William Forster by John Greenleaf Whittier
William Forster, of Norwich, England, died in East Tennessee, in the 1st month, 1854, while engaged in presenting to the governors of the States of this Union the address of his religious society on the evils of slavery. He was the relative and coadjutor of the Buxtons, Gurneys, and Frys; and his whole life, extending al-most to threescore and ten years, was a pore and beautiful example of Christian benevolence. He had travelled over Europe, and visited most of its sovereigns, to plead against the slave-trade and slavery; and had twice before made visits to this country, under impressions of religious duty. He was the father of the Right Hon. William Edward Forster. He visited my father’s house in Haverhill during his first tour in the United States.
The years are many since his hand
Was laid upon my head,
Too weak and young to understand
The serious words he said.
Yet often now the good man’s look
Before me seems to swim,
As if some inward feeling took
The outward guise of him.
As if, in passion’s heated war,
Or near temptation’s charm,
Through him the low-voiced monitor
Forewarned me of the harm.
Stranger and pilgrim! from that day
Of meeting, first and last,
Wherever Duty’s pathway lay,
His reverent steps have passed.
The poor to feed, the lost to seek,
To proffer life to death,
Hope to the erring,–to the weak
The strength of his own faith.
To plead the captive’s right; remove
The sting of hate from Law;
And soften in the fire of love
The hardened steel of War.
He walked the dark world, in the mild,
Still guidance of the Light;
In tearful tenderness a child,
A strong man in the right.
From what great perils, on his way,
He found, in prayer, release;
Through what abysmal shadows lay
His pathway unto peace,
God knoweth: we could only see
The tranquil strength he gained;
The bondage lost in liberty,
The fear in love unfeigned.
And I,–my youthful fancies grown
The habit of the man,
Whose field of life by angels sown
The wilding vines o’erran,–
Low bowed in silent gratitude,
My manhood’s heart enjoys
That reverence for the pure and good
Which blessed the dreaming boy’s.
Still shines the light of holy lives
Like star-beams over doubt;
Each sainted memory, Christlike, drives
Some dark possession out.
O friend! O brother I not in vain
Thy life so calm and true,
The silver dropping of the rain,
The fall of summer dew!
How many burdened hearts have prayed
Their lives like thine might be
But more shall pray henceforth for aid
To lay them down like thee.
With weary hand, yet steadfast will,
In old age as in youth,
Thy Master found thee sowing still
The good seed of His truth.
As on thy task-field closed the day
In golden-skied decline,
His angel met thee on the way,
And lent his arm to thine.
Thy latest care for man,–thy last
Of earthly thought a prayer,–
Oh, who thy mantle, backward cast,
Is worthy now to wear?
Methinks the mound which marks thy bed
Might bless our land and save,
As rose, of old, to life the dead
Who touched the prophet’s grave