June 14, 2013

The noblest work by woman done

Former Massachusetts governor and member of the House of Representatives William Claflin invited people to a garden party at his home in Newtonville, Massachusetts to celebrate the 70th birthday of Harriet Beecher Stowe. For that special occasion, held June 14, 1882, fellow anti-slavery writer John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem, "A Greeting":

Thrice welcome from the Land of Flowers
And golden-fruited orange bowers
To this sweet, green-turfed June of ours!
To her who, in our evil time,
Dragged into light the nation's crime
With strength beyond the strength of men,
And, mightier than their swords, her pen!
To her who world-wide entrance gave
To the log-cabin of the slave;
Made all his wrongs and sorrows known,
And all earth's languages his own, —
North, South, and East and West, made all
The common air electrical,
Until the o'ercharged bolts of heaven
Blazed down, and every chain was riven!

Like Stowe, Whittier had also used his pen in the war against slavery, composing several poems for the cause and also editing an abolitionist newspaper. Stowe's 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin had become the highest selling novel of the generation and was cited as a major factor in unifying northerners against slavery. But Whittier's poem also praises her other works; he mentioned several of her "fireside stories, grave or gay," including Oldtown Folks. He continues:

To her at threescore years and ten
Be tributes of the tongue and pen;
Be honor, praise, and heart-thanks given,
The loves of earth, the hopes of heaven!

Ah, dearer than the praise that stirs
The air to-day, our love is hers!
She needs no guaranty of fame
Whose own is linked with Freedom's name.
Long ages after ours shall keep
Her memory living while we sleep;
The waves that wash our gray coast lines,
The winds that rock the Southern pines,
Shall sing of her; the unending years
Shall tell her tale in unborn ears.
And when, with sins and follies past,
Are numbered color-hate and caste,
White, black, and red shall own as one
The noblest work by woman done.

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