Page images


duty, warns, reproves, and approves-a revelation of God." So he writes. But this mysticism is corrected by recognizing the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and the oneness of the Christ within with the historic Christ who suffered and died on Calvary.

It is no wonder that eccentricities of Quaker doctrine brought down upon many members of the Society the strong arm of the law. When they were moved to interrupt the worship of the churches by their denunciations, and to defy the authorities by parading naked through the streets, the inner light seemed only another name for insanity. In England and in America alike, they were imprisoned and exiled. Mary Dyer and three male Friends were hanged on Boston Common, and female members of the sect were stripped to the waist, whipped unmercifully, and driven out into the wilderness. To shelter them was a crime. Doctor Ellis claimed that the Quakers were as much to blame for being hanged as the Puritans were for hanging them. But Whittier indignantly replied that Puritan intolerance had turned the heads of unoffending Christians, and had compelled them to their strange methods of testimony:


'God is our witness," the victims cried,
"We suffer for Him who for all men died;
The wrong ye do has been done before,
We bear the stripes that the Master bore!

[ocr errors]

The founder of the Whittier family in New England was Thomas Whittier, who came to this country in 1638. He was not himself a Quaker, though he knew

2"How the Women Went from Dover."


of George Fox and sympathized with his doctrine. Haverhill, thirty miles north of Boston, was then an outpost of civilization, with a hundred miles of wilderness and roving bands of Indians beyond it. Here, in its East Parish, and in a beautiful bend of the Merrimac, though out of sight to any other settler, Thomas Whittier made his home and reared a stalwart family of five sons and five daughters. His grandson Joseph married a Greenleaf, of probably Huguenot descent, since the name seems to be the French Feuillevert Anglicized. Our poet was the grandson of this grandson. His father was a devout member of the Society of Friends, and his mother one of the loveliest and saintliest of women. In her veins was the blood of Stephen Bachiler, an English Nonconformist and an Oxford man, who had come to America to avoid persecution. Bachiler's daughter Susannah was the grandmother of Daniel Webster, so that John Greenleaf Whittier and Daniel Webster were cousins.

It must be remembered that the Friends were men of peace. They asked only the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of their own consciences. It was the same right which the Puritans claimed for themselves. But the Puritans denied it to others, and there grew up in Massachusetts an autocracy and a hierarchy as intolerant and cruel as that from which Quakers and Huguenots had fled across the sea. Our poet grew up in an atmosphere of intense indignation against this intolerance, while at the same time the spirit of revolt was held in check by the principles of peace, and by the faith that God would in due time




vindicate the right. On the nineteenth of October, 1658, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted that any person or persons of the cursed sect of Quakers should, on conviction of the same, be banished, on pain of death, from the jurisdiction of the commonwealth. On a painting by Abbey commemorating this decree Whittier wrote his poem entitled "Banished from Massachusetts":

The Muse of history yet shall make amends

To those who freedom, peace, and justice taught,
Beyond their dark age led the van of thought,
And left unforfeited the name of Friends.

We must remember that Quakers called themselves "Friends," not primarily because they were friends to one another or to mankind, but because, like Abraham, they were conscious of being the chosen friends of God, and of living in fellowship with him. In "The Pennsylvania Pilgrim," Whittier has given us a vivid description of Quaker life and doctrine:

Gathered from many sects, the Quaker brought
His old beliefs, adjusting to the thought
That moved his soul the creed his fathers taught.

One faith alone, so broad that all mankind
Within themselves its secret witness find,

The soul's communion with the Eternal Mind,

The Spirit's law, the Inward Rule and Guide,
Scholar and peasant, lord and serf, allied,
The polished Penn and Cromwell's Ironside.

The Light of Life shone round him; one by one
The wandering lights, that all-misleading run,
Went out like candles paling in the sun.


That Light he followed, step by step, where'er

It led, as in the vision of the seer

The wheels moved as the spirit in the clear

And terrible crystal moved, with all their eyes
Watching the living splendor sink or rise,
Its will their will, knowing no otherwise.

Within himself he found the law of right,
He walked by faith and not the letter's sight,
And read his Bible by the Inward Light.

[ocr errors]

His was the Christian's unsung Age of Gold,
A truer idyl than the bards have told

Of Arno's banks or Arcady of old.


Whittier was a birthright member of the Society. He gloried in his ancestry, adhered to their sober dress, used the "thee" and "thou" of their traditional speech. He attended Quaker meetings, though he seldom or never spoke in them; his only criticism upon these meetings was indeed that "there was too much speaking in them." He would not by his presence countenance the marriage of a Quaker to one outside of the Society, though he did send a poem to the married pair. He was never in a theater or a circus. When member of the legislature, he would take no oath, nor address the chair. He would not wear crape, nor use the ordinary dates. He owned no master but the Lord. He hated priests and kings, and abhorred the Puritan theocracy. But his independence was quiet and unresisting, though his mother and his aunt melted the wax figure of a clergyman that his soul might go to its doom in hell. In the days when Puseyism was rife, he wrote: "Has thee noticed the general tendency toward the old trust in man-in priests and sacrifices,



in ghostly mummery and machinery? To me it seems to bid fair to swallow up everything but Quakerism of the old stamp-rejection of all ceremonial, total disbelief in the power of pope, priest, or elder to give a ransom for the soul of another."

The Quaker of the olden time!

How calm and firm and true,
Unspotted by its wrong and crime,

He walked the dark earth through.

He walked by faith and not by sight,
By love and not by law;

The presence of the wrong or right
He rather felt than saw.

And, pausing not for doubtful choice
Of evils great or small,
He listened to that inward voice
Which called away from all.

O Spirit of that early day,
So pure and strong and true,
Be with us in the narrow way
Our faithful fathers knew.
Give strength the evil to forsake,
The cross of Truth to bear,

And love and reverent fear to make
Our daily lives a prayer.3

Whittier was indeed a Quaker of the olden time. The inner light upon which he depended was a very different light from that which was recognized by Emerson. Emerson's light was the light of nature; Whittier's was the light of Christ. Emerson regarded the fixed successions of the physical world as the

3" The Quaker of the Olden Time."

« PreviousContinue »