Written by J. Dennis Robinson
Celia Thaxter's first known writing discovered by Ebay buyer
More on THE LETTER
Poet Celia Laighton Thaxter is remembered most for writing about her childhood on the rocky Isles of Shoals 10 miles out to sea from Portsmouth Harbor. Now, for the first time, we have the original story in the author's own handwriting. David Jaret of Pennsylvania recently purchased a letter on eBay.com written by Celia Laighton when she was 12-years old. The letter was written from Hog Island (changed to Appledore) on December 16, 1847 to Celia's young friend Martha in Boston and posted on December 21. Until now, the earliest known writing by Celia dated from 1851. Jaret contacted SeacaostNH.com and generously sent us the historic document to donate to a Portsmouth historical archive.
The small "stampless" letter is written on a single sheet of paper folded five times to form its own small envelope. Celia writes about her father's new hotel that will have 100 windows. She talks about her red cow and two new kittens that roam the island. She talks about her tutor Mr. Thaxter, who will become her husband in four short years. He has a large dog, she says. Celia mentions a Miss Underhill, who Shoals enthusiasts are aware, was later swept into the sea by a rouge wave and lost.
Jaret says he purchased the letter simply out of curiousity and was impressed by the young writer's tiny perfect cursive style, her maturity and highly evolved descriptive skills. He did know at the time that the girl writing hte letter was a well-known New Hampshire writer and had not heard of the Isles of Shoals.
SeacoastNH.com will publish the entire letter online in the near future for Celia fans and scholars. The current plan is to then present it to the Portsmouth Historical Society for display in a February 2004 exhibit at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. Stay tuned for more details.
EXCERPT FROM CELIA'S 1847 LETTER
(Preliminary translation. Note for publication. All rights reserved.)
Hog Island, Isles of Shoals
December 16, 1847
My dear Martha,
I have but a moment since received your second kind letter, and I must beg you to forgive my almost unpardonable negligence in not answering the first before. I had just finished a letter to you, when the boat that brought your last came. The box arrived here safe with its contents. My brothers were delighted with their books and have requested me to ask you to thank your little brother for them. I read to them your description of Putnam’s [Martha’s brothe] birthday party, and they were very much pleased with it. Mother sends loves to you, and thanks you for the collar, which she says is one of the prettiest she has ever seen, and I thank you too, dear Martha, for the beautiful box, and the letters. We are all well here. The weather has been remarkably warm, this Fall, and we have had many beautiful days, calm and still, with scarcely a cloud in the sky. Today it is rather cold, and the wind blows from the northeast very hard.
Do you remember Mr. Thaxter, one of the gentlemen that were at White Island when you was there? The one that performed the lady. He teaches my brothers and myself now. Mother thinks of going to Boston in the spring and she says if she does she will take me with her. I hope she will go for I should like it very much. It did seem rather strange to hear such a continual noise of pounding and sawing and planning when I first heard it, but now I am quite used to it and do not mind it at all.
I have pressed scarcely any sea moss this winter, but Mr. Thaxter has pressed some of the most lovely pieces that you can imagine. There are a great many pretty kinds to be found now. Do you sing, dear Martha? I have learned several new songs since you was here, and I am now learning "Flow gently sweet Afton," which I think is beautiful. I have heard much of Jenny Spinak (?), but I never saw so many of her songs. The Boston Evening Gazette says that the Steyermarkische Company, have given ten successful concerts in that city. I should really like to hear them. I should like to hear Jenny Lind very much too.
You ask what I have been reading lately. Ivanhoe is on book, and I am now reading Anne of Gierstien, both of which I think are delightful books. I have two of Andersen’s stories, one of which is very beautiful. It is called "The Swans." The other is called "Top and Ball."
The old man we saw fishing that lovely evening is still alive, but it is rather too cold for him to go out every night now. I hope Miss Johnson will come down next summer for I should like very much to see her. I am very glad her health has improved. When she comes again to us, I hope her sweet face will have more color in it. She was very pale that day I saw her. It is rather too late for Mr. Weiss to come down here this Fall I think. I wish he would come. The last time we heard from him, which was a short time since, he was quite sick.
The large house is all boarded, and already beginning to present quite an imposing apearance. There is to be one hundred windows in it. Mr. Thaxter has a beautiful Newfoundland Dog, whom he calls Luria. He has a broad chest, and large paws, and is very handsome. We have three kittens all very pretty, that run about the Island, and sleep under the rocks, for they will not come into the house. They will let my brothers and myself play with them, but they will let no one else touch them. They live principally on the wild birds and crabs that they find in large quantities here. One of the kittens is particularly handsome. She is as black as black can be and has eyes almost ovoid. She is very intelligent and will stand and hold her paws to catch anything we give her. The old mother cat is not at all handsome. She is black, and reddish brown. There is a black and white one, and a yellow one. I have a pretty little cow, whom I call Juno. She is all red, except a white spot near each hoof. Has Putnam any pets?
I have never yet hung up my stocking Christmas eve for St. Nic to fill, but Christmas eve I intend to, and so do my brothers. I hardly know what expect for a New Year’s present.
We have a very amiable lady here who is employed in sewing the bedding of the new house. Her name is Miss Underhill. She is a most excellent lady. I wish you could see her Martha, I know you would like her.
Judy is not living with us now. She left as soon after you left White Island. Please remember me respectfully to your parents, and affectionately to your little brother. For yourself, dear Martha, I love you very much, and I should be very happy to receive an answer to this soon.
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