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A PROPOSED QUAKER POEM By John C. Hepler* Thomas Franklin Currier in his Elizabeth Lloyd and the Whittiers1 cites four letters in which Miss Lloyd and the poet discuss the possibility of a Quaker epic. Among Whittier's Oak Knoll correspondence2 is an unpublished letter from Elizabeth Lloyd which not only supplements the Currier correspondence but also reveals further ideas for the Quaker poem. Between the years 1838 and 1840, Whittier spent considerable time in Philadelphia editing The Pennsylvania Freeman. A Quaker, he had decided views on the subject of slavery and found a community of interest among the Quakers of Philadelphia. One of the young women whom "Greenleaf" met was Elizabeth Lloyd, the eighth child in a family of twelve. Her father, Isaac, was a prosperous merchant and "orthodox" Quaker. The correspondence about the Quaker commemorative poem takes place between July and September, 1840.3 Whittier, who had been troubled with ill health, finally was prevailed upon by friends to give up his employment with The Pennsylvania Freeman. Thus, on February 20, the young editor wrote his "Valedictory," as his biographer Samuel T. Pickard called it,4 and departed with his sister Elizabeth for Amesbury. He had considered attending the antislavery convention scheduled for London in the summer of 1840, but upon the advice of his physician he remained at Amesbury, visiting friends and resting. Apparently, Miss Lloyd wrote from Philadelphia. First mention of a poem to deal with the rise and growth of Quakerism is made in the July 4 letter by Miss Lloyd who is "delighted " with Whittier's idea. She admits that she has had a "vague desire" of "seeing something like a cornerstone laid for a Quaker * John C. Hepler is Chairman of the Department of English at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan. 1 Sub-titled "A Budget of Letters" (Cambridge, Mass., 1939). 2 From a collection in the Clarke Memorial Library at Central Michigan University. 3 Elizabeth Lloyd and the Whittiers, p. xvii. The letters are printed on pages 7 through 33. 4 John Greenleaf Whittier (Boston, 1894), p. 254. 42 Notes and Documents43 temple of literature." She writes that Whittier is the person to do the job and exhorts him to present the "varieties" in the natural characters of the Quaker forefathers and to stress their love of God and their agonies in the cause of truth. In addition, she urges him to show the character of Quaker women. And, in encouraging him, she writes: "Thy idea only wants the setting of J. G. Whittier's poetry to make it the richest jewel on his crown of fame. But I would have thee lay it by, uncut and unpolished till restored health and the quiet occupations of a home life will allow thee to work upon it without paying the price, which has been the penalty of too many of thy literary labours."5 Whittier's response to Miss Lloyd's letter is dated Amesbury, 13th of 7th mo 1840. His letter, however, seems to refer more to a volume of Quaker poetry than to a single poem. He tells her that she is "in all honesty" the one person who might do it well—the "it" referring either to writing the poem or compiling a volume. Whittier says that his doing "it" is out of the question. He does volunteer, with his sister Elizabeth, who also had a reputation as a poetess, to "attempt some of the sketches." He then lays out some plans, chiefly dealing with Quaker leaders of days gone by. He suggests she write more of her ideas but is insistent that he is "not to be persuaded out of . . .[his] . . . opinion . . . thou must do it."6 Currier prints next a letter that Whittier writes to Elizabeth Lloyd. The letter is dated August 14, 1840. The hitherto unpublished letter, from Miss Lloyd to Whittier, is dated from Philadelphia on August 3, 1840. One is led to believe— both by the internal evidence and the dates—that this unpublished epistle constitutes the only writing between them between July 13 and August 14. In it she does not equivocate on either of the two matters mentioned in her earlier letter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 42-48
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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