September 15, 2012

Birth of Whitney: part of the infinite plan

Adeline D. T. Whitney was born in Boston on September 15, 1824. She eventually settled in Milton, Massachusetts, and lived in that town for over sixty years. Though she wrote primarily for children, even critics and editors of the day admitted that adults were reading her work just as much. Perhaps her most obvious attempt at connecting both audience demographics was in one of her earliest books, the 1857 collection Mother Goose for Grown-Ups.

In the book, she offers her take on a few time-honored favorites as well as more obscure tales. Her version of Humpty Dumpty expands on the original four-line poem by generalizing a moral:

Full many a project that never was hatched
Falls down, and gets shattered beyond being patched;
And luckily, too! for if all came to chickens,
The things without feathers might go to the dickens...

Suppose every aspirant writing a book
Contrived to get published, by hook or by crook;
Geologists then of a later creation
Would be startled, I fancy, to find a formation
Proving how the poor world did most wofully sink
Beneath mountains of paper, and oceans of ink!

Indeed, she says, not everything can reach its full potential and dreams can be shattered as easily as eggs. But, Whitney surmises, good can come of those incidents as well. For example, women who do not marry (apparently considered an ultimate goal in achieving perfection) can be come "the good aunts" who knit stockings for their nieces and nephews, or perhaps nurses to sing and rock the young babies. Of course, even unmarried spinsters play their roles "to look after orphans, and primary schools." She concludes:

No! Failure's a part of the infinite plan;
Who finds that he can't, must give way to who can;
And as one and another drops out of the race,
Each stumbles at last to his suitable place.

So the great scheme works on, — though, like eggs from the wall,
Little designs to such ruin may fall,
That not all the world's might, of its horses or men,
Could set their crushed hopes at the summit again.

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