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Howells Meets Celia Thaxter

Celia from book by WD Howells / SeacoastNH.com
FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Noted author and editor William Dean Howells summered in Kittery, Maine, not far a coastal piece of land owned by Celia Thaxter and her estranged husband Levi Lincoln Thaxter. Yet years later, when Howells recalled his meetings with Celia, he described her as "a Boston author". This brief sketch of Celia appears in Howells’ rambling 1901 book on his connection with famous literary figures that appeared in 1901.

 

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WHEN I FIRST SAW CELIA THAXTER
Editor’s Note: Ohio newspaper writer William Dean Howells (1837-1920) arrived in Boston via train from New York in 1866. It was the year after the Civil War and Howells was the new assistant editor of the prestigious Atlantic Monthly magazine. Among his recollections of Hawthorne, Holmes, Longfellow and others, he includes the following snippet.

WD Howells / SeacoastNH.comWhen I saw Celia Thaxter she was just beginning to make her effect with those poems and sketches which the sea sings and flashes through as it sings and flashes around the Isles of Shoals, her summer home, where her girlhood had been passed in a freedom as wild as the curlew’s. She was a most beautiful creature, still very young, with a slender figure, and an exquisite perfection of feature; she was in presence what her work was fine, frank, finished. I do not know whether other witnesses of our literary history feel that the public has failed to keep her as fully in mind as her work merited; but I do not think there can be any doubt but our literature would be sensibly the poorer with her work. It is interesting to remember how closely she kept to her native field, and it is wonderful to consider how richly she made those sea-beaten rocks to blossom. Something strangely full and bright came to her verse from the mystical environment of the ocean, like the luxury of leaf and tint that it gave the narrower flower-plots of her native isles. Her gift, indeed, could not satisfy itself with the terms of one art alone, however varied, and she learned to express in color the thoughts and feelings of the pallor of words.

Excerpted from
Literary Friends and Acquaintance
By William Dean Howells
Harper and Brothers (1901)
Also republished in paperback as
Literary Boston As I Knew It (2004)

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