The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: history

Guest Post: “Withered Flowers”-by Levi L. Leland

I am very excited to introduce my first guest post on this site. This article was written by my good friend and colleague, Levi Leland. Mr. Leland’s expertise concerning Poe studies is outsanding, and I am grateful to produce this original article by Mr. Leland on the topic of Sarah Helen Whitman—specifically an awe-inspiring firsthand encounter at her grave. Thank you, Mr. Leland, for preserving Whitman’s name and legacy, and thank you for allowing me to share your personal encounter on this website. -Ann


(Photos posted with permission from and credit to the author.)

It was a dim summer day on June 27, 2018. The air was humid and still. With a dozen roses in my hand and a polaroid camera strapped around my shoulder, I made my way out of my car and over to the grave of Sarah Helen Whitman. I was at the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island, just a short drive from my apartment in West Warwick. I had a purpose on this particular day, for it was the 140th anniversary of the death of Mrs. Whitman. My association to the Providence Poetess was based solely on my infatuation with Edgar Allan Poe, but as I began to learn more about her as an individual and not just as the love interest of Poe, my affection grew deeper.

Upon first inspection of the grave I quickly noticed an arrangement of white poinsettia-looking faux flowers that have been stuck in the ground since my last visit in the autumn of 2017, and even my visit the summer prior. Although the flowers made the overall appearance of the grave a bit homely, I always marvelled at the tribute as well as the mysterious admirer who left them. My other questioning thought was how the flimsy things withstood the weather and the discretion of the maintenance crew all this time! You see, I’ve left tributes at Helen’s grave before, and they always seemed to get either lost or thrown away relatively quickly. Regardless, I made up my mind to remove them from the grave and dispose of them once and for all. They satisfied their purpose there long enough, had they not? Besides, I had a proper dozen of real roses to leave for Helen.

As I pulled them from the earth and placed them aside, I gave the stone a few strokes with my hand, removing some dirt from the letters inset in the marker. I arranged my roses on the stone and took out my camera to take a few photos. As the third or fourth polaroid began printing, a man came out from behind me as if he emerged from thin air. He was shorter in height, a bit haggard, wearing your average pedestrian clothes with a cap. I noticed a hospital bracelet on his wrist, and he had an “At Home Care Sheet” in his hand that more than likely attested for the bracelet. “I thought I was the only one that came here!” he exclaimed with a smile. Returning him with a grin, I told him I was here to pay my respects to Sarah Helen Whitman on the 140th anniversary of her death. The significance of the day was unknown to him and it was purely coincidence that he decided to stop by. Strangely enough, he knew everything about the Power family (Whitman’s maiden name) and he began to give me a little tour of the family plot. He asked me if I’ve ever visited their home on Benefit Street (which of course I had) and I returned with a question in regards to the rose bush in the rear yard of the house. There’s speculation that those roses are the great-great grandchildren of the roses planted by Helen herself; the same roses that Poe first spotted her in under a midnight moon in July of 1848. The gentleman confirmed that he had heard this rumor as well, and even picked one of the roses as a keepsake! We exchanged facts, stories, and questions for quite some time among the final resting places of the deceased in subject.  

Before departing, we shook hands and finally exchanged names. Just as he started to walk away, I stopped him with one last question as I pointed at the ragged cloth petals peeking out from the side of my camera case on the ground, “Do you happen to be the one that left those flowers here?” He replied, “Yeah, I left those here years ago! I don’t know how the dingy things have lasted so long.” I grabbed the arrangement and pushed my roses aside. As I began to pierce the ground with the wire stem, I replied, “Nothing wrong with withered flowers!” And the man disappeared into the clutter of stones in the graveyard.  

WITHERED FLOWERS by Sarah Helen Whitman

Remembrances of happiness! to me
Ye bring sweet thoughts of the year’s purple prime,
Wild, mingling melodies of bird and bee,
That pour on summer winds their silvery chime
Of balmy incense, burdening all the air,
From flowers that by the sunny garden wall
Bloomed at your side, nursed into beauty there
By dews and silent showers: but these to all
Ye bring. Oh! sweeter far than these the spell
Shrined in those fairy urns for me alone;
For me a charm sleeps in each honeyed cell,
Whose power can call back hours of rapture flown,
To the sad heart sweet memories restore,
Tones, looks, and words of love that may return no more.

About the Author

I’m a Rhode Island-based Edgar Allan Poe aficionado and member of the Poe Studies Association. My focus is representing Poe’s ties to lil’ Rhody and the “Providence Poetess” Sarah Helen Whitman. If I’m not sipping coffee and creating art of some sort, I’m probably exploring an old cemetery (consider me a Taphophile). I’m a dog-dad to the adorable shar-pei/pitbull mix, Ginny Poe! I’m a penpal as well, and if you’re interested in corresponding via snail mail, please contact me through any of my social media outlets and let me know! They are as follows:

Concerning Bookplates

When browsing through used books, undoubtedly one will come across a name of ownership and/or inscription, along with a date and, if gifted, “To:— From:—.” Many of these are of interest to both collectors and casual readers, as they offer a personal glimpse into the previous owner’s life. However, the art of inscribing in books is, of course, not new to today’s modern readership, and in fact was more elaborate in past centuries.

Bookplates, or ex-libris, were especially common during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. These displayed a pictorial representation of ownership, sometimes marking heraldry, sometimes portraying the owner themselves. These pictures were paired with either a name, an inscription, or both. Inscriptions were commonly phrases, such as family mottos, or general statements (for example, an insert statement may say something along the lines of “don’t steal my book”). According to King’s College, Cambridge online, simple bookplates date back to the Middle Ages, with the earliest known printed bookplates dating to the 15th century. The Jacobean period to Edwardian era saw a shift in elaborating these bookplates, incorporating “engravings and etchings known as ex-libris (‘from the books of…’)” into the plates.

Over the span of several centuries, numerous styles emerged. For example, and according to the Bookplate Societywhich also provides a comprehensive list of all of the British styles, along with detailed written and pictorial descriptions of each type, Heraldic bookplates dated from 1580-1680; Early Armorial bookplates dated from 1680-1715; Jacobean Armorial dated from 1715-1745; Chippendale Armorial plates dated from 1740-1770; Festoon, Wreath and Ribbon, and Spade Shield Armorial plates dated from 1770-1810; Landscape and Pictorial dated from 1780-1820; and Plain Armorial dated from 1800-1900. To view examples of famous bookplates, both American and European, dating from the 18th-20th centuries, you can click here.

Because of the artistic and historic value of each unique plate, these have become collectible and highly valued today.  As mentioned, there is great artistic value in these unique items; so great was the artistic value, that creating bookplates was a profession for some artists. For example, even a quick glimpse through A Directory of Bookplate Artists edited by Alfred Fowler from 1919 will imply the desire, or at least the high competition, of bookplate artists. You can even still contact modern bookplate artists to commission your own, unique plate.

To learn more about bookplates and to view other examples of bookplates throughout history, you can visit the Bookplate Society and the American Society of Bookplate Collectors & DesignersTo read more about American bookplates specifically, I recommend American book-plates, a guide to their study with examples by Charles Dexter Allen.

All in all, the next time you come across an antique book, be sure to give the plate a second glance—you never know the story it will tell. Below, you will find a couple from my own collection that tell their own stories. Note: these are posted only for educational purposes.

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This plate comes from the collection of Robert Apthorp Boit, author of Eustis: A Novel. The plate dons the “ex-libris” statement, and the artist’s name, L. S. Ipsen, can be found in the bottom right corner of the plate. Because Boit lived from 1846-1919, this clue gives me reason to, naturally, believe it dates to the late 19th century, early 20th century. Do you have any ideas of its specific plate period? Please feel free to comment below!



FullSizeRender-1This plate comes from William Herbert, Dean of Manchester. (See this similar one from Yale.) The artist is identified as Cole, although I am unsure as to whom this artist may be. It bears the Carnarvon motto, “Ung je serviray” (“I will serve but one master”), and represents the Carnarvon crest. Because of the Rococo-esque style of this plate, I deduce it is of the Chippendale Armorial period. Although Herbert was born in 1778, eight years after the end of this period, it likens most to this style, and is unlike the Festoon, Wreath and Ribbon, or Spade Shield Armorial styles. Again, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“To Edith, on Her Birthday,” and a Happy Birthday to Mrs. Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli!

Today (May 23) marks the 208th anniversary of Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli’s birth. Although this famed 19th century female poet, women’s rights advocate, and transcendentalist may seem a familiar name to many readers, I implore you take a moment to observe the following passage, derived from a review of Fuller’s At Home and Abroad; or, Things and Thoughts in America and Europe, from Graham’s Magazine of April, 1856, which judiciously discusses her intellect and character,

MARGARET FULLER was, in intellect, one of the most remarkable women the country has produced, and, since her death, it has been demonstrated that her intellect was not more powerful than her heart was high and heroic. She was essentially a noble woman, who, for a long time, was judged, not by her mental accomplishments, but by her mental defects and foibles. She lacked geniality, and perhaps lacked genius; but, as a critic of art and literature—as a discourser on the loftiest themes of philosophy—as a scholar, and as a thinker, she deserved a heartier recognition than she received. Perhaps the enmities she provoked were due in some degree to her sturdy independence of thinking, an independence which was not always free from dogmatism, and was sometimes expressed with a contemptuous positiveness, which irritated those with whom she disagreed. But we can remember few instances in her writings of this self-asserting quality, in which she does not prove her right to positive opinions by thoroughness of research and depth of reflection (464).

Below you will find a poem extracted from Rufus Wilmot Griswold’s Female Poets of America, pg. 253, written by Fuller. I felt that the title alone was rather apropos, considering.

Margaret Fuller

If the same star our fates together bind,
Why are we thus divided, mind from mind?
If the same law one grief to both impart,
How couldst thou grieve a trusting mother’s heart?
Our aspiration seeks a common aim,
Why were we tempered of such differing frame?
—But ’tis too late to turn this wrong to right;
Too cold, too damp, too deep, has fallen the night!
And yet, the angel of my life replies—
“Upon that night a Morning Star shall rise,
Fairer than that which ruled the temporal birth,
Undimmed by vapors of the dreamy earth.”
It says, that, where a heart thy claim denies,
Genius shall read its secret ere it flies;
The earthly form may vanish from thy side,
Pure love will make thee still the Spirit’s bride.
And thou, ungentle, yet much-loving child,
Whose heart still shows the ‘untamed haggard wild,’
A heart which justly makes the highest claim,
Too easily is checked by transient blame;
Ere such an orb can ascertain its sphere,
The ordeal must be various and severe;
My prayers attend thee, though the feet may fly,
I hear thy music in the silent sky.

“Records” by Henry William Herbert; and, on the Life of His Wife, Sarah Herbert (Barker)




Sarah Barker, wife of Henry William Herbert, from Poems of “Frank Forester” (Henry William Herbert)

The following is a raw and lovingly woven dedicatory piece written by nineteenth-century author and sportsman Henry William Herbert, in memory of his wife Sarah Barker. The tribute mourns the anniversary of her death, and is a moving commemoration of both Barker’s life and Herbert’s grief. Barker, from Bangor, Maine, was the daughter of the town’s mayor and ship captain, George Barker. Herbert, who had gone to Maine on a hunting trip with Barker’s former fiance, Joseph A. Scoville, attended to the home of Barker, where both Herbert and Barker fell in love. Barker called off her engagement with Scoville and she and Herbert married in 1839 (White, Henry William Herbert and the American Publishing Scene, 1831-1858). Herbert’s poem paints a portrait of a devoted wife and mother, one who eagerly anticipated the return of her husband after his long excursions; one who devoutly loved him, despite his turbulent nature; one who most likely filled Herbert’s household with warmth and light. The dream of a lifelong marriage spent alongside Sarah did not last, however, following her death on March 11, 1844. According to White, “After giving birth to a daughter in July 1843, Sarah Herbert developed tuberculosis. In desperation, her husband carried her from one health resort to another, but she grew steadily worse. She was twenty-two years old when she died in Philadelphia…” (40). The aforementioned daughter, Louisa, died shortly after Sarah, on August 19 of the same year. The couple also had a son, William George, who, after the death of his mother, was sent off to England to live with Herbert’s extended family.

Although Herbert later found love in an Adela Budlong (a fleeting actress who may or may not have been swayed to marry Herbert because of his ties to royalty), their marriage crumbled due to its superficiality and Budlong’s unhappiness (as well as possibly Herbert’s uncontrollable temper). Despite the years of toil and grief that Henry endured after Sarah’s death—the financial hardship and the pains of his irreconcilable second marriage to Budlong—it seems the immortal image of Sarah never left his side, for, according to David Judd in the Life and Writings of Frank Forester (Henry William Herbert), “He suspended his dead wife’s portrait, an excellent oil painting, a veritable masterpiece by his friend Inman, in the most prominent position in his study, that his stray glances might constantly rest upon her features,” and, on the night of his death by suicide, “finally carried it with him to the chamber he destined to be that of his own death, that her countenance might catch his closing eyes as the dearest object upon the face of the earth” (85). This portrait by Inman is the one featured at the beginning of this post. For a vague comparison of her “live” presence with that of this painting, you can see her post-mortem photo here.

I feel I cannot properly attribute any further words to the loving union of Herbert and Barker; therefore, please allow Herbert’s own words in “Records” speak as testament to their love.

Henry William Herbert
From Poems of “Frank Forester” (Henry William Herbert)
THIS was a happy day a year ago,
As now most wretched. This day I returned
From absence of one little month—one month
That seemed a year:—returned to feel her heart
Beat against mine, that ne’er shall beat with joy,
Or leap in ecstasy to those blue eyes
So bright and beautiful, or throb again
To mine responsive,
Oh! I see her now,
As she upstarted from her chair in haste
To greet me, with the eloquent warm blood
Flushing her fair white brow, the lips apart,
And radiant with that sunny smile that spoke
The joyous mirthfulness of her pure soul—
Most innocent and artless, and the eyes
That flashed affection out in dazzling beams
Electrical. I hear her soft, low voice
Say, “Dearest, dearest, have you come at last?
Long have I waited for you, and last night
Watched till nigh morning. Had you not come home
To-day, I should have sickened with the ‘hope Deferred.'”
But it is I that now am sick,
Past thought to be relieved; sick not with hope,—
For that disease hath still some saving touch
Of consolation in’t, that nerves the soul
To bear its tortures,—but for very lack
Of anything to hope on earth again.
For she is gone—aye, gone! and that rare form,
Which I see now as palpably as though
It stood there, glowing in the perfect grace
And glory of young womanhood;—a dream,
A trick of memory, lighter than a shade,
And by no sense of mind to be enjoyed
Or apprehended.
Yes, I see her now
As she upstarted, in her purple robe,
Graced by the fair proportions of her shape,
Not gracing them—her bosom of pure snow,
Translucent, with its thousand azure veins
Matchlessly beautiful; her glorious hair
Clustered in many ringlets of rich brown
Lit with a sunny lustre, down her neck
Falling profuse.
I feel her clasping arms
Wound close about my neck; her soft, thick curls
Fanning my cheek; and her sweet, lovely face,
Burning with blushes, hidden on my breast.
I hear her fond voice faltering in my ear
Glad tidings—that our little one—our boy,
Whom I left mute as yet, had found his tongue,
And learned to lisp her name.
It is but one year
Of the threescore and ten which sum the toil,
The lengthened weariness, and transient joy,
Of man’s allotted time, and all is changed—
Withered and cold forever, as my heart;
Which is alone, and desolate, and void,
And hopeless. She was all I had on earth;
The one rare treasure that enriched a life
Quite barren else; the only being that loved
And cherished, aye! and honored me, whose course
Has ever lain among the storms of the world,
The blight of evil tongues, and rancorous spite
Of who, not knowing, load with ill report
That which they comprehend not. She was all—
All that I had or wished. Love, happiness,
Ambition, hope—all, all in her
Were centred; and with her they are all gone,
Ne’er to come back to me.
I have nor home,
Nor country, nor companions; and the grave
Will be a resting-place, a distant end,
Not shunned, but longed for, as the pleasant bourn
Of suffering, and perchance the gate of joy;
Beyond the perishable, where immortal souls
May meet and love each other with a love
Transcending aught mortality has felt
Of best affections.
Oh that it were so!
Oh that I could believe, and in that trust
Be confident and strong, that even now
She looks upon me, and, in perfect bliss,
With something of affection still regards
The lost companion of her mortal joys,
The last attendant of her painful bed—
Him on whose breast her head was propped, on whom
Her glazing eyes were fixed, that yearned to see
When sight had left them; him whose hand yet thrills
At recollection of the entwined caress
Of those poor fingers, in their dying spasm,
Affectionate to the latest; him whose name—
Never, ’tis like, again to greet his ear
From any lips on earth—her lips strove hard
To syllable, but could not!
Life itself
Were not all weary, could I deem that she,
Marking my ways, might see each step more near
To heaven and her; and feel her very bliss
Something augmented by the unchanging love
Of him she loved so fondly; that one day
She might come forth to meet me, as of old,
But robed in beauty that will never fade,
And, radiant with eternal joy, again
Say, “Dearest, dearest, you have come at last;
Long have I waited you; and see your love
Constant and faithful, and fidelity
Hath its reward; and we are met again,
Never to sorrow more, or sin, or die:”
Oh! might I trust in this, I could go on,
In confident humility secure,
And fearless of the future.
But who knows,
Except the Father, and the Son who dwells
Forever in his glory? Who may dare
E’en to dream of that, which He hath left
Obscure, nor by a word of his illumed
The utter darkness that enshrouds the dead?
But thou art merciful, and knowest, Lord,
The weakness of the mortal: banish thou
The cruel thoughts which terrify my soul,
Whispering that she, whose early grave hath closed
Over the sweetest of thy daughters, lies
Forgetful of the life that lived for her,
Or, in her happiness, sees not the woe
That steeps in utter gloom the heart whose light
She was, and is no longer; the dark doubt,
Never to be enlightened till that day
When all shall be revealed—the dread, dark doubt
That we shall meet no more, when but to meet
Would make earth heave—as her sweet smile of old
And soothing voice could win a charm from pain,
Make poverty seem wealth, and sorrow bliss!
Gentlest and mirthfullest of living things,
And sweetest in thy purity of youth,
Thine artless innocence, thy charity
That thought no harm, thy love that knew not self—
To minister with the angels thou art gone,
And never shalt come back to me again,
As the light cometh with the morn, the leaves
With the glad spring-time.
Grant it, God, that I
May go to thee, and know thee, and be known,
There, where the wicked from their troubling cease,
The weary are at rest.
I ask but this:
Could I but think it, I could go my way
Rejoicing, and look forward to my goal
Happy, nor faint nor falter on the road.

Henry William Herbert and the Brawl of 1836

I am ecstatic to place this on my blog, as I have been searching for this article for a long while now. Just yesterday, I had the privilege of finding this through one of the Internet’s many incredible databases, and I knew I had to “store” it in a safe place—why not this blog?

Henry William Herbert, whose life I need to finish documenting, found himself in a bit of a rough place when he involved himself, and his pride, in a duel. The duel did not go well (I will mention this when I return to the biography series) and resulted in this very public scandal, in which Herbert “famously” shot two bullets into the wall of the Washington Hotel in New York City. This created quite the buzz, and lead editor James Gordon Bennett Sr., of the New York Herald, on a tirade, in which he publicly mocked Herbert in the Herald, referring to him as a “Plantagenet” and discussing the entire humiliating incident for several months after the fact. This affected Herbert so severely, he became entirely reclusive for a number of months.

There are a few or so followup articles, as mentioned, which I will place in other posts. I did not want to place them all here at once for fear of making this overwhelmingly long. If there is no interest in Herbert, please take this as an exciting example of a scandal of the early-to-mid 1800s, and how one pitiable brawl can lead to public consequence. I will note that I highly appreciate the statement made towards the end of this article, being that status should not cover up one’s severe mistakes—we are all accountable for our mistakes, regardless of where we come from. -Ann

May 4, 1836, New York Commercial Advertiser

DISGRACEFUL AFFAIR,—A prominent subject of conversation yesterday was a “row” of a disgraceful character, which took place on Monday evening at the Washington Hotel, and which might well become the depraved and hardened denizens of the Five points, although the parties engaged in it are gentlemen by profession, and move in the best circles of society. We had various accounts of the matter yesterday, but none so well authenticated as as [sic] to satisfy us of its accuracy, and therefore we made no publication of either. The Times of this morning, however, puts forth a statement which it declares and we believe, to be perfectly correct, and we therefore copy it without alteration.*

For reasons sufficiently obvious, the narration can include no events previous to those of Saturday last. The parties had been in controversy some time, and on that day, Mr. T. accompanied by Mr. S. called to demand of Mr. M. if he were responsible for a certain circular just put forth. Mr. M. declined to answer: Mr. T. said that he should then hold him to be the person, and therefore pronounced him a scoundrel. Mr. M. refused to notice any insult from Mr. T., alleging that Mr. T. was a disgraced man. During the afternoon, he informed Mr. S. that he would notice anything from him, if he (Mr. S.) chose to take Mr. T.’s place. Mr. S. replied that after the occurrences of that morning, he could hold no communication with Mr. M., and so ended the campaign of the day.
On Sunday evening, Mr. H., a friend of Mr. M., referring to this reply, pronounced, in the public room of the Washington Hotel, Mr. S. to be a coward, and requested that Mr. T. might be told that he had done so.
On Monday evening Mr. S., accompanied by Mr. T., and both unarmed, except that Mr. S. carried his usual walking stick which had a light sword within in it, went to the Washington Hotel. Mr. H. coming in soon after, Mr. S., demanded whether it was true that he had pronounced him a coward. Mr. H. replied that he had; whereupon Mr. S. waved his glove across the face of Mr. H. and declared him a liar.
Mr. H. drew out a pistol, but before he could fire at, his hand was arrested by Mr. T. who remonstrated against using such a weapon, and assured him he should have satisfaction. Mr. H. shook him off and retreated, presenting the pistol, and T. following to master it. They moved from the centre of the barroom, across the hall into the reading room, H. threatening to shoot T. if he advanced, and T. defying him, and declaring he dare not fire. T. then dashed the pistol aside and struck H. when both were seized—T. by capt. B and some young gentleman. H. was directly released, however, and while T. was struggling with capt. B. who held combatants, both barrels of the pistol were fired, the balls lodging in the door, above T. and the captain[.]
The parties were separated, and for a few minutes the affray seemed to have ended. Mr. M. then ascended a chair in the front room, and proclaimed that Mr. S. and Mr. T. were cowards and scoundrels; Mr. T. rushed upon him, and beat him severely before the by-standers could interpose. Those who seized Mr. T. forced him back across the room, he struggling to get free, when Mr. M. followed, and struck him in the side with a dirk or knife.—Upon that, Mr. S. drew the sword from his cane and stabbed Mr. H. The effective hostilities were here arrested by the exertions of the gentlemen present—a second pistol being taken from Mr. H.—and the parties soon separated, and retired for surgical aid.
Neither of the wounds is understood to be serious, or at all dangerous, and the parties have withdrawn from town.

We know of no good reason why the press should be tender or scrupulous in publishing the names of parties who can so far forget their obligations to society, as to engage in a brawl like this, because they are well educated and well dressed, and are accounted gentlemen. If they were boot-blacks or streets weepers their names would be exposed; and we cannot understand why a different course should be pursued toward them by some of our contemporaries being what they are. Others, however, have published the names, and as there is consequently no farther use to any body in concealment, we repeat them. Mr. H. is Mr. H. W. Herbert; Mr. M., is Mr. McLeod; Mr. T. is Mr. Minthorne Tompkins; and Mr. S., as, we are informed, is Mr. Staples—all of this city.