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Chapter 10: the religious side Whittier, as has already been seen, was born and brought up in the Society of Friends, of which he always remained a faithful member. In trying to solve the problem, how far he felt himself strictly bound by the usages of his Society, the following anecdote, as told by Mr. Pickard, is suggestive. On the night before the burning of Pennsylvania Hall in 1838, in Philadelphia, as an antislavery headquarters, there occurred the marriage of Angelina Grimke to Theodore D. Weld, both being afterwards prominent antislavery reformers. Miss Grimke was a South Carolina Quakeress, who had liberated her own slaves, and was thenceforward known far and wide as an antislavery lecturer, but her proposed husband was not a Quaker. At the time of her wedding, Whittier, who then edited the Freeman, was invited to attend; but as she was marrying out of society, he did not think it fitting that he should be present at the ceremony. He nevertheless reconciled it with
n trust. It is perhaps the natural outcome of a somewhat shy and self-withdrawn life that Whittier should have described himself in verse more frankly than any other of the poets, thus concentrating into one utterance of words what others, Holmes for instance, might distribute over a hundred scattered talks. He has never done this, however, with undue self-consciousness, but simply, frankly, and with an acute and delicate comprehension of his own traits. His poem My namesake, written in 1853, is the most elaborate of these delineations, and was addressed to his young namesake, Francis Greenleaf Allinson, of Burlington, N. J. These are some of the many verses:--And thou, dear child, in riper days When asked the reason of thy name, Shalt answer; ‘One 'twere vain to praise Or censure bore the same.’ Some blamed him, some believed him good, The truth lay doubtless 'twixt the two; He reconciled as best he could Old faith and fancies new. In him the grave and playful mixed, And wisdom
, in reference to the changes then beginning, and maturing later, and destined to transform so greatly the whole society. Those who were acquainted with that body in its earlier state, and saw the steps by which it was, in the judgment of its reformers, modernised and invigorated, can well understand the point of view of Whittier, who certainly represented not merely its most elevated, but its most practical and progressive side. I remember well at Newport at the very time described by him (1870) to have seen incidents which almost burlesqued the ancient faith, as when a schoolgirl of fourteen sat eating candy busily during the exercises, and on hearing the stentorian voice of a Western revivalist to Stand up for Jesus, put her candy down on the seat beside her, rose and bore her testimony, and then want back eagerly to her candy, once more; or when the ablest and most justly influential of the society, the late Edward Earle of Worcester, rose toward the end of the meeting and propos
February, 1870 AD (search for this): chapter 11
er just such provocations as these that Whittier wrote, these were the charges against which Whittier protested; and, as will be seen, in the same just and moderate tone which usually marked his writings. The following letters were addressed to the editor of the Friends' Review in Philadelphia, in reference to certain changes of principle and practice in the Society then beginning to be observable, but which have since more than justified the writer's fears and solicitude. Amesbury, 2nd mo., 1870. To the Editor of the Review. Esteemed Friend,--I have been hitherto a silent, I have not been an indifferent, spectator of the movements now going on in our religious Society. Perhaps from lack of faith, I have been quite too solicitous concerning them, and too much afraid that in grasping after new things we may let go of old things too precious to be lost. Hence I have been pleased to see from time to time in thy paper very timely and fitting articles upon a Hired Ministry and S
March, 1870 AD (search for this): chapter 11
n the weapons of Saul; when the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, as proclaimed by George Fox and lived by John Woolman, shall be recognised as the only efficient solvent of doubts raised by an age of restless inquiry. In this belief my letter was written. I am sorry it did not fall to the lot of a more fitting hand; and can only hope that no consideration of lack of qualification on the part of its writer may lessen the value of whatever testimony to truth shall be found in it. Amesbury, 3d mo., 1870.Whittier's Prose works, III. 305, 306, 309, 310, 313, 314. By the testimony of all, Whittier's interpretation of The Inward Light included no vague recognition of high impulse, but something definite, firm, and extending into the details of conduct. It ruled his action; and when he had, for instance, decided to take a certain railway train, no storm could keep him back. He used to cite the following instance, written out by Mrs. Claflin, of the trustworthiness of such guidance:--
Of suffering and of sin. Whatever his neighbours might endure Of pain or grief his own became; For all the ills he could not cure He held himself to blame. But still his heart was full of awe And reverence for all sacred things; And, brooding over form and law, He saw the Spirit's wings I Life's mystery wrapt him like a cloud; He heard far voices mock his own, The sweep of wings unseen, the loud, Long roll of waves unknown. Literature has few finer meditative poems than that written in 1871, and bearing the name My birthday. Not a verse of this can well be spared for those who would be in intimate contact with the poet's soul. My birthday Beneath the moonlight and the snow Lies dead my latest year; The winter winds are wailing low, It dirges in my ear. I grieve not with the moaning wind As if a loss befell; Before me, even as behind, God is, and all is well! His light shines on me from above, His low voice speaks within,-- The patience of immortal love Outwearying mortal si
to do to stem the accustomed current of life in this way, and it is a deed only possible to those who, in the Bible phrase, walk with God. Such an unusual effort was not without its consequences. It was followed by a severe headache, and he was hardly seen abroad again during his stay. Mrs. Fields's Whittier, pp. 75-77. The following letter to his friend Charlotte Fiske Bates — afterward Madame Roger--conveys most fully his point of view as to immortality. To Charlotte Fiske Bates. 1879. I suppose nine out of ten of really thoughtful people, were they to express their real feeling, would speak much as thee do, of the mingled dread and longing with which they look forward to the inevitable surrender of life. Of course, temperament and present surroundings have much influence with us. 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
August 26th, 1902 AD (search for this): chapter 11
He said if he were to live his life over again he would pattern more after you, because he thought you had made less mistakes in your political life than any one he had known. And Mr. Whittier said that this statement agreed substantially with a statement which Mr. Wilson made a short time before his death. He always spoke of spiritualism as something to be explained, while in his religious life he.was indefinite about embracing any particular tenet outside of the Friends. Ms. letter, Aug. 26, 1902. Mrs. Fields describes him at that summer watering-place, the Isles of Shoals, as being once moved, which he rarely was, to volunteer his thoughts on spiritual subjects:-- I remember one season in particular, when the idle talk of idle people had been drifting in and out during the day, while he sat patiently on in the corner of the pretty room. Mrs. Thaxter was steadily at work at her table, yet always hospitable, losing sight of no cloud or shadow or sudden gleam of glory in
Francis Greenleaf Allinson (search for this): chapter 11
hould have described himself in verse more frankly than any other of the poets, thus concentrating into one utterance of words what others, Holmes for instance, might distribute over a hundred scattered talks. He has never done this, however, with undue self-consciousness, but simply, frankly, and with an acute and delicate comprehension of his own traits. His poem My namesake, written in 1853, is the most elaborate of these delineations, and was addressed to his young namesake, Francis Greenleaf Allinson, of Burlington, N. J. These are some of the many verses:--And thou, dear child, in riper days When asked the reason of thy name, Shalt answer; ‘One 'twere vain to praise Or censure bore the same.’ Some blamed him, some believed him good, The truth lay doubtless 'twixt the two; He reconciled as best he could Old faith and fancies new. In him the grave and playful mixed, And wisdom held with folly truce, And Nature compromised betwixt Good fellow and recluse. He loved his friends, f
Marcus Antoninus (search for this): chapter 11
ll be. And then the unescapable sense of sin in thought and deed, and doubtless some misconception of the character of God, makes the boldest of us cowards. Does thee remember the epitaph-prayer of Martin Elginbrod? Here lie I, Martin Elginbrod; Have pity on my soul, Lord God, As I wad do were I Lord God An’ ye were Martin Elginbrod. I think there is a volume of comfort in that verse. We Christians seem less brave and tranquil, in view of death, than the old Stoic sages. Witness Marcus Antoninus. I wonder if the creed of Christendom is really the glad tidings of great joy to all people which the angels sang of. For myself, 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 the law of death. Even our Master prayed that that cup might pass from Him, if it were possible. Pickard's Whittier, II. 651-53. He said once to Mrs. Claflin:-- The little circumstance of deat
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