Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

New England, ought to be reprinted as they came first from Whittier's hand.

The Stranger in Lowell, a volume of more or less related essays, is in part a record of impressions made on the author during a brief residence in the new manufacturing town by the Merrimac. The extraordinary growth of ‘The City of a Daywas then, and is still, a legitimate cause for wonder. All the eighteen papers are readable, and that entitled "The Yankee Zincali' is a little classic. Whittier's next volume of prose, The Supernaturalism of New England, consists of nine chapters on witches, wizards, ghosts, apparitions, haunted houses, charms, and the like. It is rather a wide survey of the subject, from the Indian powahs to the Irish Presbyterians who settled in New Hampshire in 1720, and brought with them, among 'other strange matters, potatoes and fairies.' Whittier dwells on these traditions of his country with deep interest and sets them forth with no little humor. It is a fault of the book that he does not dwell on them at greater length.

Leaves from Margaret Smith's Journal is an admirable study of colonial New England in 1678. The style is sweet, the narrative flowing, the characters, many of them historical, are consistent and lifelike, and the tone of delicate irony running through the book is most engaging. Genținely illuminating to the student of manners are such passages in the journal as those describing the ordination of Mr. Brock at Reading, the meeting at the inn with a son of Mr. Increase Mather, 'a 'pert talkative lad’ abounding in anecdotes of the miraculous, the antics of Mr. Corbet’s negro boy Sam, and the encounter on the way back to Boston with the good old deacon under the influence of flip. A strong and engrossing plot might have made the book more popular, as it might also have been inconsistent with the artlessness of what

purports to be a young girl's journal.

Old Portraits and Modern Sketches is a volume of character studies of ancient worthies (such as Bunyan, Ellwood, Baxter, Marvell) and of two or three moderns (like William Leggett, to whom Whittier pays a generous tribute). Literary Recreations and Miscellanies consists of a reprint of material used in earlier books, together with a group of reviews and other papers.

IV

NARRATIVE AND LEGENDARY VERSE

Whittier's instinct drew him irresistibly to native themes. He believed that the American poet should write about America. 'New England is full ‘of Romance,' he had said in his sketch of Brainard. “The great forest which our fathers penetrated 'the red men — their struggle and their disappear

[ocr errors]

(ance the Powwow and the War-dance — the savage inroad and the English sally — the tale of superstition, and the scenes of Witchcraft, – all these are rich materials of poetry.' And it is safe to assume that Whittier never questioned the wisdom of his own choice of subjects, though he was often dissatisfied with the treatment.

Much of Whittier's early verse died a natural death. More ought in his opinion to have done so. He marvelled at the 'feline tenacity of life' exhibited by certain poems and thought it flat contradiction of the theory of the survival of the fittest. He destroyed every copy of Legends of New England that he could get his hands on. He would have been glad to suppress Mogg Megone. 'Is there no way to lay the ghosts of unlucky 'rhymes ?' he asked, when the question was raised of reprinting the story in the blue and gold'volumes of 1857. It had appeared in the first collected edition (1849), and again in 1870; but when the definitive edition was published (1888), Mogg Megone was consigned to the limbo of an appen'dix,' and printed in type small enough to make the reading a torture.

The plot is imaginary, but the characters are for the most part historical. The outlaw Bonython sells his daughter to the Saco chief Hegone, or, as he was commonly called, Mogg Megone. The girl murders the savage as he lies drunk in her father's hut. For Mogg had boasted of killing

[ocr errors]

her seducer. She flies to the settlement of the Norridgewock Indians to confess to the Jesuit Sebastian Ralle, and is repulsed by the angry priest, whose plans are thwarted by Megone's untimely death. Wandering about in agony, she sees the attack by the English on Norridgewock, when Ralle was shot at the foot of the cross, and later is found by Castine and his men, dead in the forest. The poem is spirited and abounds in incident, but it is melodramatic. It lacks the magic of Whittier's art. Nevertheless he unjustly depreciated it.

A better performance is ‘The Bridal of Pen'nacook,' with its strongly marked characters of Passaconaway, Weetamoo, and Winnepurkit, its contrasting pictures of the rich Merrimac valley and the wild Saugus marshes. Along with this story of Indian life may be read “The Fountain' and the musical stanzas of the Funeral Tree of 'the Sokokis.' The Truce of Piscataqua' and Nauhaught, the Deacon' are later poems illustrating Indian character.

Living in what had been for many years one of the border towns of Massachusetts, Whittier was naturally drawn to themes, partly historic, partly legendary, touching the struggles between French, English, and Indians. Pentucket 'commemorates Hertel de Rouville's night attack on Haverhill. St. John,' a ballad of Acadia, describes the sack of La Tour's fortress by his rival,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

D'Aulnay. Mary Garvin' and 'The Ranger' are border' ballads.

Now and then he rhymes'a wild and wondrous 'story,' such as 'The Garrison of Cape Ann,' which he found in the Magnalia Christi : Dear to me these far, faint glimpses of the dual life of old, Inward, grand with awe and reverence; outward, mean and

coarse and cold; Gleams of mystic beauty playing over dull and vulgar clay, Golden-threaded fancies weaving in a web of hodden gray.

A number of the poems turn on the witchcraft persecutions: “Mabel Martin,' The Witch of

« • Wenham,' and the fine ‘Prophecy of Samuel

Sewall.' In The Tent on the Beach are two more: · The Wreck of the Rivermouth' and 'The *Changeling.'

Whittier was always ready to speak on the injustice of injustice. His Quaker ancestors used to receive gifts of forty stripes save one. They were martyrs for the cause of religious liberty. And the sufferings of the New England Quakers was a subject always to the poet's hand. He contemplated the wrongs that had been righted and was grateful therefor; but it was a part of his mission to teach his readers what progress had been made since the days in which state and church united to persecute a harmless if sometimes extravagant people. The lesson may be found in such poems as 'How the Women went from Dover' and 'The * King's Missive.' Whittier knew that injustice is always ridiculous, and a grim humor plays at times

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »