A Letter from Maurice Thompson

Maurice Thompson; John T. Flanagan


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 13-14

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A Letter from Maurice Thompson

Edited by John T. Flanagan

In the early 1890's Maurice Thompson, a substantial citizen of Crawfordsville, Indiana, reached the height of his literary fame.1 He had been appointed literary editor of the Independent in 1889, he had published articles and stories in the Atlantic and the Century, and he was known to readers of popular romance as the author of a half dozen novels. Recognition of another kind came to him also. He was invited to speak on various occasions, and he seized the opportunity to express his ideas of literary art or to read his own poetry. Three such occasions occurred in 1893. In May he delivered the Carew Lectures at Hartford Theological Seminary; on July 4 he read a patriotic poem entitled "The Bloom o' the World" at the Roseland Park Festival, Woodstock, Connecticut. But more important than either was his invitation to deliver a Phi Beta Kappa poem at Harvard in June. Thompson read his "Lincoln's Grave" and enjoyed immediate success. The following letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson relates to the occasion.2 The letter is particularly noteworthy because it registers Thompson's apparent change of view about New England despite his southern origins.

  • John T. Flanagan is professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana, and author of "A Look at Some Middle Western Gazetteers," Indiana Magazine of History, LXI (December, 1965), 283–304.
  • 1 For a compact summary of James Maurice Thompson's life (1844–1901), see Otis B. Wheeler, The Literary Career of Maurice Thompson (Baton Rouge, 1965), chapter 1.
  • 2 Thomas Wentworth Higginson, colonel of a Negro regiment in the Civil War, a Unitarian minister, and both a novelist and biographer, is perhaps best known for his editing of the poems of Emily Dickinson.

Sherwood Place1
Crawfordsville Indiana

Dear Colonel Higginson—

Your letter and one from Mrs Woods have conscientiously followed me from pillar to post until they have finally reached me here.

My movements while in the east were controlled by Mr. Henry G. Bowen who had me engaged for a Fourth o' July at Woodstock Gonnicticut.2

Very much indeed should I have enjoyed a day or two at your home, and I need not tell you how much I regret not seeing you. In fact I saw no one while at Cambridge, save a few of the Harvard men. In Connecticut, however, I met many distinguished people and many, quite as interesting, who were not famous. It was a genuine pleasure to dine between Mrs. Julia Ward Howe and her daughter (Mrs Elliott) not so much because they are literary and well known as because Mrs Howe, like yourself, represents that New England spirit which we of the South once thought so terribly and maliciously wrong! Mrs. Elliott pleased me greatly with her vigorous physique and charming conversational wit. Mrs Howe is a noble woman.3 My first glimpse of New England has made me hungry to see more of it. My reception at P.B.K. Harvard was a revelation. Why it was an audience explosively responsive. I was captivated, and the impression of the occasion is very precious to me.4

Truly yours

Maurice Thompson

10 July 1893—

  • 1 With the exception of a few minor changes in spacing the following letter is an exact reproduction of the original. Thompson frequently omitted periods after abbreviations, in one place misspelled "Connecticut," and in another instance left out the comma between city and state. These errors have been retained but have not been indicated by a [sic]. The original letter is in the possession of John T. Flanagan, Department of English, University of Illinois, Urbana. Through his wife's inheritance Thompson had bought in 1892 or 1893 a large house in Crawfordsville which he called Sherwood Place; it was surrounded by a five-acre plot of woods and garden. See Otis B. Wheeler, The Literary Career of Maurice Thompson (Baton Rouge, 1965), 36.
  • 2Henry Chandler Bowen (1813–1896), a native of Woodstock, was a founder and later the publisher and proprietor of the Independent.
  • 3 Julia Ward Howe, notable for her support of Negro emancipation and women's suffrage, is best known as the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Maude Howe Elliott and Laura E. Richards published a biography of their mother in 1916 which was awarded a Pulitzer prize.
  • 4Lincoln's Grave was published in an edition of 450 copies by Stone and Kimball, Cambridge and Chicago, 1894, pp. 48. The poem is a conventional and somewhat imitative eulogy. But at least one critic, Fred Lewis Pattee, found the poem memorable as a representation of "the new Western soul." See A History of American Literature since 1870 (New York, 1917), 324.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.