Whittier’s middle name is the English version of Feuillevert, his Huguenot ancestor. The poem, “A Name: To Greenleaf Whittier Pickard,” begins:

The name the Gallic exile bore,

St. Malo! from thy ancient mart,

Became upon our Western shore

Greenleaf for Feuillevert.

He asks his namesake “like the stout Huguenot of old” to keep the faith “unswerved by cross or crown.”

Whittier’s own zeal for social and civic reform has been traced by some writers to his Huguenot blood. Certainly he worked for oppressed classes in our nation from Indians to African slaves, and the day laborers to whom he is drawn closely, both by his own experiences and his innate sympathy and sense of justice.

Bom in a Merrimac valley in a farmhouse near Haverhill, Massachusetts, on December 17, 1807, Whittier was brought up in the best tradition of the Friends; and to their beliefs as well as to their dress and speech he always adhered. He began writing verses in his teens, stimulated by the poems of Robert Burns whose themes of the commonplace and the innate dignity of man were to be Whittier’s also.

Early high points in his career include the publication of one of his poems in 1826 in William Lloyd Garrison’s Newburyport Free Press, which started the friendship between the two reformers; enrollment in Haverhill Academy for two terms (1827–28) where he worked his way by shoemaking and schoolteaching; editing of a number of papers—The American Manufacturer, Haverhill Gazette, the influential New England Review—from 1829 to 1832; publication of his first book, Legends of New England. After resigning his editorship, he worked steadily for the Anti-Slavery party which he joined in 1833 on ...

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