JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER
Of all our American poets, Whittier is the most American. He is no exotic. Emerson, Holmes, Lowell, and even Bryant, with all their effort to escape from foreign standards, were unconsciously influenced by classical or by English literature. Whittier was rooted more deeply than they in the New England soil, drew his sustenance from men rather than from books, and bore genuinely native fruits of sincerity and freedom. Like Robert Burns, who first kindled in him the ambition to be a poet, he was too poor to go to college. But poverty and hardship gave him sympathy with all sufferers, and made his verse the unsophisticated expression of common human needs and aspirations. His religious nature recognized in all its impulses, not so much the Over-Soul that thinks, as the Over-Heart that throbs, in all humanity; and this reference of the inner light to its personal divine source consecrated his poetry. If Burns was the national lyrist of Scotland, then Whittier is the national lyrist of America. His is a homespun verse, but it is the utterance of a patriot and a prophet, even more truly than was the poetry of Burns. It is profoundly and pervasively religious. His political poems are half-battles, because
108 PURITANISM AND QUAKERISM
they are half-prayers. And the spirit of them is that which he celebrates in his "Prophecy of Samuel Sewall":
Praise and thanks for an honest man!—
Glory to God for the Puritan!
Whittier was a Quaker, and Quakerism was Puritanism carried to its logical extreme. The Puritan had renounced allegiance to the papacy, and had asserted his right of immediate access to God, without intervention of priest or sacrament. But he put Scripture in the place of the church, as the infallible rule of faith and practice, and this semi-deification of external authority led to deadness of feeling. George Fox revolted from the formalism into which the church had sunk. He trembled and quaked in the felt presence of the living God. He found One, "even Christ Jesus, who could speak to his condition." He discovered anew the spirituality of true religion, and longed to impart this discovery to others. He began a public ministry, going through England on foot and at his own charges, that the people "might receive Christ Jesus."
This was the beginning of Quakerism. Fox did not deny the authority of Scripture, but he put the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit side by side with Scripture as its supplement and interpreter. Barclay, the theologian of the sect, declared that " Whatsoever any do, pretending to the Spirit, which is contrary to the Scriptures, should be accounted and reckoned a delusion of the Devil." There were, however, even in that day, members of the Society who so exaggerated
WHITTIER AN ORTHODOX QUAKER IOO.
the importance of their personal experience as to make the inner light modify and even supersede the outward and written revelation. The Hicksite party in America was only a recrudescence of that early tendency. As they could deny the special inspiration of Scripture, they could also substitute Christ in the heart for the historic Christ, and the very foundations of Christian faith gave way. John Greenleaf Whittier never favored these aberrations of doctrine. He was to the last an Orthodox Quaker, holding the Scriptures to be "a rule, not the rule of faith and practice, which is none other than the omnipresent Spirit of God—a subordinate, secondary, and declaratory rule—they testify of Christ within." * And at his eightieth anersary he read the lines:
Scotland shall flourish while each peasant learns
The psalms of David and songs of Burns.
The inner promptings of the spirit, independent of book or reason, are an uncertain indication of duty, and a frail support in sorrow. The inner light, so far as it is trustworthy, has its source outside of itself, and is to be tested and corrected by God's external revelation. We are to " try the spirits, whether they be from God." As all the light of day comes from the sun, so all the light of conscience comes from Christ, "the Light that lighteth every man." And faith is the eye which receives his light and purifies the light within. Whittier was a believer in Christ. He also believed in an immediate influence of the Holy Spirit. "Something outside of myself speaks to me and holds me to
1 Letter to Richard Nott, 1840.
IIO PROTEST AGAINST PURITAN INTOLERANCE
duty, warns, reproves, and approves—a revelation of God." So he writes. But this mysticism is corrected by recognizing the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and the oneness of the Christ within with the historic Christ who suffered and died on Calvary.
It is no wonder that eccentricities of Quaker doctrine brought down upon many members of the Society the strong arm of the law. When they were moved to interrupt the worship of the churches by their denunciations, and to defy the authorities by parading naked through the streets, the inner light seemed only another name for insanity. In England and in America alike, they were imprisoned and exiled. Mary Dyer and three male Friends were hanged on Boston Common, and female members of the sect were stripped to the waist, whipped unmercifully, and driven out into the wilderness. To shelter them was a crime. Doctor Ellis claimed that the Quakers were as much to blame for being hanged as the Puritans were for hanging them. But Whittier indignantly replied that Puritan intolerance had turned the heads of unoffending Christians, and had compelled them to their strange methods of testimony:
"God is our witness," the victims cried,
"We suffer for Him who for all men died;
The wrong ye do has been done before,
We bear the stripes that the Master bore!""
The founder of the Whittier family in New England was Thomas Whittier, who came to this country in 1638. He was not himself a Quaker, though he knew
3 " Mow the Women Went from Dover."
AN INHERITANCE OF BLOOD AND PRINCIPLES III
of George Fox and sympathized with his doctrine. Haverhill, thirty miles north of Boston, was then an outpost of civilization, with a hundred miles of wilderness and roving bands of Indians beyond it. Here, in its East Parish, and in a beautiful bend of the Merrimac, though out of sight to any other settler, Thomas Whittier made his home and reared a stalwart family of five sons and five daughters. His grandson Joseph married a Greenleaf, of probably Huguenot descent, since the name seems to be the French Feuillevert Anglicized. Our poet was the grandson of this grandson. His father was a devout member of the Society of Friends, and his mother one of the loveliest and saintliest of women. In her veins was the blood of Stephen Bachiler, an English Nonconformist and an Oxford man, who had come to America to avoid persecution. Bachiler's daughter Susannah was the grandmother of Daniel Webster, so that John Greenleaf Whittier and Daniel Webster were cousins.
It must be remembered that the Friends were men of peace. They asked only the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of their own consciences. It was the same right which the Puritans claimed for themselves. But the Puritans denied it to others, and there grew up in Massachusetts an autocracy and a hierarchy as intolerant and cruel as that from which Quakers and Huguenots had fled across the sea. Our poet grew up in an atmosphere of intense indignation against this intolerance, while at the same time the spirit of revolt was held in check by the principles of peace, and by the faith that God would in due time
112 QUAKER LIFE AND DOCTRINE
vindicate the right. On the nineteenth of October, 1658, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted that "any person or persons of the cursed sect of Quakers" should, on conviction of the same, be banished, on pain of death, from the jurisdiction of the commonwealth. On a painting by Abbey commemorating this decree Whittier wrote his poem entitled "Banished from Massachusetts ":
The Muse of history yet shall make amends
To those who freedom, peace, and justice taught,
Beyond their dark age led the van of thought,
And left unforfeited the name of Friends.
We must remember that Quakers called themselves "Friends," not primarily because they were friends to one another or to mankind, but because, like Abraham, they were conscious of being the chosen friends of God, and of living in fellowship with him. In "The Pennsylvania Pilgrim," Whittier has given us a vivid description of Quaker life and doctrine:
Gathered from many sects, the Quaker brought
His old beliefs, adjusting to the thought
That moved his soul the creed his fathers taught
One faith alone, so broad that all mankind
Within themselves its secret witness find,
The soul's communion with the Eternal Mind,
The Spirit's law, the Inward Rule and Guide,
Scholar and peasant, lord and serf, allied,
The polished Penn and Cromwell's Ironside.
The Light of Life shone round him; one by one
The wandering lights, that all-misleading run,
Went out like candles paling in the sun.
QUAKER HABITS OF WHITTIER II3
That Light he followed, step by step, where'er
It led, as in the vision of the seer
The wheels moved as the spirit in the clear
And terrible crystal moved, with all their eyes
Watching the living splendor sink or rise,
Its will their will, knowing no otherwise.
Within himself he found the law of right,
He walked by faith and not the letter's sight,
And read his Bible by the Inward Light.
His was the Christian's unsung Age of Gold,
A truer idyl than the bards have told
Of Arno's banks or Arcady of old.
Whittier was a birthright member of the Society. He gloried in his ancestry, adhered to their sober dress, used the " thee " and " thou " of their traditional speech. He attended Quaker meetings, though he seldom or never spoke in them; his only criticism upon these meetings was indeed that "there was too much speaking in them." He would not by his presence countenance the marriage of a Quaker to one outside of the Society, though he did send a poem to the married pair. He was never in a theater or a circus. When member of the legislature, he would take no oath, nor address the chair. He would not wear crape, nor use the ordinary dates. He owned no master but the Lord. He hated priests and kings, and abhorred the Puritan theocracy. But his independence was quiet and unresisting, though his mother and his aunt melted the wax figure of a clergyman that his soul might go to its doom in hell. In the days when Puseyism was rife, he wrote: " Has thee noticed the general tendency toward the old trust in man—in priests and sacrifices,
114 WHITTIER AND EMERSON
in ghostly mummery and machinery? To me it seems to bid fair to swallow up everything but Quakerism of the old stamp—rejection of all ceremonial, total disbelief in the power of pope, priest, or elder to give a ransom for the soul of another."
The Quaker of the olden time!
How calm and firm and true,
Unspotted by its wrong and crime,
He walked the dark earth through.
He walked by faith and not by sight,
Ry love and not by law;
The presence of the wrong or right
He rather felt than saw.
And. pausing not for doubtful choice
Of evils great or small,
He listened to that inward voice
Which called away from all.
O Spirit of that early day,
So pure and strong and true,
Be with us in the narrow way
Our faithful fathers knew.
Give strength the evil to forsake,
The cross of Truth to bear,
And love and reverent fear to make
Our daily lives a prayer."
Whittier was indeed a Quaker of the olden time. The inner light upon which he depended was a very different light from that which was recognized by Emerson. Emerson's light was the light of nature; Whittier's was the light of Christ. Emerson regarded the fixed successions of the physical world as the
* " The Quaker of the OMen Time."
EARLY SURROUNDINGS AND PRIVATIONS 115
primitive reality; Whittier thought conscience and heart of more importance than all the paraphernalia of planets and of suns. Emerson was influenced by the materialistic philosophy of the English deists, and by the Unitarian reaction from the older Calvinistic theology; Whittier drew his inspiration and his doctrine from deep personal experience of sin and of redemption, and from sympathetic observation of the sorrow and guilt of humanity. In short, Emerson began with nature; Whittier began with man. Emerson interpreted man by nature; Whittier interpreted nature by man. For this reason there is a prevailing ethical element in Whittier's poetry, which Emerson's almost wholly lacks; the keynote of Whittier's is compassion, while that of Emerson is speculation; Emerson's intuitions are the uncertain utterances of his own imperfect moral being; Whittier's inner light is that of an indwelling and personal God.
The poet was born and not made. Yet his surroundings had much to do with the unfolding of his genius. The handsome Quaker lad was five feet ten and a half inches tall when he was only fifteen years of age. But life on the Haverhill farm was one of solitude and privation. There were no doors to the barns, and no flannels or overcoats for men; no buffalorobes for driving, and no fires in the meeting-house. The milking of seven cows daily, and the threshing of wheat with the flail, overtaxed the boy's strength, and left him a lifelong prey to heart-disease and to insomnia. It was a rocky and swampy farm. Exposure induced bronchitis. Ill-cooked food gave him the dyspepsia. Yet he learned to read at home; and the
Il6 REMINISCENCES OF CHILDHOOD
Bible, "Pilgrim's Progress," and a stray Waverley novel devoured in secret, wakened in him an intense love of literature. "I well remember," he writes, "how, at a very early age, the solemn organ-roll of Gray's 'Elegy' and the lyric sweep and pathos of Cowper's 'Lament for the Royal George' moved and fascinated me, with a sense of mystery and power felt rather than understood." His first verses were apparently written on the woodwork of his mother's loom; later efforts he committed to a slate; and finally he aspired to an album. His reminiscences of childhood are peculiarly touching. Who can mistake the truth of his picture of " The Barefoot Boy "?
Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim's jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
And that same barefoot boy we see depicted as a scholar, in his lines " To My Old Schoolmaster ":
I, the urchin unto whom,
In that smoked and dingy room,
Where the district gave thee rule
O'er its ragged winter school,
Thou didst teach the mysteries
Of those weary A B C's,—•
Where, to fill the every pause
Of thy wise and learned saws,
Through the cracked and crazy wall
A NATURAL EDITOR 117
Came the cradle-rock and squall,
And the goodman's voice, at strife
With his shrill and tipsy wife.
It was one of his crude early poems, "The Exile's Departure," which attracted the attention of William Lloyd Garrison, and led ultimately to their partnership in the work of reform. Without Whittier's knowledge, his sister had sent to the " Free Press" of Newburyport the manuscript of that poem. Garrison was but little older than Whittier; but, with larger knowledge of the world and of literature, he recognized the promise of its author, and made a journey of fourteen miles to greet him. The father was besought to give his son an education, but at first refused, upon the ground that poetry would not give him bread. His scruples were overruled when the boy learned to make shoes for twenty-five cents the pair and sold them to pay his schooling. So Whittier had two years in the Haverhill Academy. They were years of wide reading and of constant literary production, both in prose and in verse. Most of his early work indeed was journalistic. His poetry was thrown off hastily to express some fleeting impulse or to meet some public need. Whittier was a natural editor. Each new event was to him a challenge, and he discussed it in print. It was soon apparent that he had political insight, knowledge of motives, and power to direct public opinion. In his "Tent on the Beach" he describes himself:
And one there was, a dreamer born,
Who, with a mission to fulfil,
Had left the Muses' haunts to turn
The crank of an opinion-mill,
Il8 PREMONITIONS OF COMING POWER
Making his rustic reed of song
A weapon in the war with wrong,
Yoking his fancy to the breaking-plough
That beam-deep turned the soil for truth to spring
Too quiet seemed the man to ride
The winged Hippogriff Reform;
Was his a voice from side to side
To pierce the tumult of the storm?
A silent, shy, peace-loving man,
He seemed no fiery partisan
To hold his way against the public frown,
The ban of Church and State, the fierce mob's
For while he wrought with strenuous will
The work his hands had found to do,
He heard the fitful music still
Of winds that out of dreamland blew.
The din about him could not drown
What the strange voices whispered down;
Along his task-field weird processions swept,
The visionary pomp of stately phantoms stepped.
He had not yet found himself. But vague premonitions of coming power and reputation were there to tempt and to attract. In "Moll Pitcher" there was originally a closing stanza, which the poet subsequently suppressed:
Land of my fathers!—if my name,
Now humble and unwed to fame,
Hereafter burn upon the lip
As one of those which may not die,
Linked in eternal fellowship
With visions pure and strong and high—
If the wild dreams, which quicken now
The throbbing pulse of heart and brow,
Hereafter take a real form
THE ANTI-SLAVERY AGITATION IIO,
Like specters changed to being warm;
And over temples worn and gray
The starlike crown of glory shine,—
Thine be the bard's undying lay,
The murmur of his praise be thine!
And now we come to the turning-point of Whittier's life, to what we must regard as a genuine conversion. Hitherto he had lived with no definite aim beyond his own development and success. Local incidents and legends had furnished subjects for his poems. Political advancement had seemed possible, and he had thought seriously of running for Congress. He was a brilliant editor, and he had formed literary acquaintances of value. He longed to escape from the monotony of farm life, and to make himself felt in public affairs. Then came the anti-slavery agitation and the call of God to espouse the cause of freedom. Garrison summoned him to join the abolitionists. It was like joining the anarchists of to-day. We must remember that cotton-growing at the South had made slave-labor profitable and apparently necessary. Northern capital was invested in commerce and manufactures which depended on Southern trade. The early acknowledgment of the injustice of slavery was replaced by a defense of the system. Even the Quakers were sometimes unwilling to permit anti-slavery discussion in their conferences. The whole weight of social, literary, and political influence was on the side of the oppressor. To be an abolitionist was to expose oneself to contempt and ostracism, if not to the violence of the mob. When Garrison sent his ringing appeal to Whittier, acceptance of his invitation meant for our poet the
120 WHITTIER ALIGNED WITH GARRISON
giving up of all his earthly prospects and consigning himself to lifelong poverty and disgrace. The lines which he addressed to Charles Sumner apply quite as well to himself:
God said: " Break thou these yokes! undo
These heavy burdens! I ordain
A work to last thy whole life through,
A ministry of strife and pain.
"Forego thy dreams- of lettered ease,
Put thou the scholar's promise by,
The rights of man are more than these."
He heard and answered: "Here• am I!"
Garrison's declaration of principles in the first number of " The Liberator " was as bold as the " Theses" which Luther nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg: "Unconditional emancipation is the immediate duty of the master, and the immediate right of the slave. .. I will be as harsh as truth, as uncompromising as justice; I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard." And Whittier responded to Garrison's appeal:
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!
It was no mere burst of youthful* enthusiasm, but a heroic consecration to duty. For the thirtieth anersary of the Anti-slavery Society he wrote: "I am thankful to divine Providence that turned me so early away from what Roger Williams calls 'the world's great Trinity—pleasure, profit, and honor,'—to take
side with the poor and oppressed. I am not insensible to literary reputation; I love, perhaps too well, the praise and good will of my fellow men; but I set a higher value to my name as appended to the Antislavery Declaration of 1833, than on the title-page of any book." And to a boy seeking counsel in after years he said: " My lad, if thou wouldst win success, join thyself to some unpopular but noble cause."
This enlistment of Whittier was immediately followed by service. He printed at his own charges a pamphlet entitled "Justice and Expediency," in which the whole question of slavery was calmly and learnedly considered. Then too began that long succession of fiery and thrilling appeals to the conscience and heart of the North, which made him, more than all other poets combined, a representative of freedom and a power to nerve our people to defend the Union in its struggle with the slaveholding aristocracy: ,
Our fellow-countrymen in chains!
Slaves, in a land of light and lawl
Slaves, crouching on the very plains
Where rolled the storm of Freedom's war!
What ho! our countrymen in chains!
The whip on woman's shrinking flesh!
Our soil yet reddening with the stains
Caught from her scourging, warm and fresh!
What! mothers from their children riven!
What! God's own image bought and sold!
Americans to market driven,
And bartered as the brute for gold!
So read his poem, "Expostulation." He paid the penalty. Poetry in those days was no selling com
122 "THE UURDEN OF A PROPHET'S POWER"
modity. With his mother and sister he lived on little more than five hundred dollars a year—the salary 'of his editorship. He gave up all thought of marriage, though there is abundant evidence that he longed for wedded companionship. Ill health shut him out from public gatherings and from regular city life. When he did venture into the field, it was to visit Garrison in the Philadelphia jail where he was confined for calling a slave-dealer a pirate, or to see that same Garrison dragged through the streets of Boston with a rope around his neck. The mob broke the windows of the Haverhill church, where Whittier attended an antislavery meeting, and he was pelted with stones and rotten eggs in Concord. But he says well:
The burden of a prophet's power
Fell on me in that fearful hour.4
Forsaking poetry for humanity, he made both poetry and humanity his own. Now first his art became cosmopolitan and commanding. Losing his life for Christ's sake, he found it.
At the age of twenty-five Whittier was called "a gay young Quaker," though he had "kept his innocency." His gaiety was the expression of a sensitive and kindly nature. But it was accompanied by a deep indignation against impurity and wrong-doing. "Quaker? " was the reply to one who pointed him out; "he will fight!" He certainly had fighting blood in his veins, and he explained this by his inheritance from a Norman ancestry. Gail Hamilton worked for him
* " Ezekiel."
A FIGHTING SPIRIT BUT A NON-RESISTANT 123
a pair of slippers with the effigy of an eagle whose claws grasped thunderbolts. Whittier told her that she was as sharp with her needle as she was with her pen. When it came to the question of our dealings with slavery, it was hard for him to repress his belligerent instincts. Yet his peace principles made him a nonresistant. He admired John Brown, but he disapproved of his methods. He refused to accept a pike which was sent him as a memento of John Brown's raid, saying, "It is not a Christian weapon: it looks too much like murder." Though his poetry had done much to infuse the fighting spirit into others, he would have let the Southern States go, rather than subdue them by force of arms. He would have paid slaveholders for their slaves, but he scorned to catch their fugitives. When our Civil War broke out, he looked on in sorrow, and waited for God to determine the result. Yet his sympathies were all with our Union army, and he could not hide from himself the conviction that in some great crises of history war is inevitable. His poem entitled "Italy," indeed, makes it plain that war is sometimes God's messenger:
I know the pent fire heaves its crust,
That sultry skies the bolt will form
To smite them clear; that Nature must
The balance of her powers adjust,
Though with the earthquake and the storm.
God reigns, and let the earth rejoice!
I bow before His sterner plan.
Dumb are the organs of my choice;
He speaks in battle's stormy voice,
His praise is in the wrath of man!
124 WHITTIER's DIFFERENCES WITH GARRISON
Whittier was more sane and practical than Garrison. He was more unselfish, and he had more of tact and skill. Garrison was dictatorial, and unwilling to take any subordinate position. WT1ittier was willing to humble himself for the sake of the cause. Was the Bible against anti-slavery? then Garrison declared the Bible to be wrong; did the church oppose? then the church must be reformed; did the Constitution forbid? then the Constitution must be destroyed; was the Union impossible with slavery abolished? then death to the Union! Garrison called the Constitution "a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell," and he demanded that it be immediately annulled. He would not vote, and he renounced all allegiance to a government which was in league with slavery. Whittier, on the other hand, yielded in smaller matters, that he might win in the greater. He remained a voting Quaker. So there ensued a division between these friends, which lasted for years and which greatly intensified Whittier's loneliness and suffering. Yet reconciliation came at last, and each respected the independence of the other. Each had struck his honest blow, and slavery was no more. Whittier nobly commemorates Garrison's service in the verses written after his death:
The storm and peril overpast,
The hounding hatred shamed and still,
Go, soul of freedom! take at last
The place which thou alone canst filL
Confirm the lesson taught of old—
Life saved for self is lost, while they
Who lose it in His service hold
The lease of God's eternal day.
"Forget, forgive, and unite," were the words of wisdom written by our poet to the meeting held by his fellow townsmen to consider the outrage done to Charles Sumner in the Senate Chamber of the United States. That advice represents the spirit of Whittier's life. Garrison held that " it is a waste of politeness to be courteous to the Devil." Whittier would, by fair means, make even the Evil One to serve the cause of righteousness. He was a good politician, and an expert lobbyist. His influence was both courted and feared, for he could not only warn but rebuke. Caleb Cushing met defeat when he failed to take Whittier's advice and resist the aggressions of slavery. And in all literature there is no more scathing fulmination than his " Ichabod," when Daniel Webster turned his back upon his patriotic past and strove to curry favor with the South by crowding upon the North the infamous Fugitive Slave Law:
So fallen! so lost! the light withdrawn
Which once he wore!
The glory from his gray hairs gone
Revile him not, the Tempter hath
A snare for all;
And pitying tears, not scorn and wrath, ^
Befit his fall!
Oh, dumb be passion's stormy rage,
When he who might
Have lighted up and led his age
Falls back in night.
Scorn! would the angels laugh to mark
A bright soul driven,
Fiend-goaded, down the endless dark,
From hope and heaven!
126 "THE LOST OCCASION"
Let not the land once proud of him
Insult him now,
Nor brand with deeper shame his dim,
But let its humbled sons, instead,
From sea to lake,
A long lament, as for the dead,
In sadness make.
Of all we loved and honored, naught
Save power remains;
A fallen angel's pride of thought,
Still strong in chains.
All else is gone; from those great eyes
The soul has fled:
When faith is lost, when honor dies,
The man is dead!
Then, pay the reverence of old days
To his dead fame;
Walk backward, with averted gaze,
And hide the shame!
But when the great man strove to drown remorse in deep potations, lost his hold upon the country and upon himself, and died despondent, Whittier's heart went out toward him in compassion, and he wrote "The Lost Occasion ":
Some die too late and some too soon,
At early morning, heat of noon,
Or the chill of evening twilight. Thou,
Whom the rich heavens did so endow
With eyes of power and Jove's own brow,
With all the massive strength that fills
Thy home-horizon's granite hills,
EARLY FAULTS OF WHITTIER S VERSE \2J
Thou, foiled in aim and hope, bereaved
Of old friends, by the new deceived,
Too soon for us, too soon for thee,
Beside thy lonely Northern sea,
Where long and low the marsh-lands spread,
Laid wearily down thy august head.
Thou shouldst have lived to feel below
Thy feet Disunion's- fierce upthrow;
The late-sprung mine that underlaid
Thy sad concessions vainly made.
No stronger voice than thine had then
Called out the utmost might of men,
To make the Union's charter free
And strengthen law by liberty.
Ah, cruel fate, that closed to thee
The gates of opportunity!
Poe and Lanier devoted themselves to the mechanism of verse. Art did more for them than nature. Whittier thought more of substance than of form. He had many defects of ear and of training. His hearing was imperfect, and he was color-blind. His early poems were little more than jingling commonplace. He became conscious of their imperfections. He said facetiously that he would like to drown many of them like so many unlikely kittens, and as for "Mogg Megone," he would like to kill him over again, for he now suggested to him "a big Indian in his war-paint, strutting about in Sir Walter Scott's plaid." This judgment was very just. Stedman says well that only what was written after the year 1860 has won a 128 Wh1tt1er's F1nanc1al Success
national reputation. Before that time his writing was hasty and aimed at immediate effect. Faults of rhyme were frequent and glaring. But practice and reading proved to be an education. After the stress of antislavery agitation was over, he became connected with the " Atlantic Monthly," and accepted the criticisms of its editors. "I hope," he writes to them, "I am correcting a little of the bad grammar and rhythmical blunders which have so long annoyed Harvard graduates." And the quality of his verse greatly improved in his later years. Its simplicity and intensity commended it to common people. "Snow-Bound" and "The Tent on the Beach " were accepted by thousands as the most characteristic poems that our country had yet produced. And from the time of their publication Whittier was free from financial care. "SnowBound" gave him ten thousand dollars for its first edition. Of "The Tent on the Beach" twenty thousand copies were sold. The poet could not understand his own success. "The swindle is awful," he writes; "Barnum is a saint to me. I am bowed down with a sense of guilt, ashamed to look an honest man in the face." But the " Proem," which he wrote to introduce the first general collection of his poems, expresses more seriously and faultlessly the feeling with which he welcomed the first signs of public favor and the first evidence that his work had real value:
I love the old melodious lays Which softly melt the ages through,
The songs of Spenser's golden days,
Arcadian Sidney's silvery phrase, Sprinkling our noon of time with freshest
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PUBLIC ESTEEM 120,
Yet, vainly in my quiet hours
To breathe their marvelous notes I try;
I feel them, as the leaves and flowers
In silence feel the dewy showers,
And drink with glad, still lips the blessing of
The rigor of a frozen clime,
The harshness of an untaught ear,
The jarring words of one whose rhyme
Beat often Labor's hurried time,
Or Duty's rugged march through storm and
strife, are here.
Yet here at least an earnest sense
Of human right and weal is shown;
A hate of tyranny intense.
And hearty in its vehemence,
As if my brother's pain and sorrow were my own.
O Freedom! if to me belong
Nor mighty Milton's gift divine,
Nor Marvell's wit and graceful song,
Still with a love as deep and strong
As theirs, I lay, like them, my best gifts on
"Upon the occasion of my seventieth birthday, in 1877," he writes:
I was the recipient of many tokens of esteem. The publishers of the "Atlantic Monthly " gave a dinner in my name, and the editor of "The Literary World" gathered in his paper many affectionate messages from my associates in literature and the cause of human progress. The lines which follow were written in acknowledgment.
Beside that milestone where the level sun,
Nigh unto setting, sheds his last, low rays
On word and work irrevocably done,
Life's blending threads of good and ill outspun,
I hear, O friends! your words of cheer and praise,
I30 FAITH IN EVANGELICAL TRUTH
Half doubtful if myself or otherwise.
Like him who, in the old Arabian joke,
A beggar slept and crowned Caliph woke.
Thanks not the less. With not unglad surprise
I see my life-work through your partial eyes;
Assured, in giving to my home-taught songs
A higher value than of right belongs,
You do but read between the written lines
The finer grace of unfulfilled designs.
Religion is the foundation of theology, and, without heart, intellect will go astray. Whittier was a deeply religious man. His poetry had always a religious motive. But the religious element in it does not always take doctrinal form; to discover it we must sometimes look beneath the surface. It is well that we have his prose to interpret his poetry. His " Life and Letters," edited by Samuel T. Picard, furnishes an admirable commentary upon his verse, and enables us to a large extent to understand his theological views. It must not be expected that a member of the Society of Friends will give us elaborated dogmas—that would contravene the traditions of a sect which makes little of form, but much of the spirit. But we can find in Whittier's poems, as interpreted by his letters, an unmistakable faith in evangelical truth, and the determination to witness for that truth in his writing and in his life. The breadth and sincerity of his faith is proved by the fact that his hymns are sung in public worship by all bodies of Christians, while they are cherished by many thousands as sources of private
A MAN OF THE ONE BOOK I3I
cheer and consolation. No modern poet has done more to comfort the sorrowing, or to calm the passions of our restless age. Whittier can do this, because the peace of God is in his own heart.
He was a man of one book, and that one book was the Bible. When Edmund Gosse visited him, he was struck by the meagerness of Whittier's library. But he knew the Scriptures by heart. They were not to him the sole authority in Christian faith, for they needed to be interpreted by the Spirit. But when human reason failed, Scripture was his guide, and fallible impulses were corrected by its superior wisdom. He writes of " The Book ":
Gallery of sacred pictures manifold,
A minster rich in holy effigies,
And bearing on entablature and frieze
The hieroglyphic oracles of old.
Along its transept aureoled martyrs sit;
And the low chancel side-lights half acquaint
The eye with shrines of prophet, bard, and saint,
Their age-dimmed tablets traced in doubtful writ!
But only when on form and word obscure
Falls from above the white supernal light
We read the mystic characters aright,
And life informs the silent portraiture,
Until we pause at last, awe-held, before
The One ineffable Face, love, wonder, and adore.
And in his poem " The Word " he describes the inner voice, without which all external revelation becomes as unintelligible as the hieroglyphics of Egypt:
Voice of the Holy Spirit, making known
Man to himself, a witness swift and sure,
Warning, approving, true and wise and pure,
Counsel and guidance that misleadeth none!
132 BELIEF IN A PERSONAL GOD
By thee the mystery of life is read;
The picture-writing of the world's gray seers,
The myths and parables of the primal years,
Whose letter kills, by thee interpreted
Take healthful meanings fitted to our needs,
And in the soul's vernacular express
The common law of simple righteousness.
Hatred of cant and doubt of human creeds
May well be felt: the unpardonable sin
Is to deny the Word of God within!
The God in whose revelation he believed is a personal God. It might almost seem as if he had Emerson in mind when, in his "Questions of Life," he wrote:
In vain to me the Sphinx propounds
The riddle of her sights and sounds;
Back still the vaulted mystery gives
The echoed question it receives.
I turn from Fancy's cloud-built scheme,
Dark creed, and mournful eastern dream
Of power, impersonal and cold,
Controlling all, itself controlled,
Maker and slave of iron laws,
Alike the subject and the cause;
From vain philosophies, that try
The sevenfold gates of mystery,
And, baffled ever, babble still,
Word-prodigal of fate and will;
From Nature, and her mockery, Art,
And book and speech of men apart,
To the still witness in my heart;
With reverence waiting to behold
His Avatar of love untold.
The Eternal Beauty new and old!
Nature to him is no blind guide. Winnepiseogee is "the mirror of God's love ":
Nature's Test1mony? To God 133
Touched by a light that hath no name,
Are God's great pictures hung.5
So seemed it when yon hill's red crown,
Of old, the Indian trod,
And, through the sunset air, looked down
Upon the Smile of God.
To him of light and shade the laws
No forest skeptic taught;
Their living and eternal Cause
His truer instinct sought.
Thanks, O our Father! that, like him,
Thy tender love I see,
In radiant hill and woodland dim,
And tinted sunset sea.
For not in mockery dost Thou fill
Our earth with light and grace;
Thou hid*st no dark and cruel will
Behind thy smiling face."
The Night is mother of the Day,
The Winter of the Spring,
And ever upon old Decay
The greenest mosses cling.
Behind the cloud the starlight lurks,
Through showers the sunbeams fall;
For God, who loveth all His works,
Hath left His hope with all!'
The harp at Nature's advent strung
Has never ceased to play;
The song the stars of morning sung
Has never died away.
So Nature keeps the reverent frame
With which her years began,
And all her signs and voices shame
The prayerless heart of man.8
i Sunset on the Bearcamp." * " The Lakeside."
'A Dream of Summer." ■ " The Worship of Nature.'
134 GOD S JUSTICE DISCIPLINARY
Whittier's anti-slavery poems show that he believed in a God of justice, who makes suffering to follow upon sin. "Ein Feste Burg 1st Unser Gott" is a hymn worthy to be compared with that of Luther:
We wait beneath the furnace-blast
The pangs of transformation;
Not painlessly doth God recast
And mould anew the naticy1.
Hot burns the fire
Where wrongs expire;
Nor spares the hand
That from the land
Uproots the ancient evil.
But he believed that God's justice is one with his love, and that penalty is always disciplinary and remedial. In " Barclay of Ury" he writes:
Not in vain, Confessor old,
Unto us the tale is told
Of thy day of trial;
Every age on him who strays
From its broad and beaten ways
Pours its seven-fold vial.
Happy he whose inward ear
Angel comfortings can hear,
O'er the rabble's laughter;
And while Hatred's fagots burn,
Glimpses through the smoke discern
Of the good hereafter.
The dread Ineffable Glory
Was Infinite Goodness alone."
"Among the Hills" gives a noble picture of the true relation between the two great attributes of God:
• " The Minister's Daughter."
DIVINE JUSTICE ONE WITH LOVE 135
Let Justice hold her scale, and Truth divide
Between the right and wrong; but give the heart
The freedom of its fair inheritance;
Give human nature reverence for the sake
Of One who bore it, making it divine
With the ineffable tenderness of God;
Let common need, the brotherhood of prayer,
The heirship of an unknown destiny,
The unsolved mystery round about us, make
A man more precious than the gold of Ophir.
Sacred, inviolate, unto whom all things
Should minister, as outward types and signs
Of the eternal beauty which fulfils
The one great purpose of creation, Love,
The sole necessity of Earth and Heaven!
Proving in a world of bliss
What we fondly dream in this,—
Love is one with holiness!10
Rejoice in hope! The day and night
Are one with God, and one with them
Who see by faith the cloudy hem
Of Judgment fringed with Mercy's light!"
"At Eventide " sums up the blessings of the past, and chief,
The kind restraining hand of Providence,
The inward witness, the assuring sense
Of an Eternal Good which overlies
The sorrow of the world, Love which outlives
All sin and wrong, Compassion which forgives
To the uttermost, and Justice whose clear eyes
Through lapse and failure look to the intent,
And judge our frailty by the life we meant.
11 " In Memory."
11 " Astnca at the Capitol."
I36 THE TEST OP THEOLOGY THE VIEW OF SIN
"My Trust " illustrates God's dealing with our errors and sins, by the kind restraint with which a mother trains her child:
A picture memory brings to me:
I look across the years and see
Myself beside my mother's knee.
I wait, in His good time to see
That as my mother dealt with me
So with His children dealeth He.
I suffer with no vain pretence
Of triumph over flesh and sense,
Yet trust the grievous providence,
How dark soe'er it seems, may tend,
By ways I cannot comprehend,
To some unguessed benignant end;
That every loss and lapse may gain
The clear-aired heights by steps of pain,
And never cross is borne in vain.
The test of a poet's theology is his view of sin. If he ignores or condones sin, he shows that he has only a superficial conception of human nature, and is an untrustworthy moral guide. Sin is the one blot upon this fair world, the one sorrow and shame over which angels weep. But excusing sin or glorying in it is so much a matter of pride, that the poet's readiest path to popularity is that of catering to unconscientious self-esteem. When Swinburne follows natural impulses in his "Laus Veneris," it is corrupted nature that he follows. Only the Spirit of God can rectify these impulses and correct man's view. Of all our
WHITTIERS CONVICTION OF SIN I37
American poets VVhittier is the most sane and true, because at the basis of his poetry there is genuine conviction of sin. Like John Woolman, he had " felt the depth and extent of the misery of his fellow creatures, separated from the divine harmony—and he was mixed with them and henceforth might not consider himself a distinct and separate being." Like Woolman, he could feel for the sins of others because he had first felt the evil of sin in his own heart. "It was in no mocking humility," he savs, "that I wrote in 'Andrew Rykman ' ":
I, who hear with secret shame
Praise that paineth more than blame,
Rich alone in favors lent,
Virtuous by accident,
Doubtful where I fain would rest,
Frailest where I seem the best,
Only strong for lack of test.
My mind has been a good deal exercised of late on the subject of religious obligation. The prayer of Cowper is sometimes in my mind: "Oh, for a closer walk with God!" I feel that there are many things of the world between me and the realization of a quiet communion with the pure and Holy Spirit. Alas for human nature in its best estate! There is no upward tendency in it. It looks downward. It is, indeed, of the earth. . . I know my own weakness and frailty, and I am humbled rather than exalted by homage which I do not deserve. As the swift years pass, the eternal Realities seem taking the place of the shadows and illusions of time.
In his later years he writes:
The unescapable sense of sin in thought and deed makes the boldest of us cowards. I believe in God as Justice, Goodness, Tenderness—in one word, Love—and yet my trust in him is not strong enough to overcome the natural shrinking from
I38 TRUST IN THE ALL-MERCIFUL
the law of death. Even our Master prayed that, if it were possible, the cup might pass from him. . . I have to lament over protracted seasons of doubt and darkness, to shrink back from the discovery of some latent unfaithfulness and insincerity, to find evil at the bottom of seeming good, to abhor myself for selfishness and pride and vanity, which at times manifest themselves—in short, to find the law of sin and death still binding me. My temperament, ardent, impetuous, imaginative, powerfully acted upon from without, keenly susceptible to all influences from the intellectual world as well as to those of nature in her varied manifestations, is, I fear, ill adapted to that quiet, introverted state of patient and passive waiting for direction and support under these trials and difficulties.
He felt impelled to express his trust in the mercy of the All-Merciful, "yet with a solemn recognition of the awful consequences of alienation from Him, and a full realization of the truth that sin and suffering are inseparable."
These quotations from his letters enable us to understand the more condensed expressions of his poems. "What the Voice Said" is significant:
"Know'st thou not all germs of evil
In thy heart await their time?
Not thyself, but God's restraining,
Stays their growth of crime.
"Earnest words must needs be spoken
When the warm heart bleeds or burns
With its scorn of wrong, or pity
For the wronged, by turns.
"But, by all thy nature's weakness,
Hidden faults and follies known,
Be thou, in rebuking evil,
Conscious of thine own I"
THE LOVE ETERNAL I39
"My Namesake " might well be a portrait of Whittier himself:
"While others trod the altar stairs
He faltered like the publican;
And, while they praised as saints, his prayers
Were those of sinful man.
"For, awed by Sinai's Mount of Law,
The trembling faith alone sufficed,
That, through its cloud and flame, he saw
The sweet, sad face of Christ!"
And it is in Christ alone that he puts his trust either for himself or for the world of sinners:
"Blind must be their close-shut eyes
Where like night the sunshine lies,
Fiery-linked the self-forged chain
Binding" ever sin to pain,
Strong their prison-house of will,
But without He waiteth still.
"Not with hatred's undertow
Doth the Love Eternal flow;
Every chain that spirits wear
Crumbles in the breath of prayer;
And the penitent's desire
Opens every gate of fire.
"Still Thy love, O Christ arisen.
Yearns to reach these souls in prison!
Through all depths of sin and loss
Drops the plummet of Thy cross!
Never yet abyss was found
Deeper than that cross could sound!"12
And here is a fragment, found among his papers, in his handwriting, evidently belonging to some poem he never finished:
u " The Grave by the Lake."
I40 WHITTIER S VIEW OF CHRIST
The dreadful burden of our sins we feel,
The pain of wounds which Thou alone canst heal,
To whom our weakness is our strong appeal.
From the black depths, the ashes, and the dross
Of our waste lives, we reach out to Thy cross,
And by its fullness measure all our loss!
That holy sign reveals Thee: throned above
No Moloch sits, no false, vindictive Jove—
Thou art our Father, and Thy name is Love!
Whittier declares that he has become convinced of the Divinity of Christ, but he adds: " I cannot look on him as other than a man like ourselves, through whom the Divine was made miraculously manifest. Jesus of Nazareth was a man, the Christ was a God— a new revelation of the Eternal in time." But he also speaks of Christ as " Immanuel, God with us. God is one," he said; " Christ is the same Eternal One, manifested in our humanity, and in time; the Holy Spirit is the same Christ manifested within us." No reasonable Trinitarian can object to this latter statement, and by it we must interpret the statement that goes before. In the earlier declaration he is only solicitous to guard our Lord's perfect humanity; in the latter he asserts that this humanity is divine; in other words, that Jesus is the Christ. Though his declaration does not define the relations of the Three, nor even call them persons, it is not a Unitarian statement. It may be Sabellian, but it recognizes at least the Deity of Christ, and gives him supreme place in affection and service.
Only once does our poet struggle with the mystery of the Trinity, and the solution which he gives is not a speculative, but a practical one:
A PRACTICAL VIEW OF THE TRINITY I4I
At morn I prayed, " I fain would see
How Three are One, and One is Three;
Read the dark riddle unto me."
In vain I turned, in weary quest,
Old pages, where (God give them rest!)
The poor creed-mongers dreamed and guessed.
Then something whispered, "Dost thou pray
For what thou hast? This very day
The Holy Three have crossed thy way.
"Did not the gifts of sun and air
To good and ill alike declare
The all-compassionate Father's care?
"In the white soul that stooped to raise
The lost one from her evil ways,
Thou saw'st the Christ, whom angels praise!
"A bodiless Divinity,
The still small Voice that spake to thee
Was the Holy Spirit's mystery!
"The equal Father in rain and sun,
His Christ in the good to evil done,
His Voice in thy soul;—and the Three are One!"
And my heart answered, "Lord, I see
How Three are One, and One is Three;
Thy riddle hath been read to me!"
It may be doubted whether this solution fully answers the demands of Scripture. We have there a recognition of personal relations of the Father to the Son, and of the Son to the Spirit, which go beyond the terms of Whittier's statement. But all that is
142 ACCEPTANCE OF CHRIST S SACRIFICE
positive in his utterance we may accept with gladness, only adding that there is a yet larger truth which he had not perceived. Enough for our present purpose that he depended on Christ alone for salvation, in this world and in the world to come. "I am no Calvinist," he says,
But I feel in looking over my life—double-motived and full of failures—that I cannot rely upon word or work of mine to offset sins and shortcomings, but upon Love alone. . . Alas, if I have been a servant at all, I have been an unprofitable one; and yet I have loved goodness, and have longed to bring my imaginative poetic temperament into true subjection. I stand ashamed and almost despairing before holy and pure ideals. As I read the New Testament I feel how weak, irresolute, and frail I am, and how little I can rely on anything save our God's mercy and infinite compassion, which I reverently and thankfully own have followed me through life, and the assurance of which is my sole ground of hope for myself, and for those I love and pray for.
He repudiated every moral and religious scheme which makes man sufficient to himself. Neither Stoicism nor Epicureanism could satisfy his needs. "I am more and more astonished," he writes,
That such a man as Confucius could have made his appearance amidst the dull and dreary commonplaces of his people. No wiser soul ever spoke of right and duty, but his maxims have no divine sanction, and his pictures of a perfect society have no perspectives opening to eternity. Our Doctor Franklin was quite of the Confucius order—though a verymuch smaller man. . . I cannot help believing in prayer for spiritual things. Being fully possessed of Christ, then it is he that prays.
And his poem "The Crucifixion" shows his acceptance of the outward sacrifice offered in his behalf, as
THE CRUCIFIXION I43
well as of the inward renewal and help of Christ's Spirit:
That Sacrifice!—the death of Him,—
The Christ of God, the Holy One!
Well may the conscious Heaven grow dim,
And blacken the beholding Sun!
Well may the temple-shrine grow dim,
And shadows veil the Cherubim,
When He, the chosen one of Heaven,
A sacrifice for guilt is given!
And shall the sinful heart, alone,
Behold unmoved the fearful hour,
When Nature trembled on her throne,
And Death resigned his iron power?
Oh, shall the heart—whose sinfulness
Gave keenness to His sore distress,
And added to His tears of blood—
Refuse its trembling gratitude?
There was a time when Orthodox Quakers were shy of publicly joining with abolitionists. This threw Whittier in with the Hicksites, though he belonged to the Orthodox. He felt that a sound belief required sound practice, and in remonstrating with his brethren, he took occasion to draw from that belief an argument for duty. "What will it avail us," he writes,
If, while boasting of our soundness and of our enmity to the delusion of Hicksism, we neglect to make a practical application of our belief to ourselves? if we neglect to seek for ourselves that precious atonement which we are so ready to argue in favor of? I do not undervalue a sound belief, but at the same time I believe it may be "held" in unrighteousness. I do not dare to claim to be any the better for my orthodox principles. The mercy of God is my only hope.
His poem "The Over-Heart" seems like a reply to Emerson's too intellectual doctrines of the OverSoul, and to his overstatement of man's independence:
The world sits at the feet of Christ,
Unknowing, blind, and unconsoled;
It yet shall touch His garments fold,
And feel the heavenly Alchemist
Transform its very dust to gold.
To a young physician, with Dore's picture of Christ healing the sick, he sent his poem, "The Healer ":
So stood of old the holy Christ
Amidst the suffering throng;
With whom His lightest touch sufficed
To make the weakest strong.
That healing gift He lends to them
Who use it in His name;
The power that filled His garment's hem
Is evermore the same.
That Good Physician liveth yet
Thy friend and guide to be;
The Healer by Gennesaret
Shall walk the rounds with thee.
"Our Master " is a confession of faith in Christ which has passed into the hymnology of all the churches:
Immortal Love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never-ebbing sea!
Our outward lips confess the name
All other names above;
Love only knoweth whence it came
And comprehendeth love.
WHITTIER NOT FAR FROM CALVINISM I45
We may not climb the heavenly steeps
To bring the Lord Christ down:
In vain we search the lowest deeps,
For Him no depths can drown.
But warm, sweet, tender, even yet
A present help is He;
And faith has still its Olivet,
And love its Galilee.
The healing of His seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain;
We touch Him in life's throng and press,
And we are whole again.
Through Him the first fond prayers are said
Our lips of childhood frame,
The last low whispers of our dead
Are burdened with His name.
Our Lord and Master of us all!
Whate'er our name or sign,
We own Thy sway, we hear Thy call,
We test our lives by Thine.
"There is something in the doctrine of total depravity and regeneration," Whittier wrote. He was not so far away from Calvinism as he thought. "We are born selfish," he continues. "The discipline of life develops the higher qualities of character, in a greater or less degree. It is the conquering of innate selfish propensities that makes the saint; and the giving up unduly to impulses that in their origin are necessary to the preservation of life that makes the sinner." He believed that, as heavenly mercy has provided the sacrifice for sin, so heavenly power must make the sinner willing to accept it. "Between the Gates" represents a younger pilgrim as seeking from
146 FAITH IN THE TRIUMPH OF GOODNESS
an older a help that can come alone from God. But the elder pilgrim answers:
"Thy prayer, my son, transcends my gift;
No power is mine," the sage replied, "The burden of a soul to lift
Or stain of sin to hide.
"Howe'er the outward life may seem,
For pardoning grace we all must pray;
No man his brother can redeem
Or a soul's ransom pay.
"With deeper, voice than any speech
Of mortal lips from man to man,
What earth's unwisdom may not teach
The Spirit only can."
"How much of sin and want and pain there is in the world!" so he writes. "I wonder if it is all necessary—if it cannot be helped. The terrible mystery sometimes oppresses me, but I hold fast my faith in God's goodness, and the ultimate triumph of that goodness."
What to thee is shadow, to Him is day,
And the end He knoweth,
And not on a blind and aimless way
The spirit goeth.
Nothing before, nothing behind;
The steps of Faith
Fall on the seeming void, and find
The rock beneath.
Leaning on Him, make with reverent meekness
His own thy will,
And with strength from Him shall thy utter
Life's task fulfil;
WHITTIER NOT A UNIVERSALIST 147
And that cloud itself, which now before thee
Lies dark in view,
Shall with beams of light from the inner glory
Be stricken through."
To a letter from an inquiring friend Whittier replied:
I am not a Uersalist, for I believe in the possibility of the perpetual loss of the soul that persistently turns away from God, in the next life as in this. But I do believe that the divine love and compassion follow us in all worlds, and that the heavenly Father will do the best that is possible for every creature that he has made. What that will be, must be left to his infinite wisdom and goodness. I would refer thee to a poem of mine, "The Answer," as containing in a few words my belief in this matter.
And these are his words:
"Though God be good and free be heaven,
No force divine can love compel;
d, though the song of sins forgiven
May sound through lowest hell,
"The sweet persuasion of His voice
Respects thy sanctity of will.
He giveth day: thou hast thy choice
To walk in darkness still.
"Forever round the Mercy-seat
The guiding lights of Love shall burn;
But what if, habit-bound, thy feet
Shall lack the will to turn?
"What if thine eye refuse to see,
Thine ear of Heaven's free welcome fail,
And thou a willing captive be.
Thyself thy own dark jail?"
"" My Soul and I."
I48 "THE CRY OF A LOST SOUL"
"The Vision of Echard " shows, however, that it was no outward punishment, but rather inward suffering-, that he feared for the lost:
"The heaven ye seek, the hell ye fear,
Are with yourselves alone."
But he still had hope for all men. He believed that the same inward voice that spoke to him speaks also to men of every Christian sect and even to the heathen. That voice is the voice of Christ, and he who trusts it and obeys is saved:
All souls that struggle and aspire,
All hearts of prayer by thee are lit;
And, dim or clear, thy tongues of fire
On dusky tribes and twilight centuries sit.
Nor bounds, nor clime, nor creed thou know'st,
Wide as our need thy favors fall;
The white wings of the Holy Ghost
Stoop, seen or unseen, o'er the heads of all."
"All souls are Thine; the wings of morning bear
None from that Presence which is everywhere,
Nor hell itself can hide, for Thou art there.
"Through sins of sense, perversities of will.
Through doubt and pain, through guilt and
shame and ill,
Thy pitying eye is on Thy creature still.
"Wilt Thou not make, Eternal Source and Goal!
In Thy long years, life's broken circle whole,
And change to praise the cry of a lost soul? "a
Whittier's firm faith in personal immortality has made his poems a treasure of comfort to the bereaved
» " The Shadow and the Light." "" The Cry of a Lost Soul."
FAITH IN PERSONAL IMMORTALITY I49
and sorrowing. "Emerson once said to me," he writes,
"If there is a future life for us, it is well; if there is not, it is well also." For myself, I trust in the mercy of the AllMerciful. What is best for us we shall have, and Life and Love are best. . . What a brief and sad life this of ours would be, if it did not include the possibility of a love that takes hold of eternity 1 . . There is no great use in arguing the question of immortality; one must feel its truth; you cannot climb into heaven on a syllogism. . . There are some self-satisfied souls who, as Charles Lamb says, "can stalk into futurity on stilts"; but there are more Fearings and Despondencys than Greathearts, in view of the "loss of all we know." . . I think my loved ones are still living and awaiting me. And I wait and trust. And yet how glad and grateful I should be to know. . . I have the instinct of immortality, but the conditions of that life are unknown. I cannot conceive what my own identity and that of dear ones gone will be. . . Yet I believe that I shall have the same friends in that other world that I have here, the same loves and aspirations and occupations.
And in his eightieth year he writes: " The great question of the Future Life is almost ever with me. I cannot answer it, but I can trust." His biographer tells us that there was not a shadow of doubt in his mind concerning the immortality of the soul; and that one day, when speaking of his own hope and expectation for the life to come, he sadly said: " I wish Emerson could have believed this." "It saddened him to feel that one whom he so deeply loved and revered had not been sustained by this most passionate longing of our human nature."
In the summer of 1882, Whittier wrote the following lines on the fly-leaf of a volume of Longfellow's poems:
Hushed now the sweet consoling tongue
Of him whose lyre the Muses strung;
His last low swan-song has been sung!
His last! And ours, dear friend, is near;
As clouds that rake the mountains here,
We too shall pass and disappear.
Yet howsoever changed or tost,
Not even a wreath of mist is lost,
No atom can itself exhaust.
So shall the soul's superior force
Live on and run its endless course
In God's unlimited uerse.
And we, whose brief reflections seem
To fade like clouds from lake and stream,
Shall brighten in a holier beam.
In "Snow-Bound," our poet touchingly records the family group that circled round the hearth of early days, and wonders where the dear members of that household now are:
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!
Ah, brother! only I and thou
Are left of all that circle now,—
The dear home faces whereupon
That fitful firelight paled and shone.
Henceforward, listen as we will,
The voices of that hearth are still;
Look whe,re we may, the wide earth o'er,
Those lighted faces smile no more.
We tread the paths their feet have worn,
We sit beneath their orchard trees,
We hear, like them, the hum of bees
And rustle of the bladed corn;
A GENIUS RUSTIC AND HOMELY 151
We turn the pages that they read,
Their written words we linger o'er,
But in the sun they cast no shade,
No voice is heard, no sign is made,
No step is on the conscious floor!
Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust,
(Since He who knows our need is just,)
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.
Alas for him who never sees
The stars shine through his cypress-trees 1
Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
Nor looks to see the breaking day
Across the mournful marbles play!
Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of Death,
And Love can never lose its own!
If Whittier had written no other poem than this, he would have earned immortality as a poet. Not by his worst, but by his best, must the poet be judged. The defects of Whittier's poetry are easy to perceive and easy to criticize. His genius was rustic and homely; he never learned compression; he spun out his verse after the divine afflatus had ceased; he moralized when he should have left his story to tell its own lesson. But all this is only to say that he regarded poetry as a means, rather than as an end, and that he sought always to serve truth and righteousness thereby. There can be no more striking contrast in this respect than that between him and Goethe. Art for art's sake was to Whittier a prostitution of genius. "A long poem," he said, "unconsecrated to religion and humanity, would be a criminal waste of life." He aimed to fulfil Paul's injunction to do all to the glory of God, and the glory of God meant for him the good
I52 A NATURAL BALLADIST
of man. So he has been called " the Quaker priest"; and much of his poetry is little more than rhythmical preaching. But it came from the heart, and it touched the heart. It was the utterance of an uncorrupted conscience, and it stirred the conscience. When Lowell was a callow youth, and Longfellow was absorbed in his books, and Emerson was wrapped in philosophic clouds, Whittier alone gave himself body and soul to the cause of freedom, and compelled all the rest to follow. More than all other poets combined he roused our people to see the evil of slavery and at unspeakable cost to abolish it.
He was a natural balladist., His poetry was simple and direct, like that of Burns; his prose had the lofty swell and exuberance of Milton. Indian legends attracted him, but he never mastered the improvidence of that dying race, as did Longfellow; the wit and humor of New England did not impress him as it impressed Lowell. But the courage of a humble soul was never more thrillingly described than in " Barbara Frietchie," nor the pathos of life more touchingly than in that ballad of "Maud Muller," in which the New England Judge and the village maid meet for one moment and part to see each other again only as memory makes recall:
Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!
God pity them both! and pity us all.
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
REWARDS FOR SERVICE AND SACRIFICE 153
Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes;
And, in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!
We have had no poet more truly Chr1st1an, none who laid his gifts more completely at the feet of Christ, none who more completely identified himself with the suffering and oppressed. His life of sacrifice was not permitted to go unrewarded. After twenty years of privation, in which he was regarded as a mere rhymester and reformer, the world began to perceive that he was a true poet, and that his homely verse was most truly American. Not only the friendship of the learned and the good, but an unexpected prosperity and comfort, crowned his latter days. The promise of "manifold more in this present time" was fulfilled to him. On his eightieth birthday he was presented with a portfolio containing hundreds of autographs of Massachusetts officials, the signatures of "fifty-nine United States Senators, the entire bench of the Supreme Court of the United States headed by Chief Justice Waite, Speaker Carlisle of the House of Representatives, and three hundred and thirty members of the House coming from every State and Territory in the Union. To these were added the names of many private citizens of distinction, such as George Bancroft, Robert C. Winthrop, James G. Blaine, and Frederick Douglass." This portfolio only feebly expressed the affection in which he was held by the whole American people, and their gratitude for his influence and example. Like Abraham Lincoln, he was a man
154 THE ETERNAL GOODNESS
of the people, and a man for the hour. He was honored because he had served.
Whittier lived to be eighty-five years of age. Bachelor as he was, he was tenderly cared for by relatives and friends, and his last days were quiet and restful. His hymn entitled "The Eternal Goodness" is a confession of faith which has comforted many of the afflicted:
I long for household voices gone,
For vanished smiles I long,
But God hath led my dear ones on,
And He can do no wrong.
I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
His mercy underlies.
And if my heart and flesh are weak
To bear an untried pain,
The bruised reed He will not break,
But strengthen and sustain.
No offering of my own I have,
Nor works my faith to prove;
I can but give the gifts He gave,
And plead His love for love.
And so beside the Silent Sea,
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.
I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.
THE BREWING OF SOMA 155
"The end of that man was peace." His poem "The Brewing of Soma" gives his prescription for all earthly care and trouble:
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord.
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!
"My Psalm" is a yet more convincing assurance of his freedom from anxiety with regard to his own future or the future of the world:
I mourn no more my vanished years:
Beneath a tender rain,
An April rain of smiles and tears,
My heart is young again.
156 "MY PSALM"
The west winds blow, and, singing low,
I hear the glad streams run;
The windows of my soul I throw
Wide open to the sun.
No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here.
All as God wills, who wisely heeds
To give or to withhold.
And knoweth more of all my needs
Than all my prayers have told!
Enough that blessings undeserved
Have marked my erring track;
That wheresoe'er my feet have swerved.
His chastening turned me back;
That more and more a Providence
Of love is understood,
Making the springs of time and sense
Sweet with eternal good;—
That death seems but a covered way
Which opens into light,
Wherein no blinded child can stray
Beyond the Father's sight;
That care and trial seem at last,
Through Memory's sunset air,
Like mountain ranges overpast,
In purple distance fair;
That all the jarring notes of life
Seem blending in a psalm,
And all the angles of its strife
Slow rounding into calm.
And so the shadows fall apart,
And so the west winds play;
And all the windows of my heart
I open to the day.
THE HUMBLE FRIEND OF GOD 157
Whittier illustrates Augustine's doctrine that humility is the fundamental grace of the Christian character. Humility is no mere self-depreciation; it is a coming down to the humus, or hard-pan, of actual fact; it is the estimate of self according to the divine standard, which is nothing less than absolute conformity to the character of God. When we compare ourselves with one another, we may be proud; when we compare ourselves with infinite purity and benevolence, we must be humble. Humility is the indispensable condition of religious knowledge, for only the childlike spirit can understand God; it is the condition of all spiritual power, for only the receptive soul can be the medium of divine revelation. The secret of Whittier's life and work was his humble faith in God. "I believe in a living God," he said. That is the quintessence of Quakerism. "The Friends" took that name because they were first of all God's friends, and then for God's sake had become friends to suffering and sinning men. Our poet had learned that God is not far away, but a present God, a God here and now, a God reconciled to men through the infinite sacrifice of his only begotten Son, a God who reveals himself to the contrite spirit by an inner voice, condensing into a moment his works of power, and making his servants mighty to do and to endure. It is this humble faith of Whittier that has conquered criticism, has made "SnowBound " more popular than Oliver Goldsmith's "Deserted Village," or Robert Burns's " Cotter's Saturday Night," and has given his poetry, in spite of its defects of rhyme and of compression, an imperishable fame. In the last of his poems, written but a few weeks be
I58 A BLAMELESS MEMORY IN DEATHLESS SONG
fore his death, and addressed "To Oliver Wendell Holmes," he sums up this faith of his life:
The hour draws near, howe'er delayed and late,
When at the Eternal Gate
We leave the words and works we call our own,
And lift void hands alone
For love to fill. Our nakedness of soul
Brings to that Gate no toll;
Giftless we come to Him, who all things gives,
And live, because He lives.
And I cannot better close my essay than by quoting the words which Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in memory of his friend:
"For thee, dear friend, there needs no high-wrought lay, To shed its aureole round thy cherished name,— Thou whose plain, home-born speech of Yea and Nay Thy truthful nature ever best became.
Best loved and saintliest of our singing train,
Earth's noblest tributes to thy name belong.
A lifelong record closed without a stain,
A blameless memory, shrined in deathless song."
EDGAR ALLAN POE