Several of Mr. Whittier’s songs of the Merrimac were written for picnics, given at the Laurels on the Newbury side of the river by a gentlemen and his wife from Newburyport. They were early abolitionists, friends and hosts of Garrison, of George Thompson and others of that brave band, and of course friends of the poet. This hospitable couple gave a picnic here every June for twenty years. The first was a little party of perhaps half-a-dozen people, the twenty-first was a large assembly. Mr. Whittier was present at these picnics whenever able, and, as has been said, sometimes wrote a poem to be read there. He never reads in public himself.
Although the Powow river has been made so emphatically a stream of use, there are glimpses of a native beauty in it that its hard fate has never obliterated; these are still there, as one stands upon the little bridge that spans its last few rods of individual life and looks up the stream upon a wintry landscape, or upon summer fields, and longingly toward the bend.
Whether the Powow has any power to set in motion the wheels of fancy as it does the wheels of the factories it is impossible to say, but this much is certain; on its banks was born an artist who has made his name known on the banks of the Seine. The father of Mr. Charles Davis, our young artist of great promise and of no mean performance, was for years a teacher in Amesbury, and the garden of the house where this son was born bordered upon the Powow.
[Illustration: THE OLD SANDY HILL MEETING HOUSE]
At Pond Hills, between Amesbury and Merrimac, is lake Attitash, which, before Mr. Whittier took pity upon it, rejoiced in the name of Kimball’s Pond. There is a slight suspicion that it is still occasionally called by its old name. In dry seasons the water is used by the mills. But the blue lake is as beautiful as if it were never useful. On its shore enough grand old pines are left to dream under of forests primeval, of Indian wigwams, and of canoes on the bright water; for the red men knew very well the hiding places of the perch and of the pickerel. So did the white men who chose the region of the Merrimac for their new home. In the “Maids of Attitash” is described the lake where
“In sky and wave the white clouds
And the blue hills of Nottingham
Through gaps of leafy green
Across the lake were seen.”
“In the shadow of the ash
That dreams its dream in Attitash.”
No doubt they are about here somewhere, only it takes a poet’s eye to find them. And yet it was not very far from here that there lived a few years ago a young girl, a descendant of one of the early settlers of Amesbury, who on her engagement said to a friend proudly:—“I am going to marry a poor man, and I am going to help him.” And so she always nobly did, in ways different from tawdry ambition. The courage of the old Puritans has not died out here any more than the old beauty has deserted the land.