A Thomas Hill Christmas Poem

Today we have a Christmas poem written by Thomas Hill (1818-1891), taken from a 16-page booklet entitled Christmas, and poems on slavery, for Christmas, 1843 in support of an anti-slavery fair in Massachusetts. The then 25-year-old Hill dedicated the pamphlet to Eliza Lee Follen and we also have some interesting information about these individuals.

Mrs. Follen was the widow of Charles (originally Karl) Follen, a German-born professor, writer and Unitarian minister. Dr. Follen was the first professor to teach German at Harvard and also taught history and other disciplines until he was fired because of his radical anti-slavery activities and opinions. He was a friend and supporter of William Lloyd Garrison. Dr. Follen perished at the age of 43 on January 13, 1840 aboard the steamer, The Lexington, when a fire broke out which, according to another friend, William Cullen Bryant, was caused by the “criminal carelessness” of the ship’s proprietors in allowing cotton to be transported on the deck next to the red-hot smokepipe.

Anti-slavery fairs had been going on to raise money for the abolitionist movement since at least 1833, but even so, by the time of Follen’s untimely and tragic death in 1840, people who were considered extremists were shunned. and often censured, by the majority. In “Some recollections of our antislavery conflict,” Samuel Joseph May, a fellow radical abolitionist and also a friend and supporter of William Lloyd Garrison, wrote that after the death of Charles Follen, permission for him to deliver a eulogy to Dr. Follen was hard to come by.

“Few if any persons in the community had so great cause for sorrow as the Abolitionists. One of the towers of our strength had fallen. The greatness of our loss was dwelt upon at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Society a few days afterward, and it was unanimously voted :

‘That an address on the life and character of Charles Follen, and in particular upon his early and eminent services to the cause of abolition, be delivered by such person and at such time and place as the Board of Managers shall appoint.’

“Their appointment fell upon me, and I was requested to give notice so soon as my eulogy should be written. I gave such a notice early in February, when I was informed by the managers that they had not yet been able to procure a suitable place, for such a service as they wished to have in connection with my discourse. They had applied for the use of every one of the Unitarian and for several of the Orthodox churches in Boston, and all had been refused them. It was said that Dr. Channing did obtain from the trustees of Federal Street Church consent that the eulogy on Dr. Follen, whom he esteemed so highly, might be pronounced from his pulpit. But another meeting of the trustees, or of the proprietors, was called, and that permission was revoked. More sad still the meeting-house at East Lexington, which had been built under his direction, which he was coming from New York to dedicate, and in which he was to have preached as the pastor of the church if his life had been spared, — even that meeting-house was refused for a eulogy and other appropriate exercises in commemoration of the early and eminent services of Dr. Follen to the cause of freedom and humanity in Europe, and more especially in our country. Such was the temper of that time, such the opposition of the people in and about the metropolis of New England to Mr. Garrison and his associates. …”

Eliza Lee Follet published her husband’s memoirs after his death, wrote and edited children’s publications and continued to support anti-slavery causes. She died at age 72 at her home in Brookline, MA. on January 26, 1860 before the Civil War began.

Thomas Hill earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard the same year that he wrote this poetry pamphlet which ended with this Christmas poem:

THE SECOND ADVENT

Not in a humble manger now,
Not of a lowly virgin born,
Announced to simple shepherd swains,
That watch their flocks in early morn ;

Nor in the pomp of glory, come,
While throngs of angels hover round,
Arrayed in glittering robes of light,
And moving to the trumpet’s sound ;

But in the heart of every man,
O, Jesus, come, and reign therein,
And banish from the human breast
The darkening clouds of guilt and sin.

Come, spread thy glory over earth,
Fill every heart with truth and love,
Till thy whole kingdom here below
Be filled with peace like that above.

For such a glory, when on earth,
Thou prayedst to thy Father, God ;
He heareth thee, and soon will spread
Thy glory and thy truth abroad.

Then shall no more by brothers’ hands
The blood of brother men be spilled,
Nor earth’s fair scenes with captives’ tears
And groans of dying slaves be filled.

In 1845, Thomas Hill earned a Doctor of Divinity degree. He was installed as pastor at the Unitarian Church in Waltham, MA., and 14 years later, took the position of President of Antioch College, Ohio, as well as pastor of the Church of the Redeemer in Cincinnati.

Dr. Hill was chosen to be President of Harvard in 1862, a position he held throughout the Civil War. He had occasion that same year to write to President Lincoln to advise that his son, Robert, whom Dr. Hill referred to as “Lincoln, Junior,” would be publicly admonished for smoking in Harvard Square.

Hill resigned from Harvard in 1868 for health reasons and spent his remaining years as pastor of the First Unitarian Church in Portland, ME.

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