Whittier Cameo        
Celia Thaxter        
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Celia Leighton Thaxter

I was born Portsmouth, NH in 1835 and grew up on the Isles of Shoals. My father was the lighthouse keeper on White Island and later ran resort hotels on Smuttynose and Appledore Island. When I was sixteen I married Levi Thaxter, moved off island, and we had three sons. My first poem Landlocked was published in the Atlantic Monthly. It was written when I was homesick for my life on the Isles of Shoals.

Ten years later I moved back to the Islands to stay because I missed the ocean so much. There I became a hostess for my father's hotel, The Appledore House.

candy_0687-denoise-clear_cp1_fx1_med.jpg Whittier was a frequent guest of mine on the Isles. He encouraged me to write an article about the island for the Atlantic Monthly. John wrote poetry while staying with me, sitting on the verandah looking out at the Hampton shore. That was his inspiration for the Wreck of the Rivermouth. He loved to stay out on the Isles because he said it was cool and the only place he could escape the "dog days" of August. He loved to watch me sitting at the window painting.

Whittier asked publisher James Fields to get him a ticket to a private reading by Charles Dickens during the British author's visit to the United States. After the event, he wrote a letter describing his experience: "My eyes ached all next day from the intensity of my gazing. I do not think his voice naturally particularly fine, but he uses it with great effect. He has wonderful dramatic power... I like him better than any public reader I have ever before heard." John sent me a photo of Dickens it made such an impression on him.

Whittier would write to me from his home when it was too warm for him to sleep. He would write long, loving, and friendly letters. In return, I would reply with letters trying to bring out the sweet breath of wild roses and the cool sea air of the islands back to him.

He was my mentor, encouraging me to write while I was his adoring fan. He had his quirks. I remember him one hot July day coming on the morning steamer along with 90 other people, but returning on the noon boat because someone was playing Beethoven sonatas continuously, and as a Quaker he wanted to escape the piano music.

John and I talked a lot about Spiritualism, which was a very popular belief at that time. Spiritualism is the ability of those in the spirit world to communicate with the living. Many of my friends and acquaintances believed in the afterlife, and along with them I attended seances and received messages. I also was interested in Theosophy which is the hidden knowledge or wisdom that offers an individual enlightenment or salvation. But Whittier felt that although he longed to get some message from his loved ones, he must wait for God's time.

Whittier's popularity left him open to being taken advantage of by individuals. At one point he asked me to destroy his letters to me because there was a fellow trying to collect stories, anecdotes and incidents for an unauthorized biography. This fellow, William Sloan Kennedy, published the book, but it was unsuccessful. He even had the nerve to show up at John's funeral so that he could take notes and write an account of it!

John was twenty years older than I, and was always an honorable gentleman who took care never to overstep the boundaries of propriety in our relationship.

Note. Whittier often stayed at the home of his cousins in Danvers at a house known as Oak Knoll. There lived one of his favorite children, Phebe Woodman.