It would be interesting to find out what effect Whittier's physical condition had upon the production of a work quite unique among his prose writings, “The Opium Eater,” published in the New England Magazine in 1833, in his twenty-fourth year. He spoke of it to Fields and others as something which he had almost entirely forgotten. But it is preserved by him, nevertheless, in his works,1 and certainly is, as he says, unique in respect to style. It is undoubtedly one of many similar productions coming from various pens and taking De Quincey's “Confessions of an Opium Eater” as their model, though this is really better than the average of such attempts. The question of interest is to know how far this literary experiment-evidently a deliberate thing, from its length and careful structure — was in any way the result of his illness, and, as such, a passing phenomenon only. “The Proselytes,” published in the same year, and reprinted in the same volume, looks somewhat in the same morbid and unhealthy direction, from which the mass of Whittier's writings is so wholly free.
‘ I was in my garden,’ he said, ‘ when I saw an Arab wander down the street, and by-and-by stop and lean against my gate. He held a small book in his hand, which he was reading from time to time when he was not occupied with gazing about him. Presently I went to talk with him, and found he had lived all his life on the edge of the desert until he started for America. He was very homesick, and longed for the time of his return. He had hired himself for a term of years to the master of the circus. He held the Koran in his hand, and was delighted to find a friend who had also read his sacred book. He opened his heart still further then, and said how he longed for his old, wild life in the Desert, for a sight of the palms, and the sands, but above all for its freedom.’Fields's Whittier, p. 54.
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1 Works, I. 278.
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