Karen L. Kilcup
Celia Laighton was born on June 29, 1835, in the lively coastal city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Her civic-minded father, Thomas B. Laighton, was a local merchant who had a lumber business and engaged in West Indian trade; he also worked in the custom house and post office. After serving in the state legislature, he ran for governor and lost. Disappointed, and angry over the means by which he was defeated, Laighton, when Celia was four years old, moved his family to White Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast, where he became the lighthouse keeper. The early part of Thaxter's childhood was an isolated one, with only her parents and two brothers for human company. Perhaps it was this isolation that enabled her to become the acute observer of nature revealed in her writing. Much later she would write to a friend, "Nobody knows how precious a word of kindness is, coming across the bitter sea to this howling wilderness of desolation, one lives so much on 'the weather' here; and when all out of doors turns your deadly enemy, it is hard to bear" ( Letters52).
This experience of isolation was mitigated somewhat when Laighton's family moved to Smutty Nose Island, one of the four Isles that her father had purchased, in 1841. Here, too, in spite of paying summer guests, the family was essentially alone during the hostile winter months, often confined to the house for weeks at a stretch. Nevertheless, the immense beauty of nature was something that she would recall with pleasure and awe in Among the Isles of Shoals ( 1873). Describing the subsidence of a thunderstorm, she wrote, "Presently this solemn gray lid was lifted at its western edge and an insufferable splendor streamed across the world from the sinking sun. The whole heaven was in a blaze of scarlet, across which sprang a rainbow unbroken to the topmost clouds . . . the