more today from
A copy of this letter was made available to the library by Carol Mayer, a descendant of Leila Seward, who possesses the original.