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Celia Thaxter Is Vexed at Her Ignorance, May 1, 1890

The 19th-century writer Celia Thaxter was so outraged by the slaughter of birds for ladies’ hats that in 1886 she became the secretary of the Audubon Society of Waltham, Mass. The next year she wrote an article for the first issue of Audubon Magazine called ‘Women’s Heartlessness.’

Celia Thaxter

Celia Thaxter

It may have been in that capacity that she first wrote to Bradford Torrey, an ornithologist who published a popular book, Birds in the Bush, in 1885. Born in Weymouth, Mass., in 1843, he was an editor at the Youth’s Companion magazine.

In her introductory letter to Torrey Celia Thaxter asked him, “By this wing which I send you, can you tell me the name of the bird who owned it?” Though she and Torrey never met face to face, they became letter-writing friends.

On May 1, 1890, Celia Thaxter wrote  a letter to Bradford Torrey from her summer home on Appledore Island on the Isles of Shoals:

I am all the time vexed at my ignorance, and wish somebody were here to tell me the different birds and recognize those delicious voices. There are more birds than usual this year, I am happy to say. The women haven’t assassinated them all for the funeral pyres they carry on their heads. The martins, white-breasted swallows, came promptly the first day of April and took up their quarters in the boxes we prepared for them, and very soon all sorts of birds arrived by the thousands and made the island alive with sound and motion, — legions of yellow hammers, red-headed woodpeckers, song sparrows, and many other kinds; blackbirds, creepers, wrens, robins, bluebirds; any quantity of a greenish-yellow bird, small; and slate-colored birds with white feathers in tail, a black cap, and grayish-white whiskers (the feathers at sides of the head had that effect). A flock of nearly a hundred blue herons alighted on a little island near us, Londoners’, and made the air ring with their noise. What is the bird that comes in such numbers — greenish olive with grayish-brown breast covered with perfectly circular brown spots, a bird not quite so large as a robin? Some sort of thrush?

Celia Thaxter's cottage on the Isles of Shoals.

Celia Thaxter’s cottage on the Isles of Shoals.


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