Page images
PDF
EPUB

went to “ The New England Weekly Review” in Hartford, a literary and political sheet, which had previously been conducted by his friends, J. G. C. Brainard and George D. Prentiss. These two papers were managed with such ability, that he was generally hailed as a great accession to the literary force of the country.

In 1831, Whittier resumed his agricultural pursuits in his native town, and in the years 1835 and 1836 represented it in the legislature of Massachusetts. In 1836 he was elected one of the Secretaries of the American Antislavery Society, and since then has devoted a great part of his time to the Antislavery movement, which had been begun in the year 1833 by Mr. Garrison and his followers, and in which he had taken an interest from its commencement. He soon removed to Philadelphia, where he remained until 1840, engaged during most of the time in editing “ The Pennsylvania Freeman,” an Antislavery journal. He was in the city during the unrelenting persecution to which the Abolitionists were for a season subjected, and in 1838 was present at the burning by a mob of Pennsylvania Hall, a handsome structure erected by the contributions of English and American Abolitionists for purposes of free discussion. For the opening of this hall, Whittier wrote an address, one of the poorest of his productions, and certainly in a literary point of view unworthy of preservation. Unlike most of his compositions, it is diffuse and wordy, and it shows but little of his customary vigor. He there intimates the possibility of a future growth of ivy on the walls of the edifice, which hope was frustrated by its destruction within a week after its completion. During his residence in Philadelphia he was so absorbed in the Antislavery reform, that literature was greatly neglected. In 1840 he removed to the town of Amesbury in Massachusetts, where he has since resided, having been connected, for the last few years, as corresponding editor, with “ The National Era," a literary and -Antislavery paper published at Washington. - His first book appeared in 1830, entitled “ Legends of New England," of which few copies are now extant. It was succeeded a year or two afterwards by " Moll Pitcher," — a poetical tale of the celebrated witch of Nahant; and in 1836, by “ Mogg Megone,” an Indian story in verse. A volume of poems followed, in 1838; these, and “ The Lays of my Home," were collected, with others, in his “ Miscellaneous Poems," which appeared in 1845, the same year with “ The Stranger in Lowell,” a collection of fugitive essays. These last were written while he was editing a political paper, during the excitement of a Presidential campaign, when, to use his own words, “ being necessarily brought into collision with both the great political parties, he felt it at once a duty and a privilege to keep his heart open to the kindliest influences of nature and society; and they are a transcript of impressions made upon his mind by the common incidents of daily life.” The subjects are such as these: “ Factory Girls," " A Mormon Conventicle," 6. The Yankee Zincali," " Father Miller," " Modern Magic,” 6 The Training," and other matters which he found at hand in the city of spindles. The essays are written with a freshness of style which prevents their being tedious, and they give him an opportunity to evolve his peculiar and mystic views of a future life, and kindred topics. The nature of the speculations of the lonely enthusiast are particularly apparent in the essays entitled “ Hamlet among the Graves," and “Swedenborg."

“ Supernaturalism of New England,” given to the public in 1847, is a treatise upon the popular superstitions of New Eng. land. Though not scientifically arranged, it shows a certain method, and is interspersed with acute reflections, such as would naturally be suggested to a man of a highly poetical temperament well acquainted with his theme. His materials were evidently collected at first hand, — the legends existing among a rural population, and supplied by the wrinkled crones around the wintry fireside of the farmer. The too evident scepticism of the narrator detracts somewhat from the charm of the volume, though less than if it were not compensated for by the exhibition of the quaint and humorous side of the incidents. He prefaces the work with a dedicatory poem to his sister, offering in the last stanza an excuse, if an excuse could be needed, for diversifying his reformatory labors with literary recreations.

“ And knowing how my life hath been

A weary work of tongue and pen,
A long, harsh strife with strong-willed men,

Thou wilt not chide my turning,
To con, at times, an idle rhyme,
To pluck a flower from childhood's clime,
Or listen, at life's noonday chime,

For the sweet bells of morning!” 6 Leaves from Margaret Smith's Journal ” was issued in 1849. The idea of this book was perhaps suggested by the “ Diary of Lady Willoughby," which had preceded it by a short interval. The visit of a cultivated and engaging English young lady to the Colony of Massachusetts, in the year 1678, forms the basis of the story, of which the chief merit claimed by the author is, that it presents a tolerably lifelike picture of the past, and introduces us familiarly to the hearths and homes of New England at the time of the Salem Witchcraft and the persecutions of the Quakers, when Puritanism was at its height. But this is not its sole merit. The story is simple, the characters are natural and well sustained, and the style has a quaintness and antique flavor in keeping with the time, and a feminine delicacy and humor appropriate to the supposed narrator. The Journal is written for her cousin Oliver, in England, to whom she is betrothed, and she begins it, as she says, –

“ Not from any vanitie of Authorship, or because of any undue confiding in my poor abilitie to edify one justly held in Repute among the Learned, but because my Hearte tells me that what I write, be it ever so faultie, will be read by the partial eye of my Kinsman, and not with the critical Observance of the Scholar, and that his Love will not find it difficult to excuse what offends his Clerkly Judgment. And, to embolden me withal, I will never forget that I am writing for my old Playmate at Hide and Seek in the Farm house at Hilton, the same who used to hunt after Flowers for me in the Spring and who did fill my Apron with Hazle-nuts in the Autumn, and who was then, I fear, little wiser than his still foolish Cousin, who if she hath not learned so many New Things as himself, hath perhaps remembered more of the Old.”

The scenery of New England is described with enthusiasm

and with the coloring of reality, and some appropriate passage from the Scriptures is never wanting to give utterance to her simple piety, or her delight in contemplating the outward aspects of nature.

“ The fields and roads are dustie in August, and all things do seem to faint and wax old under the intolerable Sun. Great Locusts sing sharp in the hedges and bushes, and Grasshoppers flie up in clouds, as it were, when one walks over the dry grass they feed upon, and at night-fall the Musketoes are no small torment. Whenever I doe look forth at noon day, at which time the air is all aglow, with a certain glimmer and dazzle, like that from an hot Furnace, I see the poor fliebitten Cattell whisking their tayles to keep off the venemous insects, or standing in the water of the low grounds for Coolness, and the panting sheep lying together under the shade of Trees.”

Here is a description of the woods in October :

“ As far as mine Eyes could look, the mightie Wilderness, under the bright westerly Sun, and stirred by a gentle wind, did seem like a Garden in its Season of flowering ; green, dark, and light, orange, and pale yellow, and crimson leaves, mingling and interweaving their various hues in a manner truly wonderful to behold. These colors did remind me of the Stains of the Windows of Old Churches, and of rich Tapestrie. The Maples were all aflame with crimson, the Walnuts were orange, the Hemlocks and Cedars were well nigh black, while the slender Birches with their pale yellow Leaves seemed painted upon them as Pictures are laid upon a dark ground. I gazed until mine Eyes grew wearie, and a sense of the wonderful Beautie of the visible Creation, and of God's great goodness to the Children of Men therein, did rest upon me, and I said in mine Heart with one of old: 'O Lord ! how manifold are thy Works : in Wisdom hast thou made them all, and the Earth is full of thy Riches.

There are also contained in this volume a number of excellent poems, particularly the Irish ballad “ Kathleen," and the fine “ Verses, writ by Sir Christopher Gardiner." .

Other persons figure, in the slight story of Margaret Smith's Journal, besides herself. They are sketched, if without any elaborate completeness, yet with no little felicity of delineation. The only thing which gives to the book the air of a regularly connected story has a basis of historical truth, namely, the tragic tale of Rebecca Rawson, one of the most romantic epi. sodes of New England Puritanic life. This giddy and beautiful girl, as the story goes, was the daughter of Secretary Rawson, a prominent magistrate in the Massachusetts Colony. Dazzled by the splendor of an unprincipled adventurer named Ramsey, who represented himself to be a nephew of Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Justice of England, she discarded Robert Pike, to whom she was betrothed, and married his more showy rival. On arriving in England she was abandoned by her graceless husband, to whom, as it turned out, a lady in Kent with two children had a prior right. After supporting herself and her child for some time by her needle, Rebecca went with a relative to Port Royal, with the intention of returning to her parental hoine. She there met her old lover, Robert Pike, now a sea-captain, who renewed his addresses with a better prospect of success, but a memorable earthquake, occurring at that time in Port Royal, sank the vessel in which the two had embarked.

“ Old Portraits and Modern Sketches" is a series of biographical notices of men with the purposes and principles of whose lives the author discovers grounds of sympathy in his own career, — the vindicators of political and religious freedom, - John Bunyan, Thomas Elwood, James Nayler, Andrew Marvell, John Roberts, Samuel Hopkins, Richard Baxter, William Leggett, and Nathaniel P. Rogers, –a noble army of martyrs, and nobly commemorated by a spirit capable of appreciating their virtues and services to mankind. Whittier has done a good work in rescuing from oblivion some of the old Quaker worthies, and in presenting vividly to our minds, unencumbered with tedious and useless details, the prominent characteristics of the men, subordinating the facts of their history to the exhibition of the guiding motive of their lives. The author must have read many folios, and gone through a great deal of rubbish, to give so interesting an account of Bunyan, Baxter, Hopkins, and his old Quaker friends. We wish that he had included among his portraits those of Fox and Penn, and especially that of the old saint of Quakerisrn, John Woolman, whose Journal Lamb so much admired. It seems to us that considerations of personal friendship must

VOL. Lxxix. — NO. 164.

« PreviousContinue »