The story

John Greanleaf Whittier

John Greanleaf Whittier


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John Greanleaf Whittier, the son of a Quaker farmer, was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on 17th December, 1807. Although he received only a limited formal education, he developed a strong interest in literature.

When Whittier was only 19 he had a poem, The Exile's Departure, accepted by William Lloyd Garrison, in the Newburyport Free Press. The two men became close friends and they worked together in the campaign against slavery. His pamphlet, Justice and Expediency, made him a prominent figure in the Anti-Slavery Society.

Whittier's first book to be published was, Legends of New England in Prose and Verse (1831). This was followed by two long poems, Moll Pitcher (1832) and Mogg Megone (1836). Poems Written During the Progress of the Abolition Question appeared in 1838.

Whittier edited the Pennsylvania Freeman (1838-40) and wrote several anti-slavery poems included The Yankee Girl, The Slavery-Ships, The Hunters of Men, Massachusetts to Virginia and Ichabod. His poems on slavery were collected as Voices of Freedom (1846). Whittier's concern for the suffering of others was well illustrated in his book, Songs of Labour (1850).

Whittier was a regular contributor to the Atlantic Monthly. Other volumes of verse include the Chapel of the Hermits (1853), Panorama (1860), In War Time (1864), Snow-Bound (1866), Tent on the Beach (1867), Among the Hills (1869), Miriam and Other Poems (1871), Hazel-Blossoms (1875), The Vision of Echard (1878), Saint Gregory's Guest (1886) and At Sundown (1890).

John Greenleaf Whittier died on 7th September, 1892.

Committees were chosen to draft a constitution for a national Anti-Slavery Society, nominate a list of officers, and prepare a declaration of principles to be signed by the members. Dr. A. L. Cox of New York, while these committees were absent, read something from my pen eulogistic of William Lloyd Garrison; and Lewis Tappan and Amos A. Phelps, a Congregational clergyman of Boston, afterwards one of the most devoted laborers in the cause, followed in generous commendation of the zeal, courage, and devotion of the young pioneer. The president, after calling James McCrummell, one of the two or three colored members of the convention, to the chair, made some eloquent remarks upon those editors who had ventured to advocate emancipation. At the close of his speech a young man rose to speak, whose appearance at once arrested my attention.

I think I have never seen a finer face and figure; and his manner, words, and bearing were in keeping. "Who is he?" I asked of one of the Pennsylvania delegates. "Robert Purvis, of this city, a colored man," was the answer. He began by uttering his heart-felt thanks to the delegates who had convened for the deliverance of his people.

He spoke of Garrison in terms of warmest eulogy, as one who had stirred the heart of the nation, broken the tomb-like slumber of the Church, and compelled it to listen to the story of the slave's wrongs. He closed by declaring that the friends of colored Americans would not be forgotten. "Their memories," he said, "will be cherished when pyramids and monuments shall have crumbled in dust. The flood of time, which is sweeping away the refuge of lies, is bearing on the advocates of our cause to a glorious immortality."

A list of officers of the new society was then chosen: Arthur Tappan, of New York, president, and Elizur Wright, Jr., William Lloyd Garrison, and A. Cox, secretaries.

A beautiful and graceful woman, in the prime of life, with a face beneath her plain cap as finely intellectual as that of Madame Roland, offered some wise and valuable suggestions, in a clear, sweet voice, the charm of which I have never forgotten. It was Lucretia Mott, of Philadelphia. The president courteously thanked her, and encouraged her to take a part in the discussion.

For, while we may well thank God and congratulate one another on the prospect of the speedy emancipation of the slaves of the United States, we must not for a moment forget that from this hour new and mighty responsibilities devolve upon us to aid, direct, and educate these millions left free, indeed, but bewildered, ignorant, naked, and foodless in the wild chaos of civil war.

We have to undo the accumulated wrongs of two centuries, to remake the manhood which slavery has well-nigh unmade, to see to it that the long-oppressed colored man has a fair field for development and improvement, and to tread under our feet the last vestige of that hateful prejudice which has been the strongest external support of Southern slavery. We must lift ourselves at once to the true Christian attitude where all distinctions of black and white are overlooked in the heartfelt recognition of the brotherhood of man.

I love, perhaps too well, the praise and good-will of my fellow-men; but I set a higher value on my name as appended to the Antislavery Declaration of 1833 than on the title-page of any book. Looking over a life marked by many errors and shortcomings, I rejoice that I have been able to maintain the pledge of that signature, and that, in the long intervening years, "My voice, though not the loudest has been heard. Wherever Freedom raised her cry of pain."

Let me, through thee, extend a warm greeting to the friends, whether of our own or the new generation, who may assemble on the occasion of commemoration. There is work yet to be done which will task the best efforts of us all. For thyself, I need not say that the love and esteem of early boyhood have lost nothing by the test of time.

"ALL ready?" cried the captain;

"Ay, ay!" the seamen said;

"Heave up the worthless lubbers, -

The dying and the dead."

Up from the slave-ship's prison

Fierce, bearded heads were thrust

"Now let the sharks look to it, -

Toss up the dead ones first!"

Corpse after corpse came up, -

Death had been busy there;

Where every blow is mercy,

Why should the spoiler spare?

Corpse after corpse they cast

Sullenly from the ship,

Yet bloody with the traces

Of fetter-link and whip.

Gloomily stood the captain,

With his arms upon his breast,

With his cold brow sternly knotted,

And his iron lip compressed.

"Are all the dead dogs over?"

Growled through that matted lip;

"The blind ones are no better,

Let's lighten the good ship."

Hark! from the ship's dark bosom,

The very sounds of hell!

The ringing clank of iron,

The maniac's short, sharp yell!

The hoarse, low curse, throat-stified;

The starving infant's moan,

The horror of a breaking heart

Poured through a mother's groan.

Up from that loathsome prison

The stricken blind ones came:

Below, had all been darkness,

Above, was still the same.

Yet the holy breath of heaven

Was sweetly breathing there,

And the heated brow of fever

Cooled in the soft sea air.

"Overboard with them, shipmates!"

Cutlass and dirk were plied;

Fettered and blind, one after one,

Plunged down the vessel's side.

The sabre smote above,.

Beneath, the lean shark lay,

Waiting with wide and bloody jaw

His quick and human prey.

God of the earth! what cries

Rang upward unto thee?

Voices of agony and blood,

From ship-deck and from sea.

The last dull plunge was heard,

The last wave caught its stain,

And the unsated shark looked up

For human hearts in vain.

Champion of those who groan beneath

Oppression's iron hand:

In view of penury, hate, and death,

I see thee fearless stand.

Still bearing up thy lofty brow,

In the steadfast strength of truth,

In manhood sealing well the vow

And promise of thy youth.

Go on, for thou hast chosen well;

On in the strength of God!

Long as one human heart shall swell

Beneath the tyrant's rod.

Speak in a slumbering nation's ear,

As thou hast ever spoken,

Until the dead in sin shall hear,

The fetter's link be broken!

I love thee with a brother's love,

I feel my pulses thrill,

To mark thy Spirit soar above

The cloud of human ill.

My heart hath leaped to answer thine,

And echo back thy words,

As leaps the warrior's at the shine

And flash of kindred swords!

They tell me thou art rash and vain,

A searcher after fame;

That thou art striving but to gain

A long-enduring name;

That thou hast nerved the Afric's hand

And steeled the Afric's heart,

To shake aloft his vengeful brand,

And rend his chain apart.

Have I not known thee well, and read

Thy mighty purpose long?

And watched the trials which have made

Thy human spirit strong?

And shall the slanderer's demon breath

Avail with one like me,

To dim the sunshine of my faith

And earnest trust in thee?

Go on, the dagger's point may glare

Amid thy pathway's gloom;

The fate which sternly threatens there

Is glorious martyrdom!

Then onward with a martyr's zeal;

And wait thy sure reward

When man to man no more shall kneel,

And God alone be Lord.

Ho! thou who seekest late and long

A License from the Holy Book

For brutal lust and fiendish wrong,

Man of the Pulpit, look!

Lift up those cold and atheist eyes,

This ripe fruit of thy teaching see;

And tell us how to heaven will rise

The incense of this sacrifice --

This blossom of the gallows tree!

Search out for slavery's hour of need

Some fitting text of sacred writ;

Give heaven the credit of deed

Which shames the nether pit.

Kneel, smooth blasphemer, unto Him

Whose truth is on thy lips a lie;

Ask that His bright winged cherubim

May bend around that scaffold grim

To guard and bless and sanctify.

O champion of the people's cause!

Suspend thy loud and vain rebuke

Of foreign wrong and Old World's laws,

Man of the Senate, look!

Was this the promise of the free,

The great hope of our early time,

That slavery's poison vine should be

Upborne by Freedom's prayer-nursed tree

O'erclustered with such fruits of crime?

Send out the summons East and West,

And South and North, let all be there

Where he who pitied the oppressed

Swings out in sun and air.

Let not a Democratic hand

The grisly hangman's task refuse;

There let each loyal patriot stand,

Awaiting slavery's command,

To twist the rope and draw the noose!


John Greenleaf Whittier

After losing a congressional election at the age of twenty-five, lifelong Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier found himself being pulled more wholeheartedly into abolitionist movements. A poet and writer, Whittier worked for several publications before authoring an anti-slavery pamphlet in 1833. From there, he dedicated the next twenty years of his life to the cause.

Political experience made Whittier an excellent lobbyist. He traveled widely, attending conventions, giving public addresses, exerting influence on politicical figures, and ultimately securing votes. In the process, Whittier was often met with violent responses including being mobbed, stoned, and run out of town.

Throughout this time, he continued writing poetry which primarily focused on the problems of slavery. He spoke of slavery both in the literal sense, but also in connection with all kinds of oppression (physical, spiritual, and economic). He gained a wide readership.

In 1865, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment ended both slavery and Whittier's public cause.

For the remainder of his life, he gave over his life more fully to poetry. His subject matter expanded broadly. He went on to become a founding contributor of the magazine currently known as The Atlantic.


Birth of John Greenleaf Whittier

John Greenleaf Whittier was born on December 17, 1807, at his family’s rural homestead in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Whittier grew up on his family’s farm, which saw frequent visitors over the years. The farm wasn’t very profitable, and only provided the family with enough to sustain their lives. Whittier suffered from poor health as a child, and throughout his life, and never really enjoyed the hard labor of farm life.

Though he received little formal education, Whittier loved to read, and would read his father’s six books on Quakerism over and over. This had a major impact on his life as he adopted many of religion’s principles, especially humanitarianism, compassion, and social responsibility.

In 1826, Whittier’s sister sent one of his poems to the Newburyport Free Press without him knowing. The paper’s editor, William Lloyd Garrison, saw his potential and published the poem, “The Exile’s Departure” that June. Garrison and another local newspaper editor then pushed Whittier to attend the newly opened Haverhill Academy. To afford tuition, Whittier worked a shoemaker to raise money. He then worked out a deal with the school to pay a portion of his tuition with food grown at his family’s farm. Whittier also worked briefly as a teacher to provide for his education.

Item #81913 – Commemorative cover marking Garrison’s 183rd birthday.

Whittier graduated after just two terms at Haverhill and then took a job at Garrison’s temperance paper, the National Philanthropist. Over the next few years Whittier worked for several papers, spoke out against president Andrew Jackson, and published his poem, “The Song of the Vermonters, 1779” which was attributed to Ethan Allen for 60 years.

Whittier briefly explored a political career, but lost his congressional election and returned home. Then in 1833 Garrison recruited Whittier to join the abolitionist cause. That year Whittier published his first antislavery pamphlet, Justice and Expediency. The pamphlet ended any further chances he had in politics, but began his 20-year crusade. During this time, Whittier helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society and signed the Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833, an event his believed was the most important of his entire life.

U.S. #865 FDC – First day cover pictures Whittier’s birthplace and an excerpt from Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl.

In the coming years, Whittier was a vocal abolitionist. He met with anti-slavery congressmen and recruited them for the cause. He also traveled throughout the North delivering speeches and meeting with politicians. Not all of his experiences were good, however. On some occasions he was attacked, stoned, and run out of town. But he was committed to the cause. In addition to his travels and lobbying, Whittier continued to write, both for antislavery newspapers and poetry. Most of his poems from this period focused on slavery.

As the 1830s grew to a close, Whittier and Garrison no longer saw eye to eye. Whittier believed that they needed legislative change in order to make real progress and Garrison didn’t agree. So Whittier founded the Liberty Party and tried, unsuccessfully, to get fellow writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to join him.

U.S. #902 was issued for the 75th anniversary of the 13 Amendment.

In 1845, Whittier wrote an essay, “The Black Man,” which included the story of John Fountain, a free African American man who was sent to jail in Virginia after helping slaves escape. Fountain was eventually released and went on a speaking tour where he frequently thanked Whittier for sharing his story.

By this point in his life, Whittier was under immense stress, from his editorial work, failing health, and mob attacks. He decided to return home to Amesbury, marking the end of his active abolition campaigning. He continued to work for the Liberty Party from home, by encouraging them to advocate other issues, eventually becoming the Free Soil Party. Without the added stresses of travel and attacks, Whittier produced some of his best abolitionist poetry, drawing on emotions rather than logic.

After the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery in 1865, Whittier began to explore other themes in his poetry. He was one of the founding contributors to the Atlantic Monthly magazine and published one of his most popular works, Snow-Bound, in 1866.

U.S. #4545 – At Whittier’s 70th birthday celebration, Twain delivered a poorly received story you can read below.

Whittier continued to write throughout his final years, living in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He enjoyed an exciting 70 th birthday celebration in 1877 attended by fellow writers Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Mark Twain. In fact, his birthday that year was described as “without doubt the most notable that has ever been seen in this country within four walls” because of the large number of notable writers present. He wrote his final poem in 1892, a tribute to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., before his death on September 7, 1892.

Click here to read some of Whittier’s poems and here to read Twain’s 70 th birthday speech.


Tour the Home

From 1836 until his death in 1892, John Greenleaf Whittier lived and wrote most of his poetry and prose here in this Amesbury, MA home. Built circa 1829, this classic New England farmhouse retains the decor and structure of the home as Whittier and his family knew it during the mid- and late 1800s. While it serves as a National Historic Landmark and tribute to the Quaker poet and the anti-slavery champion who made outstanding contributions to the life and literature of this country, it also plays an important role in the region’s contemporary literary scene, attracting writers from Greater Boston and beyond.

About the House

When Whittier and has family moved into the house at 86 Friend Street in 1836, the original structure consisted of four rooms: a parlor which was rarely used by the family, a kitchen used by the family for all activities common during the times, and two small bedrooms. There was also a pantry adjacent to the kitchen where the food was prepared and used for storage of food goods and utensils. When the house was first purchased, Whittier was working in Connecticut however, when he returned, he realized that it was too small for himself and three women.

The first addition occurred shortly after his return. Whittier had a tiny bedroom built in the back of the house for Aunt Mercy and a bedroom in the attic for his sister Elizabeth. It is not known whether a small stairway or a ladder was used by her to reach her room. Whittier himself occupied the unheated front bedroom while his Mother used the second bedroom that backed up to the kitchen chimney.

The second addition was completed in 1847. Since Aunt Mercy had passed away, Whittier replaced her small bedroom with a large study. This is called “The Garden Room” due to the fact that he was required to cut down some of his prized pear trees to make space. This room also extended out to the side of the original house allowing for an exit from his study to an outside porch. Whittier often used this door for a quick exit when uninvited guests arrived. Two additional bedrooms were built on the second floor directly over the first floor bedrooms and the addition. The front bedroom was designated for guests while the back bedroom was for Elizabeth. Two attic rooms were added as well, and was used later by nephews and nieces, children of his brother Mathew and sister Mary. At the same time, a summer kitchen, with running water from a well, was added to the other side of the house. The old kitchen was now used as a dining room and the family used the new “Garden Room” for activities.

The third addition in 1884 was the two bedrooms on the right side of the front of the house. One was located over the entranceway and the kitchen while the other bedroom was built over the parlor. At this time, Whittier was living in Danvers with cousins, and visited Amesbury only during the fall and the spring. He had good Quaker friends who acted as caretakers of the house, and since he arrived and left without notification, he felt that the caretakers needed their own spaces.

His niece Lizzie Pickard acquired the house upon his death in 1892 but was not interested in living in it. At this time, The Whittier Home Association was formed and acted as caretakers. When Lizzie died, her husband and son decided to take up residence in Amesbury. Even at this time, Whittier was so loved that the people of Amesbury did not want to have his belongings moved or touched.

In 1904, the fourth addition was created by Greenleaf Pickard, Lizzie’s son, who chose to add to the house for his own residence, leaving most of the original home of John Greenleaf Whittier intact. He first moved the summer kitchen to another spot, in the yard of a neighbor, making it possible to build a modern kitchen in the back of the house. He added a family dining room between the parlor and new kitchen, incorporating the old pantry and built an additional stairway to the second floor from this dining room. A livingroom/bedroom was added over the newly constructed kitchen and dining room, and a summer porch completed the construction overlooking the back yard. This livingroom/bedroom as well as the porch was built to accommodate his sickly wife. A state of the art bathroom was added on the second floor with indoor plumbing. An attic room completed the construction over the new livingroom/bedroom creating a third floor bedroom/study for his father.


Snow-Bound

“WINDHAM FEBURARY 14.—Winter certainly took another flight… Yesterday was the day to read “Snowbound,” again—or do you know it by heart?” W.S. Harris, The Exeter Newsletter.

I didn’t know Snowbound at all, so while the snow was falling today, I read this poem written by John Greenleaf Whittier in 1865. In it, a snowstorm brings normal daily activity to a halt, allowing time to ponder the larger realities of life. Whittier eulogizes his family and the rural past. Written in the context of the destruction of the Civil War and the changes being brought about by the industrial revolution it was a popular success. The full poem runs for 747 lines and can be read at the Poetry Foundation-Snowbound.

…For such a world and such a night
Most fitting that unwarming light,
Which only seemed where’er it fell
To make the coldness visible.
Shut in from all the world without,
We sat the clean-winged hearth about.
Content to let the north-wind roar
In baffled rage at pane and door,
While the red logs before us beat
The frost-line back with tropic heat
And ever, when a louder blast
Shook beam and rafter as it passed,
The merrier up its roaring draught
The great throat of the chimney laughed.
The house-dog on his paws outspread
Laid to the fire his drowsy head,
The cat’s dark silhouette on the wall.
A couchant tiger’s seemed to fall
And, for the winter fireside meet,
Between the andirons’ straddling feet,
The mug of cider simmered slow,
The apples sputtered in a row,
And, close at hand, the basket stood
With nuts from brown October’s wood.
What matter how the night behaved?
What matter how the north-wind raved?
Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
Could quench our hearth-fire’s ruddy glow.
O Time and Change! – with hair as gray
As was my sire’s that winter day,
How strange it seems, with so much gone
Of life and love, to still live on!…

Found in Whittier’s introduction to Snowbound is a poem by Emerson and a quote illustrating the ancient spirituality of fire.

“As the Spirits of Darkness be stronger in the dark, so Good Spirits, which be Angels of Light, are augmented not only by the Divine light of the Sun, but also by our common Wood Fire: and as the Celestial Fire drives away dark spirits, so also this our Fire of Wood doth the same.” — Cor. Agrippa, Occult Philosophy, Book I.ch. v.

The Snowstorm (in part) by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of Storm.’

This is all in a round about way bringing us to the principle of spirituality that is found in the essence of fire. Who hasn’t sat transfixed in front of the flames of a fire losing all trace of time. “Fire is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. It was commonly associated with the qualities of energy, assertiveness, and passion. In one Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to protect the otherwise helpless humans, but was punished for this charity.

St John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, In Dark Night of the Soul, uses a beautiful depiction of fire to illustrate the path to spiritual Oneness with God. Essentially, we begin as green wood, with which it is very difficult to start the spiritual flame, so the fire often goes out, having to be restarted many times before a self sustaining fire can be established. Eventually, the fire burns brighter and hotter as we become one with God. Of course, the wood can never become the flame, but it can become totally subsumed within it. That’s the hope offered by the saint.

The 3,500 year Zoroastrian religion has fire as a central symbol. In ancient times, when Zoroastrians built no temples, possessed no religious imagery and had no books on the teachings of the faith, light served as the focus of their religious practices. Fire (athra / atarsh / atash) was a means of producing light. When using a flame, a source of light, as the focus while contemplating the spiritual aspects of one’s life, the symbolisms carried by the fire and the light it produced, conveyed some of the essential principles of the faith. For instance, carrying a fire into a dark place dispels the darkness giving us the metaphor of the light of wisdom banishing the darkness of ignorance. From wisdom are derived the principles of justice and order. The temporal fire was also the symbol of the cosmic fire of creation, a fire that continues to pervade every element of creation. In this sense, fire takes on a much broader meaning than a flame, a meaning we discuss below. Light and fire were also essential elements for sustaining life…Zarathushtra makes reference to the mainyu athra – the spiritual fire – as one that illuminates the path of asha. The universal laws of asha govern and bring order to the spiritual and material existences. Asha is available, through individual choice, to bring order to human thoughts, words and deeds. As an ethical choice, asha principled, honest, beneficent, ordered, lawful living.” HeritageInstitute.com

Enough said about this radical personification of snow and fire, its time to head home and start a blaze of my own. And to remember the more down to earth words of Robert Dinsmoor, Windham’s own “Rustic Bard”:

“And at my door a pile of wood, A rousing fire to warm my blood— Blessed sight to see!”


John Greenleaf Whittier

Short Name: John Greenleaf Whittier
Full Name: Whittier, John Greenleaf, 1807-1892
Birth Year: 1807
Death Year: 1892

Whittier, John Greenleaf, the American Quaker poet, was born at Haverhill, Massachusetts, Dec. 17, 1807. He began life as a farm-boy and shoemaker, and subsequently became a successful journalist, editor and poet. In 1828 he became editor of the American Manufacturer (Boston), in 1830 of the New England Review, and an 1836 (on becoming Secretary to the American Anti-Slavery Society) of the Pennsylvania Freeman. He was also for some time, beginning with 1847, the corresponding editor of the National Era. In 1840 he removed to Amesbury, Massachusetts, where most of his later works have been written. At the present time [1890] he lives alternately at Amesbury and Boston. His first poetical piece was printed in the Newburyport Free Press in 1824. Since then his publications have been numerous, including:—
Voices of Freedom, 1833 Songs of Labour, and other Poems, 1850 Ballads and other Poems, London, 1844 The Panorama, and other Poems, 1856 In War Time, 1863 Occasional Poems, 1865 Poetical Works, 1869 Complete Poetical Works, 1876 The Bay of the Seven Islands, and other Poems, 1883, &c.

From his numerous poems the following hymns have been compiled, and have come into common use, more especially amongst the American Unitarians:—
1. All as God wills, Who wisely heeds. Trust. This begins with stanza xi. of Whittier's poem, "My Psalm." in his workThe Panorama, and other Poems, 1856 (Complete Poetical Works, Boston, 1876, p. 179), and is given in Lyra Sacra Americana , 1868 Border's Congregational Hymns, 1884, &c.
2. All things are Thine: no gift have we. Opening of a Place of Worship. Written for the Opening of Plymouth Church, Minnesota, 1872 ( Complete Poetical Works , p. 281). In Horder's Congregational Hymns, 1884.
3. Another hand is beckoning us. Bereavement. From his poem " Gone," written in 1845 (Complete Poetical Works, p. 106). In Horder's Congregational Hymns, 1884.
4. Dear Lord and Father of mankind. Calmness in God desired. From his poem “The Brewing of Soma," beginning with stanza xii. (Complete Poetical Works p. 266). In Horder's Congregational Hymns, 1884.
5. God giveth quietness at last. Death and Burial. This begins with stanza xvii. of his poem, “The Singer," written in 1871 (Author's MS.), and included in the Complete Poetical Works, 1876, p. 265. In Martineau's Hymns, 1875.
6. Hast thou, 'midst life's empty noises. The Purpose of Life. Written in 1842. It is in Longfellow and Johnson's Unitarian Book of Hymns, Boston, 1846, and several other later American collections. Also in Lyra Sacra Americana, 1864.
7. I ask not now for gold to gild. Resignation. From his poem "The Wish of To-Day." Written in 1848 (Author's MS.). In Hedge and Huntingdon's Unitarian Hymns for the Church of Christ, Boston, 1853 the Laudes Domini, 1884, and other collections.
8. Immortal love, for ever full. The Love of Jesus. This poem, entitled “Our Master," appeared in Whittier's work, The Panorama, and other Poems, 1856, in 35 stanzas of 4 lines in Schaff’s Christ in Song, 1869-70, p. 117 and in the Complete Poetical Works, 1876, p. 231, and others. From this poem the following centos have come into common use:—
(1) Immortal love for ever full. In the 1890 edition of the Hymnal Companion and others.
(2) 0 Lord and Master of us all. Begins with stanza xvi.
(3) 0 Love! O Life! our faith and sight. Begins with stanza xxiv. In several American hymnals, including the Unitarian Hymn [and Tune Book ], Boston, 1868, and others.
(4) Our Friend, our Brother, and our Lord. Begins with stanza xxxiv. In Horder's Congregational Hymns, 1884, &c.
(5) We faintly hear, we dimly see. Begins with stanza xxvi. In Barrett's Congregational Church Hymnal, 1887.
(6) We may not climb the heavenly steeps. Begins with stanza v. In Laudes Domini, 1884 the Primitive Methodist Hymnal, 1887, &c.

The use of these centos shows that the hymnic element in the original poem is of a high and enduring order.
9. It may not be our lot to wield. Duty and its Reward. This begins with stanza iv. of his poem "Seedtime and Harvest." Written circa 1850 (Author's MS.). Given in his Complete Poetical Works, p. 114. The hymn is in Laudes Domini, 1884, and other American collections.
10. May freedom speed onward, wherever the blood. Freedom. In the 1848 Supplement to the Boston Book of Hymns, Boston, No. 582, Hymns of the Spirit, 1864, and other collections. In Whittier's Poetical Works, Boston, 1869, p. 68, it is given as, “Right onward, O speed it! Wherever the blood”.
11. Now is the seed-time God alone. Self-Sacrifice. In the Boston Hymns of the Spirit, 1864, No. 683.
12. 0 backward-looking son of time. New and Old. This begins with stanza xix. of his poem "The Reformer," and is given in this form in the Boston Hymns for the Church of Christ, Boston, 1853, No. 835, and again in later collections. In full in the Complete Poetical Works, p. 78.
13. 0 beauty, old yet ever new. The Law of Love. This in the Boston Hymns of the Spirit, 1864, begins with stanza xxi. of his poem on “The Shadow and the Light,” given in full in the Complete Poetical Works , p. 173.
14. 0 fairest-born of love and light. American National Hymn. This is from his poem "Democracy," which is dated "Election Day, 1843," and is in his Ballads and other Poems, London, 1844, p. 214, and his Complete Poetical Works, p. 82.
15. 0, he whom Jesus loves has truly spoken. True Worship. This in the 1848 Supplement to the Boston Book of Hymns, 1848, No. 578, begins with stanza xi. of his poem on “Worship," given in full in his Complete Poetical Works, p. 96. The poem is dated by the Author, 1848 (Author's MS.).
16. 0 holy Father, just and true. Freedom. "Lines written for the Celebration of the third Anniversary of British Emancipation at the Broadway Tabernacle, N. Y., First of August, 1837." (Complete Poetical Works, p. 47.) It was included in the Unitarian Christian Hymns, Boston, 1844, and has been repeated in later collections.
17. 0 Maker of the Fruits and Flowers. Flower Services. This begins with stanza iv. of his "Lines for the Agricultural and Horticultural Exhibition at Amesbury and Salisbury, Sep. 28, 1858," as given in his Complete Poetical Works , p. 183. It is in the Boston Hymns of the Spirit, 1864, and as "O Painter of the fruits and flowers," in Horder's Congregational Hymns, 1884.
18. O not alone with outward sign. Divine Invitation. This begins with stanza ii. of his poem, "The Call of the Christian," given in his Ballads and other Poems, London, 1844, p. 185, and his Complete Poetical Works, p. 73. The hymn appeared in the Boston Book of Hymns, 1846, and again in later collections.
19. O pure Reformers, not in vain. Freedom. This begins with stanza xii. of his poem "To the Reformers of England," as given in his Complete Poetical Works, p. 77. The hymn was included in the Boston Book of Hymns, 1846, and has been repeated in later collections.
20. O sometimes gleams upon our sight. Old and New. This is taken from his poem "The Chapel of the Hermits," 1852 (in 94 stanzas of 4 lines), and begins with stanza xi. (Comp. Poetical Works, p. 115.) The cento was given in the Boston Hymns of the Spirit, 1864, and repeated in later collections.
21. O Thou, at Whose rebuke the grave. Mercy. This was given in the Boston Book of Hymns, 1848, No. 44l.
22. O [God] Thou, Whose presence went before. National Hymn. This hymn is dated by the author 1834 (Author's MS.), and was written for the Anti-slavery Meeting at Chatham Street Chapel, New York, "on the 4th of the 7th month, 1831." It is No. 750 in the Unitarian Christian Hymns, 1844. It is sometimes given as “0 God, whose presence went before."
23. 0, what though our feet may not tread where Christ trod. Presence of Christ's Spirit. The author dates this 1837 (Author's MS.). It is No. 150 in the Boston Book of Hymns, 1846. In their Hymns of the Spirit, 1864, No. 652, it begins: "0, wherefore the dream of the earthly abode." Both centos are from his poem “Poledom."
24. Shall we grow weary in our watch? Patience, or Resignation. This begins with stanza x. of his poem "The Cypress-Tree of Ceylon." (Complete Poetical Works, p. 84.) This form of the text was given in the Boston Book of Hymns, 1846, No. 278, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines, and again in Horder's Congregational Hymns, 1884, in 3 stanzas.
25. Sport of the changeful multitude. Persecution. This begins with line 6 of stanza x. of his poem "Ezekiel," and was given in the Boston Hymns of the Spirit, 1864, No. 65lines In full in Complete Poetical Works, p. 67.
26. The green earth sends its incense up. Worship of Nature. The author dates this 1845 (Author's MS.). It is from his poem “The Worship of Nature," and was given in this form in the Boston Hymns for the Church of Christ, 1853, No. 193. The cento "The harp at Nature's advent strung," in the Unitarian Hymn [and Tune] Book, Boston, 1868, No. 195, is from the same poem. The cento No. 321 in the Boston Hymns of the Spirit, 1864, is also (altered) from this poem.
27. The path of life we walk today. The Shadowing Rock. This in the Boston Hys. of the Spirit, 1864, begins with stanza i. of his poem on "The Rock in El Gh'or," which the author dates 1859 (Author's MS.). In full in Complete Poetical Works, p. 180.
28. Thine are all the gifts, 0 God. Children's Missions, or Ragged Schools. Written for the Anniversary of the Children's Mission, Boston, 1878. It is given in Horder's Congregational Hymns, 1884.
29. Thou hast fallen in thine armour. Death. From his poem "To the memory of Charles B. Storrs, late President of Western Reserve College," published in his Ballads and other Poems, London, 1844, p. 84. Dated by the author 1835 (Author's MS.). Abridged form in the Hymns of the Spirit, 1864.
30. To-day, beneath Thy chastening eye. Seeking Rest. This begins with stanza iv. of his poem, "The Wish of To-Day," dated by the author 1847 (Author's MS.), and given in full in his Complete Poetical Works, p. 114. The cento is in Martineau's Hymns, 1873, and others.
31. We see not, know not all our way. Resignation. "Written at the opening of the Civil War, 1861" (Author's MS.), and included in his In War Time, 1863, and his Complete Poetical Works, p. 190. In full in the Prim. Methodist Hymnal, 1887.
32. When on my day of life the night is falling. Old Age. Written in 1882 (Author's MS.), and included in his work The Bay of the Seven Islands, and other Poems, 1883. In Horder's Congregational Hymns, 1884.
33. With silence only as their benediction. Death. 1845. "Written on the death of Sophia Sturge, sister of Joseph Sturge, of Birmingham, England" (Author's MS.). It is in several collections, including Martineau's Hymns, &c, 1873 Horder's Congregational Hymns, 1884, and others.

Notwithstanding this extensive use of portions of Mr. Whittier's poems as hymns for congregational use, he modestly says concerning himself: "I am really not a hymn-writer, for the good reason that I know nothing of music. Only a very few of my pieces were written for singing. A good hymn is the best use to which poetry can be devoted, but I do not claim that I have succeeded in composing one." (Author's MS.) We must add, however, that these pieces are characterized by rich poetic beauty, sweet tenderness, and deep sympathy with human kind.


Poetry

Whittier's first two published books were Legends of New England (1831) and the poem Moll Pitcher (1832). In 1833 he published The Song of the Vermonters, 1779, which he had anonymously inserted in The New England Magazine. The poem was erroneously attributed to Ethan Allen for nearly sixty years. This use of poetry in the service of his political beliefs is illustrated by his book Poems Written during the Progress of the Abolition Question.

Highly regarded in his lifetime and for a period thereafter, he is now largely remembered for his patriotic poem Barbara Frietchie, Snow-Bound, and a number of poems turned into hymns. Of these the best known is Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, taken from his poem The Brewing of Soma. On its own, the hymn appears sentimental, though in the context of the entire poem, the stanzas make greater sense, being intended as a contrast with the fevered spirit of pre-Christian worship.

Whittier's Quaker universalism is better illustrated, however, by the hymn that begins:

O Brother Man, fold to thy heart thy brother: Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there To worship rightly is to love each other, Each smile a hymn, each kindly word a prayer. His sometimes contrasting sense of the need for strong action against injustice can be seen in his poem "To Rönge" in honor of Johannes Ronge, the German religious figure and rebel leader of the 1848 rebellion in Germany: Thy work is to hew down. In God's name then: Put nerve into thy task. Let other men Plant, as they may, that better tree whose fruit, The wounded bosom of the Church shall heal. Whittier's poem "At Port Royal 1861" describes the experience of Northern abolitionists arriving at Port Royal, South Carolina, as teachers and missionaries for the slaves who had been left behind when their owners fled because the Union Navy would arrive to blockade the coast. The poem includes the "Song of the Negro Boatmen," written in dialect: Oh, praise an' tanks! De Lord he come To set de people free An' massa tink it day ob doom, An' we ob jubilee. De Lord dat heap de Red Sea waves He jus' as 'trong as den He say de word: we las' night slaves To-day, de Lord's freemen. De yam will grow, de cotton blow, We'll hab de rice an' corn: Oh, nebber you fear, if nebber you hear De driver blow his horn!

Of all the poetry inspired by the Civil War, the "Song of the Negro Boatmen" was one of the most widely printed,[20] and though Whittier never actually visited Port Royal, an abolitionist working there described his "Song of the Negro Boatmen" as "wonderfully applicable as we were being rowed across Hilton Head Harbor among United States gunboats."[21]


The Story of John Greenleaf Whittier

I did not know much of John Greenleaf Whitter’s life before reading this book but wow! what an incredible man! We can all be inspired by his life. My children have really enjoyed many of the biographies in the Good and Beautiful Library so we tried this as a read-aloud, but this one did not hold their attention as well, so I continued reading it on my own. I would definitely reserve this for an older audience. The narrator’s style feels a little distant from the story and so it isn’t as grabbing as some of the other biographies we have read and loved. But John Greenleaf Whitter is a story and man everyone should know.

Powerful and fascinating

Who knew the many-faceted sides of John Greenleaf Whittier? Certainly not me. If you love his poetry, you’ll definitely want to read this fascinating book about his life. Besides being a poet, he was a farmer and crusader. He stood firm in his beliefs. This is a powerful book.

Beautiful Story

I can’t say enough about the beautiful writing of this book. John Greenleaf Whittier was such an inspiration, and I can see why. I highly recommend this book for parents and children alike!

Level 9

John Greenleaf Whittier worked tirelessly on his father’s farm, making sure he finished the day’s work before allowing himself to pen the lines of poetry that filled his mind. Eventually, though a difficult choice, John Greenleaf Whittier risked his budding career as a successful poet, editor, and politician—and his life—to join the unpopular anti-slavery movement. As difficult as the decision was, Whittier knew that “the right must win and that duty must be done at all costs.” He dedicated the majority of his life to fighting slavery, and as a result, he lived in poverty most of his life and struggled to care for those he loved. Little did he know the poetry and legacy he left behind would touch the lives of thousands of people for decades after his death.

This book is integrated with the High School 1 Language Arts Course and is included in the High School 1 Course Set.

Note: The Good and the Beautiful will not be creating an Audible version of this book.


History of Hymns: "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind"

This hymn’s origin is a paradox. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) worshipped in the tradition of the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. Traditionally, Quakers have not sung in worship, but value silence, waiting for the “still, small voice” of God.

According to accounts Whittier had been reading in Max Müller’s The Sacred Books of the East about the use of soma, a plant found in northwest India. Soma was used to prepare an intoxicating drug that was ingested in religious rituals, resulting in a state of frenzy.

This hymn began as a part of a long narrative poem, “The Brewing of Soma,” published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1872. The poem describes Vedic priests going into the forest, brewing a drink from honey and milk, and drinking themselves into a frenzy. Whittier was critical of those who believed they might find God through unbridled ecstasy, such as the hysterical camp meetings and revivals common in his day.

Whittier’s response was a 17-stanza poem, of which stanzas 12-17 have been excised to form the hymn as found in many hymnals. The preceding stanza sets the context for our hymn:

And yet the past comes round again,
And new doth old fulfill
In sensual transports wild as vain
We brew in many a Christian fane
The heathen Soma still!

Stanza one then begins, “Dear Lord, and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways….”—a complete antithesis to the “transports wild” in the preceding verse. Rather than frenzy, true praise is expressed in “deeper reverence.”

Whittier then continues with biblical examples of simplicity and serenity. Stanza two alludes to the “simple trust” of the disciples who heard the “gracious calling” of Christ. Like them, we should rise “without a word” and follow the Master.

Stanza three has one of the most beautiful phrases in 19th-century Romantic poetry. The context is that of “Sabbath rest” by the sea with the “calm of hills above.” It was in this serene setting that Christ came to pray in “the silence of eternity, interpreted by love!”

The fourth stanza maintains the sense of tranquility: “Drop thy still dews of quietness,/till all our strivings cease.” In this stanza the poet employs the device of onomatopoeia by choosing words throughout with an “s” sound—“dews,” “quietness,” “strivings,” “cease” and so on. The skill of the poet is evident in a tour de force of sibilant sounds evoking serenity.

The final stanza evokes images of breathing and calm, closing with a magnificent antithesis: “Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,/ O still, small voice of calm.”

Whittier was one of the most important of the 19th-century American poets. The New Englander was a Quaker abolitionist, reared in a large farmhouse in the rural setting of Merrimac Valley at East Haverhill, Mass. The Whittier homestead remains a museum open to the public.

The Victorian tune REST by Frederick C. Maker (1844-1927) was actually composed for American poet W.B. Tappan’s hymn, “There is an hour of peaceful rest.” British hymnals have embraced Whittier’s hymn, but prefer the tune REPTON by the famous English composer C.H.H. Parry.

English hymnologist J.R. Watson summarizes well the contribution of this hymn: “It is the opposite end of the devotional spectrum from those hymns which encourage activity and energy but everyone experiences the need for quiet meditation at some time, and this hymn encourages an almost mystical contemplation of the peace of God ‘which passes all understanding.’”

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.


John Greenleaf Whittier

In the 30-year struggle to abolish slavery, John Greenleaf Whittier played an important role as a poet, as a politician, and as a moral force. Although he was among the most ardent of the antebellum reformers, he was saved from the besetting sin of that class&mdasha narrowing and self-consuming zeal&mdashby his equal insistence on tolerance, a quality he had come to cherish all the more through his study of the persecution of his Quaker ancestors. But if Whittier&rsquos life was dramatic for the moral, political, and, on occasion, physical conflicts it included, his poetry&mdashthe best of it&mdashis of at least equal significance. Whittier was a highly regarded poet during the second half of the 19th century, enshrined in the pantheon of &ldquoSchoolroom Poets&rdquo along with William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Whittier knew that he had written too much and that much of what he had written for the abolitionist movement had been quickly composed and for ends that were essentially political. Nevertheless, his collected poetry includes a core of excellent work, at the head of which stands his masterpiece, Snow-Bound. A Winter Idyl (1866), a lovingly imaginative recreation of the good life in rural New England. This work&mdashtogether with &ldquoTelling the Bees,&rdquo &ldquoIchabod,&rdquo &ldquoMassachusetts to Virginia,&rdquo &ldquoSkipper Ireson&rsquos Ride,&rdquo &ldquoThe Rendition,&rdquo &ldquoThe Double-Headed Snake of Newbury,&rdquo and a dozen or so others&mdashsuggests not only the New England source of Whittier&rsquos finest achievements but also the predominant appeal that folk material had for his imagination.

Whittier&rsquos youth&mdashindeed, his whole life&mdashwas deeply rooted in the values, history, and traditions of rural Essex County, Massachusetts. Born on December 17, 1807 near Haverhill, Massachusetts, in a farmhouse that his great-great-grandfather had built in the 17th century, John Greenleaf Whittier grew up in a poor but respectable household characterized by hard work, Quaker piety, and warm family affection. A more distinctive part of his background was the rich tradition of folklore in the region tales of witches and ghosts told on winter evenings by the fire exercised the young Whittier&rsquos imagination. But his discovery of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, who could speak the beauty of the commonplace circumstances of a rural environment, made him wish to be a poet.

In 1829 Whittier was 22, too frail to be of much help on the farm, too poor to have given himself more than a year at the Haverhill Academy, and already beginning to doubt his abilities as a poet. He accepted the editorship of The American Manufacturer, a political weekly in Boston. This position had been secured for him by William Lloyd Garrison, himself a young newspaper editor who was just then beginning his long career as an abolitionist. Whittier entered journalism for the opportunity to write. What he learned from the experience, however, were politics and polemics. His editorials, first in The American Manufacturer and later in the Hartford, Connecticut, New England Review, were at least as fierce in their denunciation of the Democrat Andrew Jackson as they were warm in support of the Whig Henry Clay.

In February 1831, while at Hartford, Whittier published a collection of tales and poems, Legends of New-England. Although the volume received little attention at the time, it is significant as a pioneering effort to render New England folklore, and in some respects it may be said to anticipate the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Whittier was never entirely comfortable with the Gothic mode, however, and suppressed the book in later life. On one occasion he paid five dollars for the privilege of destroying a copy of this rare early volume.

Toward the end of 1831 Whittier retired in ill health to Haverhill and spent the winter convalescing. He knew that he was at a crossroads in his life and wished to settle finally on a vocation. Poetry hardly paid at all, but he had come to like politics and found that his vociferous public support for Clay had made him a popular man in Massachusetts. The answer to Whittier&rsquos dilemma about his vocation arrived in the mail on March 22, 1833. His friend and patron, Garrison, who had begun publishing his The Liberator two years before, wrote to Whittier urging him to enlist in the gathering struggle against slavery. &ldquoYour talents, zeal, influence,&rdquo he told Whittier, &ldquoall are needed.&rdquo Whittier knew that to enlist in this cause, unpopular as it then was in New England, would be tantamount to giving up all hope of ever gaining elective office. To form such an alliance would also exclude him from influential literary circles and make publishing his poetry difficult, if not impossible. Still, Whittier had been slowly coming to the conclusion that Garrison now urged on him&mdashthat the evil of slavery had to be resisted actively.

Whittier responded in June 1833 with a privately printed pamphlet called Justice and Expediency or, Slavery Considered with a View to Its Rightful and Effectual Remedy, Abolition, a closely reasoned and carefully documented attack on the Colonization Society. Widely supported by Northern and Southern churches, the Colonization Society was a conservative reform group that proposed to resolve the issue of slavery by sending American blacks, both slave and free, back to Africa. The society was, at the time of Whittier&rsquos pamphlet, headed by Clay. An abolitionist group in New York republished the work and distributed hundreds of copies. Whittier&rsquos commitment to the cause was now sealed as he expressed the experience many years later in &ldquoThe Tent on the Beach&rdquo (1867), he

Had left the Muses&rsquo haunts to turn
The crank of an opinion-mill,
Making his rustic reed of song
A weapon in the war with wrong,
Yoking his fancy to the breaking-plow
That beam-deep turned to the soil for truth to spring and grow.

On the basis of this pamphlet and as a friend of Garrison, Whittier was chosen to be a delegate to the Philadelphia convention that in December 1833 founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. Accepting this position was an important moment in his life, and though his identification with the movement entailed many sacrifices throughout his career, he never regretted his decision. &ldquoI set a higher value on my name as appended to the Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833,&rdquo he later said, &ldquothan on the title-page of any book.&rdquo

Though he could no longer hope to fulfill his dream of winning prominent political office, in 1835 he was able to gain a seat in the state legislature from his small home district of Haverhill. In the legislature he was an effective spokesman for his cause, winning over many to his views on the slavery question, sending petitions to the Congress, trying to get a bill through the state house granting trial by jury in cases involving the return of runaway slaves, and even organizing opposition to the death penalty. Whittier served only one term, having again jeopardized his always precarious health by hard work. He continued meanwhile to express his abolitionism in poems published in Garrison&rsquos The Liberator and in the columns of the Essex Gazette, which he now edited, but opposition to his moral stand was mounting. He was forced out of the Essex Gazette for failing to toe the orthodox Whig line and was threatened with violence in September 1835 by a mob in Concord, New Hampshire.

In 1836 Whittier sold the 148-acre family farm and moved with his mother and sister a few miles away to Amesbury in order that he and they might be closer to the Friends&rsquo meetinghouse. He was, however, frequently away. In 1837 he was in the New York office of the Anti-Slavery Society directing a nationwide petition campaign, and in the following year he moved to Philadelphia to edit the Pennsylvania Freeman, which he succeeded in turning into a vigorous organ of the abolitionist movement. During this period he was in close contact with all the most prominent American antislavery leaders, from Garrison and the Grimké sisters (Angelina Weld and Sarah Moore) to Lydia Maria Child and John Quincy Adams.

Poems Written During the Progress of the Abolition Question in the United States, Between the Years 1830 and 1838&mdashthe first collection of Whittier&rsquos poetry&mdashwas brought out in 1837, without his knowledge, by some of his antislavery associates in Boston. In 1838 Whittier authorized an expanded and corrected edition, called Poems, which was published in Philadelphia. Included in these collections are some of his most heartfelt polemics, such as &ldquoClerical Oppressors,&rdquo a poem attacking the hypocrisy of the Southern clergy in lending the support of Christianity to the slave system:

Feed fat, ye locusts, feed!
And, in your tasselled pulpits, thank the Lord
That, from the toiling bondman&rsquos utter need,
Ye pile your own full board.

In such poems as &ldquoStanzas&rdquo (later called &ldquoExpostulation") Whittier contrasted the apparent commitment of the United States to slavery with its historic dedication to freedom. The poems were meant to be, and indeed were, effective propaganda. During the late 1830s a split developed within the ranks of the abolitionists: some, such as Whittier, preferred to work through the political system for change and hoped to preserve the Union others, such as Garrison, were less concerned with the Union and believed that slavery could not be abolished without also destroying the U.S. Constitution. While Garrison, working with the extreme &ldquononresistants,&rdquo placed his reliance on moral suasion, Whittier was busy helping to organize the Liberty Party. He retired to Amesbury in 1840 but continued to work actively for Liberty Party candidates and for the election of others, regardless of party, who favored emancipation.

The publication in 1843 of Whittier&rsquos Lays of My Home, and Other Poems marked his return to the poetic treatment of regional materials. Included in this collection are poems such as &ldquoThe Merrimack,&rdquo treating the local scenery with the touch of the pastoral landscape artist poems such as &ldquoThe Ballad of Cassandra Southwick,&rdquo exploring New England history and poems such as &ldquoThe Funeral Tree of the Sokokis,&rdquo based on Native American lore. The near relation of Whittier&rsquos regional and abolitionist poetry is indicated not only in the consistent advocacy of tolerance and brotherhood in the regional poems but also in the appeal to New England pride that so often forms the basis for his antislavery discourse. The finest poem of this sort, &ldquoMassachusetts to Virginia,&rdquo was first published in this volume. After the overwhelming enthusiasm of the 1830s had dissipated in division and recrimination within the antislavery ranks, Whittier was able, during the next two decades, to maintain a healthier, more mature balance between his twin commitments to poetry and reform.

In 1846 Whittier published his last collection of antislavery poems, Voices of Freedom, and in 1847 brought out a collection of prose sketches titled The Supernaturalism of New England. A caustic review of the latter volume by Hawthorne, who pointed out its author&rsquos fundamental lack of sympathy with Gothic themes, may have contributed to Whittier&rsquos decision to suppress the book. In the same year he became a contributing editor with The National Era, a Washington-based antislavery journal that, until the founding of The Atlantic Monthly 10 years later, served as his main publishing outlet. The most significant of Whittier&rsquos works to appear in The National Era was Leaves from Margaret Smith&rsquos Journal in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. 1678-9 (published as a book in 1849). His only novel, Leaves from Margaret Smith&rsquos Journal is cast in the form of the letters and diary of a 17th-century New England Quaker, Margaret Smith. The story is sprightly and realistic, and the character of Margaret&mdash &ldquoamong the first of our native heroines,&rdquo as Lewis Leary has observed&mdashis carefully and sensitively portrayed.

On March 7, 1850 Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster affirmed his support of compromise with the Southern slave power. Shocked and saddened by this unexpected defection, Whittier responded with his powerful protest &ldquoIchabod.&rdquo The poem is one of his best, its invective tightly controlled and deepened by the poet&rsquos acknowledgment of the frailties of all men, even the greatest:

So fallen! so lost! the light withdrawn
Which once he wore!
The glory from his gray hairs gone
Forevermore!
Revile him not, the Tempter hath
A snare for all
And pitying tears, not scorn and wrath,
Befit his fall!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Then, pay the reverence of old days
To his dead fame
Walk backward, with averted gaze,
And hide the shame!

Meanwhile, Whittier was busy trying to get a reluctant Charles Sumner to run for the other senatorial position of Massachusetts. Whittier&rsquos maneuvers were successful and Sumner, with Whittier&rsquos advice and encouragement, became perhaps the most outspoken abolitionist in Washington.

Whittier&rsquos books of poetry were appearing at fairly regular intervals now that he had settled on the Boston publishing firm of Ticknor, Reed, and Fields (later Houghton, Mifflin). Sales, however, continued to be moderate at best. In 1850 appeared Songs of Labor and Other Poems, which, besides &ldquoIchabod,&rdquo included &ldquoCalef at Boston,&rdquo &ldquoOn Receiving a Quill &hellip ,&rdquo and the series of occupational poems that gives the volume its title. The Chapel of the Hermits and Other Poems was published in 1853, and The Panorama and Other Poems followed in 1856. The popular &ldquoBarefoot Boy,&rdquo a sentimental tribute to the naturally free and unspoiled life of poor New England children, was collected in the latter volume together with a fine antislavery poem, &ldquoThe Haschich.&rdquo

An important turn in Whittier&rsquos career occurred in 1857. The founding of The Atlantic Monthly in that year gave him a regular forum with all the most prominent writers of New England. His contributions to the earliest issues&mdashincluding &ldquoSkipper Ireson&rsquos Ride&rdquo and &ldquoTelling the Bees"&mdashrepresented the best poems he had ever written. Symbolic of Whittier&rsquos entry into the literary establishment of Boston was the publication, also in 1857, of the &ldquoBlue and Gold Edition&rdquo of his poetry in a format to match Longfellow&rsquos. Toward the end of the year, Whittier&rsquos mother died and the poet turned 50.

The poetry of this period shows Whittier&rsquos increasing disengagement from broadly political issues. His attention was turning more and more to his own personal past, as shown in the nostalgic, quasi-autobiographical poems &ldquoTelling the Bees&rdquo and &ldquoMy Playmate&rdquo he was also increasingly drawn to the larger but still personal past of New England history, as shown in the many fine ballads that he wrote at this time, such as &ldquoSkipper Ireson&rsquos Ride,&rdquo &ldquoThe Garrison of Cape Ann,&rdquo &ldquoThe Prophecy of Samuel Sewall,&rdquo &ldquoThe Double-Headed Snake of Newbury,&rdquo and &ldquoThe Swan Song of Parson Avery.&rdquo All of these poems were first collected in Home Ballads and Poems, published in 1860. Almost the only hint of the impending Civil War that the volume included was the poem Whittier wrote in response to the raid on Harpers Ferry, &ldquoBrown of Ossawatomie.&rdquo

Whittier&rsquos Quaker pacifism did not prevent him from being an ardent supporter of the Union cause when the Civil War broke out. He admired President Abraham Lincoln and was particularly proud of having voted for him four times, as a citizen and as an elector in 1860 and 1864. Whittier wrote many patriotic poems during the war, of which &ldquoBarbara Frietchie&rdquo is the most famous. In War Time and Other Poems, published in 1864, included several fine examples of Whittier&rsquos public poetry&mdash&ldquoThy Will Be Done&rdquo and &ldquoEin Feste Berg &hellip ,&rdquo for example&mdashin addition to several more &ldquohome ballads,&rdquo including &ldquoCobbler Keezar&rsquos Vision,&rdquo &ldquoAmy Wentworth,&rdquo and &ldquoThe Countess.&rdquo This volume was republished in 1865 under the title National Lyrics and included &ldquoLaus Deo,&rdquo in which Whittier joyously recorded the death knell of slavery, the moment for which so much of his career had been a preparation.&rdquo

With the Civil War over and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution ratified, a part of Whittier&rsquos public life came to a close, just as, a year earlier, a part of his personal life had come to a close with the death of his beloved younger sister, Elizabeth. Whittier&rsquos whole mood was retrospective and memorial as he set to work on the &ldquoYankee pastoral&rdquo that he had promised The Atlantic Monthly editor James Russell Lowell he would write. The result was Snow-Bound, his masterpiece.

The poem recalls a winter storm at the old Whittier homestead when the poet was a child. A day and a night of driving snow had transformed everything:

We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own,
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below&mdash
A universe of sky and snow!

The threat of isolation, of freezing or starving, is countered by the family at the wood fire on the hearth, the warmth of which is a symbol of life and family affection.

Shut in from all the world without,
We sat the clean-winged hearth about,
Content to let the north-wind roar
In baffled rage at pane and door,
While the red logs before us beat
The frost-line back with tropic heat.

The physical and spiritual sufficiency of this besieged family circle is the subject of Whittier&rsquos reminiscence precisely because most of those who were then present were now dead. By recalling each of them in turn, Whittier substitutes the light of affectionate memory for the light of the burning oaken log by which that night they gathered together. The effect is to make the poem itself stand witness to &ldquoThe truth to flesh and sense unknown, / That Life is ever lord of Death, / And Love can never lose its own!&rdquo

Snow-Bound has lost none of its appeal with the passing of time. A large part of its charm is in its presentation of what Whittier called &ldquoFlemish pictures of old days,&rdquo composed of the common detail of rural life in early 19th-century New England: the few books, the schoolmaster boarding with the family, the sounds to be heard on windy winter nights (&ldquoWe heard the loosened clapboards toss, / The boardnails snapping in the frost&rdquo), the importance of newspapers in gaining a sense of the larger world outside, and especially the companionship of nature. In 1866 the kind of life that Snow-Bound describes was as surely departed in fact as it was present to the mellowed childhood memory of thousands of readers. The poem was Whittier&rsquos first genuine commercial success as well as his most complete artistic success. He realized $10,000 from the sale of the first edition and never wanted for money again.

The Tent on the Beach and Other Poems, which followed in 1867, continued the success 20,000 copies were sold in three weeks. &ldquoThe Wreck of the Rivermouth,&rdquo &ldquoThe Changeling,&rdquo &ldquoThe Dead Ship of Harpswell,&rdquo and &ldquoAbraham Davenport&rdquo&mdashall first collected in this volume&mdashshow Whittier&rsquos abiding fondness for legendary and historical New England material, while &ldquoThe Eternal Goodness&rdquo and &ldquoOur Master&rdquo indicate the new importance that the liberal religious tradition of the Quakers was coming to assume in his later poetry. If, after the Civil War, anything may be said to have taken on the personal importance that Whittier had before attached to the fight against slavery, it was his desire to see religion in America liberalized and the last vestiges of repressive Puritanism swept away. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who shared this hope, maintained that Whittier had done as much in America as Robert Burns had done in Scotland toward &ldquohumanizing&rdquo the hard theology of Calvinism. Whittier&rsquos edition of The Journal of John Woolman, published in 1871, gave new currency to that classic work of Quaker spiritual autobiography.

The remainder of the poet&rsquos long life was spent quietly in Amesbury and, after 1876, in a spacious home in Danvers, Massachusetts, called Oak Knoll, which he left only for his regular summer excursions into the lake and mountain region of New Hampshire. He continued to write almost up to the time of his death. Among the Hills and Other Poems (1869) is evidence that he knew of the darker and more solitary side of rural life in New England and can sustain comparison to some of the local-color realism then being written by female authors. The title poem in The Pennsylvania Pilgrim, and Other Poems (1872), one of Whittier&rsquos more successful long narratives, concerns the 17th-century German Pietist, Francis Daniel Pastorius, who founded Germantown near Philadelphia and who, after formally joining the Quakers, drafted one of the earliest American antislavery statements. The volume also includes &ldquoThe Brewing of Soma,&rdquo from which the popular hymn &ldquoDear Lord and Father of Mankind&rdquo is taken. The Vision of Echard, and Other Poems (1878) includes, among other poems, &ldquoThe Witch of Wenham,&rdquo &ldquoIn the &lsquoOld South,&rsquo&rdquo and an astonishingly good courtly love lyric titled &ldquoThe Henchman.&rdquo Whittier&rsquos last book of poems, At Sundown, was privately printed in 1890 for close friends, and was republished for the public, with additions, at about the time of the poet&rsquos death on September 7, 1892. The last poem that Whittier wrote was a tribute to his friend Oliver Wendell Holmes on the occasion of Holmes&rsquos 83rd birthday. They had outlived all their generation.

Whittier&rsquos reputation was never higher nor more apparently secure than at the time of his death. For years his birthdays had virtually been public holidays and were marked by celebrations throughout New England and the West. Whittier was essentially a public poet, a poet speaking to a large segment of the American people, including many who were not otherwise readers of poetry. They often came to his work to bask in the poet&rsquos moral tone, to attend to the heroic or prophetic voice in his poems, or to receive comfort from his characteristic optimism. The popularity he enjoyed among his contemporaries seems to have been based largely on poems ("The Barefoot Boy&ldquo and &ldquoBarbara Frietchie,&rdquo for example) that modern readers have rejected as sentimental. A reaction against the kind of soft-focus vision of the world that Whittier too often invoked set in during the early years of the 20th century when a new, more astringent style of poetry was being established, in part by overturning the Victorian canons of taste that had elevated the work of Whittier&rsquos generation.

As critics today take a new look at the sentimental and local-color traditions in writings by Whittier&rsquos female contemporaries, however, Whittier may emerge in a somewhat fresher light. Some of his antislavery poems, such as &ldquoA Sabbath Scene,&rdquo are especially conscious of gender issues and deploy an aesthetic rather similar to that found in Harriet Beecher Stowe&lsquos Uncle Tom&rsquos Cabin (1852), to which, indeed, the poem may be responding. Whittier&rsquos Quaker-derived acknowledgment of female equality surely formed a basis for his many friendships with such women authors of the period as Harriet Prescott Spofford, Celia Thaxter, the Cary sisters (Alice and Phoebe), Rose Terry Cooke, Lucy Larcom, Gail Hamilton, Ina Coolbrith, Annie Fields, and Sarah Orne Jewett. The personal and professional admiration that all of these authors expressed for Whittier and his poetry suggests that they may not, after all, have been working in dissimilar ways.


Watch the video: How Did the City of Whittier Get Its Name? Who Was John Greenleaf Whittier? Whittier History (July 2022).


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