October 02, 2019
This month’s showcased object is a baby rattle. Made from a reddish polished coral handle topped with a silver whistle, it has three tiny silver bells attached around its circumference (a fourth bell is missing). The rattle shows obvious signs of use and wear, especially the silver whistle portion that is significantly dented, possibly the result of being chewed on by a teething baby.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow originally gave this rattle to his niece, Mary King Longfellow. Mary King Longfellow was the daughter of Henry’s younger brother Alexander, and she was born on October 6, 1852 near Portland, Maine. She received the rattle from her uncle that same year. The rattle must have been regarded as somewhat of a family heirloom, as Mary King Longfellow kept it until 1935, when she handed it down to one of her cousin Anne Allegra Longfellow Thorp’s granddaughters.
The rattle is an exact copy of an even earlier one, given to the poet Longfellow’s first child Charley, born in 1844. Longfellow even mentioned that original rattle in the second stanza of a poem he wrote to his son, titled “To A Child” and published in 1845.
With what a look of proud command
Thou shakest in thy little hand
The coral rattle with its silver bells,
Making a merry tune!
Thousands of years in Indian seas
That coral grew, by slow degrees,
Until some deadly and wild monsoon
Dashed it on Coromandel's sand!
Those silver bells
Reposed of yore,
As shapeless ore,
Far down in the deep-sunken wells
Of darksome mines,
In some obscure and sunless place,
Beneath huge Chimborazo's base,
Or Potosi's o'erhanging pines
And thus for thee, O little child,
Through many a danger and escape,
The tall ships passed the stormy cape;
For thee in foreign lands remote,
Beneath a burning, tropic clime,
The Indian peasant, chasing the wild goat,
Himself as swift and wild,
In falling, clutched the frail arbute,
The fibres of whose shallow root,
Uplifted from the soil, betrayed
The silver veins beneath it laid,
The buried treasures of the miser, Time.
Last updated: October 2, 2019