What A Kind World Did For A Ploughboy
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WITH his native valley, his Quaker home, his Bible, and Burns as material, Whittier began writing verse. After three or four years of experimenting at odd times spared from his farm work, he concluded he would like to have others hear his song. A good country newspaper came to his father's house every week and was read by the boy. In the paper was a poet's corner, and he wondered whether he could not get into it, and so he tried. He wrote a poem on the " Deity," and sent it to the paper, with some fear that it might be refused.
The boy was making fences one day, when the postman, riding by, threw the paper over the fence to him in the field. It contained his poem, and he was so excited over it he could hardly get back to his work. Afterward, he wrote that it was the proudest moment of his life. One day he was hoeing in the field, when he was called to the house and told that a man had come to see John Greenleaf Whittier. He wondered who could want to see him. He was bare-footed and in his shirt-sleeves, and crept into the house by the back door. After putting on his shoes, and vest and coat, and smoothing his hair, he entered the room painfully embarrassed. The visitor said : " My name is William Lloyd Garrison. I am editor of the Free Press. I printed your poem on the ` Deity' and I was so pleased with it, I thought I would come and see what the author looked like. I see you are young; you ought to go to some academy or college and fit yourself for a literary life, to which you are adapted." When the visitor had gone, Whittier talked the matter over with his parents ; they told him they had no money for tuition ; that they could hardly spare him from the farm if they had the means, and that poetry would not make bread. But the visitor had put in the young man's heart a seed that was to produce a wonderful harvest. He got a farmhand who understood the shoemaker's trade, to teach him how to make ladies' slippers out of soft leather, and he made enough out of his wares in one season to buy a suit of clothes and pay his tuition and board for half a year.
He went to Haverhill Academy, and this meant good-bye to a little spot in one county ; it meant hail to the wide world and to service for a race. It was the breaking of the shell from which a bird of sweetest song was to be released. He attended the academy six months ; then, teaching school in the neighborhood for a season, earned money enough for another six months' at the academy. When his school-days ended, he entered life for himself, a young man of twenty-one, tall, thin, erect, handsome, bashful, genial, witty, brilliant in mind, pure in heart—a model Christian gentleman.
His usefulness, success, and honor as a man and as a poet, were recognized by the country and the civilized world. What great results follow encouragement of young people to do some good or noble thing! No one will ever be able to tell the effect which the visit of the editor had upon the literary destiny of the barefooted farmer-boy. How often does criticism and discouragement check the ambition of the young, when a little warm sympathy and encouragement would enkindle aspirations and give a new plan and zest to life. It is not recorded that the editor gave the boy even a penny of money to help him with his education; only gave him commendation and wholesome advice. These were worth more in the making of the future bard than the present of a farm would have been. Kind words and tender sympathies are cheap, and yet they are very precious, more so, often, than silver and gold. The poorest, the hum-blest ought to have a large measure of love with which to make happy and uplift the young, and bless their fellow men.