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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 his conscience to escort a young lady to the door, and to call on the wedded pair, next day, with a congratulatory poem.1 This fairly indicates the hold his early religious training had upon him, when the question was one of outward observances alone.

In reading, not merely Whittier's meditative and spiritual poems, but the very texts and preludes which [116] are prefixed to them, one feels the immense advantage enjoyed by those brought up in the Society of Friends, as to a simpler and therefore more sacred use of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, than was possible to those trained in the more rigorous and severe methods which prevailed so largely in his youth among the evangelical sects. His citations of passages are superb in their discrimination; the words of Ezekiel and Esdras seem greater and profounder than those of his verses that follow; and yet this is no truer of them than of the prefatory prelude taken from St. Augustine, or George Fox, or the Hymns of the Brahmo-Somaj. This is as it should be; that the poet's gift should show itself even in the texts of his sermons; yet no one who had not learned to reverence the Inward Light as the Society of Friends did, could follow it, even to the selection of good texts.

He was a firm but liberal Quaker, would carry out to the utmost the original standard, regarded as useless the division between Orthodox and Hicksite, and predicted that tendency to reunion which now shows itself. He was, on the other hand, never quite reconciled to the new departures in manner and observance which have marked the last twenty years. When asked as to Quaker variations from the ordinary grammar, he replied, according to Mrs. Claflin:--

‘ It has been the manner of speech of my people for two hundred years; it was my mother's language, and it is good enough for me; I shall not change my grammar.’ So in coming from a Quaker meeting one day in a state of great indignation, he said, (Our folks have got to talking ta much; they even want a glass of water on the table, and some of them want singing in the meetings. I tell them if they want singing, [117] they have got to get the world's folks to do it for them, for two hundred years of silence have taken all the sing out of our people.

Yet the manner in which historic extremes have so often met was never more strangely exhibited than in a fact in early Quaker tradition revealed by Whittier to Mrs. Fields. In speaking of Rossetti and his extraordinary medieval ballad of “Sister Helen,” Whittier confessed himself strongly attracted to it, because he could remember seeing his mother, “who was as good a woman as ever breathed,” with his aunt, performing the strange act on which the ballad turns, and melting a waxen figure of a clergyman of their time, that his soul might go to its doom in hell. “The solemnity of the affair made a deep impression on his mind, as a child, for the death of the clergyman in question was confidently expected. His ‘heresies’ had led him to experience this cabalistic treatment.” The aim of the mystic ceremony was to destroy the soul of the passing invalid, and it seems almost incredible that any sight or memory of human suffering should have called forth such a spirit of revenge in those seemingly gentle women. No one who has ever read the tragic close of Rossetti's song can ever forget it.

‘See, see, the wax has dropped from its place,
Sister Helen,
And the waves are winning up apace!’
‘Yet here they burn but for a space,
Little brother!’
O Mother, Mary, Mother, Here for a space, between Hell and Heaven!) [118]

‘Ah I what white thing at the door has cross'd,
Sister Helen?
Ah! what is this that sighs in the frost?’
‘A soul that's lost as mine is lost,
Little brother!’
O Mother, Mary, Mother,
Lost, lost, all lost, between Hell and Heaven.)

It is evident, however, that Whittier had in early life some vague vision of an intellectual movement which should enlarge the atmosphere of the Society of Friends, not, as has since been done, in the methodistical or camp-meeting direction — for that he disapproved-but in the direction of a higher thought and life. This letter, hitherto unpublished, from one of the most gifted and cultivated associates in his Quaker years, reveals to us indirectly this mood of his, and is well worth printing because it mirrors his own mood. It may be well to add that the writer left the Society, not many years after, and apparently retained but little affection for it, going so far as to say once to me, “Quakerism makes splendid women, and very poor, mean, miserable men;” from which general condemnation Whittier was exempted, although in later years their friendship apparently waned, and she seemed hardly to appreciate him at his great worth.

I am delighted with thy idea, Greenleaf — and it is strange that thou shouldst have given form and substance to a vague desire that has often floated throa my brain, of seeing something like a corner-stone laid for a Quaker temple of literature. And thou art the man to undertake it — to humour the “anti-imaginative” spirit of thine own people, and at the same time, by thy peculiar touches of strength and beauty, to expand our inherent tendencies [119] toward mere truth and soberness, into a stronger love, that will produce good works, of the self-forgetting nobleness of primitive Quakerism.

The varieties in the natural characters of our forefathers, some of those thee mentioned, would be good ground for the beautiful. The depth and fervour and intensity of their love to God, which sent them forth, even while their human heart-strings were quivering and cracking with agony, to the dungeon and to death, in the cause of Truth, would befit the lofty and sublime.

The agency and influence which their doctrines exerted in bursting the coil that the lumbering superstitions of the past had wrapped about the human mind at the time of their arising — though so much built upon now by their ease-loving followers, might be justly and strikingly brought into view; and this would be the part for the world-those amongst men, who consider Quakerism but another name for narrowmindedness and bigotry, and the doctrine of human rights, as understood and advocated by our noble pioneer, the far-seeing Penn, and others, but treason.

The character of our women too, their beautiful faith, devotedness, and fortitude, which come, not of the sect, but by nature, would most fittingly adorn the annals of Quakerism. Thee would not approve the monthly meeting cant, or have anything of our ludicrous quaintness, wouldst thou? but rather lay the foundation for a pure and correct taste, than minister to one, [old] and vitiated.

I have never seen the Wordsworth sonnets alluded to, but will look at them, to understand thy place.

Thy idea only wants the setting of J. G. Whittier's poetry to make it the richest jewel on his crown of fame. But I would have thee lay it by, uncut and unpolished, till restored health and the quiet occupations of a home life will allow thee to work upon it without paying the price, which has been the penalty of too many of thy literary labours.

Thee had a double motive, hadst thou not, in mentioning the subject? one, for its own interest, and the other to remind me that it is not good for us to dwell too much upon our own little petty grievances. Thanks for the hint; [120] nothing, in kindness and good feeling sent, comes amiss to me, whether it be unmerited praise, or deserved reproof.

Thy friend. 4th day morning.

We know from Whittier's own statement that while his parents governed by love rather than by fear, yet even he did not fail to encounter in childhood terrors on the supernatural side. Books brought them, if they had no other source, as we find revealed, for instance, in this reminiscence, forming a part of his “Supernaturalism in New England:” --

How hardly effaced are the impressions of childhood! Even at this day, at the mention of the evil angel, an image rises before me like that with which I used especially to horrify myself in an old copy of “Pilgrim's progress.” Horned, hoofed, scaly, and fire-breathing, his caudal extremity twisted tight with rage, I remember him, illustrating the tremendous encounter of Christian in the valley where “Apollyon straddled over the whole breadth of the way.” There was another print of the enemy which made no slight impression upon me. It was the frontispiece of an old, smoked, snuff-stained pamphlet, the property of an elderly lady, who had a fine collection of similar wonders, wherewith she was kind enough to edify her young visitors, containing a solemn account of the fate of a wicked dancing party in New Jersey, whose irreverent declaration, that they would have a fiddler if they had to send to the lower regions after him, called up the fiend himself, who forthwith commenced playing, while the company danced to the music incessantly, without the power to suspend their exercise, until their feet and legs were worn off to the knees! The rude wood-cut represented the demon fiddler and his agonised companions literally stumping it up and down in “cotillons, jigs, strathspeys, and reels.” He would have answered very well to the description of the infernal piper in “ Tam O'Shanter.”


The best impression of Whittier's relation with the Society of Friends will be found in two letters addressed by him, in later life, to the editor of the Friends' Review in Philadelphia, 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 proposed that after the custom of their fathers they should take a few silent moments. He had scarcely sat down when one of the same New Lights rose behind him and struck up a rousing camp-meeting song, in which all silent thought vanished. It was under 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 [122] 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 “Silent worship.”

The present age is one of sensation and excitement, of extreme measures and opinions, of impatience of all slow results. The world about us moves with accelerated impulse, and we move with it: the rest we have enjoyed, whether true or false, is broken; the title-deeds of our opinions, the reason of our practices, are demanded. Our very right to exist as a distinct society is questioned. Our old literature — the precious journals and biographies of early and later Friends — is comparatively neglected for sensational and dogmatic publications. We hear complaints of a want of educated ministers; the utility of silent meetings is denied, and praying and preaching regarded as matters of will and option. There is a growing desire for experimenting upon the dogmas and expedients and practices of other sects. I speak only of admitted facts, and not for the purpose of censure or complaint. No one has less right than myself to indulge in heresy-hunting or impatience of minor differences of opinion. If my dear friends can bear with me, I shall not find it a hard task to bear with them.

But for myself I prefer the old ways. With the broadest [123] possible tolerance for all honest seekers after truth, I love the Society of Friends. My life has been nearly spent in labouring with those of other sects in behalf of the suffering and enslaved; and I have never felt like quarrelling with Orthodox or Unitarians, who were willing to pull with me, side by side, at the rope of Reform. A very large proportion of my dearest personal friends are outside of our communion; and I have learned with John Woolman to find “no narrowness respecting sects and opinions.” But after a kindly and candid survey of them all, I turn to my own Society, thankful to the Divine Providence which placed me where I am; and with an unshaken faith in the one distinctive doctrine of Quakerism — the Light within the immanence of the Divine Spirit in Christianity.

I am not insensible of the need of spiritual renovation in our Society. I feel and confess my own deficiencies as an individual member. And I bear a willing testimony to the zeal and devotion of some dear friends, who, lamenting the low condition and worldliness too apparent among us, seek to awaken a stronger religious life by the partial adoption of the practices, forms, and creeds of more demonstrative sects. The great apparent activity of these sects seems to them to contrast very strongly with our quietness and reticence; and they do not always pause to inquire whether the result of this activity is a truer type of practical Christianity than is found in our select gatherings. I think I understand these brethren; to some extent I have sympathised with them. But it seems clear to me, that a remedy for the alleged evil lies not in going back to the ‘beggarly elements’ from which our worthy ancestors called the people of their generation; not in will-worship; not in setting the letter above the spirit; not in substituting type and symbol, and oriental figure and hyperbole for the simple truths they were intended to represent; not in schools of theology; not in much speaking and noise and vehemence, nor in vain attempts to make the “plain language” of Quakerism utter the Shibboleth of man-made creeds: but in heeding more closely the Inward Guide and Teacher; in faith in Christ not merely in His historical manifestation of the Divine [124] Love to humanity, but in His living presence in the hearts open to receive Him; in love for Him manifested in denial of self, in charity and love to our neighbour; and in a deeper realisation of the truth of the apostle's declaration: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

In a second letter he acknowledges many expressions of sympathy, and adds:--

I believe that the world needs the Society of Friends as a testimony and a standard. I know that this is the opinion of some of the best and most thoughtful members of other Christian sects. I know that any serious departure from the original foundation of our Society would give pain to many who, outside of our communion, deeply realise the importance of our testimonies. They fail to read clearly the signs of the times who do not see that the hour is coming when, under the searching eye of philosophy and the terrible analysis of science, the letter and the outward evidence will not altogether avail us; when the surest dependence must be upon the Light of Christ within, disclosing the law and the prophets in our own souls, and confirming the truth of outward Scripture by inward experience; when smooth stones from the brook of present revelation shall prove mightier than 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., 1870.2

By the testimony of all, Whittier's interpretation of “The Inward Light” included no vague recognition [125] 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:--

“I have an old friend,” he said,

who followed the leadings of the Spirit and always made it a point to go to meeting on First-Day. On one First-Day morning, he made ready for meeting, and suddenly turning to his wife, said, “I am not going to meeting: I am going to take a walk.” His wife inquired where he was going, and he replied, “I don't know; I am impelled to go, I know not where.” With his walking stick he started and went out of the city for a mile or two, and came to a country-house that stood some distance from the road. The gate stood open, and a narrow lane, into which he turned, led up to the house where something unusual seemed to be going on. There were several vehicles standing around the yard, and groups of people were gathered here and there. When he reached the house, he found there was a funeral, and he entered with the neighbours, who were there to attend the service. He listened to the funeral address and to the prayer. It was the body of a young woman lying in the casket before him, and he arose and said, “I have been led by the Spirit to this house; I know nothing of the circumstances connected with the death of this person; but I am impelled by the Spirit to say that she has been accused of something of which she is not guilty, and the false accusation has hastened her death.”

The friend sat down, and a murmur of surprise went through the room. The minister arose and said, “Are you a God or what are you?” The friend replied, “I am only a poor sinful man, but I was led by the Inner Light to come to this house, and to say what I have said, and I would ask the person in this room who knows that the young woman, now beyond the power of speech, was not guilty of what she was accused, to vindicate her in this presence.” After a fearful [126] pause, a woman stood up and said, “I am the person,” and while weeping hysterically, she confessed that she had wilfully slandered the dead girl. The friend departed on his homeward way. Such, said Mr. Whittier, was the leading of the Inner Light.

Claflin's Recollections, p. 31.

There is clearly but a narrow step between these marvels and the alleged facts of spiritualism about which his placid old mother was so interested that she never failed, whenever I called there, to look up from her knitting after a while and say, “Friend Higginson, hast thee heard anything lately about these spiritual communications of which I hear?” the place where I then resided having been the scene of some reported marvels. Whittier also approached them in a guarded way, but without any very positive interest. He wrote once to Mrs. Fields, in regard to a poem she had sent him :--

The poem is solemn and tender; it is as if a wind from the Unseen World blew over it, in which the voice of sorrow is sweeter than that of gladness — a holy fear mingled with a holier hope. For myself, my hope is always associated with dread, like the glowing of a star through mist. I feel, indeed, that Love is victorious, that there is no dark it cannot light, no depth it cannot reach; but I imagine that, between the Seen and the Unseen, there is a sort of neutral ground, a land of shadow and mystery, of strange voices and undistinguished forms. There are some, as Charles Lamb says, “who stalk into futurity on stilts,” without awe or self-distrust.

Judge Gate also writes me in regard to Whittier's supposed interest in “spiritual manifestations,” as follows:-- [127]

In regard to spiritualism. I think it can be truly said that Mr. Whittier was not a believer in spiritualism, but he acknowledged that there was something about it which he could not explain and did not understand. He frequently related the following incident. When in Boston, at the hotel one evening he met an old friend who was interested in spiritualism, and he asked Mr. Whittier to visit a medium with him; not being well that evening he declined, but late in the evening his friend returned. Mr. Whittier asked whom he saw. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘I saw Henry Wilson.’ ‘Did you? What did Henry have to say?’ ‘ He spoke of you in very complimentary terms.’ ‘What did he say about me?’ ‘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 the landscape, and pointing the talk often with keen wit. Nevertheless, the idleness of it all palled upon him. It was Sunday, too, and he longed for something which would move us to ‘higher levels.’ Suddenly, as if the idea had struck him like an inspiration, he rose, and taking a volume of Emerson from the little library, he [128] opened to one of the discourses, and handing it to Celia Thaxter, said:--

‘ Read that aloud, will thee? I think we should all like to hear it.’

After she had ended he took up the thread of the discourse, and talked long and earnestly upon the beauty and necessity of worship — a necessity consequent upon the nature of man, upon his own weakness, and his consciousness of the Divine Spirit within him. His whole heart was stirred, and he poured himself out toward us as if he longed, like the prophet of old, to breathe a new life into us. I could see that he reproached himself for not having spoken out in this way before, but his enfranchised spirit took only a stronger flight for the delay.

I have never heard of Whittier's speaking in the meetinghouse, although he was doubtless often ‘moved’ to do so, but to us who had heard him on that day he became more than ever a light unto our feet. It was not an easy thing 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.

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 [129] more Fearings and Despondencys than Greathearts in view of the “loss of all we know.” I have heard Garrison talk much of his faith in spiritualism. He had no doubts whatever, and he was very happy. Death was to him but the passing from one room to another and higher one. But his facts did not convince me. I am slow to believe new things, and in a matter of such tremendous interest, I want “assurance doubly sure.” I wonder whether, if I could see a real ghost, I should believe my own senses. I do sometimes feel very near to dear ones who have left me — perhaps they are with me then. I am sure they would be, if it were possible. Of one thing I feel sure: that something outside of myself speaks to me, and holds me to duty; warns, reproves, and approves. It is good, for it requires me to be good; it is wise, for it knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is to me a revelation of God, and of His character and attributes; the one important fact, before which all others seem insignificant. I have seen little or nothing of what is called Spiritualism . .

I have no longer youth and strength, and I have not much to hope for, as far as this life is concerned; but I enjoy life. “ It is a pleasant thing to behold the sun.” I love Nature in her varied aspects; and, as I grow older, I find much to love in my fellow-creatures, and also more to pity. 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 before me will 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 [130] 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.” 3

He said once to Mrs. Claflin:--

The little circumstance of death will make no difference with me: I shall have the same friends in that other world that I have here; the same loves and aspirations and occupations. If it were not so, I should not be myself, and surely, I shall not lose my identity. God's love is so infinitely greater than mine that I cannot fear for His children, and when I long to help some poor, suffering, erring fellow-creature, I am consoled with the thought that His great heart of love is more moved than mine can be, and so I rest in peace.

Claflin, p. 22.

This is in harmony with his lines in “The eternal Goodness” --lines which are oftener quoted, perhaps, than anything he wrote.

I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.

This is only a versification of what he wrote in a letter, in his eightieth year. “The great question of the Future Life is almost ever with me. I cannot answer it, but I can 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 [131] 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, forgave his foes;
And, if his words were harsh at times,
He spared his fellow-men,--his blows
Fell only on their crimes.

He loved the good and wise, but found
His human heart to all akin
Who met him on the common ground
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. [132]

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 sin.

Not mindless of the growing years
Of care and loss and pain,
My eyes are wet with thankful tears
For blessings which remain.

If dim the gold of life has grown,
I will not count it dross,
Nor turn from treasures still my own
To sigh for lack and loss. [133]

The years no charm from Nature take;
As sweet her voices call,
As beautiful her mornings break,
As fair her evenings fall.

Love watches o'er my quiet ways,
Kind voices speak my name,
And lips that find it hard to praise
Are slow, at least, to blame.

How softly ebb the tides of will!
How fields, once lost or won,
Now lie behind me green and still
Beneath a level sun!

How hushed the hiss of party hate,
The clamour of the throng
How old, harsh voices of debate
Flow into rhythmic song!

Methinks the spirit's temper grows
Too soft in this still air;
Somewhat the restful heart foregoes
Of needed watch and prayer.

The bark by tempest vainly tossed
May founder in the calm,
And he who braved the polar frost
Faint by the isles of balm.

Better than self-indulgent years
The outflung heart of youth,
Than pleasant songs in idle ears
The tumult of the truth.

Rest for the weary hands is good,
And love for hearts that pine,
But let the manly habitude
Of upright souls be mine. [134]

Let winds that blow from heaven refresh,
Dear Lord, the languid air;
And let the weakness of the flesh
Thy strength of spirit share.

And, if the eye must fail of light,
The ear forget to hear,
Make clearer still the spirit's sight,
More fine the inward ear!

Be near me in mine hours of need
To soothe, or cheer, or warn,
And down these slopes of sunset lead
As up the hills of morn!

It is safe to say that no other American poet, and perhaps no other poet of this age, has painted his own career with such absolute truthfulness, or weighed himself in a balance so delicate.

1 Pickard's “Whittier,” I. 235.

2 Whittier's Prose works, III. 305, 306, 309, 310, 313, 314.

3 Pickard's Whittier, II. 651-53.

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