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Whittier Died in New Hampshire

Joh Greenleaf whittier / SeacoastNH.com13 AT DINNER IS BAD LUCK

American author Nathaniel Hawthorne came to New Hampshire for his health. He died here. The same thing happened to poet John Greenleaf whittier. Coincidence? Of course. But how else can we entice you to read the story of the death and burial of a minor romantic poet? Here is the story of the popular poets final days and journey home.

 

 

 

READ: Whittier in NH and Visit Poet's Grave

Sensing his approaching death in the 1890s, poet John Greenleaf Whittier began burning letters from his famous friends. He could hear the vile biographers scratching at his door, and as a Quaker and deeply private man, Whittier planned to leave them few tasty scraps. He urged his friends, like island poet Celia Thaxter, to burn his letters in return. She didn’t. Whittier was among the last of the romantic Victorian poets, enormously popular, and his words were just too precious for her to destroy.

JGW / Courtesy Richard & Maureen Morgan in LouisianaToday Whittier’s words are nearly as dead as his friends. Few people read "Snow-Bound" or "Maud Muller" or "Barbara Frietchie" anymore, even in school. But at his death on September 7, 1892, John Greenleaf Whittier of Amesbury, Massachusetts, was a pop icon, as beloved as a modern rock star. Schools closed to honor his passing and for years after, his birthday was celebrated as a local holiday.

Whittier died here in New Hampshire, a state he dearly loved, and of which he wrote many of his best poems. He was especially fond of Center Harbor, the White Mountains and the Isles of Shoals, and remembered a time when one could pitch a tent and camp out for days on a sparsely populated Hampton Beach. But late in the summer of 1892 the poet was too weak to travel further than Hampton, Falls, NH where he settled into his favorite room at Elmfield. The 1787 house with its two distinctive chimneys and lush gardens exhibited the finest architecture in the town. The Gove family who owned the house were also Quakers and could trace their roots on this land back to the late 1600s. From his simple room on the second floor Whittier had a view of the gardens, the marsh and the distant beach. He often sat in a wooden rocker on a small balcony reading or composing letters. The last photograph of Whittier shows him there, a tiny figure drinking in his last view of the seacoast scenery.

Elmfield or Gove Mansion formerly in South Hampton, NH, now moved to Greenwich, CT / SeacoastNH.com

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