The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Cambridge edition, ed. H. E. S. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894): 398-406. PS 3250 E94 1894 Robarts Library.
To the Memory of the Household It Describes
This Poem is Dedicated by the Author
"As the Spirits of Darkness be stronger in the dark, so Good Spirits, which be Angels of Light, are augmented not only by the Divine light of the Sun, but also by our common Wood Fire: and as the Celestial Fire drives away dark spirits, so also this our Fire of Wood doth the same." -- Cor. Agrippa, Occult Philosophy, Book I.ch. v.
"Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
1] "The inmates of the family at the Whittier homestead who are referred to in the poem were my father, mother, my brother and two sisters, and my uncle and aunt, both unmarried. In addition, there was the district school master, who boarded with us. The `not unfeared, half-welcome guest' was Harriet Livermore, daughter of Judge Livermore, of New Hampshire, a young woman of fine natural ability, enthusiastic, eccentric, with slight control over her violent temper, which sometimes made her religious profession doubtful. She was equally ready to exhort in school-house prayer-meetings and dance in a Washington ball-room, while her father was a member of congress. She early embraced the doctrine of the Second Advent, and felt it her duty to proclaim the Lord's speedy coming. With this message she crossed the Atlantic and spent the greater part of a long life in travelling over Europe and Asia. She lived some time with Lady Hester Stanhope, a woman as fantastic and mentally strained as herself, on the slope of Mt. Lebanon, but finally quarrelled with her in regard to two white horses with red marks on their backs which suggested the idea of saddles, on which her titled hostess expected to ride into Jerusalem with the Lord. A friend of mine found her, when quite an old woman, wandering in Syria with a tribe of Arabs, who with the Oriental notion that madness is inspiration, accepted her as their prophetess and leader. At the time referred to in Snow-Bound she was boarding at the Rocks Village about two miles from us.
In my boyhood, in our lonely farm-house, we had scanty sources of information; few books and only a small weekly newspaper. Our only annual was the Almanac. Under such circumstances story-telling was a necessary resource in the long winter evenings. My father when a young man had traversed the wilderness to Canada, and could tell us of his adventures with Indians and wild beasts, and of his sojourn in the French villages. My uncle was ready with his record of hunting and fishing and, it must be confessed, with stories which he at least half believed, of witchcraft and apparitions. My mother, who was born in the Indian-haunted region of Somersworth, New Hampshire, between Dover and Portsmouth, told us of the inroads of the savages, and the narrow escape of her ancestors. She described strange people who lived on the Piscataqua and Cocheco, among whom was Bantam the sorcerer. I have in my possession the wizard's "conjuring book," which he solemnly opened when consulted. It is a copy of Cornelius Agrippa's Magic printed in 1651, dedicated to Dr. Robert Child, who, like Michael Scott, hadlearned
`the art of glammorie In Padua beyond the sea,'
and who is famous in the annals of Massachusetts, where he was at one time a resident, as the first man who dared petition the General Court for liberty of conscience. The full title of the book is Three Books of Occult Philosophy, by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Knight, Doctor of both Laws, Counsellor to Cæsar's Sacred Majesty and Judge of the Prerogative Court." [Whittier's note.]Back to Line
25] stanchion rows: rows of stalls, each with a restraint loosely securing a cow's neck. Back to Line
183] brother: "Matthew Franklin Whittier, born July 4, 1812, died January 7, 1883. In middle life, during his residence in Portland, he took a deep interest in the anti-slavery movement, and wrote a series of caustic letters under the signature Ethan Spike of Hornby." (Editor.) Back to Line
215] "The African Chief was the title of a poem by Mrs. Sarah Wentworth Morton, wife of the Hon. Perez Morton, a former attorney-general of Massachusetts. Mrs. Morton's nom de plume was Philenia. The school book in which The African Chief was printed was Caleb Bingham's The American Preceptor, and the poem contained fifteen stanzas, of which the first four were as follows: --
See how the black ship cleaves the main High-bounding o'er the violet wave, Remurmuring with the groans of pain, Deep freighted with the princely slave.
Did all the gods of Afric sleep, Forgetful of their guardian love, When the white traitors of the deep Betrayed him in the palmy grove?
A chief of Gambia's golden shore, Whose arm the band of warriors led, Perhaps the lord of boundless power, By whom the foodless poor were fed.
Does not the voice of reason cry, `Claim the first right which nature gave; From the red scourge of bondage fly, Nor deign to live a burdened slave'?"
275] loon: northern fish-eating bird with a haunting cry. Back to Line
286] Sewel's ancient tome: The History, Rise, Increase and Progress of the ... Quakers by William Sewell (1654-1720). Back to Line
289] Chalkley's Journal: an itinerant Quaker preacher. Chalkley's own narrative of this incident, as given in his Journal, is as follows: `To stop their murmuring, I told them they should not need to cast lots, which was usual in such cases, which of us should die first, for I would freely offer up my life to do them good. One said, "God bless you! I will not eat any of you." Another said, "He would die before he would eat any of me," and so said several. I can truly say, on that occasion, at that time, my life was not dear to me, and that I was serious and ingenuous in my proposition: and as I was leaning over the side of the vessel, thoughtfully considering my proposal to the company, and looking in my mind to Him that made me, a very large dolphin came up towards the top or surface of the water, and looked me in the face; and I called the people to put a hook into the sea, and the fish readily took it and they caught him. He was longer than myself. I think he was about six feet long, and the largest that ever I saw. This plainly showed us that we ought not to distrust the providence of the Almighty. The people were quieted by this act of Providence, and murmured no more. We caught enough to eat plentifully of, till we got into the capes of Delaware.'" Back to Line
305] God provided Abraham with a ram to sacrifice so that he need not kill his son Isaac, an Old Testament event prefiguring God's New Testament sacrifice of his only son Jesus on the cross (Genesis 22). Back to Line
307] uncle: "For further account of Whittier's uncle Moses, the reader is referred to Whittier's Prose Works, volume I. p. 323." (Editor). Back to Line
310] lyceum: teaching or lecturing place or gymnasium. Back to Line
320] Apollonius of Tyana (3 B.C. - A.D. 97), a philosopher. Back to Line
322] Hermes: Hermes Trismegistus, identified with Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom. Back to Line
328] girdle: "belt," what circumscribes his world. Back to Line
332] The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White (1720-1793). Back to Line
346] muskrat: brown-furred aquatic rodent of NorthAmerica. Back to Line
348] shagbark: hickory tree whose bark peels off in strips and which yields nuts. Back to Line
361] huskings: neighborhood get-togethers for husking corn. apple-bees: neighborhood get-togethers for picking or preparing apples. Back to Line
378] our elder sister: "Mary Whittier, born September 3, 1806, married Jacob Caldwell of Haverhill, had two children, Lewis Henry and Mary Elizabeth, and died January 7, 1860." (Editor.) Back to Line
396] our youngest and our dearest: "Elizabeth Hussey Whittier, born December 7, 1815, was to her brother John what Dorothy Wordsworth was to William. It was her brother's opinion that `had her health, sense of duty, and almost morbid dread of spiritual and intellectual egotism permitted, she might have taken a high place among lyrical singers.' .... She died September 3, 1864." (Editor.) Back to Line
408] harebell: wood hyacinth, a blue-flowered plant. Back to Line
439] master of the district school: "Until near the end of his life, Whittier was unable to recall the name of the schoolmaster who stood for this figure in Snow-Bound. At last he remembered his name as Haskell, and from this clue the person was traced. He was George Haskell from Waterford, Maine, a Dartmouth student, who studied medicine, and died in Vineland, New Jersey, in 1876." (Editor.) Back to Line
445] cross-pins: push-pins, a game in which a player pushes his pin in an attempt to cross that belonging to another player. Back to Line
447] Dartmouth's college: from a town in southeast Massachusetts. Back to Line
476] Pindus: a mountain range in Greece. Arachthus: not identified. Back to Line
510] Another guest: "In his introductory note, Whittier adds somewhat to his characterization of Harriet Livermore. At the timewhen Snow-Bound was written he did not know that she was living, or he might not have introduced her. She died in 1867." (Editor.) Back to Line
536] Kate: in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Back to Line
550] Smyrna: Izmir, a port city in on the Aegean sea. Back to Line
555] The Crazy queen of Lebanon: Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope (1776-1839) created a stronghold at Mount Lebanon and proclaimed a new Islamic-Christian faith. "An interesting account of Lady Hester Stanhope may be found in Kinglake's Eothen, chap. viii." (Editor.) Back to Line
568] the fatal sisters: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the three sister goddesses of fate of the Greeks. All were spinners: the first controlled man's birth and wielded a distaff; the second spun his life's incidents; and the third cut the thread of his life at death. Back to Line