Haunting for Halloween: Pumpkin carving and poetry John Greenleaf Whittier & Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Jack o’lantern traditions. There’s this – our annual amateur foray

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and then this public art tableau  that we stop for each year, just past 370 Main Street, Gloucester (before the Crow’s Nest heading into downtown Gloucester)

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The history of carving jack o’lanterns includes a description in a Victorian era poem by John Greenleaf Whittier (b.1807 Haverhill, MA-d.1892 Danvers, MA; resided/buried in Amesbury)-  a Massachusetts poet, legislator, journalist, editor, Quaker, and abolitionist. Cape Ann, North Shore, Essex County, and New England appear in his prose. 

Excerpt from The Pumpkin, ca.1846 Thanksgiving poem

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,

When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!

When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,

Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!

When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,

Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,

Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,

In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

 

Whittier was a contributing founder of Atlantic Monthly.  He was wildly popular, successful, and influential in his time. He helped many other writers. Letters to Whittier “poured in at the rate of ten, twenty, and sometimes thirty a day, making all manner of unreasonable requests and sending innumerable axes to grind…” In 1887 “deluged by over a thousand letters and manuscripts at his birthday, he put a public notice…that he could not answer any letters or read any manuscripts…”* Schools, cities and towns across the country were named after him. “People seem determined to use my name lately in many ways. Within a week I have had two ‘literary Institutes’** named for me, and a big vessel launched last week from Newburyport yard carries “Whittier” in brass letters to her element. I hope I shall not next hear of my name attached to notes of hand!”
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps was “one of the many woman writers Whittier befriended, but their relationship was especially close. Whittier wrote her scores of letters during his life and they met often to discuss religious themes. Whittier once wrote of her: Miss Stuart Phelps was there-an intense nature-frail but strong-a Puritan with passion and fire of Sappho and the moral courage of Joan of Arc.”** Phelps spent her summers at the seaside in East Gloucester, and was equally compassionate about social concerns.
Whittier and Phelps joined other luminaries at gatherings held in the Cambridge home of James (editor/publisher) and Annie Fields (writer) and other salons.  Who might be mixing it up there? Charles Dickens, Mary Abigail Dodge, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Dead Howells, Sarah Orne Jewett, Lucy Larcom,  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Phelps, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Celia Thaxter and Whittier. Jewett, Longfellow and others visited and wrote about Gloucester. Here’s a link from the Cornell University library to Phelps’ Atlantic Monthly article The 10th of January  about the tragic 1860 Pemberton Mills collapse and fire in Lawrence, MA*** (estimated 90-200+ killed), less known than the horrific 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (146 killed).
*Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier 1861-1892, Volumes I II III, 1975, Harvard, edited by John B. Pickard. Fun read!  We’re told one of the colleges was Whittier college, Salem, Iowa
**ditto above and below any mentions from letters in the timeline

Selected Whittier links and timeline bits:

1908 poem: The Gloucester Mother, by Sarah Orne Jewett, copy of McClure’s Magazine where it first was published: http://www.unz.org/Pub/McClures-1908oct-00702
1888: Whittier “Was there ever such a droll thing?”** letter to Annie Adams Fields gossiping and happy for Elizabeth Stuart Phelps in love with a younger man “Love seems to have cured her…I feel rather aggrieved that I wasn’t consulted.” He calls her E.S.P.  To Celia Thaxter who Whittier visited on the Isle of Shoals, “treasuring evenings in her parlor room where she told ghost stories or they exchanged folk tales:   “What do you think of Eliza Stuart’s marriage to young Ward? He is a good fellow and Elizabeth for once in her life is happy!” Phelps married Herbert Dickinson Ward in 1888–he was 27 and she was 44. It didn’t go well: she bucked his surname within three years and wrote Confessions of a Wife in 1902.
1888 Whittier letter to Annie Fields after editing a new edition of his poetry: “I hope I am correcting a little of the bad grammar, and rhythmical blunders, which have so long annoyed my friends who have graduated from Harvard instead of a country district school.”
1886 Whittier poem: To a Cape Ann Schooner
1886 Whittier letter mentioning Elizabeth Stuart Phelps sending a “very pretty shade of fine lace work…because of its exquisite color” gift on Christmas Eve, which Whittier re-gifted🙂
1884 Whittier letter to Annie Fields: “Have you seen Elizabeth Phelps lately? I am not in favor of capital punishment, but the burglars who robbed her of her hard earnings would fare hard if I were on the jury that tried them…”
1882 Whittier letter “The world can no longer be to me what it was while Emerson and Longfellow lived. They should have outlived me, for Emerson was never sick, and Longfellow until the last two years had splendid health. A feeling of loneliness and isolation oppresses me. But as Emerson said to me the last time I saw him ‘the time is short’ “ collection of Swarthmore college
1879 Whittier letter to Elizabeth Stuart Phelps: “Dr. Bowditch says that a man of active brain ought to make a fool of himself occasionally and unbend at all hazards to his dignity.” admittedly hard for these two
1877  Mark Twain (work friend),  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at Whittier’s 70th birthday celebration. Hawthorne and Whittier were not exactly fans of each other’s works.
1873: Whittier thank you note to Elizabeth Stuart Phelps for sending her book
1868: Whittier letter to Annie Fields complimenting Elizabeth Stuart Phelps The Gates Ajar “Good in itself and full of promise.” 1869 he’s promoting it to Harriet Minot Pittman
1868 Whittier thank you note to James Thomas Field for paying him the $1500 check
1866 Whittier poem: Snow bound: A Winter Idyll  his bestseller and dedicated to his family- memories from childhood
1857 Whittier poem: Garrison of Cape Ann* opens with a view of Cape Ann as seen from Po Hill: “From the hills of home forth looking, far beneath the tent-like span,
Of the sky, I see the white gleam headland of Cape Ann.” For readers that have come this far–the complete Garrison of Cape Ann follows the break.
1843 Whittier poem: Massachusetts to Virginia (in reference to George Latimer, alleged fugitive slave) “The fishing smacks of Marblehead, the sea-boats of Cape Ann…”  Woodie Guthrie 1958 This Land is Your Land feels like a 20th Century connection.

The Garrison of Cape Ann.

From the hills of home forth looking, far beneath the tent-like span
Of the sky, I see the white gleam of the headland of Cape Ann.
Well I know its coves and beaches to the ebb-tide glimmering down,
And the white-walled hamlet children of its ancient fishing-town.
Long has passed the summer morning, and its memory waxes old,
When along yon breezy headlands with a pleasant friend I strolled.
Ah! the autumn sun is shining, and the ocean wind blows cool,
And the golden-rod and aster bloom around thy grave, Rantoul!

With the memory of that morning by the summer sea I blend
A wild and wondrous story, by the younger Mather penned,
In that quaint Magnalia Christi, with all strange and marvellous things,
Heaped up huge and undigested, like the chaos Ovid sings.

Dear to me these far, faint glimpses of the dual life of old,
Inward, grand with awe and reverence; outward, mean and coarse and cold;
Gleams of mystic beauty playing over dull and vulgar clay,
Golden-threaded fancies weaving in a web of hodden gray.

The great eventful Present hides the Past; but through the din
Of its loud life hints and echoes from the life behind steal in;
And the lore of home and fireside, and the legendary rhyme,
Make the task of duty lighter which the true man owes his time.

So, with something of the feeling which the Covenanter knew,
When with pious chisel wandering Scotland‘s moorland graveyards through,
From the graves of old traditions I part the black-berry-vines,
Wipe the moss from off the headstones, and re-touch the faded lines.

Where the sea-waves back and forward, hoarse with rolling pebbles, ran,
The garrison-house stood watching on the gray rocks of Cape Ann;
On its windy site uplifting gabled roof and palisade,
And rough walls of unhewn timber with the moon-light overlaid.

On his slow round walked the sentry, south and eastward looking forth
O’er a rude and broken coast-line, white with breakers stretching north,—
Wood and rock and gleaming sand-drift, jagged capes, with bush and tree,
Leaning inland from the smiting of the wild and gusty sea.

Before the deep-mouthed chimney, dimly lit by dying brands,
Twenty soldiers sat and waited, with their muskets in their hands;
On the rough-hewn oaken table the venison haunch was shared,
And the pewter tankard circled slowly round from beard to beard.

Long they sat and talked together,—talked of wizards Satan-sold;
Of all ghostly sights and noises,—signs and wonders manifold;
Of the spectre-ship of Salem, with the dead men in her shrouds,
Sailing sheer above the water, in the loom of morning clouds;

Of the marvellous valley hidden in the depths of Gloucester woods,
Full of plants that love the summer,—blooms of warmer latitudes;
Where the Arctic birch is braided by the tropic’s flowery vines,
And the white magnolia-blossoms star the twilight of the pines!

But their voices sank yet lower, sank to husky tones of fear,
As they spake of present tokens of the powers of evil near;
Of a spectral host, defying stroke of steel and aim of gun;
Never yet was ball to slay them in the mould of mortals run!

Thrice, with plumes and flowing scalp-locks, from the midnight wood they came,—
Thrice around the block-house marching, met, unharmed, its volleyed flame;
Then, with mocking laugh and gesture, sunk in earth or lost in air,
All the ghostly wonder vanished, and the moonlit sands lay bare.

Midnight came; from out the forest moved a dusky mass that soon
Grew to warriors, plumed and painted, grimly marching in the moon.
‘Ghosts or witches,’ said the captain, ‘thus I foil the Evil One!’
And he rammed a silver button, from his doublet, down his gun.

Once again the spectral horror moved the guarded wall about;
Once again the levelled muskets through the palisades flashed out,
With that deadly aim the squirrel on his tree-top might not shun,
Nor the beach-bird seaward flying with his slant wing to the sun.

Like the idle rain of summer sped the harmless shower of lead.
With a laugh of fierce derision, once again the phantoms fled;
Once again, without a shadow on the sands the moonlight lay,
And the white smoke curling through it drifted slowly down the bay!

‘God preserve us!’ said the captain; “never mortal foes were there;
They have vanished with their leader, Prince and Power of the air!
Lay aside your useless weapons; skill and prowess naught avail;
They who do the Devil‘s service wear their master’s coat of mail!”

So the night grew near to cock-crow, when again a warning call
Roused the score of weary soldiers watching round the dusky hall:
And they looked to flint and priming, and they longed for break of day;
But the captain closed his Bible: ‘Let us cease from man, and pray!’

To the men who went before us, all the unseen powers seemed near,
And their steadfast strength of courage struck its roots in holy fear.
Every hand forsook the musket, every head was bowed and bare,
Every stout knee pressed the flag-stones, as the captain led in prayer.

Ceased thereat the mystic marching of the spectres round the wall,
But a sound abhorred, unearthly, smote the ears and hearts of all,—
Howls of rage and shrieks of anguish! Never after mortal man
Saw the ghostly leaguers marching round the block-house of Cape Ann.

So to us who walk in summer through the cool and sea-blown town,
From the childhood of its people comes the solemn legend down.
Not in vain the ancient fiction, in whose moral lives the youth
And the fitness and the freshness of an undecaying truth.

Soon or late to all our dwellings come the spectres of the mind,
Doubts and fears and dread forebodings, in the darkness undefined;
Round us throng the grim projections of the heart and of the brain,
And our pride of strength is weakness, and the cunning hand is vain.

In the dark we cry like children; and no answer from on high
Breaks the crystal spheres of silence, and no white wings downward fly;
But the heavenly help we pray for comes to faith, and not to sight,
And our prayers themselves drive backward all the spirits of the night!

John Greenleaf Whittier, Garrison of Cape Ann, 1857. Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1888-89.

10 comments

  • Nice to see this post on ESP and Whittier.

    But why do you say that George Latimer is an “alleged fugitive slave”?

    The Whittier poem, “Massachusetts to Virginia” may have helped to pass the 1843 Personal Liberty Act. Signed petitions on Cape Ann show the names of those who supported and argued against the Act. In the end,sate-wide protesters garnered more than 65,000 signatures and helped to raise money for Latimer’s freedom. Keep in mind that some of our well-known Gloucestermen attempted to return black freedom seekers back to bondage–as late as 1859.

    We hunt your bondmen, flying from Slavery’s hateful hell;
    Our voices, at your bidding, take up the bloodhound’s yell;
    We gather, at your summons, above our fathers’ graves, 35
    From Freedom’s holy altar-horns to tear your wretched slaves!

    Look to it well, Virginians! In calmness we have borne, 85
    In answer to our faith and trust, your insult and your scorn;
    You’ve spurned our kindest counsels; you’ve hunted for our lives;
    And shaken round our hearths and homes your manacles and gyves!

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    • Whittier’s words/description- see
      https://goo.gl/EJeq7W (p.286)

      yes, so devoted to the cause.

      Riverside Edition published a definitive Whittier collection in 1888 with Whittier. (They published Longfellow’s in 1886–with help from his sibling. Longfellow died in 1882)
      Includes nearly 100 titles under ‘anti-slavery poems’

      re quoted letter in this post (Harvard education vs his own remote family farm): along with culling, editing, revising and curating his body of work, Whittier added intros and notes.

      Whittier’s introduction to a decades earlier collection was re-printed in the 1888 one, reminding his readers then and now a definitive anthology was on his mind.

      For a long time.

      “The edition of my poems published in 1857 contained the following note by way of preface:–

      In these volumes, for the first time, a complete collection of my poetical writings has been made. While it is satisfactory to know that these scattered children of my brain have found a home, I cannot but regret that I have been unable, by reason of illness, to give that attention to their revision and arrangement which respect for the opinion of others and my own afterthought and experience demand.

      That there are pieces in this collection which I would ‘willingly let die,’ I am free to confess. But it is now too late to disown them, …(read more) https://goo.gl/naMqpK

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  • Some very fine detail here and pumpkins never looked so good! Brings out the art aspect of trick or treat!🙂 Dave & Kim🙂

    Like

  • Latimer had light skin which confused matters at first. But his light coloring–unlike those of darker men–soon incited the passionate support of Northerners with the help of abolitionists like Bowditch. There is much more to say on the metamorphizing depictions of Latimer over his life time in our collective memory, but it is undeniable that he and his wife escaped from a brutal life in slavery. He was not an “alleged” fugitive and Whittier never questioned this.

    More to the point, some on Cape Ann did not support the Personal Liberty Act. The majority here continued to support the rights of Southerns to their “property” on the eve of the Civil War and voted on a town resolution to that effect.

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  • Thanks Catherine.. one of the best posts on GMG!

    Like

  • Timing-

    “On this Day November 1, 1857, The Atlantic Monthly First Published

    …in 1857, the first issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine was published in Boston. Although none of the articles was signed, most readers easily recognized the work of such New England luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The writers, poets, and philosophers who launched the new journal believed that, as the intellectual elite of New England, they had a mission to create not just a magazine but a culture — a distinctly American literary culture…”

    They get to Whittier and others follow the link to read the full Mass Moment
    http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=315

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