“The Benchley-Whittier Correspondence” (E41)

  • Originally printed: Life Magazine, May 11, 1922
  • First reprinted in: Love Conquers All
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley


Inspired by then-current efforts among literary historians to establish the trajectory of a letter written by Mary Shelley to Byron and then possibly forwarded onto a third person who doesn’t ever appear to have received it, Benchley moves to set the record straight regarding his own epistolary interactions with New England poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Casting his mind back to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1890, RCB recalls a lecture hall cloakroom mishap which resulted in a fateful hat switch.

Disliking Whittier’s hat intensely, and also craving an audience with the legendary abolitionist, the younger man’s (Benchley was 1) first missive strikes a tender balance between Puritan plain speaking and Transcendental enthusiasm. With no letters coming back the other way, Benchley’s tone becomes increasingly irritable as he laments Whittier’s negligence. He abandons all talk of introducing the Quaker versifier to influential musical comedy people and finally drops the matter of exchanging hats, after committing a mild curse to the mails in a letter dated three months prior to the inciting incident at the Save-Our-Songbirds meeting. A very strange year, that 1890.

Favourite Moment:
But we can discuss all this at our meeting, which I hope will be soon, as your hat looks like hell on me.

Reprint Notes:

  • Reprinted in its entirety with no alterations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s