Chapter 10: the religious sideWhittier, 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  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:--
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.
‘ 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,  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.
‘See, see, the wax has dropped from its place,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.
And the waves are winning up apace!’
‘Yet here they burn but for a space,
（O Mother, Mary, Mother, Here for a space, between Hell and Heaven!) 
‘Ah I what white thing at the door has cross'd,
Ah! what is this that sighs in the frost?’
‘A soul that's lost as mine is lost,
（O Mother, Mary, Mother,
Lost, lost, all lost, between Hell and Heaven.)
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  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.
In a second letter he acknowledges many expressions of sympathy, and adds:--
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:-- “I have an old friend,” he said,
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 :--
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  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.
Judge Gate also writes me in regard to Whittier's supposed interest in “spiritual manifestations,” as follows:-- 
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.
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:--
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.
The following letter to his friend Charlotte Fiske Bates — afterward Madame Roger--conveys most fully his point of view as to immortality.
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  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.
He said once to Mrs. Claflin:--
This is in harmony with his lines in “The eternal Goodness” --lines which are oftener quoted, perhaps, than anything he wrote.
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.
I know not where His islands liftThis 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  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:--
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.
And thou, dear child, in riper daysLiterature 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.
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. 
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.
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.