Guest post by Book Traces @ UVA volunteer Jamie Rathjen
The books of the Partridge-Lehman family, originally from the Germantown area of Philadelphia, may be found scattered all throughout Alderman library, representing a range of dates and interests. Accumulated from the 1880s to the 1940s, the books seem to have been donated by long-serving UVa medical school professor Edwin Partridge Lehman (1888-1954) sometime between 1942 and his death. Many of the Partridge books have owners’ or gift inscriptions recording which member of the family owned and/or gave the book, and the same names appear over and over: most frequently Lois Partridge Lehman (1887-1950), Edwin’s sister, but also Edwin himself and their uncles and aunts. However, the crux of the Partridge case, and the person who links Lois and Edwin to said uncles and aunts, is their mother, Emily (Partridge) Lehman (1858-1890), whose death appears to have induced another Partridge, Emily’s sister Henrietta, or “Hettie” (1860-1946), to mark some of the poems in an edition of John Greenleaf Whittier’s collected works with leaves and, in one example, an inscription of “July ’90”.
The Whittier book is identified inside its front cover as a gift from C. L. P. – Charles Leo Partridge (1872-1908), Emily’s brother – to Hettie, identified here as H. H. Partridge, and carries a date of 25 March 1890. The date itself does not appear to be significant, as it was not Hettie’s birthday, nor anyone else’s in the family, nor a holiday. However, its importance lies in its proximity to Emily’s death on 17 June 1890. Whittier seems then to have been very close at hand to console its owner with lines such as “That Life is ever lord of Death / And Love can never lose its own!” from the writer’s narrative poem “Snow-Bound,” which is among a short section that earned a marking in the margins and the “July ’90” inscription (210-211). (As with most of the other poems that are marked, a leaf was originally kept inside the book on this page, but it has gone missing since this book became known to Book Traces.) Interestingly, these lines represent a turn in “Snow-Bound” from the description of a fierce winter storm to the reliving of nostalgia, as “We sped the time with stories old…” is the very next line after the end of the section marked. In this way, the characters of “Snow-Bound” successfully pass the time, so that “forgotten was the outside cold.” Additionally, later in the poem one of the members of the poet’s family – a sister, no less – is implied to have died somewhat recently, perhaps young, and has a stanza devoted to her. “And yet, dear heart! remembering thee, / Am I not richer than of old? / Safe in thy immortality / What change can reach the wealth I hold?” asks Whittier as narrator (422-25). The answer, of course, is that nothing can change a memory except its possessor. Perhaps “Snow-Bound,” then, was stumbled across, or looked for, in the book and served as a felicitous reminder of Emily. As the family in the poem seeks to comfort itself in a time of uncertainty with its memories, so can the Partridges find solace in their memories of Emily.
While the “July ’90” stanza of “Snow-Bound” is the only part of the poem that has an accompanying note, other lines just before receive marks in the margins. Before the poem’s “turn,” the narrator laments the change that has occurred since the title snowstorm: “How strange it seems, with so much gone / Of life and love, to still live on!” The poem continues to expound on the absence, yet permanence of those who are missing (“We sit beneath their orchard-trees … We turn the pages that they read, / Their written words we linger o’er, / But in the sun they cast no shade”), and this section of 35 lines leading up to the “July ’90” is punctuated by small vertical marks of 3-4 lines in length every 10 or so lines (181-82; 192, 195-97). Despite the gaps that appear, the lines that do not have marks next to them do not seem to be any less relevant; it is not as if Whittier mentions death or absence for four lines, goes somewhere else for five more, and then returns again. Instead, it is as if this entire 35-line section of “Snow-Bound” (lines 179-211) is deemed worthy of consideration, though the series of marks is spotty, and is wrapped up at the end with the “July ’90.”
Another poem called “At Last” opens with the line “When on my day of life the night is falling…” again reminding the reader of impending death. This opening section of the poem, as well as the last two lines at the end, also earn a small mark in the margin, the only ones in the book outside of “Snow-Bound.” In “At Last,” like the relevant portion of “Snow-Bound,” the narrator continues to be put at ease when thinking of the afterlife – in this case his own rather than another’s. The poem’s other thrust, that the narrator also finds comfort in God’s presence (“I have but thee, my father!”) and as a source of strength (“Be Thou my strength”), would have been reassuring as well (13, 8). The poem ends with the narrator’s vision of the afterlife, and the lines “And find at last, beneath Thy trees of healing / The life for which I long” (27-28). It is worth nothing that the family was religiously inclined. Hettie’s father, Edwin F. Partridge (1833-1897), was an “elder” at the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, the family’s home at the time of Emily’s death, and served in a similar role in Redlands, Calif. after the family moved there in 1896 (Find A Grave). Indeed, in his will, the Partridge patriarch gave the Presbyterian Church’s Board of Foreign Missions five thousand dollars. Following on from this, one of the other Partridge books to have made it to Alderman library, with Emily’s inscription in the front, is a New Testament from 1881. The first few pages of the text harbor a small “Dear Hettie” written in the space below a verse, and, a few pages later, perhaps a reciprocal “Dear Emily.” The “Dear Hettie” begins with an H that appears lowercase, similarly to the inscription in the Whittier book. This means that the Whittier inscription must say “H. H. Partridge” despite looking like “N. H.,” as additionally there were no Partridges whose names or plausible nicknames started with N. If religion is thus something over which Hettie and Emily bonded, then it is also something in which Hettie could have later found comfort and nostalgia. Whittier’s decidedly positive image of the afterlife in both “Snow-Bound” and “At Last” could only help her in that task.
The rest of the poems in the Whittier book that are marked do not have pencil in the margins, but retain their different varieties of leaves. This appears to be a practice derived from Emily’s New Testament, which has one page marked with a four-leaf clover. The poems so marked – and each one appears to be a new kind of leaf – at first appear to comprise a mixture of subject matter, yet do have a common existence at the intersection of some of Whittier’s frequent topics: religion, history, and imagery of natural landmarks. One is “Monadnock from Wachuset,” part II of “Mountain Pictures,” which concerns its namesake pair of mountains, located about 30 miles apart respectively north and south of the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border. Both mountains are associated with some of the writings of Thoreau (and the former also with Emerson), and Whittier uses them to meditate once again on the nature of human existence: “We felt man was more than his abode, – / The inward life than Nature’s raiment more,” observing so as he is moved by a farmer’s description of his mother, who “lived and died here in the peace of God” (42-43, 37). Perhaps this was a favorite poem of Hettie’s, or perhaps the description of the farmer’s mother reminded her of Emily, who could have lived her life in a way worthy of the same description. Emily was the only member of the family who both was born and died in Philadelphia; the parents and other siblings all survived at least until the move to California. Thus, “lived and died here” could only, and quite literally, apply to Emily.
Another poem marked with a leaf is “To the Reformers of England;” this poem gets the largest leaf besides the one in “Snow-Bound” which has since gone missing. The title refers to contemporary (at the time of writing in 1843) reform efforts in the United Kingdom to abolish the Corn Laws, import controls on wheat that helped the landowning class and harmed the working class by artificially increasing the price of bread. In encouraging the reformers, Whittier likens their cause to a variety of past English agitators working for “common rights and equal laws,” such as those nobles behind the Magna Carta (“Runnymeade,” the field where it was signed) and the 17th century English civil war: “let the State scaffold rise again” begins a stanza referencing Sir Henry Vane (1613-1662), a nobleman and one-time governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who participated in government during the English commonwealth but was executed by the restored monarchy (50, 21, 13). He was the subject of a 1652 poem by John Milton, who praises his work for religious freedom: “both spiritual power and civil, what each means… / thou hast learned, which few have done” (10-11). Besides Whittier’s interest in the anti-tyrannical spirit of the English civil war, the war does harbor a connection to the Partridges, as after the war the victorious parliamentarian side espoused “reformed” Christianity during its rule; among the modern representatives of that persuasion is Presbyterianism, the Partridge family religion. Interestingly, “To the Reformers” was included in a Whittier collection called “Anti-Slavery Poems: Songs of Labor and Reform,” contemporary to the complete collected works owned by the Partridges. This poem’s inclusion perhaps betrays how Whittier viewed the Corn Laws: as a representative of “tyrant’s law, or bigot’s ban,” and exactly as unjust as any other (5). Yet Whittier believes that his reformers, like abolitionists, are ultimately right, as “the triumph shall be won” (49).
A leaf is found in another poem with a similar attitude to “To the Reformers”; it is called “Our Country” and subtitled “Read at Woodstock, Conn., July 4, 1883.” As the date indicates, the poem was both read on and written for Independence Day and is very patriotic. Where Whittier mentioned the struggle for “equal laws” in “To the Reformers,” here he praises his “Country of our love and prayer” and its maintaining of “just and equal rule” (50, 2, 44). Whittier ascribes all of the advances towards said equality to a personified Freedom, which, in his mind, has ended slavery, delivered the Union victory in the Civil War, and made America a “refuge for the wronged and poor” (40). Yet, unlike in “To the Reformers,” he devotes more space to what Freedom could do rather than has done: “redress” Native American “grievances,” “full requital to Labor make,” gender equality in terms of sharing in “rights and duties,” universal public school, and reduce the tax on “a poor man’s food” (57, 59, 64, 68). Whittier was thus quite forward-thinking in his political beliefs, and especially his views on gender could have been encouraging to a young woman like Hettie. Perhaps she saw examples of equality in her family life; seven years later, the four surviving Partridge children are treated equally in their father’s will, for example. We can see, then, that not every poem that is marked has to do with Emily; perhaps these leaves pre-date the others and were added between March 1890 and Emily’s death in June. Even in the small set of poems that are marked, the breadth of Whittier’s writing and Hettie’s reading is evident.
Another leaf is placed at the transition between two poems: “My Dream” and “The Barefoot Boy.” The former seems to be more relevant to Hettie at the time of her mourning of Emily, yet the upper half of the leaf is missing and would have covered the text of “The Barefoot Boy,” in the same way that, for example, the “To the Reformers” leaf covers its text. Regardless, the namesake vision of “My Dream” is that the narrator is walking in a group along a narrow, high mountain road, but the others “one by one the brink o’erslid,” until only the narrator is left (15). The dream is a fairly straightforward metaphor for death; Whittier even remarks on humanity’s differing attitudes towards it with “Some with wailing and lament, / Some with cheerful courage went, / but … Never one to us returned” (17-20). But again, as in “Snow-Bound,” the narrator finds solace in religion, this time in the form of Jesus, who is addressed as “Thou, O Most Compassionate,” and uses this to quell any lingering fear he may have about mortality (65). The poem that comes afterwards, “The Barefoot Boy,” is purely childhood-based nostalgia, with plenty of Whittier’s natural imagery thrown in to describe time spent growing up immersed in the outdoors. Perhaps the combination of innocence and, again, nostalgia from “The Barefoot Boy,” and the narrator’s composure in the face of death in “My Dream” is what earned the leaf its position at the junction of two poems, representing both sets of feelings, rather than obviously being meant to refer to one or the other.
The final poems are marked by a small part of a leaf – unlike the others, most of it seems to have disintegrated – that is firmly wedged between two pages. Again, this is unlike the others, which are mostly laid on top of the page of choice or positioned so that a small portion of the stem is in the center crevice; perhaps this one fell in over the years. On one page is “Kenoza Lake,” describing its namesake body of water near Haverhill, Mass., Whittier’s hometown and also in the area of the two mountains from “Mountain Pictures.” The poem is mostly another of Whittier’s nature poems except for the final two lines, where he manages to insert “Revive in us the thought of Him / Who walked on Galilee!” (55-56). This provides a bit of a transition to the other poem, “To G. B. C.” This work appears to be in reference to Rev. George B. Cheever (1807-1890), a noted preacher and reformist (and simultaneous anti-reformist, leading the cause against abolishing capital punishment in the 1840s) who spoke about a variety of causes, including abolition, equal rights, and temperance (Mackey). Whittier extols Cheever to remind him, and the country, of the biblical Isaiah and other prophets, to “smite like lightning,” and, additionally, “smite with truth” all those to be found objectionable. Whittier’s attitude is similar to “To the Reformers,” as his rhetoric is very polarized; again, he believes his points of view – or the ones he supports – to be correct, morally right, and truthful, and that they ultimately will, or may be destined to, triumph.
The two poems “Kenoza Lake” and “To G. B. C.,” taken together, seem to represent what Hettie Partridge finds most interesting about Whittier: his writing at the intersections of nature, religion, and politics and his ability, in writing about religion, to provide to her solace about Emily. This edition of Whittier’s collected works runs nearly 600 pages and yet only a few poems are set aside with leaves or markings. Even these few, though, can help tell Hettie’s story of loss that – along with this book – seems to have defined her year of 1890. But just as a poem’s sparse diction can hide the work, thoughts, and feelings that went into it, this group of poems is only tied together by Hettie herself with her “July ’90” inscription; otherwise, it is only a disparate collection of notes.
“The Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier.” Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1888.
“Edwin F. Partridge (1833 – 1897) – Find A Grave Memorial.” Find A Grave, 5 Dec. 2007. Web.
Ancestry.com. “Edwin F. Partridge.” 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
–. “Edwin F. Partridge.” Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
–. “Emily P. Lehman.” Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
Mackey, Philip English. “Reverend George Barrell Cheever: Yankee Reformer as Champion of the Gallows.” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 82.2 (1972): 323-342. http://www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/44498047.pdf.
Milton, John. “To Sir Henry Vane the Younger.” Complete Poems. Vol. IV. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14; Bartleby.com, 2001. http://www.bartleby.com/4/311.html