The volume in which “The Bay of Seven Islands” was published was dedicated to the late Edwin Percy Whipple, to whom more than to any other person I was indebted for public recognition as one worthy of a place in American literature, at a time when it required a great degree of courage to urge such a claim for a pro-scribed abolitionist. Although younger than I, he had gained the reputation of a brilliant essayist, and was regarded as the highest American authority in criticism. His wit and wisdom enlivened a small literary circle of young men including Thomas Starr King, the eloquent preacher, and Daniel N. Haskell of the Daily Transcript, who gathered about our common friend dames T. Fields at the Old Corner Bookstore. The poem which gave title to the volume I inscribed to my friend and neighbor Harriet Prescott Spofford, whose poems have lent a new interest to our beautiful river-valley.
FROM the green Amesbury hill which bears the name
Of that half mythic ancestor of mine
Who trod its slopes two hundred years ago,
Down the long valley of the Merrimac,
Midway between me and the river’s mouth,
I see thy home, set like an eagle’s nest
Among Deer Island’s immemorial pines,
Crowning the crag on which the sunset breaks
Its last red arrow. Many a tale and song,
Which thou bast told or sung, I call to mind,
Softening with silvery mist the woods and hills,
The out-thrust headlands and inreaching bays
Of our northeastern coast-line, trending where
The Gulf, midsummer, feels the chill blockade
Of icebergs stranded at its northern gate.
To thee the echoes of the Island Sound
Answer not vainly, nor in vain the moan
Of the South Breaker prophesying storm.
And thou hast listened, like myself, to men
Sea-periled oft where Anticosti lies
Like a fell spider in its web of fog,
Or where the Grand Bank shallows with the wrecks
Of sunken fishers, and to whom strange isles
And frost-rimmed bays and trading stations seem
Familiar as Great Neck and Kettle Cove,
Nubble and Boon, the common names of home.
So let me offer thee this lay of mine,
Simple and homely, lacking much thy play
Of color and of fancy. If its theme
And treatment seem to thee befitting youth
Rather than age, let this be my excuse
It has beguiled some heavy hours and called
Some pleasant memories up; and, better still,
Occasion lent me for a kindly word
To one who is my neighbor and my friend.
. . . . . . . . . .
The skipper sailed out of the harbor mouth,
Leaving the apple-bloom of the South
For the ice of the Eastern seas,
In his fishing schooner Breeze.
Handsome and brave and young was he,
And the maids of Newbury sighed to see
His lessening white sail fall
Under the sea’s blue wall.
Through the Northern Gulf and the misty screen
Of the isles of Mingan and Madeleine,
St. Paul’s and Blanc Sablon,
The little Breeze sailed on,
Backward and forward, along the shore
Of lorn and desolate Labrador,
And found at last her way
To the Seven Islands Bay.
The little hamlet, nestling below
Great hills white with lingering snow,
With its tin-roofed chapel stood
Half hid in the dwarf spruce wood;
Green-turfed, flower-sown, the last outpost
Of summer upon the dreary coast,
With its gardens small and spare,
Sad in the frosty air.
Hard by where the skipper’s schooner lay,
A fisherman’s cottage looked away
Over isle and bay, and behind
On mountains dim-defined.