22 December 2011

John 'Ben' Pickard: Whittier and His Elizabeths (2007)

The title of this booklet — being a paper Pickard read at the Newburyport Literary Festival in April 2007 — appears to have been inspired by Whittier's poem 'The Two Elizabeths', which the poet read when Elizabeth Fry's statue was unveiled in Providence, Rhode Island. (The other Elizabeth was St Elizabeth of Hungary.)

The purpose of Pickard's paper is to discuss four Elizabeths in Whittier's life. I already mentioned his sister Elizabeth Hussey Whittier and his niece Lizzie (Pickard's grandmother, on whom he concentrates in particular) in my last post, but not his romantic attachments to the Quakers Elizabeth Lloyd Howell and Elizabeth Neall.

The only woman Whittier ever discussed marriage with was Elizabeth Howell, whom he thought the most beautiful woman he'd ever met. Whittier had met Howell when he was staying in Philadelphia. She had an interest in art and poetry and like Whittier was an abolitionist. Their friendship blossomed, but Whittier blew cold, quite possibly because he wasn't in a financially secure position for marriage, as it was only with Snow-Bound in the 1860s that he became so, by which time he was in his fifties. So Howell married someone else in 1853, although she became a widow a few years later, which was a cue for their relationship to florish again, although Howell's criticism of what she saw as the limited culture of Quakerism and her espousal of Episcopalianism led to the end of the romance.

Elizabeth Neall too was from Philadelphia, and her father Daniel had been tarred and feathered for his anti-slavery stance. She strongly embraced women's independence, and visited Europe as an anti-slavery delegate. Whittier wrote the poem 'To a Friend on Her Return from Europe' for her, but never spoke of love to her, and she too married someone else. There's an odd thing about writers and virginity in Massachusetts, and one thinks of Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, etc.

Unfortunately a few typos missed the editing process: for example, the front page title conflicts with the title-page's rather odd 'Whittier as a Local Poet', Whittier is called 'reknown New England poet', and Pickard is described as Whittier's 'great-grand-newphew'.

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