[Amesbury—Saturday, 24 September 1870]

Saturday. Septer 24. Just returned from Amesbury where we went yesterday morning early to make a visit to Mr. Whittier. He was expecting us and we saw him characteristically looking down the street for us from his front yard. The moment we came in sight, however, he retreated into the house and we saw him no more until he came quietly to open the front door for us. Everything about the place is parched with dust as almost everything is in every other place to be sure at this time as we have had no rain for weeks. The fruit hangs heavily, ripening upon the nearly leafless trees often dropping much before its time. The ground is everywhere strewn with fruit in more or less all varied stages of decay. The dim sun still struggles feebly out for a few hours at midday when a dull heat pervades, rather than strikes the earth. To add to the mist of morning and evening native to the season, woods, and peat & brush are burning in every direction filling the air with a smell of burning. Altogether as Whittier said quai[n]tly “It is very encouraging weather for the Millerites.” He is deeply impressed with the deplorable doctrines of this sect. Continuously disappointed because we don’t all burn up on a sudden they forget to be thankful for their preservation from the dire fate they predict with so much complaining.

Drawn at once with a hearty greeting into the house, we found everything cool and simple and as if awaiting our arrival. His niece (bearing the name of his incomparable sister) was busy preparing the noonday meal, for they have no servant and the housekeeper for the time, whose phase this niece hopes to take altogether before long, being absent, she met us with a few words of greeting and continued in the outer room while we went to lay aside our hats, shake off the dust, and have a few words in the little parlor with our friend. He has not been well of late—the summer with its excessive heats, being especially hard for him. The town has grown to be quite a large place since he went there and the heat of summer must fall with scorching violence upon this little cottage, standing close upon a dusty road and shut away from breezes by Pow wow hill. But he was heartily glad to see us and looked at his best we thought during the afternoon and evening.

After our simple meal, which I tried to help his niece clear away, but which she protested her uncle would not like me to do and so beat me off the ground, we sat we three, together in the little parlor with the blinds half closed looking out on the garden full of stirless trees and heavy laden vines, and inside the Franklin stove surmounted by a small bouquet & another and larger bouquet wh. he had gathered himself in the early morning of asters, golden rod and white dragon’s mouth on a small table under a quaint looking glass between the windows. It is a cheerful little room & one of the cosiest ever built to have a talk in. He appeared especially in the mood and the hours flew. He had the proof of a new poem called “Miriam” with a fine New Englandish introduction which appears to us as valuable as the poem itself almost, (and yet it is an afterthought suggested by Mr. Fields desire that he should amplify Miriam a little) and this he appeared desirous to hear Jamie read aloud. I was delighted to hear it also, so it was read and admired and commented upon until he thought he could do not more to it and it was put away in Jamie’s bag upstairs; but twice after this before our departure, he asked to see the proof again and made slight changes. He says he cannot think well of his own things. “I cannot think much of them myself” he says. He takes great pleasure and consolation however from the letters and tributes he receives almost daily from persons whose hearts have been touched by some of his helpful words. “That I like” he says “that is worth having. But what is fame worth when you are at home all alone sick with the headache and can neither read nor write. T’aint worth much then.” He frequently finds dreary hours here in the winter. Too ill to touch book or pen he can do nothing during the long winter evenings but sit and think over the fire—“and think when your thoughts aint worth having, either” he says. Then it is he sighs for town and now he says he intends to go there more frequently and stay longer. By going to the “old Marlboro” as he calls it, he can have perfect rest if he is ill without a sensation of troubling any one & when he is well can go to see us or his other friends without trouble. “Beside,” he said “I see a great many more things than thee does because I go to town so seldom. The shop windows are a perfect delight to me and everything and everybody is novel and interesting. I don’t need to go to the theatre. I have more theatre than I can take in every time I go out for a walk. But I can’t walk much now anywhere. A mile a day is as far as I can go without a pain in my head and some days I can’t walk at all.” He is very nervous, very sensitive, sleeps but little & that lightly, & eats sparingly. Of his sleep he said “I usually hear about every thing that goes on.”

He is a signal example of patience. So lonely and arid his life would sometimes look to him if he ever allowed himself to glance that way—but he does not. He is always occupied for the good of others, always in readiness to hear the divine voice whispering and to answer again in song—always cheerful except when illness catches hold of him and he is really not himself.

A more fitting home for one of God’ singers could scarcely be found in this dusty world. There is so little, as he sits in its silence, between him and eternity. No one near him on the earth to whom he can speak daily his inmost soul. No diversion of art or elegance, nothing but his little pine desk, a few books on a pine shelf and a tree outside the window. All clear and sweet and calm, no thought of banks or money, nothing but the dear humanities of the earth to administer and God’s praise to sing.

It is most rare and beautiful. And while I look and rejoice I observe the paling face of my own darling surrounded as he is by the mountainous responsibilities of his great business and I know that he too shall see God though the world cannot comfort him with fame nor can he smooth the way by singing as this dear friend can. Morning and evening and forever I have but one prayer for my beloved, that they may live in the fullness of their service but when their power fails that God shall take them to his rest. In the meantime, days & hours filled with love and sweetness & peace move on and we can praise God for these “who have made of our happy life a prayer”.

We slept in Elizabeth’s chamber!! The portrait of their mother framed in autumn leaves gathered in the last autumn of her life, hangs there and flowers gathered by Elizabeth herself. Also a portrait of our friend taken in his youth. Here too as in our bed chamber at dear Dickens’s the diary of Pepys lay on the table. Dickens had read his copy and written notes therein. Of this however the leaves had not been cut. But there were also the prayers of the ages & volumes of poems wh. had been well read. Whittier said his garden had never looked so before that he could remember. But he was too wise to be unhappy about it, seeing that the rest of the world is a dust heap as well.

He talked much of the affairs of state and expressed himself as startled and shocked by Sumner’s speech of last year. I suggested that Sumner did not understand what a severe thing he had done. Jamie dissented at this but Whittier said I was quite right. Sumner wrote to him that it was a Peace document calculated to soothe & harmonize!!!!! He feels much Grants inability; his absolute incapacity to fill his place. He is a horse man, running races with Bonner in the New York park and unseated one of the first men in the Republic out of spite. Motley’s displacement he attributes to Grant’s dislike of Sumner.

Butler he fears somewhat as a power for ill—still he believes in him as a power and as a patriot but believes he is too unpopular, fortunately, ever to be able to run as President.

We talked of ghosts in the evening as he is always interested to do. He thinks he had had as good a chance to see a ghost, evidently, as ever was given to mortals but he could never, has never seen anything. He does not doubt what others tell him but he wonders over his own incapacity. I should so like to see some dear ghost walk in and sit down by me when I am here alone, he not infrequently says. I tried to tip a table with no success as we played games for a time and then at ten o’clock the house was still. He seemed pleased and amused—and told of the miraculous character Miss Parsons wrote out of him years ago when she was presented with a note of his to feel of only.

He told us of some of the strange people who come to him, and odd letters with strange requests. At the Isle of Shoals an over dressed woman made her appearance this year and after trying through his niece to obtain an introduction and finding that a failure caught him one night as he came from the tea-table and asked him after introducing herself “to please to conduct her to some retired spot.” He told her that he thought the seat on the piazza which was then unoccupied was retired enough! And to that he proceeded to accompany her. She then drew out a slip she had cut from an English paper, with his poem from the young Folks called School Day upon it. His name was not given and after some preliminary talk about her fondness for poetry in general and his in particular she took out this slip, asked permission to read it to him which she did in a theatrical manner, and then asked if he did not think it beautiful! “I think it very well” he said “O” she said “really Mr. Whittier isn’t it more than that! I do wish I knew who wrote it. Do you think it is true? “Yes” said Whittier “I know it is true. I know about the man to whom it happened. It was a man in Bucks County New York who every year for 41 years went to visit the old school house.” She appeared much interested and went off without getting the secret of the authorship and whether it were an attempt to gain his confidence or whether it were a real case of ignorance he could not decide. The interesting point was that he should have had a letter from the man in N.Y. saying that Mr. Whittier must have heard his story, because he was in this way able to put it at once upon his shoulders.

We arrived home at noon in time for Jamie to dress, go down town and to his Club dinner which comes off today. This gives me a moment to write here which has been but a rare occurrence of late.

There are children playing out on our ground this afternoon. The west is filled with blue grey mist against which the occasional vessels poise themselves dreamily. What a lovely home is mine. Jamie is better and I mean to be more grateful and more cheerful. It is still warm as summer and still. I could bear it always warm, sometimes I think, when life is calm.


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