John Greenleaf Whittier Additional Biography

Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111206128-Whittier.jpg John Greenleaf Whittier. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

John Greenleaf Whittier’s family was of true old New England stock. His ancestors settled in the locality of his birth in 1638, and the house in which he was born was more than a century old in 1807. His parents, John and Abigail (Hussey), worked the rough New England soil, often suffering from indebtedness but never impoverished. Both were devout Quakers who raised their four children to seek the Inner Light and beware of dogmatic religious authorities. Though their nearest neighbors lived half a mile away, the Whittiers were very sociable and staunch believers in the connectedness of all people. Young John absorbed the values of Yankee independence and Quaker social justice, as well as an affection and healthy respect for the region’s countryside and history. All of these influences—familial, religious, and geographic—would find their way into Whittier’s poetry.

Labor on the farm was harsh, and John’s body found it difficult to endure. He worked hard but was often sick from exhaustion. During the winter of 1814-1815, the Whittiers sent John to the district school, his only formal education until young adulthood. Nonetheless, he learned to read and consumed his family’s small library, which centered on the Bible and Quaker religious works. In 1821, a traveling Scotsman stopped by the farmstead and sang a number of poet Robert Burns’s songs in return for sustenance. Later the same year, the local schoolmaster Joshua Coffin read a number of other poems to the family, and the taste for poetry was awakened in fourteen-year-old John. The simplicity of Burns’s lyrics and their rural flavor spoke to John with immediacy. Whittier’s earliest poems were largely derivative and sometimes even in Burns’s own Scots dialect. By the time he was nineteen, Whittier recorded some thirty poems that reflected his rural environment, his religiosity, and the Romantic sensitivity to nature that was in full bloom. His older sister Mary encouraged his writing and, in 1826, sent “The Exile’s Departure” to the Newburyport Free Press for publication. The paper’s editor, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, was so impressed that he visited the young poet, beginning a long and complex relationship. Within a year or so, Whittier had published seventy-six poems in local papers, including the Haverhill Gazette, whose editor echoed Garrison’s call for more. In 1827, Whittier enrolled for the first of two terms at the Haverhill Academy, where he earned tuition by teaching and shoemaking. He learned an enormous amount, including...

(The entire section is 1046 words.)

Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

As a representative of the New England Renaissance, John Greenleaf Whittier gathered material from the region’s history, folklore, landscape, piety, and politics in creating a collection of poems that marked him in his day as one of the era’s most characteristically American poets. While early on deriving much from Burns and the English Romantics, he developed his own voice that bespoke his fine abilities of observation and description. While never abandoning the rural and historical trends of his youth, from his mid-twenties through his early fifties, Whittier used his pen as a weapon against the evils of slavery and related social ills, while editing and writing for numerous Yankee newspapers. Buoyed by his Quaker faith in the Inner Light, he remained optimistic of humankind’s ability to reform itself and never fell into dark cynicism. After the Civil War, he returned to the range of regional themes and topics and produced a corpus of mature poetic works that placed him in the top tier of nineteenth century American poets. As tastes changed, however, Whittier’s popularity and critical acceptance tended to wane.

Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

John Greenleaf Whittier was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on December 17, 1807, in an old family homestead built by a Quaker ancestor. He was the second of four children in the family of John Whittier and Abigail Whittier, of old Quaker stock. Besides John Greenleaf, the Whittier children included an older sister Mary, a younger brother Matthew Franklin, and a younger sister Elizabeth Hussey. Several other relatives lived with the family, including a paternal grandmother, a bachelor uncle, and a maiden aunt. The poet’s father was an honest, industrious farmer who tilled his hard, rocky land in the Merrimack Valley with only marginal success. Whittier’s mother was a model of quiet strength and deep refinement. She was noted...

(The entire section is 1340 words.)

Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Time and geography link John Greenleaf Whittier (HWIHT-ee-ur) with such American literary figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes—the so-called New England Group. Whittier’s New England, however, was never the same as theirs; he stands apart from them in background, schooling, and the general direction of his writing talents. To begin with, he did not share their Puritan heritage—Whittier was a Quaker, derived from Quaker stock. Nor did he inherit a ticket of admission to the cultural benefits that nineteenth century Cambridge, Concord, and Boston were able to provide. Instead, “the American Burns” was born to the rugged labors and simple pleasures of...

(The entire section is 525 words.)