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John Greenleaf Whittier His Life, Genius, and Writings   By:

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His Life, Genius, and Writings


Author of a "Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow," Etc.


INTRODUCTION BY REV. S. F. SMITH, D.D. Author of Hymn "America"

Such music as the woods and streams Sang in his ear, he sang aloud

The Tent on the Beach

For all his quiet life flowed on, As meadow streamlets flow, Where fresher green reveals alo The noiseless ways they go

The Friend's Burial




John Greenleaf Whittier


Who does not admire and love John Greenleaf Whittier? And who does not delight to do him honor? He was a man raised up by Providence to meet an exigency in human history, and an exigency in the experiences of the United States. And he met the exigency with distinguished success. He was a true exponent of New England life and the New England spirit. He drew his inspiration from the soil where he was born, from the necessities of the times, from the demands of human rights, from the love of God and of man. He was a unique man. We knew not his like before him. We shall see no other like him after him. He was the product of his age; and the age in which he lived belonged to him, and he to and in it. He was a unique literary man. He was so meek and retiring; he was so keenly sensitive to the wrongs done by man to man; he was so devoid of self seeking; so pure and exalted in motive, and so sturdy a defender of the rights of the oppressed; he was so full of trust in God that we seem never to have seen his equal among men. His beautiful gentleness of character and his inflexible and fearless advocacy of the cause of righteousness even when such advocacy involved persecution and personal harm and loss, a rare combination of qualities remind us of the sentiment of Oliver Wendell Holmes,

"The gentle are the strong."

If ever in modern days the character of the apostle John has been reproduced among men it was in John G. Whittier. See with what sweetness and meekness the shy and loving Quaker moved through the ranks of society in times of peace and prosperity, and with what an adamantine boldness and bravery he stood up before the mob in Philadelphia when his types and manuscripts were scattered, his printing office burned and himself threatened with personal violence by the foes of human equality and freedom. Did he quail before the storm? Not he. Did he abandon his principles and retire from the arena? Oh, no; no more than did the apostle John the apostle of love forsake his Christian faith when the persecutors immersed him in boiling oil and exiled him to a desert island in the Ægean Sea.

The poetry of Mr. Whittier is a complete autobiography. It is a reflection, as in a polished mirror, of himself. We miss only the accidents of dates and places, which are of merely external importance; but we find in his works, amply displayed, the portraiture of the man; even as the architect records himself and his thoughts in his plans, and builds his own soul into his edifices. Read the poetry of Mr. Whittier, and you have no need to ask what kind of man produced it. Behold the portrait: a thorough New England man, a son of its soil and a legitimate product of its institutions; a fruit of the simple education which was open to the people in the times of his youth and manhood; a philanthropist, loving all righteousness and all men, and scorning all oppression, injustice and iniquity; a stern advocate of human freedom, prepared to fight for it even "to the bitter end;" a bachelor, but having always a sweet and tender side for women; petted by society, but never tempted to swerve from the straight line of his principles; holding the faith of his fathers as a birthright and the result of his honest convictions, but with sympathies as broad as the universe and an appreciation of the privilege of private judgment on religious matters as the right and duty of all men; animated by a patriotism which took in his whole country, but a yearning for his own New England, its people, its scenery, its institutions and its honor; warmly attached to the friends whom he met along the pilgrimage of this life, but preserving to the last the memory and the love of the survivors whom he knew in his school days in the Haverhill Academy; living very much apart from his fellow men, as he did in his latter days, on account of the increasing infirmities of his age, and absorbed in the world of his own thoughts, yet ever most affable, and as accessible as a most warm hearted and cordial associate; every inch a man, as in stature, so also in soul, but exhibiting also the simplicity and the loving and confiding spirit of a child ("of such is the kingdom of heaven"); conscious of his human weakness and dependence on a higher Power, as he approached the goal of life, but relying on that higher Power with a sublime courage and a firm faith... Continue reading book >>

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