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The Parson And The Bluestocking
The spinster thought she’d been proposed to; the young minister thought not. Their courtship and quarrel rocked devout New Haven
December 1961 | Volume 13, Issue 1
“God does not need my labor,” she cried. “He appoints me to suffer.” In her outrage and frustration she turned to the attack on William Shakespeare, a subject that she had discussed with MacWhorter in happier days. Her journey to England, made with the purpose of proving her thesis, ended in the church at Stratford on Avon, where the sexton found her, mad as the baker’s daughter, shuddering at the sight of Shakespeare’s unopened tomb. She was briefly confined in the asylum in the Forest of Arden until her family, with whom she had quarreled bitterly, brought her back to Connecticut. She died in the Hartford Retreat, lucid and reconciled to her friends, and asking for a last look at the picture of her father, who had grieved himself to death because he could not bring the kingdom of God to the wilderness in his generation.
Alexander MacWhorter continued to preach the gospel and to bother his friends with his theory of the infinite indivisibility of magnitude and to puzzle them with the Baconian heresy to which he remained (perhaps sentimentally) attached.
In 1852 Henrietta Blake gave rein to her delightful perversity of taste and married him, to her father’s unconcealed dismay. After holding a teaching post for a year, MacWhorter returned with Henrietta for a visit to Eli Blake and further infuriated the old gentleman by staying for twenty years. Mr. Blake, as one of his granddaughters put it, “was too honest to pretend a cordiality he did not feel.” He was never known during those twenty years to have addressed his son-in-law directly. MacWhorter’s own faction had come to regret the committee’s decision. Vindicated, he lived to cause the Divinity School perpetual embarrassment because of his pusillanimous mode of life and the crashing dullness of his occasional sermons.
Leonard Bacon wholeheartedly forgave Nathaniel Taylor, and Eli Blake reaped the reward of his extended silence when MacWhorter concluded his visit to 77 Elm Street with his mortal span in 1880. Henrietta was inconsolable. She dutifully kept house for her father, however, until his death. With that event, which was long in coming, she shook the dust of New Haven from her sandals and ended her days merrily in a pensione in Siena, in 1901.
The investigation which had blacked the newspapers and wagged the tongues in 1847 was so far forgotten that people growing up ten years after had never heard of it. Delia, alone of its chief performers, is memorable. Her love affair was a badly managed farce, her life work, The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded, is a marvelously contrived gargoyle, a monument to misapplied scholarship; and yet she emerges with dignity, a pathetic, even an engaging spectacle, like Ophelia, wearing her rue with a difference.