Story of Songs from the Medford Woods.
by Maria W. Wait.AS many of Medford's old-time landmarks and people have interested its citizens of today, it seems as though another memory may well hold our attention, and we may be glad to listen to this lay of Medford woodlands, ‘Jack-in-the-pulpit.’ These enchanting verses of nature's beauty were written by one of our own townspeople, Caroline Smith, a daughter of Horatio Austin and Elizabeth (Learoyd) Smith, who was born November 12, 1840, at Symmes' Corner, Winchester, said corner at that time being a part of Medford. Always a quiet and thoughtful girl, it was not surprising that some of her thoughts should seek expression even at sixteen years, at which age this poem was written. The verses were read one day by a friend, Mrs. E. P. Marvin, the wife of the Orthodox minister in Medford, who asked the privilege of showing them to her husband. He also admired them, and after some persuasion Miss Smith allowed him to publish the poem anonymously in the Boston Recorder. This was in 1856. Later they were printed in Gleason's Monthly Companion, a magazine published during the years between 1850 and the ‘60s. As Carrie Smith was very retiring in nature, the poem appeared always without her signature. Other papers copied the verses, and the poem became almost a household friend. Some years after, the poem, greatly changed, appeared in the little volume named ‘Child Life,’ edited by the poet, John G. Whittier. Friends immediately recognized it, however, as the thoughts of ‘Carrie’ Smith, as she was familiarly known, and wrote Whittier concerning it. Some correspondence followed, and the poet wrote Miss Smith, saying the poem had been sent in manuscript form to him by a friend, and at the end of the letter presented this respects and assurances of regret in not having [p. 56] been able to consult with her at the time of the first publication. Relative to the explanation the following is quoted from a correspondent:—
‘The idea was fine and some of the verses remarkably excellent, but it seemed not complete and some of the lines defective, and supposing it to be his friend's, he (Whittier) re-wrote and amplified it and signed it as anonymous. Only after printing it had he learned it was not his friend's.’ ‘He was very glad to hear of the true author and as he was to issue a new edition of “Child life” he would give the credit of the poem to Miss Smith if she would accept the additions and alterations.’The second edition was printed, but by some typographical error the author's name was given as ‘Clara’ instead of Carrie Smith. Here is her poem, and beside it is the poem as accredited to Whittier, appearing in 1871.
In 1884 the poem was put into booklet form beautifully illustrated in color, and attached was a copy of a letter [p. 59] giving credit to Carrie Smith, as Whittier did not wish to claim the originality of the idea. A book of the poem, with the flowers printed in outline, was published for the use of classes in painting. It was one of a series compiled by Marion Kemble, and printed by S. W. Tilton & Co. of Boston, making a very artistic and attractive volume. Miss Smith's poems also appeared in the Portland Transcript, Somerville Citizen, and other papers of note. These attracted much attention and gained her many friends and admirers, and many felt a great loss when Carrie Smith died in 1889. Nevertheless she is not forgotten, especially when each spring ‘Jack’ preaches again in our midst. Among the poems written, one is quite appropriate here, as it seems a fitting requiem to ‘Jack’ as he steps out of ‘his pulpit.’