Saturday, December 17, 2005

December 17: John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Today is the birthday of American poet John Greenleaf Whittier. His parents were Massachusetts Quaker farmers, and Whittier himself was a lifelong Quaker, active in the abolition movement. Late in life, he lost much of his hearing, and found social demands of his fame most unpleasant:
I am unhappily notorious and cannot hide myself. My deafness makes me confused and uncomfortable when strangers are present. The great and really painful effort I am compelled to make when in company to listen and try to understand, and make fitting replies, and the uncertainty which I feel when I venture to speak, whether I have heard aright, all this affects my nerves, and costs me nights of sleeplessness and days of uneasiness. In fact I am what the Turks call "a cut-off one," so far as society is concerned. I am afraid you did not take into account the certainty that as soon as it is known that I am in your premises, a steady stream of interviewers, autograph-hunters, and people with missions will flow in upon you. It would be like having a waif from Barnum's Museum shut up in your library, and people coming to see what it looks like.

--John Greenleaf Whittier to Annie Field, 2 October 1885; original letter in the Field Collection, Huntington Library, San Marino CA

1 comment:

Dann Berkowitz said...

Greetings from Haverhill Massachusetts - birthplace of John Greenleaf Whittier.