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

§ 2. Early Poems

From this time on, Whittier was an industrious scribbler of rhymes. Most of them have been lost, but enough remain to reveal a promise which may perhaps be characterized as similar to that of the Poems by Two Brothers, or the Poems by Victor and Cazire. The first of his verses to appear in print were sent, unknown to the author, by his sister Mary to The Free Press, a weekly paper just established by William Lloyd Garrison in Newburyport. The boy’s surprise was great when he read his own composition in an issue of the paper that was delivered at the Whittier farm in the summer of 1826. Other pieces followed, and one day shortly afterward, Garrison made a journey to the farm for the purpose of hunting up his promising contributor. He found Whittier at work in the field, urged the poet’s father to send him to the academy, and thus began what was to be the life-long friendship of these two remarkable personalities. During the next two years Whittier published in the Haverhill Gazette nearly one hundred poems, besides prose articles on Burns, War, and Temperance. In 1828, a volume to be entitled The Poems of Adrian was projected, but this venture was abandoned. In the summer of that year his schooldays came to an end, and he began to look about for a means of earning his living. An offer was made him of the editorship of The Philanthropist, a paper devoted to the cause of what is called “temperance” in the current perverted sense of that term, but this offer he declined in a letter containing this significant confession: “I would rather have the memory of a Howard, a Wilberforce, and a Clarkson than the undying fame of Byron.” By this time, he had acquired a considerable local reputation as a young writer of promise, and various modest openings already lay in his path.

During the next four years of his life (1828–32), Whittier was the editor of papers in Boston and Haverhill, and of The New England Review, in Hartford, Connecticut, besides contributing to many others. He became a partisan of Clay and the protective system, and looked askance at Jackson, “the blood-thirsty old man at the head of our government.” The death of the elder Whittier in 1830 kept him for some time in Haverhill for the settlement of the family affairs. His interest in politics became more and more pronounced, and he thought seriously of standing for an election to Congress in 1832 but gave up the idea because he would, at the time of the election, be a few weeks short of the legal age requirement. When he identified himself, the next year, with the unpopular cause of the abolitionists, he gave up all hopes of political advancement.