"Our Town" By James W. Tucker
Hampton Union, Thursday, September 29, 1960
In last week's column we left John Greenleaf Whittier taking an active part in the New Hampshire elections of 1846. The votes of his Liberty Party were most helpful in electing John P. Hale to the U. S. Senate. Later, Whittier sponsored the presidential candidacy of Hale on the Liberty Party ticket. However, when former Democratic President Martin Van Buren was nominated by the Free Soil Party and this party was merged with the Liberty Party, the candidacy of Hale was dropped. Whittier finally supported Van Buren, but Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was elected president, a fact that created considerable dissension in our town.
Civil War Dilemma
The Civil War brought a real dilemma to the Quaker poet who had been a member of the electoral college which had elected Lincoln. He vigorously opposed the coercion of the states which had seceded, yet after Smuttier was fired upon he approved the war, remaining a pacifist in principle. His chief war poem was "Barbara Frietchie," written in 1863. With the end of the war, Whittier hailed the abolition of slavery in America, a cause for which he had fought valiantly for thirty years.
Henceforth he wrote ballads, tales of colonial lore, rural scenes, religious poems, hymns and the like. His greatest literary triumph came in 1866 when he was 58 with the publication of "Snow-Bound." It marked another turning point in his life, for his popularity immediately increased and he became successful financially for the first time.
Verses on a Fly-Leaf
In 1888, four years before his death in Hampton Falls, Whittier wrote the following lines on the fly-leaf of a copy of the first edition of "Snow-Bound":
"Twenty years shave taken flight
Since these pages saw the light.
All home loves are gone,
But not all with sadness, still,
Do the eyes of memory fill
As I gaze thereon.
"Lone and weary life seemed when
First these pictures of the pen
Grew upon my page;
But I still have loving friends
And the peace our Father sends
Cheers the heart of age."
With "Snow-Bound," the once valiant and aggressive poet became meek and mild. This is indicated by the tone of ;his poems which he continued to publish for the edification of a constantly growing audience. And after the Civil War there had come well merited honors. Harvard College bestowed on Whittier, the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws and Brown University made him a member of its Board of Trustees. He remained a Republican but he no longer sided with the liberals.
Life in Danvers
From 1876 until almost the end of his life, he lived in a mansion at Oak Knoll in Danvers, Mass., the home of Edmund Johnson, a widower who had married a cousin of the poet and who had three daughters. He retained his voting residence in Amesbury and took vacations in New Hampshire, alternating between the mountains and his beloved seacoast at Hampton.
Mark Twain was the featured speaker at his 70th birthday anniversary and Whittier's 80th birthday was celebrated with a testimonial banquet at the Essex Club in Boston. Congratulations were showered on him by the leading statesmen of our nation and by men and women of letters from all over the world.
A Man of God
John Greenleaf Whittier was, in his day, a leading advocate of American democracy in all its forms. Behind his poetry we find the reformer, the radical, the Quaker, the preacher, the farmer, the moralist, the lover, the prophet, the nature lover, the patriot, the democrat, the hymn composer, the social philosopher and the psychologist. But first and foremost we recognize that behind his inspired verses was a dedicated man of God.
Spirit of Whittier
Only a few weeks before his death in Hampton Falls, he wrote the verses to Oliver Wendell Holmes which are a complete of the spirit which controlled the life and the work revelation of Whittier:
"The hour draws near, howe'er delayed and late,
When at the Eternal Gate
We leave the words and works we call our own,
And lift void hands alone
"For love to fill. Our nakedness of soul
Brings to that Gate no toll;
Giftless we come to Him, who all things gives,
And live because he lives."
Poems About Our Town
Poems Whittier wrote which have directly to do with our town and with Hampton Beach, and the year in which each was written, are given herewith: 1843, "Hampton Beach"
and "The New Wife and the Old;"
1864, "The Wreck At Rivermouth;"
1865, "The Changeling"
and 1867, "The Tent on the Beach."
It is interesting to note that 24 years elapsed between his poem, "Hampton Beach," from which we quoted last week, and "The Tent on the Beach," considered one of Whittier's best Poems. In the interim he vacationed many times in Hampton and occasionally visited with his friend, Celia Thaxter on Appledore at the Isles of Shoals.
To Celia Thaxter
On one occasion, he wrote "Lines on Leaving Appledore," and included it in a letter to the "Island Poetess," Celia Thaxter, with whom readers of this column are well acquainted:
"Under the shadow of a cloud, the light
Died out upon the waters like a smile
Chased from a face by grief. Following the flight
Of a lone bird that, scudding with the breeze,
Dipped its crank wing in leaden-colored seas,
I saw in sunshine lifted, clear and bright,
On the horizon's rim the Fortunate Isle
That claims thee as sits fair inhabitant,
And glad of heart I whispered, 'Be to her,
Bird of the summer sea, my messenger;
Tell her, if Heaven a fervent prayer will grant,
This light that falls her island home above
Making its slopes of rock and greenness gay,
A partial glory midst surrounding gray,
Shall prove an earnest of our Father's love,
More and more shining to the perfect day.'"
Based on Local Legends
Of the five poems Whittier wrote between 1843 and 1867 which refer directly to our town, three are based on legends connected with prominent historical characters. "The Changeling" relates a tale about the beautiful young wife of Ezra Dalton who imagined that her two year old daughter Anna had been bewitched by Eunice Goody Cole
. When, through the prayers of her husband, she is restored to her right mind, Goodman Dalton rides by night to Newbury to effect the release of Goody Cole from jail.
Bewitched by Goody
"The Wreck of Rivermouth" also features our town's famous "Goody" Cole, who, in this story, is supposed to have cast a spell on a party of young folks as they sailed down the Hampton River to the sea for a day's fishing. The boat was wrecked off Rivermouth by a sudden storm and all members of the fishing party were drowned.
The Yankee Faust
"The New Wife and the Old" is a ballad founded upon one of the numerous legends connected with General Moulton
who was regarded by many of his neighbors in our town as a kind of Yankee Faust. In this poem the ghost of an old wife retrieves her jewelry from a beautiful and young new wife. In his work, "The Supernaturalism of New England," published in 1847, Whittier relates another legend which shows how Gen. Moulton outwitted the devil by cutting off the toe of a boot into which his santanic majesty was pouring gold. Next week we will take a look at Hampton in 1867 as seen through the eyes of the remarkable Quaker poet.
Forward to Whittier -- Part 3