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Whittier, the most intensely national of American bards.
Himself a member of the Society of Friends, the two most remarkable of his productions are on subjects in which that active although peaceful sect take a lively interest : the anti-slavery cause, in the present day; and the persecution of the Quakers, which casts such deep disgrace on the memory of the Pilgrim Fathers and their immediate successors in the early history of New England.
Strange it seems to us in this milder age, that these men, themselves flying from the intolerance of the Old Country, should, the moment they attained to anything like power, nay even whilst disputing with the native Indians, not the possession of the soil, but the mere privilege of dwelling peaceably therein, at once stiffen themselves into a bigotry and a persecution not excelled by the horrors of the Star Chamber! should, as soon as they attained the requisite physical force, chase and scourge, and burn and sell their fellow-creatures into slavery, for that very exercise of private judgment on religious subjects, that very determination to interpret freely the Book of Life, which had driven themselves into exile ! Oh! many are the causes of thankfulness which we owe to the Providence that cast us upon a more enlightened age ; but for nothing ought we more devoutly to render thanks to God than that in our days the deeds recited in Mr. Whittier's splendid ballad of “Cassandra Southcote” would be impossible.
His poem itself can scarcely be overrated. The march of the verse has something that reminds us of the rhythm of Mr. Macaulay's fine classical ballads, something which is resemblance, not imitation; whilst in the tone of mind of the author, his earnestness, his eloquence, his pathos, there is much that resembles the constant force and occasional beauty of Ebenezer Elliot. Whilst equally earnest, however, and equally eloquent, there is in Mr. Whittier, not only a more sustained, but a higher tone than that of the Corn-law Rhymer. It would indeed be difficult to tell the story of a terrible oppression and a merciful deliverance, a deliverance springing from the justice, the sympathy, the piety of our countrymen, the English captains, with more striking effect. I transcribe the prose introduction, which is really necessary to render such an outrage credible, although one feels intuitively that the story must have been true, precisely because it was too strangely wicked for fiction.
“ This ballad has its foundation upon a somewhat remarkable event in the history of Puritan intolerance. Two young persons, son and daughter of Lawrence Southwick, of Salem, who had himself been imprisoned and deprived of all his property for having entertained two Quakers at his house, were fined ten pounds each for non-attendance at church, which they were unable to pay. The case being represented to the General Court at Boston, that body issued an order which may still be seen on the court records, bearing the signature of Edward Rawson, Secretary, by which the Treasurer of the County was “fully empowered to sell the said persons to any of the English nation at Virginia or Barbadoes to answer said fines.' An attempt was made to carry this barbarous order into execution, but no shipmaster was found willing to convey them to the West Indies. Vide Sewall's History,' p.p. 225—6, G. Bishop.”
To the God of all true mercies let my blessing rise to-day, From the scoffer and the cruel He hath plucked the spoil
away, Yea, He, who cooled the furnace around the faithful three, And tamed the Chaldean lions, hath set His handmaid free!
Last night I saw the sunset melt through my prison bars, Last night across my damp earth-floor fell the pale gleam of
stars, In the coldness and the darkness all through the long night
time, My grated window whitened with autumn's early rime.
Alone in that dark sorrow, hour after hour crept by;
No sound amid night's stillness, save that which seemed
to be The dull and heavy beating of the pulses of the sea.
All night I sate unsleeping, for I knew that on the morrow The ruler and the cruel priest would mock me in my sorrow, Dragged to their place of market, and bargained for and
sold Like a lamb before the shambles, like a heifer from the
Oh the weakness of the flesh was there, the shrinking and the
shame; And the low voice of the Tempter like whispers to me came : "Why sitst thou thus forlornly ?” the wicked murmur
said, Damp walls thy bower of beauty, cold earth thy maiden
“ Where be the smiling faces and voices soft and sweet Seen in thy father's dwelling, heard in the pleasant street ? Where be the youths, whose glances the summer Sabbath
through Turned tenderly and timidly unto thy father's pew
“Why sitst thou here, Cassandra ? Bethink thee with what “Not for thee the hearth-fire brightens, not for thee kind
mirth Thy happy schoolmates gather around the warm bright
hearth; How the crimson shadows tremble, on foreheads white and
fair, On eyes
of merry girldhood half hid in golden hair.
words are spoken; Not for thee the nuts of Wenham Woods by laughing boys
are broken; No first-fruits of the orchard within thy lap are laid, For thee no flowers of autumn the youthful rustics braid.
“O weak deluded maiden! by crazy fancies led, With wild and raving railers an evil path to tread; To leave a wholesome worship and teaching pure
and sound, And mate with maniac women, loose-haired and sackcloth
“ Mad scoffers of the priesthood, who mock at things divine,
“ And what a fate awaits thee? a sadly toiling slave, Dragging the slowly lengthening chain of bondage to the
the scoff and scorn of all !"
The easy prey
Oh!-ever as the Tempter spoke, and feeble nature's fears
I thought of Paul and Silas, within Philippi's cell