the friend online
02 February 2007

Whittier at 200 - preview

Simon Webb looks back on John Greenleaf Whittier in his bicentenary year

In later life, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier looked a lot like that other great abolitionist, Abraham Lincoln
  • Both were lanky Yankees, who faced the world with resolutely moustache-less American-style beards
  • Both men were frequently photographed, but whereas the president tended to assume a grim expression for the camera, Whittier sometimes managed a dry half-smile

  • Whittier was a Quaker farm-boy from Massachusetts, who went on to become a poet, journalist and editor of newspapers
  • In those days, poems were more frequently published in the American news-papers, and this custom seems to have provided a launch pad for Whittier's verses
  • Many of his shorter poems are 'newsy', in that they are responses to topical events, such as 'the Meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, at Chatham Street Chapel, NY, 1834'
  • Some verses of this 'occasional' type were read out at such events and later printed in newspapers and books – others were supposed to be set to music, to become hymns
  • We have Whittier to thank for the words of the hymn 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind'

  • Simon Webb

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