Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Writer's Home: John Greenleaf Whittier

What does the bookish life look like? Some people visited Amesbury, Massachusetts, seventy-five years ago with that question in mind – enough people, it seems, that custodians of the Whittier Home had postcards printed for sale to its visitors.


In the 1930's there might well have lingered about a writer's house like this a kind of nostalgia. Sturdy hardcover readers that visitors would have encountered in their grade-school classrooms regularly featured writings by John Greenleaf Whittier. Here was the flavor of daily life in New England much as Thornton Wilder tried to evoke it for theatergoers in his 1938 play Our Town.

The wallpaper as it appears in the old postcards is still on the walls of the Garden Room. I saw the old green paper in the poet's study this past weekend. Likewise, the guide pointed out, the rug on the floor is the very one across which the poet had walked.

I got to stand this past Sunday by the window beside which the poet had rocked sunny days and snowy.

But then so had any visitor to the house in the 1930s.


What I would like a chance to do is stand by that window at night – lie in a bed upstairs later and listen to the house settle through the night – wake up at three o'clock and hear rain on the roof – drink a first cup of coffee on the steps to the backyard in the early morning. Unfortunately, I probably know all the practical reasons why the custodians of such literary properties cannot allow an overnight visitor, even one willing to pay generously for the privilege.


I bet a modest guestroom with a firm, modern mattress and a private bath would sell, though.

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