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Gossip About Portsmouth Writers


Portsmouth is indebted historically to Charles W. Brewster more than to any other citizen. For many years he gathered and compiled the material for his contributions to his paper The Portsmouth Journal which were afterwards issued in two volumes entitled "Rambles About Portsmouth."

Soap Opera writers /SeacoastNH.comBrewster was a quiet, painstaking gentleman of the old school, and the concluding chapter "Fifty years in a printing office" is worth re-reading. Also the sketch by William H. Y. Hackett gives a truthful account of his daily methodical life as I recall him in his later years, for he was the first author I knew and my weekly presence in his printing office for many years acquainted me with the time and painful labor he put into his Journal sketches, the accuracy of which I have often had occasion to verify.

The young lawyer, John Scribner Jenness, in his researches in England found and printed valuable facts about the settlement at Little Harbor, supplemented by the writings of Hon. Frank W. Hackett on the growth of the colony, and Nathaniel Adams’ chronological "Annals" from 1623 to 1823.

James T. Fields, the poet, author and publisher was another native. He was a lover of Portsmouth and a frequent visitor with gifts of books to the Portsmouth High School and Mercantile Library Association. He was prominent in the reunion of the sons in 1853 and 1873, and read poems on both occasions. If you wish a word picture of Fields, read Whittier’s "Tent on the Beach," when with Bayard Taylor the three poets enjoyed camp life at Salisbury. The letters I received from him in 1873, at the second reunion of the sons and daughters, are evidences of his appreciation of his native city. Some of them are dated at Manchester, Mass., and reminded me of the story of Fields’ writing to Holmes and heading the letter "Manchester-by-the-Sea" and Holmes in reply located his "Beverly-by-the-Depot."

In a recent address of another native of Portsmouth, Professor Barrett Wendell, he said in referring to James T. Fields, that the active life of Mr. Fields was passed in Boston but he always remembered that in Portsmouth grew to maturity his wonderful power of friendly sympathy with literature and men of letters which make his friendship so profoundly stimulating an influence in the literature of nineteenth century New England. He was himself a man of letters. His unique power was that when New England was ready for its best expression it found him at once the most faithful of publishers and most whole-hearted of friends. He knew how to evoke from others what they could best accomplish.

Harriet McEwen Kimball resides in this her native city devoting her life to religious and charitable work. Her poems and hymns have a wide circulation, as they appear in denominational papers and are also issued in dainty book form.

Albert Laighton wrote poems of more than local fame. He was a cousin of Celia Laighton Thaxter and Mrs. Thaxter’s brother poet, Oscar Laighton. He lived in the house on Court Street in which Aldrich was born. Local references were frequent in his poems and his word-pictures were faithful of "Wibird Penhallow," "Poor Joe Randall," and "Sheriff Packer" of Ruth Blay fame. His fine tribute to Farragut was written at the time of death and funeral of the Admiral in Portsmouth in 1870. I do not know whether Aldrich’s "Piscataqua River" was composed earlier or later than Laighton’s "My Native River" and it is difficult to decide which is the favorite locally.

Aldrich’s verses are the longings of a city resident for his favorite river:      

Thou singest by the gleaming isles,  
By woods and fields of corn,
Thou singest and the heavens smiles
Upon my birthday morn.      

But I, within a city, -- I 
So full of vague unrest,--
Would almost give my life to lie
An hour upon thy breast.

Laighton’s is descriptive. His wish in his last verse was fulfilled.

Like an azure vein from the heart of the main
By verdurous isles with dimpled smiles,
Pulsing with joy forever,
Floweth my native river.

Singing a song as it flows along
Hushed by the Ice King never
For he strives in vain to clasp the chain
O’er they fetterless heart, brave river.

Oh, when the dart shall strike my heart
Speeding from Death’s full quiver,
May I close my eyes where smiling skis
Bend o’er my native river.

I have Laighton’s manuscript of his poem entitled "Frost Work" as it was handed to the publisher, and it exhibits his plain and careful penmanship, of which I can bear testimony as we serve as tellers in neighboring banks.


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Friday, January 19, 2018 
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