Whittier in Amesbury

One of the Signers & My Double

Monument to Josiah Bartlett, Amesbury, MA In 1888, Whittier was asked to write a poem for the unveiling of a statue of Josiah Bartlett, a native of Amesbury who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

One of the Signers

He began with an introductory note.

Written for the unveiling of the statue of Josiah Bartlett at Amesbury, Mass., July 4, 1888.  Governor Bartlett, who was a native of the town, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Amesbury or Ambresbury, so called from the “anointed stones” of the great Druidical temple near it, was the seat of one of the earliest religious houses in Britain. The tradition that the guilty wife of King Arthur fled thither for protection forms one of the finest passages in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

He starts with the occasion:

O storied vale of Merrimac,
Rejoice through all they shade and shine,
And from his century’s sleep call back
A brave and honored son of thine.

Unveil his effigy between
The living and the dead to-day;
The fathers of the Old Thirteen
Shall witness bear as spirits may.

After a nod to other signers, he turns to Amesbury.

Be think henceforth a pride of place
Beyond thy namesake’s over-sea,
Where scarce a stone is left to trace
The Holy House of Amesbury.

A prouder memory lingers round
The birthplace of thy true man here
Than that which haunts the refuge found
By Arthur’s mythic Guinevere.

Whittier traces the long range effects of American independence:

Not for their hearths and homes alone,
But for the world their work was done
On all the winds their thought has flown
Through all the circuit of the sun.

And then he returns to Amesbury.

O hills that watched his boyhood’s home,
O earth and air that nursed him, give,
In this memorial semblance, room
To him who shall its bronze outlive!

And thou, O Land he loved, rejoice
That in the countless years to come,
Whenever Freedom needs a voice,
These sculptured lips shall not be dumb!

Josiah Bartlett monument today

My Double

Whittier’s health was too frail for him to attend the unveiling of the statue of Josiah Bartlett on July 4, 1888, for which he had written “One of the Signers.” But though he remained with his cousins at Oak Knoll, in Danvers, he wrote “My Double” imagining he had attended.

My Double

I’m in Amesbury, not at Oak Knoll;
“T is my double here you see:
I’m sitting on the platform,
Where the programme places me—

Where the women nudge each other,
And point me out and say:
“That’s the man who makes the verses—
My! How old he is and gray!”

I hear the crackers popping,
I hear the bass drums throb;
I sit at Boynton’s right hand,
And help him boss the job.

And like the great stone giant
Dug out of Cardiff mire,
We lift our man of metal,
And resurrect Josiah!

Whittier imagines Democrats (Bartlett was a Democrat; Whittier was a Republican) criticizing the statue. And then he imagines a local tradesman speaking up:

Then Jacob, the vehicle-maker,
Comes forward to inquire
If Governor Ames will relieve the town
Of the care of old Josiah.

And the Governor says: “If Amesbury can’t
Take care of its own town charge,
The State, I suppose, must do it,
And keep him from runnin’ at large!”

Then Whittier imagines what Bartlett’s reaction will be when he hears Whittier’s poem.

I fancy Josiah is scowling,
And his bronze lips seem to mutter:

“Dry up! And stop your nonsense!
The Lord who in His mercies
Once saved me from the Tories,
Preserve me now from verses!”

Whittier complains about the criticism from Bartlett, but then perhaps he deserves it.

He’s treating me worse than the Hessians
He shot at the Bennington scrimmage—
Have I outlived the newspaper critic,
To be scalped by a graven image!

Perhaps, after all, I deserve it,
Since I, who was born a Quaker,
Sit here an image worshiper,
Instead of an image breaker!

Picture of Josiah Bartlett

Full text of "One of the Signers"

Full text of "My Double"

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