The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XIII. Whittier

§ 10. Religious Feeling

The deep and sincere religious feeling of the Centennial Hymn is characteristic of the entire body of Whittier’s verse, and not merely of the poems specifically religious in their subject-matter. His consciousness was shot through with a sense of the divine, and the essential spirituality of his thought suffuses his expression like the sunlight in cloud-banked western skies. But his religious faith was far from being of the dogmatic type. “I regard Christianity as a life rather than as a creed,” he once said, and the whole of his writing exemplifies the statement. He found in the doctrines of the Society of Friends exactly the framework which his nature needed, saying that “after a candid and kindly survey” of all the other creeds, “I turn to my own Society, thankful to the Divine Providence which placed me where I am; and with an unshaken faith in the one distinctive doctrine of Quakerism—the Light Within—the immanence of the Divine Spirit in Christianity.” In this doctrine, he says elsewhere, “will yet be found the stronghold of Christendom, the sure, safe place from superstition on the one hand and scientific doubt on the other.” The perfect expression of this simple and serene faith is found in The Eternal Goodness, and still again in the very last of all his poems. The sunset song of Tennyson’s soul, just before “crossing the bar” that divides the harbour of Time from the ocean of Eternity, illustrates no better than do these final lines of Whittier the matchless beauty that may crown the simplest modes of expression, if only they are based upon perfect faith and perfect sincerity.