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John Greenleaf Whittier
OHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER was born at East
Haverhill, Massachusetts, on December 17, 1807. His father, John Whittier, a farmer, was noted for probity, sound judgment, and great physical strength. A man of few words, he always spoke to the point, as when, in relation to public charities with which he had officially to do, he said : “There are the Lord's poor and the Devil's poor; 'there ought to be a distinction made between them 'by the overseers of the poor.' He had imperfect sympathy with his son's literary aspirations, but it
W.S. Kennedy: John Greenleaf Whittier, his Life, Genius, and Writings, 1882.
S. T. Pickard: Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier, 1894.
Richard Burton: John Greenleaf Whittier, Beacon • Biographies,' '1901.
T. W. Higginson : John Greenleaf Whittier, - English Men of Letters,' 1902.
G. R. Carpenter : John Greenleaf Whittier, American · Men of Letters,' 1903.
were unjust to say that he was wholly opposed to them.
Whatever lack there may have been on this score was abundantly made up to the youth by his beautiful and saintly mother. Abigail (Hussey) Whittier was her husband's junior by twenty-one years. From her the poet inherited his brilliant black eyes, a physical trait (mistakenly) supposed to have been derived from the old colonial minister, Stephen Bachiler, that enterprising and turbulent spirit who came to America at the age
of seventy, founded cities, disputed the authority of the clergy, and finally astonished friend and enemy alike by marrying for the third time at the age
Young Whittier was apparently destined to the toilsome life of his farmer ancestors. He suffered under the 'toughening process' to which New England country lads were formerly subjected, and became in consequence a lifelong valetudinarian.
With his frail physique and uncertain health the Quaker Poet' affords a marked contrast, not alone to his own father, but to that mighty ancestor Thomas Whittier, founder of the American family, who at sixty-eight years of age was able to do his share in hewing the oak timbers for a new house in which he proposed to pass his declining days. The building was erected about 1688. Thomas Whittier enjoyed the use of it until his
death in 1696. Five generations of Whittiers were harbored beneath its roof, and here the poet was born. Although not a Quaker himself, Thomas Whittier was a friend of the Friends, and for taking the part of certain unlicensed exhorters was for a time deprived of his rights as a freeman.
Whittier was early a reader and soon devoured the contents of his father's slender library. So insatiable was his thirst for books that he would walk miles to borrow a volume of biography or travel. At the age of fourteen he became fascinated with the
poems of Burns, and under their stimulus began to make rhymes himself. On his first visit to Boston he bought a copy of Shakespeare. Scott's novels he borrowed, to read them delightedly but with a troubled conscience.
His poetic aspirations were encouraged by his elder sister, Mary, who, without Whittier's knowledge, sent the verses entitled “The Exile's De'parture’ to the Newburyport Free Press, a short-lived journal edited by young William Lloyd Garrison. They appeared in the issue of June 8, 1826. Whittier has described his emotions on first seeing himself in print. The paper was thrown to him by the news-carrier. My uncle and I were 'mending fences. I took up the sheet, and was
surprised and overjoyed to see my lines in the «« Poet's Corner.” I stood gazing at them in
1 Whittier's Autobiographical Letter, in Carpenter's Whit