Apparently continuing John Week at C.W.S. (John the Baptist, John Chandler, John Ellerton...) we come to John Greenleaf Whittier (December 17, 1807 - September 7, 1892), born into a Quaker family in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
When he was fifteen, a teacher loaned him a volume of poetry by Robert Burns, which he later credited with inspiring his own poetic efforts. A few years later, one of his sisters submitted a poem of his to the Free Press, a weekly paper published by William Lloyd Garrison. The poem was printed, launching Whittier's literary career as well as a long-lasting friendship with Garrison, strengthened by both men's commitment to the cause of abolition.
Whittier was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and became editor of the National Era in 1847, one of the most influential abolitionist newspapers. His poetry and articles were also frequently published in the Atlantic Monthly.
Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson were the first editors to turn Whittier's poetry into hymns in their two hymnals, but other hymnals were soon using his texts as well. The hymns that are attributed to Whittier are often excerpted from longer poems, such as this one, six verses taken from the original thirty-seven verses of his poem Our Master.
Immortal love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never-ebbing sea!
Our outward lips confess the name
All other names above;
Love only knows from whence it came,
And comprehends but love.
We may not climb the heavenly steeps
To bring you, Jesus, down;
In vain we search the lowest deeps,
For you no depths can drown.
But warm, sweet, tender, even yet,
A present help you'll be;
And faith still has its Olivet,
And love its Galilee.
The healing of your seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain;
We touch you in life’s throng and press,
And we are whole again.
The letter fails, the systems fall,
And every symbol wanes;
The Spirit overshadowing all,
Eternal Love remains.
John Greenleaf Whittier, 1856; alt.
Tune: BISHOPTHORPE (C.M.)
Jeremiah Clarke, 17th c.
Whittier remains in many hymnals today. Just this last Sunday, a Whittier hymn sing was held at the Friends Meeting House in Amesbury, Massachusetts, where he worshipped.