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

§ 3. Abolitionism

Whittier’s first published book was entitled Legends of New England, in Prose and Verse. It appeared in 1831, and was followed in 1832 by a pamphlet containing Moll Pitcher. Both these publications he afterwards did his best to suppress. Reform still appealed to him even more than poetry, and he wrote upon one occasion: “I set a higher value on my name as appended to the Antislavery Declaration of 1833 than on the title-page of any book.” This Declaration was issued by the Convention held in Philadelphia, in 1833, to which Whittier was a delegate. In taking this momentous decision, he builded better than he knew, for the poet in him was aroused, and the Voices of Freedom which from that time flowed from his pen were the utterances of a deeply-stirred soul, as different as possible from the imitative exercises which had hitherto engaged him.

The incidents of Whittier’s life during the following few years may be briefly summarized. In 1835 he served a term in the Massachusetts Legislature. In 1836, the Haverhill homestead was sold, and he bought in Amesbury, a few miles down the Merrimac, the cottage which was to be his home for the rest of his life. He occupied various editorial positions, which, together with activities in connection with the abolitionist agitation, kept him moving about until 1840, when he found his health badly broken and returned to Amesbury, there to remain for the greater part of the half-century that was still vouchsafed to him. In his abolitionist activities he proved his mettle, often suffering indignities at the hands of mobs and being on several occasions in no small physical peril. His shrewd and persuasive political activities made him a force to be reckoned with, and he kept in close touch with the leaders and movements of the time, allying himself with the Liberty Party of 1840, which, like the scriptural mustard seed, was destined to wax into so great a tree.