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of its kind, as lofty, as ever burst from the soul of man. Poetry is the outspeaking, the overflowing of a soul, filled and more than filled with a great and quickening Idea. The poet is always inspired. God moves in him, and he speaks not because he wills to speak, but because he must speak; in numbers, not because he seeks them, but because they come. His words are words of fire. His song kindles. The God in him wakes up the God in those who listen
fills them with lofty thoughts, gives them noble impulses, and makes them feel that they can do, dare, suffer any thing and every thing in the cause of truth, liberty, justice, religion, country or Humanity. Tried by this standard, Mr. Whittier is a poet. His subject is the greatest that can engage the thoughts or the sympathies of the human mind or heart. He sets us on fire and makes us burn as he burns. As we listen, the slave becomes a man; he becomes a brother; his chains rust into our flesh, eat into our souls, and we concentrate ourselves in one mighty effort to break, and to break them forever
Mr. Whittier is a poet; and what we love him for is, that he is an American poet. We mean not merely that he was born and lives in the United States. The word American means more than this to us; and our countryman is far other than he who may chance to have been born on the same soil with ourselves. Where freedom is, there is America; where the freeman is, there is our countryman. We call Mr. Whit. tier an American poet, because his soul is filled and enlarged with the American Idea; the Idea which God has appointed the American people to bring out and embody; the Idea of universal freedom to universal man; the great doctrine that man equals man the world over, and that he who wrongs a man wrongs his equal, his brother, himself, a child of God. This is the American Idea. The mission of the American people is to realize this Idea, and to realize it for the world. He who is not inspired by this Idea, and who embodies it not in his song, is no American poet.
He may be a poet, he may even have been born in America, he may sing her rivers and lakes, her woodlands and mountains, the fertility of her soil, the wildness and beauty of her scenery, the exuberant life of her spring, or the gorgeousness of her autumnal sunsets; but he must surrender all claim as an American poet, if his soul be not on fire with love of freedom, and if his verse do not breathe eternal hostility to every form of slavery or oppression. He may even deal in all the phrases of a vulgar patriotism, he may even kindle up enthusiasm for national independence, make the farmer, the mechanic, and the merchant rush to the battle field to protect or enlarge her territory, and still be infinitely removed from an American poet. The American poet is the poet of Liberty.
The American poet is not only the poet of Liberty, but of Liberty in a new and enlarged sense, in a sense the world has never yet comprehended it, and in which it never has, and out of this country never could have had a poet. Liberty, in the American sense of the word, is not national independence, is not the power to choose our own form of government, to elect our own rulers, and through them to make and administer our own laws; it is not, as Miss Martineau and some pseudo-democrats imagine, the liberty of the majority to govern, and to make the interests of the few bend to those of the many; but the realization of justice and love in the case of each individual member of the human race. It is the liberty which surrounds even the minutest right of the obscurest and most insignificant man, with the bulwarks of sanctity, and secures to every man, whether white, red, or black, high or low, rich or poor, great or small, the free exercise of all the rights and faculties, which God has given, and in the precise order in which the Creator designed them to be exercised. It is the “perfect law of liberty,” developed and universally applied and obeyed. It is liberty in this sense he must sing, who would be an American poet.
In this sense, Mr. Whittier is an American poet. It is in this sense, that he understands the word liberty. Negro slavery is the occasion on which he strikes his lyre, but universal justice and love to man, and to man as man, is the spirit of his song. The song is an outburst of a soul sympathizing with man, simply as man, filled with a lively sense of his wrongs, and burning with the desire to make him free, virtuous, and happy. Nowhere else do we find a poet of equal powers singing this ennobling song. Körner, to whom the editor of the poems before us compares their author, is a poet inspired with a theme altogether different. He sings liberty, it is true, but it is the liberty of Germany, not of man. Elliot pours out no small share of good old English indignation at taxes and corn laws, but the conception of liberty, as the result of the universal practice of justice and love, seems never to have entered his mind, nor to have warmed his heart. Béranger was inspired more by recollections of the Republic and hatred of the Bourbon dynasty, than by genuine love of true liberty. Shelley is the only poet we are acquainted with, who has sung liberty in the broad and deep sense, in which we have defined it. Shelley loved Humanity. Human freedom was the God of his worship; and it rescued him from Atheism, even after he had ceased to worship or to believe in any other. But Shelley was more of the metaphysician than the poet; he lost himself in the region of abstractions, and his strains were only a prelude to the universal song of freedom. Whittier is the truer poet of the two; and freedom is more living in him than it was in Shelley. In Shelley it was a matter of speculation ; in Whittier it is a life. In one it was the result of reflection, and was sung after it had been demonstrated to be worthy of a song; in the other it is the spontaneous expression of his very soul, the outpouring of his inner and higher life. In one it was a philosophy, in the other it is a religion. Of Mr. Whittier's merits as a poet in other re
VOL. I. NO. I.
spects, as to the strength of his genius, the structure of his verse, his skill in the art of verse-making, we have nothing to say. Whether in these respects he be above or below many others whom we delight to honor, we do not ask, and we have no wish, even if we had the ability, to answer. It is not our humor to raise one man by depressing another. The world has no great and good men to spare. All that concerns us in the present case to know or to state, is that Mr. Whittier strikes the lyre with a bold and skilful hand, and that he strikes it in a noble, an American, and a Christian cause. If others can strike it more effectually and give us richer and more thrilling music; if they can wake us to a more earnest struggle for a loftier end, then, in God's name, and in Humanity's name, let them do it. We shall not object, and we are sure Mr. Whittier will not.
Some regret that Mr. Whittier so seldom gives us a song. We do not. When the God within moves, the oracle will give forth his responses; and it is only then that they are worth the hearing. No man should speak in prose or verse, unless he have a word lying heavy on his heart and pressing for utterance. When he has a word so lying and pressing, let him out with it; it cannot fail to be a word fit to be spoken. When Mr. Whittier, in the language of the class of Christians with which he is associated, feels “ the spirit move,” he will sing to us again; and whenever that may be, he will find us waiting and in the attitude to listen.
Our limits do not allow us to justify our remarks by large quotations. But this is no cause of regret. It will not be in the power of our Review to make Mr. Whittier's poems more extensively known than they are. They have already gone infinitely farther than this notice will ever go. Yet we cannot forbear to enrich our pages with a few extracts. We begin with the stanzas, “Our Fellow Countrymen in Chains !” which we copy entire, except the last two stanzas, which, though very fine, are necessary to prevent Abolitionists from being misinterpreted, rather than to complete the poem. If a man can read these stanzas, and not_feel that he could joy to be a martyr in the cause of Freedom, he can do more than we can; or if he can read them, and not call them poetry, we must say his judgment and ours in poetical matters do not coincide.
“Our fellow-countrymen in chains !
Slaves — in a land of light and law?
Where rolled the storm of Freedom's war!
À wail where Camden's martyrs fell
From Moultrie's wall and Jasper's well!
By mossy wood and marshy glen,
And hurrying shout of Marion's men!
The falling lash — the fetter's clank !
Which old De Kalb and Sumter drank !
What ho! - our countrymen in chains !
The whip on woman's shrinking flesh!
Caught from her scourging, warm and fresh!
What! God's own image bought and sold !
And bartered as the brute for gold !
Come thrilling to our hearts in vain ?
The paltry menace of a chain;
Of holy liberty and light,
Plead vainly for their plundered Right?