Read CHAPTER I - HAVERHILL of Whittier-land A Handbook of North Essex , free online book, by Samuel T. Pickard, on

The whole valley of the Merrimac, from its source among the New Hampshire hills to where it meets the ocean at Newburyport, has been celebrated in Whittier’s verse, and might well be called “Whittier-Land.” But the object of these pages is to describe only that part of the valley included in Essex County, the northeastern section of Massachusetts. The border line separating New Hampshire from the Bay State is three miles north of the river, and follows all its turnings in this part of its course. For this reason each town on the north of the Merrimac is but three miles in width. It was on this three-mile strip that Whittier made his home for his whole life. His birthplace in Haverhill was his home for the first twenty-nine years of his life. He lived in Amesbury the remaining fifty-six years. The birthplace is in the East Parish of Haverhill, three miles from the City Hall, and three miles from what was formerly the Amesbury line. It is nearly midway between the New Hampshire line and the Merrimac River. In 1876 the township of Merrimac was formed out of the western part of Amesbury, and this new town is interposed between the two homes, which are nine miles apart.

Haverhill, Merrimac, Amesbury, and Salisbury are each on the three-mile-wide ribbon of land stretching to the sea, on the left bank of the river. On the opposite bank are Bradford, Groveland, Newbury, and Newburyport. The whole region on both sides of the river abounds in beautifully rounded hills formed of glacial deposits of clay and gravel, and they are fertile to their tops. At many points they press close to the river, which has worn its channel down to the sea-level, and feels the influence of the tides beyond Haverhill. This gives picturesque effects at many points. The highest of the hills have summits about three hundred and sixty feet above the surface of the river, and there are many little lakes and ponds nestling in the hollows in every direction. In the early days these hills were crowned with lordly growths of oak and pine, and some of them still retain these adornments. But most of the summits are now open pastures or cultivated fields. The roofs and spires of prosperous cities and villages are seen here and there among their shade trees, and give a human interest to the lovely landscape. It is not surprising that Whittier found inspiration for the beautiful descriptive passages which occur in every poem which has this river for theme or illustration:

“Stream of my fathers! sweetly still
The sunset rays thy valley fill;
Poured slantwise down the long defile,
Wave, wood, and spire beneath them smile.”

Here is a description of the scenery of the Merrimac valley by Mr. Whittier himself, in a review of Rev. P. S. Boyd’s “Up and Down the Merrimac,” written for a journal with which I was connected, and never reprinted until now:

“The scenery of the lower valley of the Merrimac is not bold or remarkably picturesque, but there is a great charm in the panorama of its soft green intervales: its white steeples rising over thick clusters of elms and maples, its neat villages on the slopes of gracefully rounded hills, dark belts of woodland, and blossoming or fruited orchards, which would almost justify the words of one who formerly sojourned on its banks, that the Merrimac is the fairest river this side of Paradise. Thoreau has immortalized it in his ‘Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.’ The late Caleb Cushing, who was not by nature inclined to sentiment and enthusiasm, used to grow eloquent and poetical when he spoke of his native river. Brissot, the leader of the Girondists in the French Revolution, and Louis Philippe, who were familiar with its scenery, remembered it with pleasure. Anne Bradstreet, the wife of Governor Bradstreet, one of the earliest writers of verse in New England, sang of it at her home on its banks at Andover; and the lovely mistress of Deer Island, who sees on one hand the rising moon lean above the low sea horizon of the east, and on the other the sunset reddening the track of the winding river, has made it the theme and scene of her prose and verse.”

The visitor who approaches Whittier-Land by the way of Haverhill will find in that city many places of interest in connection with the poet’s early life, and referred to in his poems. The Academy for which he wrote the ode sung at its dedication in 1827, when he was a lad of nineteen, and before he had other than district school training, is now the manual training school of the city, and may be found, little changed except by accretion, on Winter Street, near the city hall. As this ode does not appear in any of his collected works, and is certainly creditable as a juvenile production, it is given here. It was sung to the air of “Pillar of Glory:”

Hail, Star of Science! Come forth in thy splendor,
Illumine these walls let them evermore be
A shrine where thy votaries offerings may tender,
Hallowed by genius, and sacred to thee.
Warmed by thy genial glow,
Here let thy laurels grow
Greenly for those who rejoice at thy name.
Here let thy spirit rest,
Thrilling the ardent breast,
Rousing the soul with thy promise of fame.

Companion of Freedom! The light of her story,
Wherever her voice at thine altar is known
There shall no cloud of oppression come o’er thee,
No envious tyrant thy splendor disown.
Sons of the proud and free
Joyous shall cherish thee,
Long as their banners in triumph shall wave;
And from its peerless height
Ne’er shall thy orb of light
Sink, but to set upon Liberty’s grave.

Smile then upon us; on hearts that have never
Bowed down ’neath oppression’s unhallowed control.
Spirit of Science! O, crown our endeavor;
Here shed thy beams on the night of the soul;
Then shall thy sons entwine,
Here for thy sacred shrine,
Wreaths that shall flourish through ages to come,
Bright in thy temple seen,
Robed in immortal green,
Fadeless memorials of genius shall bloom.

Haverhill, although but three miles wide, is ten miles long, and includes many a fertile farm out of sight of city spires, and out of sound of city streets. As Whittier says in the poem “Haverhill:”

“And far and wide it stretches still,
Along its southward sloping hill,
And overlooks on either hand
A rich and many-watered land.

. . . . .

And Nature holds with narrowing space,
From mart and crowd, her old-time grace,
And guards with fondly jealous arms
The wild growths of outlying farms.

Her sunsets on Kenoza fall,
Her autumn leaves by Saltonstall
No lavished gold can richer make
Her opulence of hill and lake.”

This “opulence of hill and lake” is the especial charm of Haverhill. The two symmetrical hills, named Gold and Silver, near the river, one above and one below the city proper, are those referred to in “The Sycamores” as viewed by Washington with admiring comment, standing in his stirrups and

“Looking up and looking down
On the hills of Gold and Silver
Rimming round the little town.”

Silver Hill is the one with the tower on it. As one takes at the railway station the electric car for the three-mile trip to the Whittier birthplace, two lakes are soon passed on the right. The larger one, overlooked by the stone castle on top of a great hill embowered in trees, is Kenoza a name signifying pickerel. It was christened by Whittier with the poem which has permanently fixed its name. The whole lake and the beautiful wooded hills surrounding it, with the picturesque castle crowning one of them, are now included in a public park of which any city might be proud. Our car passes close at hand, on the left, another lake not visible because it is so much above us. This is a singular freak of nature a deep lake fed by springs on top of a hill. The surface of this lake is far above the tops of most of the houses of Haverhill, and it is but a few rods from Kenoza, which lies almost a hundred feet below. Our road is at middle height between the two, and only a stone’s throw from either.

As we approach the birthplace, it is over the northern shoulder of Job’s Hill, the summit of which is high above us at the right. This hill was named for an Indian chief of the olden time. We look down at the left into an idyllic valley, and through the trees that skirt a lovely brook catch sight of the ancient farmhouse on a gentle slope which seems designed by nature for its reception. To the west and south high hills crowd closely upon this valley, but to the east are green meadows through which winds, at last at leisure, the brook just released from its tumble among the rocks of old Job’s left shoulder. The road by which we have come is comparatively new, and was not in existence when the Whittiers lived here. The old road crosses it close by the brook, which is here bridged. The house faces the brook, and not the road, presenting to the highway the little eastern porch that gives entrance to the kitchen, the famous kitchen of “Snow-Bound.”

The barn is across the road directly opposite this porch. It is now much longer than it was in Whittier’s youth, but two thirds of it towards the road is the old part to which the boys tunneled through the snowdrift

... “With merry din,
And roused the prisoned brutes within.
The old horse thrust his long head out,
And grave with wonder gazed about;
The cock his lusty greeting said,
And forth his speckled harem led
The oxen lashed their tails, and hooked,
And mild reproach of hunger looked;
The horned patriarch of the sheep,
Like Egypt’s Amun roused from sleep,
Shook his sage head with gesture mute,
And emphasized with stamp of foot.”

This is not the original barn of the pioneers, but was built by Whittier’s father and uncle Moses in 1821. The ancient barn was not torn down till some years later. It was in what is now the orchard back of the house. There used to be, close to the cattle-yard of the comparatively new barn, a shop containing a blacksmith’s outfit. This was removed more than fifty years ago, being in a ruinous condition from extreme old age. It had not been so tenderly cared for as was its contemporary of the Stuart times across the road.

Thomas Whittier, the pioneer, did not happen upon this valley upon his first arrival from England, in 1638. Indeed, at that time the settlements had not reached into this then primeval wilderness. He settled first in that part of Salisbury which is now named Amesbury, and while a very young man represented that town in the General Court. The Whittier Hill which overlooks the poet’s Amesbury home was named for the pioneer, and not for his great-great-grandson. It is to this day called by Amesbury people Whitcher Hill as that appears to have been the pronunciation of the name in the olden time. For some reason he removed across the river to Newbury. As a town official of Salisbury, he had occasion to lay out a highway towards Haverhill a road still in use. He came upon a location that pleased his fancy, and in 1647, at the age of twenty-seven, he returned to the northern side of the river and built a log house on the left bank of Country Brook, about a mile from the location he selected in 1688 for his permanent residence. He lived forty-one years in this log house, and here raised a family of ten children, five of them stalwart boys, each over six feet in height. He was sixty-eight years old when he undertook to build the house now the shrine visited yearly by thousands. In raising its massive oaken frame he needed little help outside his own family. As to the location of the log house, the writer of these pages visited the spot with Mr. Whittier in search of it in 1882. He said that when a boy he used to see traces of its foundation, and hoped to find them again; but more than half a century had passed in the mean time, and our search was unsuccessful. It was on the ridge to the left of the road, quite near the old Country Bridge.

Country Bridge had the reputation of being haunted, when Whittier was a boy, and several of his early uncollected poems refer to this fact. No one who could avoid it ventured over it after dark. He told me that once he determined to swallow his fears and brave the danger. He approached whistling to keep his courage up, but a panic seized him, and he turned and ran home without daring to look behind. It was in this vicinity that Thomas Whittier built his first house in Haverhill. Further down the stream was Millvale, where were three mills, one a gristmill. This mill and the evil reputation of the bridge are both referred to in these lines from “The Home-Coming of the Bride,” a fragment first printed in “Life and Letters:”

“They passed the dam and the gray gristmill,
Whose walls with the jar of grinding shook,
And crossed, for the moment awed and still,
The haunted bridge of the Country Brook.”

It was the custom of the pioneers, when they had the choice, to select the sites of their homes near the small water powers of the brooks; the large rivers they had not then the power to harness. There were good mill sites on Country Brook below the log house, but probably some other settler had secured them, and Thomas Whittier found in the smaller stream on his own estate a fairly good water power. Fernside Brook is a tributary of Country Brook. Probably this decided the selection of the site for a house which was to be a home for generation after generation of his descendants. The dam recently restored is at the same spot where stood the Whittier mill, and in making repairs some of the timbers of the ancient mill were found. Parts of the original walls of the dam are now to be seen on each side of the brook, but the mill had disappeared long before Whittier was born. Further up the brook were two other dams, used as reservoirs. The lower dam when perfect was high enough to enable the family to bring water to house and barn in pipes.

When entering the grounds, notice the “bridle-post” at the left of the gate, and a massive boulder in which rude steps are cut for mounting a horse led up to its side:

“The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat.”

Like all of Whittier’s descriptions, this is an exact picture of what he had in mind; for this stone, after a great snowstorm, would assume just this appearance. As to the phrase, “the well-curb had a Chinese roof,” I once asked him how this well could have had a roof, as the “long sweep high aloof” would have interfered with it. He stood by the side of the well, and explained that there was no roof, but that there was a shelf on one side of the curb on which to rest the bucket. The snow piled up on this like a Chinese roof. The isolation of the homestead referred to in the phrase, “no social smoke curled over woods of snow-hung oak,” has not been broken in either of the centuries this house has stood. No other house was ever to be seen from it in any direction. And yet neighbors are within a half-mile, only the hills and forests hide their habitations from view. When the wind is right, the bells of Haverhill may be faintly heard, and the roar of ocean after a storm sometimes penetrates as a hoarse murmur in this valley.

In the old days, before these hills were robbed of the oaken growths that crowned their summits, their apparent height was much increased, and the isolation rendered even more complete than now. Sunset came much earlier than it did outside this valley. The eastern hill, beyond the meadow, is more distant and not so high, and so the sunrises are comparatively early. Visitors interested in geology will find this hill an unusually good specimen of an eschar, a long ridge of glacial gravel set down in a meadow through which Fernside Brook curves on its way to its outlet in Country Brook. Job’s Hill at the south rises so steeply from the right bank of Fernside Brook, at the foot of the terraced slope in front of the house, that it is difficult for many rods to get a foothold. The path by which the hill was scaled and the stepping-stones by which the brook was crossed are accurately sketched in the poem “Telling the Bees,” a poem, by the way, which originally had “Fernside” for its title:

“Here is the place; right over the hill
Runs the path I took;
You can see the gap in the old wall still,
And the stepping-stones in the shallow brook.”

Visitors should read the stanzas immediately following this, and note the exactness of the poet’s description of the homestead he had in mind. The poem was written more than twenty years after he left Haverhill, and it was many years after that when Mr. Alfred Ordway, in taking photographs of the place, noticed that it had already been pictured in verse; when he spoke of it to Mr. Whittier, the poet was both surprised and pleased at this, which, he said, was the first recognition of his birthplace. The public is indebted to Mr. Ordway for many other discoveries of the same kind, illustrating Whittier’s minute fidelity to nature in his descriptions of scenery.

Let us enter the house by the eastern porch, noting the circular door-stone, which was the millstone that ground the grain of the pioneers, more than a century before Whittier was born. It belonged in the mill on the brook to which reference has been made. The fire which destroyed the roof of the house in November, 1902, did not injure this porch, and there were other parts of the house which were scarcely scorched. These are the original walls, and the handiwork of the pioneers is exactly copied in whatever had to be restored. This was made possible by photographs that had been kept, showing the width and shape of every board and moulding, inside and outside the house. Here again it is Mr. Ordway, president of the board of trustees having the birthplace in charge, who is to be especially thanked. It is proper here, as I have spoken of the fire, to mention the heroic work of the custodian, Mrs. Ela, and others, who saved every article of the precious souvenirs endangered by the fire, so that nothing was lost.

The kitchen, which occupies nearly the whole northern side of the house, is twenty-six feet long and sixteen wide. The visitor’s attention is usually first drawn to the great fireplace in the centre of its southern side. The central chimney was built by the pioneer more than two centuries ago, and it has five fireplaces opening into it. The bricks of the kitchen hearth are much worn, as might be expected from having served so many generations as the centre of their home life. It was around this identical hearth that the family was grouped, as sketched in the great poem which has consecrated this room, and made it a shrine toward which the pilgrims of many future generations will find their way. Here was piled

“The oaken log, green, huge and thick,
And on its top the stout back-stick;
The knotty forestick laid apart,
And filled between with curious art
The ragged brush; then, hovering near,
We watched the first red blaze appear,
Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam
On whitewashed wall and sagging beam,
Until the old, rude-furnished room
Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom.”

Here on these very bricks simmered the mug of cider and the “apples sputtered in a row,” while through these northern windows the homely scene was repeated on the sparkling drifts in mimic flame. The table now standing between these windows is the same that then stood there, and many of the dishes on the shelves near by are the family heirlooms occupying their old places. Two of these pieces of china were brought here by Sarah Greenleaf, Whittier’s grandmother. The bull’s-eye watch over the mantel is a fine specimen of the olden time, and hangs on the identical nail from which uncle Moses nightly suspended his plump timepiece.

But perhaps the article which is most worthy of attention in this room is the desk at the eastern corner. This was the desk of Joseph Whittier, great-grandfather of the poet, and son of the pioneer. On the backs and bottoms of the drawers of this desk are farm memoranda made with chalk much more than a century ago. One item dated in 1798 records that the poet’s father made his last excursion to Canada in that year. It was about a century old when the boy Whittier scribbled his first rhymes upon it. By an interesting coincidence he also, in his eighty-fifth year, wrote his very last poem upon it. When the family removed to Amesbury, in 1836, this desk was taken with them, but soon after was replaced by a new one, and this went “out of commission.” The new desk was the one on which “Snow-Bound” was written, and this may now be seen at Amesbury. When Mr. Whittier’s niece was married, he gave her this old desk, which she took to Portland, where it was thoroughly repaired. When he visited Portland, he wrote many letters and some poems on it. In the summer of 1891, as her uncle proposed to make his home with his cousins, the Cartlands, in Newburyport, his niece had this ancient desk sent there. Mr. Whittier was greatly pleased, upon his arrival, to find in his room the heirloom which was hallowed by so many associations connected not only with his ancestry, but with his own early life. Nearly all of the literary work of his last year was done upon this desk. To his niece he wrote:

“I am writing at the old desk, which Gertrude has placed in my room, but it seems difficult to imagine myself the boy who used to sit by it and make rhymes. It is wonderfully rejuvenated, and is a handsome piece of furniture. It was the desk of my great-grandfather, and seemed to me a wretched old wreck when thee took it to Portland. I did not suppose it could be made either useful or ornamental. I wrote my first pamphlet on slavery, ‘Justice and Expediency,’ upon it, as well as a great many rhymes which might as well have never been written. I am glad that it has got a new lease of life.”

The little room at the western end of the kitchen was “mother’s room,” its floor two steps higher than that of the larger room, for a singular reason. In digging the cellar the pioneer found here a large boulder it was inconvenient to remove, and wishing a milk room at this corner, he was obliged to make its floor two steps higher than the rest of the cellar. This inequality is reproduced in each story. In this little room the bed is furnished with the blankets and linen woven by Whittier’s mother on the loom that used to stand in the open chamber. Her initials “A. H.” on some of the pieces show that they date back to her life in Somersworth, N. H. On the wall of this room may be seen the baby-clothes of Whittier’s father, made by the grandmother who brought the name of Greenleaf into the family. The bureau in this room is the one that stood there in the olden time. The little mirror that stands on it is the one by which Whittier shaved most of his life. He used it at Amesbury, and possibly his father used it before him at Haverhill.

Mr. Whittier had a great fund of stories of the supernatural that were current in this neighborhood in his youth, and one that had this very kitchen for its scene, he told with much impressiveness. It was the story of his aunt Mercy

“The sweetest woman ever Fate
Perverse denied a household mate.”

It was out of this window in the kitchen that she saw the horse and its rider coming down the road, and recognized the young man to whom she was betrothed. It was out of this window in the porch that she saw them again, as she went to the door to welcome her lover. It was this door she opened, to find no trace of horse or rider. It was to this little room at the other end of the kitchen that she went, bewildered and terrified, to waken her sister, who tried in vain to pacify her by saying she had been dreaming by the fire, when she should have been in bed. And it was in this room she received the letter many days later telling her of the death of her lover in a distant city at the hour of her vision. Mr. Whittier told such stories with the air of more than half belief in their truth, especially in his later years, when he became interested in the researches of scientists in the realm of telepathy. He said his aunt was the most truthful of women, and she never doubted the reality of her vision.

The door at the southwestern corner of the kitchen opens into the room in which the poet was born. This was the parlor, but as the Friends were much given to hospitality, it was often needed as a bedroom, and there was in it a bedstead that could be lifted from the floor and supported by a hook in the ceiling when not in use. In the corners are cabinets containing articles of use and ornament that are genuine relics of the Whittier family. The inlaid mahogany card-table between the front windows was brought to this house just a century ago (1804) by Abigail Hussey, the bride of John Whittier, and placed where it now stands. Like the desk in the kitchen, it has always been in the possession of the family, and was restored to the birthplace by the niece to whom Whittier gave it. In this room are several books that belonged in the small library of Whittier’s father, which are mentioned in “Snow-Bound,” and described more fully in the rhymed catalogue, a part of which appears in “Life and Letters,” . I here give the full list copied from Whittier’s manuscript, for which I am indebted to Miss Sarah S. Thayer, daughter of Abijah W. Thayer, who edited the “Haverhill Gazette,” and with whom Whittier boarded while in the Academy. Mr. Thayer had appended to the manuscript these words: “This was deposited in my hands about 1828, by John G. Whittier, who assured me that it was his first effort at versification. It was written in 1823 or 1824, when Whittier was fifteen or sixteen years old.”


How Captain Riley and his crew
Were on Sahara’s desert threw.
How Rollins to obtain the cash
Wrote a dull history of trash.
O’er Bruce’s travels I have pored,
Who the sources of the Nile explored.
Malcolm of Salem’s narrative beside,
Who lost his ship’s crew, unless belied.
How David Foss, poor man, was thrown
Upon an island all alone.


The Bible towering o’er the rest,
Of all the other books the best.
Old Father Baxter’s pious call
To the unconverted all.
William Penn’s laborious writing,
And the books ’gainst Christians fighting.
Some books of sound theology,
Robert Barclay’s “Apology.”
Dyer’s “Religion of the Shakers,”
Clarkson’s also of the Quakers.
Many more books I have read through
Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” too.
A book concerning John’s baptism,
Elias Smith’s “Universalism.”


The Lives of Franklin and of Penn,
Of Fox and Scott, all worthy men.
The Lives of Pope, of Young and Prior,
Of Milton, Addison, and Dyer;
Of Doddridge, Fenelon and Gray,
Armstrong, Akenside, and Gay.
The Life of Burroughs, too, I’ve read,
As big a rogue as e’er was made;
And Tufts, who, I will be civil,
Was worse than an incarnate devil.

Written by John G. Whittier.

The books of this library now to be seen are the “Life of George Fox,” in two leather-bound volumes, printed in London, 1709, Sewel’s “Painful History,” printed in 1825, Ellwood’s “Drab-Skirted Muse,” Philadelphia edition of 1775, and Thomas Clarkson’s “Portraiture of Quakerism,” New York edition of 1806.

The little red chest near the fireplace is an ancient relic of the family, formerly used for storing linen. The portrait of Whittier over the fireplace is enlarged from a miniature painted by J. S. Porter about 1830, and it is the earliest likeness of the poet ever taken. The original miniature may be seen at the Amesbury home. The large portrait on the opposite side of the room was painted by Joseph Lindon Smith, an artist of celebrity, who is a relative of Whittier’s. Portraits of Whittier’s brother, his sisters, his mother, and his old schoolmaster, Joshua Coffin, are shown in this room. The silhouette on the mantelpiece is of aunt Mercy, his mother’s unmarried sister. A sampler worked by Lydia Aver, the girl commemorated in the poem “In School Days,” is exhibited in this room. She was a member of the family who were the nearest neighbors of the Whittiers a family still represented in their ancient homestead, where her grandniece now lives. She died at the age of fourteen.

It was the privilege of the writer to accompany Mr. Whittier when he made his last visit to his birthplace, in late October, 1882. When in this birth-room, he expressed a wish to see again a fire upon its hearth, not for warmth, for it was a warm day, but for the sentiment of it. The elderly woman who had charge of the house said she would have a fire built, and in the mean time we went down to the brook, intending to cross by the stepping-stones he had so often used. But the brook was running full, the stepping-stones were slippery, and Mr. Whittier reluctantly gave up crossing. Then we visited the little burying-ground of the family, where lie the remains of his ancestors. When we returned to the parlor, we found the good woman had brought down a sheet-iron air-tight stove from the attic, set it in the fireplace, and there was a crackling fire in it! I suggested that we could easily remove the stove and have a blaze on the hearth, but Mr. Whittier at once negatived the proposition, saying we must not let the woman know we were disappointed. She had taken much pains to please us, and must not be made aware of her mistake. He was always ready to suffer inconvenience rather than wound the sensibilities of any one.

From the back entry at the western end of the kitchen ascends the steep staircase down which Whittier, when an infant, was rolled by his sister Mary, two years older than he. She thought if he were well wrapped in a blanket he would not be harmed, and the experiment proved quite successful, thanks to her abundant care in bundling him in many folds. He happily escaped one other peril in his infancy. His parents took him with them on a winter drive to Kingston, N. H. To protect him from the cold, he was wrapped too closely in his blankets, and he came so near asphyxiation that for a time he was thought to be dead. He was taken into a farmhouse they were passing when the discovery was made, and after a long and anxious treatment they were delighted to find he was living.

The rooms in the upper part of the house injured by the recent fire have been perfectly restored to their original condition. At Whittier’s last visit here he went into every room, and told stories of the happenings of his youth in each. At the head of the back stairs is a little doorless press, which he pointed out as a favorite play-place of his and his brother’s. Here they found room for their few toys, as perhaps three generations of Whittier children had done before them. And it is not unlikely that some of their toys had amused the youth of their grandfather. One of his earliest memories is connected with this little closet, for here he had his first severe twinge of conscience. He had told a lie no doubt a white one, for it did not trouble him at first and soon after was watching the rising of a thunder-cloud that was grumbling over the great trees on the western hill near at hand. A bolt descended among the oaks, and the deafening explosion was instantaneous. He saw in it an exhibition of divine wrath over his sin, and obeyed the primal instinct to hide himself. His mother, searching for him some time after the storm had passed, found her repentant little boy almost smothered under a quilt in this closet, and as he confessed his sin, he was tenderly shrived. Here in the open chamber the brothers often slept when visitors claimed the little western chamber they usually occupied. They would sometimes find, sifted through cracks in the old walls, a little snowdrift on their quilt. The small western room the boys called theirs was the scene of the story Trowbridge has so neatly versified. The elder proposed that as they could lift each other, by lifting in turn they could rise to the ceiling, and there was no knowing how much further if they were out of doors! The prudent lads, to make it easy in case of failure, stood upon the bed in this little room. Trowbridge says:

“Kind Nature smiled on that wise child,
Nor could her love deny him
The large fulfilment of his plan;
Since he who lifts his brother man
In turn is lifted by him.”

Boys were boys in those days, and Whittier told us of trying to annoy his younger sister by pretending to hang her cat on this railing to the attic stairs. And girls were girls too; for he told of Elizabeth’s frightening two hired men who were occupying the open chamber. They had been telling each other ghost stories after they went to bed; but both asserted that they could not be frightened by such things. From over the door of her room Elizabeth began throwing pins, one at a time, so that they would strike on the floor near the brave men. They were so frightened they would not stay there another night. In the open attic bunches of dried herbs hung from the rafters, and traces of corn selected for seed. On the floor the boys spread their store of nuts “from brown October’s wood.” Originally the northern side of the roof sloped down to the first story, as was the fashion in the days of the Stuarts. But some years before Whittier’s birth this side of the roof was raised, giving much additional chamber room.

Not far from the house, at the foot of the western hill, is the small lot inclosed by a stone wall, to which reference has been made, that from the earliest settlement was the burying-place of the family. Here lie the remains of Thomas Whittier and those of his descendants who were the ancestors of the poet. A plain granite shaft in the centre of the lot is inscribed with the names of Thomas Whittier and of Ruth Green, his wife; Joseph Whittier and Mary Peaslee, his wife; Joseph Whittier, 2d, and Sarah Greenleaf, his wife. No headstones mark the several graves. Others of the family were buried here, including Mary Whittier, an aunt of the poet. His father and uncle Moses, originally buried here, were removed to the Amesbury cemetery, when his mother died, in 1857.

Across the road from the house of the nearest neighbors, the Ayers, in a field of the Whittier farm, is an old, immense, and symmetrical tree, labeled “The Whittier Elm,” which the poet’s schoolmate, Edmund Ayer, saved from the woodman’s axe by paying an annual tribute, at a time when the farm had gone out of the possession of the Whittiers, and while the new proprietors were intent upon despoiling the place of its finest trees. This is the tree referred to in these lines, written in 1862, in the album of Lydia Amanda Ayer (now Mrs. Evans), his schoolmate Lydia’s niece:

“A dweller where my infant eyes
Looked out on Nature’s sweet surprise,
Whose home is in the ample shade
Of the old Elm Tree where I played,
Asks for her book a word of mine:
I give it in a single line:
Be true to Nature and to Heaven’s design!”

Whittier took us that October day to neighbor Ayer’s house, where the brother of little Lydia was still living, who also was a schoolmate of the poet, and they talked of the old times with the greatest relish. The Ayer house occupies the site of a garrison house, built of strong oaken timbers, and used as a house of refuge in the time of the Indian wars. The Whittiers, though close at hand, never availed themselves of its protection, even when Indian faces covered with war-paint peered through the kitchen windows upon the peaceful Quaker family. We were soon joined by another aged schoolmate, Aaron Chase, and with him we went to Corliss Hill, where Whittier showed us the two houses in which he first went to school. They are both now standing, and are dwelling-houses in each of which a room was given up for the district school one before the house described in “In School Days” was built, and the other while it was being repaired. He had not yet arrived at school age when his sister Mary took him to his first school, kept by his life-long friend, Joshua Coffin, to whom he addressed the poem, “To My Old Schoolmaster.” As I happened to be a nephew of Coffin, he told me stories of his first school. It was kept in an unfinished ell of a farmhouse; but the room had been transformed into a neatly furnished kitchen when we visited it. In the poem referred to he alludes to the quarrels of the good man and his tipsy wife heard through “the cracked and crazy wall.” He told this story of the tipsy wife: She sent her son for brush to heat her oven. He brought such a nice load that she thought it too bad to waste it in the oven. So she sent her son with it to the grocery, and he brought back the liquor he received in payment. But this made her short of oven wood, and to eke out her supply of fuel she burned a loose board of the cellar stairs. The next time she had occasion to go to the cellar, she forgot the hiatus she had made and broke her leg. After Mr. Chase left us, Whittier told me that his old schoolmate was a nephew of the last person usually accounted a witch in this neighborhood. She was the wife of Moses Chase of Rocks Village. Her relatives believed her a witch, and one of her nieces knocked her down in the shape of a persistent bug that troubled her. At that moment it happened that the old woman fell and hurt her head. The old lady on one occasion went before Squire Ladd, the blacksmith and Justice of the Peace at the Rocks, and took her oath that she was not a witch.

We next visited the scene of “In School Days,” and found some traces of the schoolhouse that have since been obliterated, although a tablet now marks its site. The door-stone over which the scholars “went storming out to playing” was still there, and some of the foundation stones were in place. “Around it still the sumachs” were growing, and blackberry vines were creeping. Mr. Whittier gathered a handful of the red sumach, and took it to Amesbury with him. It remained many days in a vase in his “garden room.” Speaking of his boyhood, he said he was always glad when it came his turn to stay at home on First Day. The chaise, driven to Amesbury nine miles every First and Fifth Day, fortunately was not of a capacity to take the whole family at once. This gave him an occasional opportunity, much enjoyed, to spend the day musing by the brook, or in the shade of the oaks and hemlocks on the breezy hilltops, which commanded a view unsurpassed for beauty. These hills, which so closely encompass the ancient homestead at the west and south, are among the highest in the county. From them one gets glimpses of the ocean in Ipswich Bay, the undulating hills of Newbury, cultivated to their tops, on the further side of the Merrimac, the southern ranges of the New Hampshire mountains, and the heights of Wachusett and Monadnock in Massachusetts. Po Hill, in Amesbury, under which stands the Quaker meeting-house where his parents worshiped, shows its great round dome in the east. He never tired of these views, and celebrated them in many of his poems. He especially dreaded the winter drives to meeting. Buffalo robes were not so plenty in those days as they became a few years later, and our fathers did not dress so warmly as do we. He was so stiffened by cold on some of these drives to Amesbury that he told me “his teeth could not chatter until thawed out.” Winter had its compensations, as he has so well shown in “Snow-Bound.” But it is noticeable that he does not refer in that poem to the winter drives to meeting. On one occasion he improved the absence of his parents on a First Day to go nutting. He climbed a tall walnut, and had a fall of about twenty feet which came near being fatal. The Friends did not theoretically hold one day more sacred than another, and yet theirs was the habit of the Puritan community, to abstain from all play as well as from work on the Sabbath, and this fall gave a smart fillip to the young poet’s conscience.

This story illustrating Whittier’s popularity when a child I did not get from him, but is a legend of the neighborhood. One of their nearest neighbors, a Miss Chase, had a cherry-tree she guarded with the utmost jealousy. No bird could alight on it in cherry time, and no boy approach it, without bringing her to the rescue with a promptness that frightened them. One day she saw a boy in the branches of this precious tree, and issued upon the scene with dire threats. She caught sight of the culprit’s face, and instantly changed her tone: “Oh, is it you, Greenleaf? Take all the cherries you want!”

The old homestead was an object of interest as far back as 1842, as is shown by a letter before me, written by Elizabeth Nicholson of Philadelphia, who asks her friend, Elizabeth Whittier, for a picture of it: “When thee come to Philadelphia if thee will bring ever so rough a sketch of the house where Greenleaf was born, for Elizabeth Lloyd to copy for my book, why we’ll be glad to see thee! I hope for the sake of the picturesque it is a ruin indeed it must be, for Griswold says it has been in the family a hundred years!” It had then been in the family for over one hundred and fifty years. The book referred to by Miss Nicholson was a manuscript collection of all the verses, published and unpublished, that Whittier had written at that time a notable collection, now in existence. She had obtained from the poet a preface in verse for this album, which as it has autobiographical material, refers to the scenery of his birthplace, and was never in print, is here given in a version he prepared for another similar album. For this version I am indebted to the collection made by Mary Pillsbury of Newbury, which contains other original poems of Whittier never published:


O visions of my boyhood! shades of rhymes!
Vain dreams and longings of my early times!
The work of intervals, a ploughboy’s lore,
Oft conned by hearthlight when day’s toil was o’er;
Or when through roof-cracks could at night behold
Bright stars in circle with pattens of gold;
Or stretched at noon while oaken branches cast
A restful shade, where rippling waters passed;
The ox unconscious panted at my side,
The good dog fondly his young master eyed,
And on the boughs above the forest bird
Alone rude snatches of the measure heard;
The measure that had sounded to me long,
And vain I sought to weave it in a song,
Or trace it, when the world’s enchantment first
To longing eye, as kindling dawn’s light, burst.
Then flattery’s voice, in woman’s gentlest tone,
Woke thoughts and feelings heretofore unknown,
And homes of wealth and beauty, wit and mirth,
By taste refined, by eloquence and worth,
Taught and diffused the intellect’s high joy,
And gladly welcomed e’en a rustic boy;
Or when ambition’s lip of flame and fear
Burned like the tempter’s to my listening ear,
And a proud spirit, hidden deep and long,
Rose up for strife, stern, resolute, and strong,
Eager for toil, and proudly looking up
To higher levels for the world, with hope.

In these lines Whittier has told in brief the whole story of his life, from his early dreaming by this brookside and at this hearthstone, to the waking of his political ambitions, and later to his earnest strife to bring up the world “to higher levels.”

It happened that the day on which Whittier visited his birthplace for the last time was toward the close of a spirited political campaign in which Whittier took much interest, as General Butler was a candidate he was opposing. Speaking of Butler reminded him of the pet ox of his boyhood, which had the odd name of “Old Butler,” between whose horns he would sit as the animal chewed his cud under the hillside oaks. This was the same ox that, in rushing down one of these steep hills for salt, could not stop because of his momentum, but saved his young master’s life by leaping over his head. No doubt this ox was in mind when he wrote the line just quoted, “The ox unconscious panted at my side.” One story reminded him of another, and he said this ox was named for another that had its day in a former generation on a neighboring farm.

This is the story he told of the original “Old Butler:” A family named Morse lived not far from here, and included several boys fond of practical joking. The older brothers one day bound the youngest upon the back of the ox, Butler. Frightened by the unusual burden, the animal dashed away to the woods on Job’s Hill. The lad was fearfully bruised before he was rescued. Indignant at the treatment he had received, he left home the next morning, and was not heard from until in his old age he returned to the Haverhill farm, and found his brothers still living. They killed for him the fatted calf, and after the supper, as they sat before the great wood fire, they talked over the events of their boyhood. One of the brothers referred to the subject all had hitherto avoided, and said, “Don’t you remember your ride upon Old Butler?” “Yes, I do remember it,” was the answer, “and I don’t thank you for bringing it up at this time.” The next morning he left the place, and was never again heard from. Mr. Whittier told this story to explain the odd name he had given his ox.

The story has been often told of Garrison’s coming out to East Haverhill to find a contributor who had interested him; and it has been stated that the Quaker lad was called in from work in the field to see the dapper young editor and his lady friend. He once told me that the situation was a bit more awkward for him. It happened that on this eventful morning the young poet had discovered that a hen had stolen her nest under the barn, and he was crawling on his hands and knees, digging his dusty way towards the hen, when his sister Mary came out to summon him to receive city visitors. It was only by her urgent persuasion that he was induced to give up burrowing for the eggs. By making a wide detour, he entered the house without being seen, and in haste effected a change of raiment. In telling the story, he said he put on in his haste a pair of trousers that came scarcely to his ankles, and he must have been a laughable spectacle. He would have felt much more at ease if he had come in just as he was when he emerged from under the barn. Garrison, with the social tact that ever distinguished him, put the shy boy at his ease at once.

After the death of their father, Greenleaf and his brother Franklin for a time worked the farm together, and when in later life they indulged in reminiscences of this agricultural experience, this is a story with which the poet liked to tease his brother: Franklin was sent to swap cows with a venerable Quaker living at considerable distance from their homestead. He came back with a beautiful animal, warranted as he supposed to be a good cow, and he depended upon a verbal warrant from a member of a Society which was justly proud of its reliability in all business transactions. It was soon found that she was worthless as a milker, and Franklin took her back, demanding a cancellation of the bargain because the cow was not as represented. But the old Quaker was ready for him: “What did I tell thee? Did I say she was a good cow? No, I told thee she was a harnsome cow and thee cannot deny she is harnsome!”

One of Whittier’s ancestors was fined for cutting oaks on the common. When this fact was discovered, he was asked if he would wish this circumstance to be omitted in his biography. “By no means,” he said, “tell the whole story. It shows we had some enterprising ancestors, even if a bit unscrupulous.”

When Whittier last visited his birthplace, ten years before his death, he was saddened by many evidences he saw that the estate was not being thriftily managed, and expressed the wish to buy and restore the place to something like its condition when it remained in his family. Not one of his near relatives was then so situated as to be able to take charge of it, and his idea of again making it Whittier homestead was reluctantly given up. When he learned, towards the close of his life, that Mr. Ordway, Mayor Burnham, and other public-spirited citizens of Haverhill, proposed to buy and care for the place, already become a shrine for many visitors, he asked permission to pay whatever might be needed for its purchase. He died before negotiations could be completed, and Hon. James H. Carleton generously bought the homestead, and transferred the proprietorship to a self-perpetuating board of nine trustees, viz.: Alfred A. Ordway, George C. How, Charles Butters, Dudley Porter, Thomas E. Burnham, Clarence E. Kelley, Susan B. Sanders, Sarah M. F. Duncan, and Annie W. Frankle. In the deed of gift the trustees were enjoined “to preserve as nearly as may be the natural features of the landscape; preserve and restore the buildings thereon as nearly as may be in the same condition as when occupied by Whittier; and to afford all persons, at such suitable times and under such proper restrictions as said trustees may prescribe, the right and privilege of access to the same, that thereby the memory and love for the poet and the man may be cherished and perpetuated.” Mr. Ordway was made president of the board, and in his hands the office has been no sinecure. His unflagging zeal and his unerring good taste have resulted not only in putting the ancient house into the perfect order of the olden time, but in fertilizing the wornout fields, and preserving for future ages one of the finest specimens in the country of the colonial farmhouse of New England. Mr. Whittier’s niece, to whom he left his house in Amesbury, returned to the birthplace many of the household treasures that were carried from there in 1836. The articles in the house purporting to be Whittier heirlooms may be depended on as genuine.

I do not think that Whittier was ever aware that Harriet Livermore, the “not unfeared, half-welcome guest,” of whom he gave such a vivid portrait in “Snow-Bound,” returned to America from her travels in the Holy Land at about the time that poem was published, and died the next year, 1867. I have from good authority this curious story of her first reading of those lines which meant so much in a peculiar way to the immortality of her name. She was ill, and called with a prescription at a drugstore in Burlington, N. J. It happened that the druggist was a personal friend of Whittier’s Mr. Allinson, father of the lad for whom the poem “My Namesake” was written. This was in March, 1866, and Whittier had just sent his friend an early copy of his now famous poem. He had not had time to open the book when the prescription was handed him. As it would take considerable time to compound the medicine, he asked the aged lady to take a seat, and handed her the book he had just received to read while waiting. When he gave her the medicine and she returned the book, he noticed she was much perturbed, and was mystified by her exclamation: “This book tells a pack of lies about me!” He naturally supposed she was crazy, both from her remark and from her appearance. It was not until some time later that he learned that his customer was Harriet Livermore herself!

In another New Jersey town was living at the same time another of the “Snow-Bound” characters, the teacher of the district school, whose name even the poet had forgotten when this sketch of him was written. In the last year of his life Whittier recalled that his name was Haskell, but could tell me no more, except that he was from Maine, and was a Dartmouth student. His story is told in “Life and Letters,” and is now referred to only to note the curious fact that although he lived until 1876, and was a cultivated man who no doubt was familiar with Whittier’s work, yet he was never aware that he had the poet for a pupil, and died without knowing that his own portrait had been drawn by the East Haverhill lad with whom he had played in this old kitchen. I have this from my friend, John Townsend Trowbridge, who was personally acquainted with Haskell in the last years of his life.

It was in 1698, ten years after this house was built, that the Indians in a foray upon Haverhill burned many houses and killed or captured forty persons, including the heroic Hannah Dustin, in whom they caught a veritable tartar. Her statue with uplifted tomahawk stands in front of the City Hall. It is possible that on her return to Haverhill she brought her ten Indian scalps into this kitchen.

Whittier used to tell many amusing stories of his boyhood days. Here is one he heard in the old kitchen of the Whittier homestead at Haverhill, as told by the aged pastor of the Congregational church in the neighborhood, who used to call upon the Quaker family as if they belonged to his parish. These extra-official visits were much prized, especially by the boys, for he told them many a tale of his own boyhood in Revolutionary times. This story of “the power of figures” I can give almost in Whittier’s words, as I made notes while he was telling it:

The old clergyman sat by the kitchen fire with his mug of cider and told of his college life. He was a poor student, and when he went home at vacation time, he tramped the long journey on foot, stopping at hospitable farmhouses on the way for refreshment. One evening an old farmer invited him in, and as they sat by the fire, after a good supper, they talked of the things the student was learning at college. At length the farmer suggested:

“No doubt you know the power of figures?”

The student modestly allowed he had learned something of algebra and some branches of the higher mathematics.

“I know it! I know it! You are just the man I want to see. You know the power of figures! I have lost a cow; now use your power of figures and find her for me.”

The student disclaimed such power, but it was of no use. The farmer insisted that one who knew the power of figures must be able to locate his cow. Else, of what use to go to college; why not stay at home and find the cows after the manner of the unlearned? So the student decided to quiz a little. He took a piece of chalk and drew crazy diagrams on the floor. The farmer thought he recognized in the lines the roads and fences of the vicinity, rubbed his hands, and exclaimed:

“You are coming to it! Don’t tell me you don’t know the power of figures!”

At last, when the poor student had exhausted the power of his invention, he threw down the chalk, and pointing to the spot where it fell, said:

“Your cow is there!”

He had a good bed, but could not rest easy on it for the thought of how he was to get out of the scrape in the morning, when it would be surely known that his figures had lied. He decided that he would steal off before any of the family had arisen. In the early dawn he was congratulating himself upon having got out of the house unobserved, when he was met at the gate by the old farmer himself, who was leading the cow home in triumph. He had found her exactly where the figures had foretold. Of course the mathematician must go back to breakfast what was he running off for, after doing such a service by his learning?

They stood again by the cabalistic diagram on the floor of the kitchen.

“You needn’t tell me you don’t know the power of figures,” exclaimed the good man, “for the cow was just there!”

For once, the clergyman said, Satan had done him a good turn.

Nearly all the early letters and poems of Whittier, written before he gave up every selfish ambition and devoted his life to philanthropic work, show how great was the change that came over his spirit when about twenty-five years of age. Before that time he imagined that the world was treating him harshly, and he was bracing himself for a contest with it, with a feeling that he was surrounded by enemies. His tone was almost invariably pessimistic. After the change referred to, he habitually saw friends on every side, gave up selfish ambitions, and a cheerful optimism pervaded his outlook upon life. The following extract from a letter written in April, 1831, while editing the “New England Review,” to a literary lady in New Haven, is in the prevailing tone of what he wrote in the earlier period. This letter has only lately come into my possession, and is now first quoted:

“Disappointment in a thousand ways has gone over my heart, and left it dust. Yet I still look forward with high anticipations. I have placed the goal of my ambitions high but with the blessing of God it shall be reached. The world has at last breathed into my bosom a portion of its own bitterness, and I now feel as if I would wrestle manfully in the strife of men. If my life is spared, the world shall know me in a loftier capacity than as a writer of rhymes. [The italics are his own.] There is not that boasting? But I have said it with a strong pulse and a swelling heart, and I shall strive to realize it.”

In another letter, written at about the same time to the same correspondent, he says: “As for tears, I have not shed anything of the kind since my last flogging under the birchen despotism of the Nadir Shah of our village school. I have sometimes wished I could shed tears especially when angry with myself or with the world. There is an iron fixedness about my heart on such occasions which I would gladly melt away.”

From the birthplace to the Amesbury home is a distance of nine miles, traversed by electric cars in less than an hour. Midway is the thriving village of Merrimac, formerly known as West Amesbury. It was at Birchy Meadow in this vicinity that Whittier taught his first and only term of district school, in the winter of 1827-28. The road is at considerable distance from the Merrimac River, and at several points it surmounts hills which afford remarkably fine views of the wide and fertile river valley, with occasional glimpses of the river itself. At Pond Hills, near the village of Amesbury, the landscape presented to view is one of the widest and loveliest in all this region. It is a panorama of the beautifully rounded hills peculiar to this section, with a tidal river winding among them with many a graceful curve. The electric road we have taken is about two miles from the left bank of the river, across which we look to the Newbury hills, cultivated to their tops, with here and there a church spire indicating the location of the distant villages. Every part of this lovely valley has been commemorated in Whittier’s writings, prose and verse.

If, instead of the trolley, we take the carriage road from Haverhill along the bank of the river, we soon come to what are left of “the sycamores,” planted in 1739 by Hugh Tallant, in front of the Saltonstall mansion. This mansion is now occupied by the Haverhill Historical Society, and most of the famous row of “Occidental plane-trees” were cut down many years ago, a sacrifice to street improvement. Three of the ancient trees still stand, and will probably round out the second century of their existence. They are about eighty feet in height, and measure nearly twenty feet around their trunks. Under these trees Washington “drew rein,” and Whittier repeats the legend that he said:

“I have seen no prospect fairer
In this goodly Eastern land.”

About a mile below on the northeasterly side of Millvale, a hill picturesquely crowned with pines attracts attention. This is the Ramoth Hill immortalized in the lovely poem “My Playmate:”

“The pines were dark on Ramoth Hill,
Their song was soft and low.

. . . . .

“And still the pines of Ramoth wood
Are moaning like the sea,
The moaning of the sea of change
Between myself and thee!”

Until recently there has been much doubt as to the location of Ramoth Hill, Whittier himself giving no definite answer when asked in regard to it. Indeed, the poem as originally written had the title “Eleanor,” and the hill was given the name of Menahga. But Mr. J. T. Fields, to whom the manuscript was submitted, did not like this name, and Whittier changed it to Ramoth, which suited his editor’s taste. Mr. Alfred A. Ordway, the best authority on all matters pertaining to Whittier’s allusions to places in this region, has discovered that the name Menahga was given to this particular hill in Haverhill by Mrs. Mary S. West of Elmwood, one of a family all the members of which were dear to Whittier from his boyhood to the close of his life. A letter of Whittier’s to Mrs. West has come to light, written about the time this poem was composed, in which he commends the selection of the name of this hill, and intimates that he shall use it in a poem.

On the Country Bridge road, leading from the birthplace to Rocks Village, is an ancient edifice, known as the “Old Garrison House,” which is of interest to Whittier-Land pilgrims because it was the home of Whittier’s great-grandmother, Mary Peaslee, who brought Quakerism into the Whittier family. Thomas Whittier, the pioneer, did not belong to the Society of Friends, though favorably disposed toward the sect. His youngest son, Joseph, brought the young Quakeress into the family, and their descendants for several generations, down to the time of the poet, belonged to the sect founded by her father’s friend, George Fox. Joseph Peaslee built this house with bricks brought from England before 1675. As it was one of the largest and strongest houses in the town, in the time of King Philip’s war it was set apart by the town authorities as a house of refuge for the families of the neighborhood, and as a rallying point for the troops kept on the scout. There are many port-holes through its thick walls.

A little farther on we come to Rocks Village, pictured so perfectly by Whittier in his poem “The Countess,” that it will be at once recognized:

“Over the wooded northern ridge,
Between its houses brown,
To the dark tunnel of the bridge
The street comes straggling down.”

The bridge across the Merrimac at this point was a covered and gloomy structure at the time this poem was written. It has since been partially remodeled, and many of the houses of the “stranded village,” then brown and paintless, have received modern improvements. But there is enough of antiquity still clinging to the place to make it recognizable from Whittier’s lines. This was the market to which the Whittiers brought much of the produce of their farm to barter for household supplies. This was the home of Dr. Elias Weld, the “wise old doctor” of “Snow-Bound,” and it was to him “The Countess” was inscribed the poem which every year brings many visitors hither, for the grave of the Countess is near.

Whittier was still in his teens when this eccentric physician left Rocks Village and removed to Hallowell, Maine, and almost half a century had intervened before he wrote that remarkable tribute to the friend and benefactor of his youth, which is found in the prelude to “The Countess.” The good old man died at Hudson, Ohio, a few months after the publication of the lines that meant so much to his fame, and it is pleasant to know that they consoled the last hours of his long life. Whittier did not know whether or not the benefactor of his boyhood was living in 1863, when he wrote the poem, as is shown in the lines:

“I know not, Time and Space so intervene,
Whether, still waiting with a trust serene,
Thou bearest up thy fourscore years and ten,
Or, called at last, art now Heaven’s citizen.”

And yet they were in correspondence in the previous year, as is shown by the fact that I find in an old album of Whittier’s a photograph labeled by him “Dr. Weld,” and this photograph, I am assured by Mrs. Tracy, a grandniece of Weld, was taken when he was ninety years of age. I think it probable that the sending of this photograph by the aged physician put Whittier in mind to write his Rocks Village poem, with the tribute of remembrance and affection contained in its prelude. As to the ancient sulky which

“Down the village lanes
Dragged, like a war-car, captive ills and pains,”

it was a chaise with white canvas top, and the doctor always dressed in gray, and drove a sober white horse. I have seen a letter of Whittier’s written to Dr. Weld, then at Hallowell, in March, 1828, in which he says: “I am happy to think that I am not forgotten by those for whom I have always entertained the most sincere regard. I recollect perfectly well that (on one occasion in particular) after hearing thy animated praises of Milton and Thomson I attempted to bring a few words to rhyme and measure; but whether it was poetry run mad, or, as Burns says, ‘something that was rightly neither,’ I cannot now ascertain; I am certain, however, that it was in a great measure owing to thy admiration of those poets that I ventured on that path which their memory has hallowed, in pursuit of I myself hardly know what time alone must determine.... I am a tall, dark-complexioned, and, I am sorry to say, rather ordinary-looking fellow, bashful, yet proud as any poet should be, and believing with the honest Scotchman that ’I hae muckle reason to be thankful that I am as I am.’" It is of interest further to state that Whittier’s life-long friend and co-laborer in the anti-slavery field, Theodore D. Weld, was a nephew of “the wise old doctor.” Also that another nephew, who was adopted as a son by the childless physician, was named “Greenleaf” for the young poet in whom he took so much interest. The grave of the Countess in the cemetery near Rocks Village is now better cared for than when the poem was written. This is not the cemetery referred to in the poem “The Old Burying-Ground,” which is near the East Haverhill church.

In 1844, Whittier was the Liberty Party candidate for representative to the General Court from Amesbury, running against Whig and Democratic candidates. A majority vote being required there were five attempts to elect, in each of which Whittier steadily gained, and it was at last evident he would be elected at the next trial. Whereupon the two opposing parties united, and the town voted to have no representative for 1845. This was at the time of the agitation against the annexation of Texas, and Whittier was very anxious to be elected. Towns then paid the salaries of their representatives, and could, if they chose, remain unrepresented.

At his last visit to his birthplace, in 1882, Whittier called my attention to the millstone which serves as a step at the door of the eastern porch, to which reference is made on page 18. It was soon after this that he wrote his fine poem “Birchbrook Mill,” one stanza of which was evidently inspired by noticing this doorstep, and by memories of the mill of his ancestors on Fernside Brook, the site of which he had so recently visited:

“The timbers of that mill have fed
Long since a farmer’s fires;
His doorsteps are the stones that ground
The harvest of his sires.”