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MOULTON, Louise Chandler

Born 10 April 1835, Pomfret, Connecticut; died 10 August 1908, Boston, Massachusetts Wrote under:

Ellen Louise Chandler, Louisa Chandler, A Lady, Ellen Louise

Daughter of Lucius L. and Louisa Clark Chandler; married William U. Moulton, 1855

Louise Chandler Moulton was born on a farm outside a town settled by her Puritan ancestors. Her parents were wealthy, conscientious Calvinists. Moulton's childhood was solitary and circumscribed, but reasonably happy. Precocious, she published her first verses at fifteen. When she entered Emma Willard's Female Seminary in Troy, New York, fellow students knew her as "Ellen Louise," editor of The Book of the Boudoir (1853) and author of This, That, and the Other (1854), a collection of sentimental stories and sketches that appeared in 1854 and sold 20,000 copies.

Soon after Moulton's graduation in 1855, she married the editor and publisher of the True Flag, a Boston literary journal. Members of the city's literary society, the Moultons entertained Whittier, Longfellow, Holmes, and Emerson. In 1870 Moulton became the Boston literary correspondent for the New York Tribune. She began contributing stories to magazines such as Harper's, Galaxy, and Scribner's; her poem "May-Flowers" achieved great popularity after appearing in Atlantic. Other works during this period include June Clifford (1855), a novel; Some Women's Hearts (1874), short stories; and Bed-Time Stories (1873), the first in a series of children's books. After an initial trip to Europe in 1876, Moulton divided her life between the two continents. Her overwhelming success in London literary society began in 1877 with a letter of introduction to Lord Houghton (Richard Monckton Milnes) from "the Byron of Oregon," Joaquin Miller. From this time, Moulton was firmly established in European artistic circles.

Although she had published an earlier volume of poetry in America, Swallow-Flights (1877) brought Moulton her first wave of extravagant praise. Professor William Minto compared her to Sir Philip Sidney; other critics mentioned the lyric poets of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the Garden of Dreams (1890) and At the Wind's Will (1899) confirmed her reputation. Critics rated her love poetry close to Mrs. Browning's and considered her sonnets second only to Christina Rossetti's. During these years, Moulton also brought out two delightful volumes of Irvingesque travel sketches and a book of social advice culled from her newspaper column in Our Continent.

Certainly any assessment of Moulton's achievements must cite her "genius for friendship." Her correspondence, now in the Library of Congress, fills 52 volumes; its index is a virtual directory of late Victorian authors. Moulton's library, bequeathed to the Boston Public Library, comprised 900 books, many of them rare editions and autographed presentation copies. However, Moulton's greatest legacy stemmed from her critical astuteness and sympathy. As a European literary correspondent for the Boston Sunday Herald and the New York Independent during the 1880s and 1890s, Moulton gained recognition in the U.S. for the Pre-Raphaelites, Décadents, and French Symbolist poets.

Like many late Victorians, Moulton wrote in traditional forms such as the sonnet, the French ballade, triolet, and rondel. She was known for her polished metrics, sensuous imagery, and meticulous workmanship. While critics appreciated her spontaneity, rarely do her emotions burst their poetic form; poise is all. However, Moulton's meditations on love and approaching death hint at deep feeling below the restrained surface. One poem concludes with the lines: "This brief delusion that we call our life / Where all we can accomplish is to die." In another, "Help Thou My Unbelief," she quietly pleads for protection from the contented but godless life. Doubt, although painful, is less dreadful.

Frequently the melancholy, minor note in her poetry is more subtle: "Roses that briefly live / Joy is your dower; / Blest be the fates that give one perfect hour. / And, though too soon you die, / In your dust glows, / Something the passerby / Knows was a rose." Clichés, along with Moulton's nostalgia for the lost "Arcady" of childhood and rural life, tend to date her work.

Upon her death, Moulton's reputation reached its crest. According to Whiting, she "had left a place in American letters unfilled and that no successor is in evidence will hardly be disputed." Moulton lamented half seriously that she seemed to have only two themes: love and death. But as her biographer Lilian Whiting commented, these are surely two of the very greatest. As a poet, her contribution was small, but worth noting. As a critic and literary publicist, she played a valuable role in American letters. As a woman, her social success and "feminine" artistry reveal a great deal about late Victorian expectations.

Other Works:

My Third Book (1859). Evaline, Madelon, and Other Poems (1861). More Bed-Time Stories (1875). Jessie's Neighbor, and Other Stories (1877). New Bed-Time Stories (1880). Random Rambles (1881). Poems (1882). Firelight Stories (1883). Ourselves and Our Neighbors (1887). Education for the Girls (1888). Miss Eyre from Boston (1889). A Ghost at His Fireside (1890). Stories Told at Twilight (1890). Arthur O'Shaugnessy, His Life and His Work (1894). In Childhood's Country (1896). Lazy Tours in Spain and Elsewhere (1896). Against Wind and Tide (1899). Four of Them (1899). The American University Course (State Registered): Second Month Conduct of Life (1900). Jessie's Neighbor (1900). Her Baby Brother (1901). Introduction to the Value of Love and Its Compiler Frederick Lawrence Knowles (1906). Poems and Sonnets of Louise Chandler Moulton (edited by H. P. Spofford, 1908).

The papers of Louise Chandler Moulton are housed in the Library of Congress and the American Antiquarian Society.

Bibliography:

Howe, J. W., Representative Women of New England (1904). Spofford, H. P., A Little Book of Friends (1916). Spofford, H. P., Our Famous Women (1884). Whiting, L., Louis Chandler Moulton, Poet and Friend (1910). Winslow, H. M., Literary Boston of Today (1902).

Reference works:

AW. CAL. DAB. Female Prose Writers of America (1857). NAW (1971). NCAB.

Other references:

Boston Transcript (12 Aug. 1908). Poet-Lore (Winter 1908).

—SARAH WAY SHERMAN

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