“It is curious that the leaf should so love the light and the root so hate it,” wrote the poet Celia Thaxter. And while rooting through a pile of paper, Mary Meagher, a student assistant at the college archives, found a handwritten poem by Celia Thaxter.  

“The ink and cursive handwriting,” said Meagher, “is so beautiful.” Meagher also discovered a small, engraved portrait of the author.

Celia Thaxter (1835-1894) was one of the most recognized female writers in America of the late 1800s. Her poems and writings appeared frequently in the “Atlantic Monthly”, “Century Magazine”, and “Harper’s Magazine”.

Julia Older, editor of “Celia Thaxter: Selected Works (1997),” noted that Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickenson were Thaxter’s contemporaries. Thaxter, unlike the others, is missing from the “Oxford’s Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States,” commented Older.

The poem and portrait presented a small mystery. 

“These are the final four stanzas of the poem ‘Question’”, commented Mark Long, professor emeritus of English, after examining the document. The poem appeared in “The Poems of Celia Thaxter (1896),” said Long.

The cursive is similar to Thaxter’s writing found at the Maine Women Writers Collection, according to Sarah Baker, the collection’s curator at the University of New England.  

The Maine Women Writers Collection owns one of two large Thaxter archives in Maine. Colby College houses the second.

The portrait engraving seems to be based on an original photograph, according to Patricia Burdick, Head of Special Collections at Colby College. The photograph and engraving show the author’s side profile.

Childe Hassam painted a series of well-known works of Thaxter and her garden on Appledore Island in the Isles of Shoals. The paintings reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian.

Thaxter lived most of her life on the Isles of Shoals in the Gulf of Maine, ten miles off Portsmouth, N.H. harbor, where she and her family ran the Appledore Hotel.

The hotel was, and still is, a haven for writers and artists, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Childe Hassam. 

The Isles of Shoals was a subject and inspiration for some of her well-liked poems, such as “Landlocked”, “The Kingfisher”, and “The Sandpiper”. 

Thaxter wrote “A Memorable Mystery”, a story published in The Atlantic in 1875. The story detailed the gruesome murders of two women on Smutty Nose Island in Isles of Shoals. One victim worked for Thaxter as a maid at the Appledore Hotel. 

Interestingly, here in KSC’s own archives, feet from where Meagher found Thaxter’s poem, there’s a box containing a script for a film on those murders on Smutty Nose. Written by the New Hampshire producer Louis de Rochemont, the film was never made. 

As for the poem and engraving, both were likely purchased in the 1980s as part of the Preston Collection, a collection of rare books and archival documents on New Hampshire history, now used to teach students how to use and research primary sources.

“I’ve been working in the archives since 2022,” said Meagher, “every day can be a surprise. You never know what you’ll find.”

Rodney Obien can be contacted


Share and Enjoy !