" We are citizens of two fair cities," said the Genoese gentleman to a
Florentine artist, " and if I were not a Genoese, I should wish to be
Florentine." "And I," replied the artist, " if I were not Florentine "
– " You would wish to be Genoese," said the other. " No," re-plied the
artist, " I should wish to be Florentine."
THE rocky nook with hill-tops three
Looked eastward from the farms,
And twice each day the flowing sea
Took Boston in its arms.
The sea returning day by day
Restores the world-wide mart ;
So let each dweller on the Bay
Fold Boston in his heart.
Let the blood of her hundred thousands
Throb in each manly vein,
And the wits of all her wisest
Make sunshine in her brain.
And each shall care for other,
And each to each shall bend,
To the poor a noble brother,
To the good an equal friend.
A. blessing through the ages thus
Shield all thy roofs and towers !
GOD WITH THE FATHERS, SO WITH US,
Thou darling town of ours !
THE old physiologists said, " There is in the air a hidden food of
life; " and they watched the effect of different climates. They
believed the air of mountains and the seashore a potent predisposer to
rebellion. The air was a good republican, and it was remarked that
insulary people are versatile and addicted to change, both in religious
and secular affairs.
The air that we breathe is an exhalation of all the solid material
globe. An aerial fluid streams all day, all night, from every flower
and leaf, from every water and soil, from every rock-ledge; and from
every stratum a different aroma and air ac-cording to its quality.
According to quality and according to temperature, it must have effect
There is the climate of the Sahara: a climate where the sunbeams are
vertical; where is day after day, sunstroke after sunstroke, with a
frosty shadow between. " There are countries," said
Howell, "where the heaven is a fiery furnace, or a blowing bellows, or
a dropping sponge, most parts of the year." Such is the assimilating
force of the Indian climate, that, Sir Erskine Perry says, " the usage
and opinion of the Hindoos so invades men of all castes and colors who
deal with them that all take a Hindoo tint. Parsee, Mongol, Afghan,
Israelite, Christian, have all passed under this influence and
exchanged a good part of their patrimony of ideas for the notions,
manner of seeing, and habitual tone of Indian society." He compares it
to the geologic phenomenon which the black soil of the Dhakkan offers,
– the property, namely, of assimilating to itself every foreign
sub-stance introduced into its bosom.
How can we not believe in influences of climate and air, when, as true
philosophers, we must believe that chemical atoms also have their
spiritual cause why they are thus and not other ; that car-bon, oxygen,
alum and iron, each has its origin in spiritual nature ?
Even at this day men are to be found superstitious enough to believe
that to certain spots on the surface of the planet special powers
attach, and an exalted influence on the genius of man. And it appears
as if some localities of the earth, through wholesome springs, or as
the habitat of rare plants and minerals, or through ravishing beauties
were preferred before others. There is great testimony of
discriminating persons to the effect that Rome is endowed with the
enchanting property of inspiring a longing in men there to live and
there to die.
Who lives one year in Boston ranges through all the climates of the
globe. And if the character of the people has a larger range and
greater versatility, causing them to exhibit equal dexterity in what
are elsewhere reckoned incompatible works, perhaps they may thank their
climate of extremes, which at one season gives them the splendor of the
equator and a touch of Syria, and then runs down to a cold which
approaches the temperature of the celestial spaces.
It is not a country of luxury or of pictures; of snows rather, of
east-winds and changing skies ; visited by icebergs, which, floating
by, nip with their cool breath our blossoms. Not a luxurious climate,
but wisdom is not found with those who dwell at their ease. Give me a
climate where people think well and construct well, – I will spend six
months there, and you may have all the rest of my years.
What Vasari says, three hundred years ago, of the republican city of
Florence might be said of Boston; "that the desire for glory and honor
is powerfully generated by the air of that place, in the men of every
profession ; whereby all who possess talent are impelled to struggle
that they may not remain in the same grade with those whom they
perceive to be only men like themselves, even though they may
acknowledge such indeed to be masters ; but all labor by every means to
We find no less stimulus in our native air; not less ambition in our
blood, which Puritanism has not sufficiently chastised; and at least an
equal freedom in our laws and customs, with as many and as tempting
rewards to toil ; with so many philanthropies, humanities, charities,
soliciting us to be great and good.
New England is a sort of Scotland. 'T is hard to say why. Climate is
much; then, old accumulation of the means, – books, schools, colleges,
literary society ; – as New Bedford is not nearer to the whales than
New London or Portland, yet they have all the equipments for a whaler
ready, and they hug an oil-cask like a brother.
I do not know that Charles River or Merrimac water is more clarifying
to the brain than the Savannah or Alabama rivers, yet the men that
drink it get up earlier, and some of the morning light lasts through
the day. I notice that they who drink for some little time of the
Potomac water lose their relish for the water of the Charles River, of
the Merrimac and the Connecticut, – even of the Hudson. I think the
Potomac water is a little acrid, and should be corrected by copious
infusions of these provincial streams.
Of great cities you cannot compute the influences. In New York, in
Montreal, New Orleans and the farthest colonies, – in Guiana, in
Guadaloupe,-a middle-aged gentleman is just embarking with all his
property to fulfil the dream of his life and spend his old age in Paris
; so that a fortune falls into the massive wealth of that city every
day in the year. Astronomers come because there they can find apparatus
and companions. Chemist, geologist, artist, musician, dancer, because
there only are grandees and their patronage, appreciators and patrons.
Demand and supply run into every invisible and unnamed province of whim
Each great city gathers these values and de-lights for mankind, and
comes to be the brag of its age and population. The Greeks thought him
unhappy who died without seeing the statue of Jove at Olympia. With
still more reason, they praised Athens, the " Violet City." It was said
of Rome in its proudest days, looking at the vast radiation of the
privilege of Roman citizenship through the then-known world, – " the
extent of the city and of the world is the same " (spatiunn et urbis et
orbis idem). London now for a thousand years has been in an affirmative
or energizing mood; has not stopped growing. Linnaeus, like a
naturalist, esteeming the globe a big egg, called London the punctum
saliens in the yolk of the world.
This town of Boston has a history. It is not an accident, not a
windmill, or a railroad station, or cross-roads tavern, or an
army-barracks grown up by time and luck to a place of wealth; but a
seat of humanity, of men of principle, obeying a sentiment and marching
loyally whither that should lead them; so that its annals are great
historical lines, inextricably national; part of the history of
political liberty. I do not speak with any fondness, but the language
of coldest history, when I say that Boston commands attention as the
town which was appointed in the destiny of nations to lead the
civilization of North America.
A capital fact distinguishing this colony from all other colonies was
that the persons composing it consented to come on the one condition
that the charter should be transferred from the company in England to
themselves; and so they brought the government with them.
On the 3d of November, 1620, King James incorporated forty of his
subjects, Sir F. Gorges and others, the council established at Plymouth
in the county of Devon for the planting, ruling, ordering and governing
of New England in America. The territory – conferred on the patentees
in absolute property, with unlimited jurisdiction, the sole power of
legislation, the appointment of all officers and all forms of
government – extended from the 40th to the 48th degree of north
latitude, and in length from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
John Smith writes (1624) : " Of all the four parts of the world that I
have yet seen not inhabited, could I but have means to transplant a
colony, I would rather live here than anywhere ; and if it did not
maintain itself, were we but once indifferently well fitted, let us
starve. Here are many isles planted with corn, groves, mulberries,
salvage gardens and good harbours. The sea-coast as you pass shows you
all along large cornfields and great troops of well-proportioned
people." Massachusetts in particular, he calls " the paradise of these
parts," notices its high mountain, and its river, " which doth pierce
many days' journey into the entrails of that country." Morton arrived
in 1622, in
June, beheld the country, and " the more he looked, the more he liked it."
In sixty-eight years after the foundation of Boston, Dr. Mather writes
of it, " The town hath in-deed three elder Sisters in this colony, but
it bath wonderfully outgrown them all, and her mother,
Old Boston in England, also ; yea, within a few years after the first
settlement it grew to be the metropolis of the whole English America."
How easy it is, after the city is built, to see where it ought to
stand. In our beautiful bay, with its broad and deep waters covered
with sails from every port; with its islands hospitably shining in the
sun; with its waters bounded and marked by light-houses, buoys and
sea-marks ; every foot sounded and charted ; with its shores trending
steadily from the two arms which the capes of Massachusetts stretch out
to sea, down to the bottom of the bay where the city domes and spires
sparkle through the haze, – a good boatman can easily find his way for
the first time to the State House, and wonder that Governor Carver had
not better eyes than to stop on the Plymouth Sands.
But it took ten years to find this out. The colony of 1620 had landed
at Plymouth. It was December, and the ground was covered with snow.
Snow and moonlight make all places alike; and the weariness of the sea,
the shrinking from cold weather and the pangs of hunger must justify
But the next colony planted itself at Salem, and the next at Weymouth;
another at Medford; be-fore these men, instead of jumping on to the
first land that offered, wisely judged that the nest point
for a city was at the bottom of a deep and islanded bay, where a
copious river entered it, and where a bold shore was bounded by a
country of rich undulating woodland.
The planters of Massachusetts do not appear to have been hardy men,
rather, comfortable citizens, not at all accustomed to the rough task
of discoverers ; and they exaggerated their troubles. Bears and wolves
were many; but early, they believed there were lions; Monadnoc was
burned over to kill them. John Smith was stung near to death by the
most poisonous tail of a fish, called a sting-ray. In the journey of
Rev. Peter Bulkeley and his company through the forest from Boston to
Con-cord they fainted from the powerful odor of the sweetfern in the
sun; – like what befell, still earlier, Biorn and Thorfinn, Northmen,
in their expedition to the same coast; who ate so many grapes from the
wild vines that they were reeling drunk. The lions have never appeared
since, – nor before. Their crops suffered from pigeons and mice. Nature
has never again indulged in these exasperations. It seems to have been
the last outrage ever committed by the sting-rays or by the sweetfern,
or by the fox-grapes; they have been of peaceable behavior ever since.
Any geologist or engineer is accustomed to face more serious dangers
than any enumerated, excepting the hostile Indians. But the awe was
real and overpowering in the superstition with which every new object
was magnified. The superstition which hung over the new ocean had not
yet been scattered; the powers of the savage were not known ; the
dangers of the wilderness were unexplored ; and, in that time, terrors
of witchcraft, terrors of evil spirits, and a certain degree of terror
still clouded the idea of God in the mind of the purest.
The divine will descends into the barbarous mind in some strange
disguise; its pure truth not to be guessed from the rude vizard under
which it goes masquerading. The common eye cannot tell what the bird
will be, from the egg, nor the pure truth from the grotesque tenet
which sheathes it. But by some secret tie it holds the poor savage to
it, and he goes muttering his rude ritual or mythology, which yet
conceal- some grand commandment ; as courage, veracity, honesty, or
chastity and generosity.
So these English men, with the Middle Ages. still obscuring their
reason, were filled with Christian thought. They had a culture of their
own. They read Milton, Thomas h Kempis, Bunyan and Flavel with
religious awe and delight, not for entertainment. They were precisely
the idealists of England ; the most religious in a religious era. An
hold lady who remembered these pious people said of them that "they had
to hold on hard to the huckleberry bushes to hinder themselves from
In our own age we are learning to look as on chivalry at the sweetness
of that ancient piety which makes the genius of St. Bernard, Latimer,
Scougal, Jeremy Taylor, Herbert, and Leighton. 'Who can read the fiery
ejaculations of St. Augustine, a man of as clear a sight as almost any
other ; of Thomas ii Kempis, of Milton, of Bunyan even, without feeling
how rich and expansive a culture – not so much a culture as a higher
life – they owed to the promptings of this sentiment ; without
contrasting their immortal heat with the cold complex-ion of our recent
wits? Who can read the pious diaries of the Englishmen in the time of
the Commonwealth and later, without a sigh that we write no diaries
shall restore to us the odoriferous Sabbaths which made the earth and the humble roof a sanctity ?
This spirit, of course, involved that of Stoicism, as, in its turn,
Stoicism did this. Yet how much more attractive and true that this
piety should be the central trait and the stern virtues follow, than
that Stoicism should face the gods and put Jove on his defence. That
piety is a refutation of every skeptical doubt. These men are a bridge
to us between
the unparalleled piety of the Hebrew epoch and our own. These ancient
men, like great gar-dens with great banks of flowers, send out their
perfumed breath across the great tracts of time. How needful is David,
Paul, Leighton, FÃ©nelon, tc our devotion. Of these writers, of this
spirit which deified them, I will say with Confucius, " If in the
morning I hear of the right way, and in the evening die, I can be
I trace to this deep religious sentiment and to its culture great and
salutary results to the people of New England ; first, namely, the
culture of the intellect, which has always been found in the
Calvinistic church. The colony was planted in 1620 ; in 1638 Harvard
College was founded. The General Court of Massachusetts, in 1647, " To
the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of the
forefathers, ordered, that every township, after the Lord has increased
them to the number of fifty householders, shall appoint one to teach
all children to write and read ; and where any town shall increase to
the number of a hundred families, they shall set up a Grammar School,
the Masters thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be
fitted for the University."
Many and rich are the fruits of that simple statute. The universality
of an elementary education in New England is her praise and her power
in the whole world. To the schools succeeds the village Lyceum, – now
very general throughout all the country towns of New England, – where
every week through the winter, lectures are read and de-bates sustained
which prove a college for the young rustic. Hence it happens that the
young farmers and mechanics, who work all summer in the field or shop,
in the winter often go into a neighboring town to teach the district
school arithmetic and grammar. As you know too, New England sup-plies
annually a large detachment of preachers and schoolmasters and private
tutors to the interior of the South and West.
New England lies in the cold and hostile latitude which by shutting men
up in houses and tight and heated rooms a large part of the year, and
then again shutting up the body in flannel and leather, defrauds the
human being in some degree of his relations to external nature ; takes
from the muscles their suppleness, from the skin its exposure to the
air ; and the New Englander, like every other northerner, lacks that
beauty and grace which the habit of living much in the air, and the
activity of the limbs not in labor but in graceful exercise, tend to
produce in climates nearer to the sun. Then the necessity, which always
presses the northerner, of providing fuel and many clothes and tight
houses and much food against the long winter, makes him anxiously
frugal, and generates in him that spirit of detail which is not grand
and enlarging, but goes rather to pinch the features and degrade the
As an antidote to the spirit of commerce and of economy, the religious
spirit – always enlarging, firing man, prompting the pursuit of the
vast, the beautiful, the unattainable – was especially necessary to the
culture of New England. In the midst of her laborious and economical
and rude and awkward population, where is little elegance and no
facility ; with great accuracy in details, little spirit of society or
knowledge of the world, you shall not unfrequently meet that refinement
which no education and no habit of society can bestow ; which makes the
elegance of wealth look stupid, and unites itself by natural affinity
to the highest minds of the world ; nourishes itself on Plato and
Dante, Michael Angelo and Milton ; on whatever is pure and sublime in
art, – and, I may say, gave a hospitality in this country to the spirit
of Coleridge and Wordsworth, and to the music of Beethoven, before yet
their genius had found a hearty welcome in Great Britain.
I do not look to find in England better manners than the best manners
here. We can show native examples, and I may almost say (travellers as
we are) natives who never crossed the sea, who possess all the elements
of noble behavior.
It is the property of the religious sentiment to be the most refining
of all influences. No external advantages, no good birth or breeding,
no culture of the taste, no habit of command, no association with the
elegant, – even no depth of affection that does not rise to a religious
sentiment, can bestow that delicacy and grandeur of bearing which
belong only to a mind accustomed to celestial conversation. All else is
coarse and external ; all else is tailoring and cosmetics beside this
;1 for thoughts are expressed in every look or gesture, and these
thoughts are as if angels had talked with the child.
By this instinct we are lifted to higher ground. The religious
sentiment gave the iron purpose and arm. That colonizing was a great
and generous scheme, manly meant and manly done. When one thinks of the
enterprises that are attempted in the heats of youth, the Zoars,
New-Harmonies and Brook – Farms, Oakdales and Phalansteries, which have
been so profoundly ventilated, but end in a protracted picnic which
after a few weeks or months dismisses the partakers to their old homes,
I "Come dal fuoco il caldo, esser diviso,
Non puo'l bel dall' eterno."
[As from fire heat cannot be separated, – neither can beauty from the eternal.]
we see with new increased respect the solid, well-calculated scheme of
these emigrants, sitting down hard and fast where they came, and
building their empire by due degrees.
John Smith says, " Thirty, forty, or fifty sail went yearly in America
only to trade and fish, but nothing would be done for a plantation,
till about some hundred of your Brownists of England, Amsterdam and
Leyden went to New Plymouth ; whose humorous ignorances caused them for
more than a year to endure a wonderful deal of misery, with an infinite
What should hinder that this America, so long kept in reserve from the
intellectual races until they should grow to it, glimpses being
afforded which spoke to the imagination, yet the firm shore hid until
science and art should be ripe to propose it as a fixed aim, and a man
should be found who should sail steadily west sixty-eight days from the
port of Palos to find it, – what should binder that this New Atlantis
should have its happy ports, its mountains of security, its gardens fit
for human abode where all elements were right for the health, power and
virtue of man ?
America is growing like a cloud, towns on towns, States on States ; and wealth (always interesting, since from wealth
power cannot be divorced) is piled in every form invented for comfort or pride.
If John Bull interest you at home, come and see him under new conditions, come and see the Jonathanization of John.
There are always men ready for adventures, – more in an over-governed,
over-peopled country, where all the professions are crowded and all
character suppressed, than elsewhere. This thirst for adventure is the
vent which Destiny offers ; a war, a crusade, a gold mine, a new
country, speak to the imagination and offer swing and play to the
The American idea, Emancipation, appears in our freedom of
intellection, in our reforms, and in our bad politics ; it has, of
course, its sinister side, which is most felt by the drilled and
scholastic, but if followed it leads to heavenly places.
European and American are each ridiculous out of his sphere. There is a
Columbia of thought and art and character, which is the last and
endless sequel of Columbus's adventure.
European critics regret the detachment of the Puritans to this country
without aristocracy; which a little reminds one of the pity of the
Swiss mountaineers when shown a handsome English-man : " What a pity he
has no goitre I " The future historian will regard the detachment of
the Puritans without aristocracy the supreme fortune of the colony ; as
great a gain to mankind as the opening of this continent.
There is a little formula, couched in pure Saxon, which you may hear in
the corners of streets and in the yard of the dame's school, from very
little republicans : " I 'm as good as you be," which contains the
essence of the Massachusetts Bill of Rights and of the American
Declaration of Independence. And this was at the bottom of Plymouth
Rock and of Boston Stone ; and this could be heard (by an acute ear) in
the Petitions to the King, and the platforms of churches, and was said
and sung in every tone of the psalmody of the Puritans ; in every note
of Old Hundred and Hallelujah and Short Particular Metre.
What is very conspicuous is the saucy independence which shines in all
their eyes. They could say to themselves, Well, at least this yoke of
man, of bishops, of courtiers, of dukes, is off my neck. We are a
little too close to wolf and famine than that anybody should give
himself airs here in the swamp.
London is a long way off, with beadles and pursuivants and
horse-guards. Here in the clam-banks and the beech and chestnut forest,
I shall take leave to breathe and think freely. If you do not like it,
if you molest me, I can cross the brook and plant a new state out of
reach of anything but squirrels and wild pigeons.
Bonaparte sighed for his republicans of 1789. The soul of a political
party is by no means usually the officers and pets of the party, who
wear the honors and fill the high seats and spend the salaries. No, but
the theorists and extremists, the men who are never contented and never
to be con-tented with the work actually accomplished, but who from
conscience are engaged to what that party professes, – these men will
work and watch and rally and never tire in carrying their point. The
theology and the instinct of freedom that grew here in the (lark in
serious men furnished a certain rancor which consumed all opposition,
fed the party and carried it, over every rampart and obstacle, to
Boston never wanted a good principle of rebel-lion in it, from the
planting until now; there is always a minority unconvinced, always a
heresiarch, whom the governor and deputies labor with but cannot
silence. Some new light, some new doctrinaire who makes an unnecessary
ado to establish his dogma; some Wheelwright or defender of Wheelwright
; some protester against the cruelty of the magistrates to the Quakers
; some tender minister hospitable to Whitefield against the counsel of
all the ministers ; some John Adams and Josiah Quincy and Governor
Andrew to undertake and carry the defence of patriots in the courts
against the uproar of all the province; some defender of the slave
against the politician and the merchant ; some champion of first
principles of humanity against the rich and luxurious; some adversary
of the death penalty; some pleader for peace ; some noble protestant,
who will not stoop to infamy when all are gone mad, but will stand for
liberty and justice, if alone, until all come back to him.
I confess I do not find in our people, with all their education, a fair
share of originality of thought ; – not any remarkable book of wisdom ;
not any broad generalization, any equal power of imagination. No Novum
Organon ; no MÃ©canique CÃ©leste ; no Principia ; no Paradise Lost ; no
Ham-let ; no Wealth of Nations ; no National Anthem ; have we yet
Nature is a frugal mother and never gives with-out measure. When she
has work to do she qualifies men for that and sends them equipped for
that. In Massachusetts she did not want epic poems and dramas yet, but
first, planters of towns, fellers of the forest, builders of mills and
forges, builders of roads, and farmers to till and harvest corn for the
world. Corn, yes, but honest corn ; corn with thanks to the Giver of
corn ; and the best thanks, namely, obedience to his law ; this was the
office imposed on our Founders and people ; liberty, clean and wise. It
was to be built on Religion, the Emancipator ; Religion which teaches
equality of all men in view of the spirit which created man.
The seed of prosperity was planted. The people did not gather where
they had not sown. They did not try to unlock the treasure of the world
except by honest keys of labor and skill. They knew, as God knew, that
command of nature comes by obedience to nature ; that reward comes by
faithful service ; that the most noble motto was that of the Prince of
Wales, – " I serve," – and that he is greatest who serves best. There
was no secret of labor which they disdained.
They accepted the divine ordination that man is for use ; that
intelligent being exists to the utmost use ; and that his ruin is to
live for pleasure and for show. And when within our memory some
flippant senator wished to taunt the people of this country by calling
them, "the mudsills of society," he paid them ignorantly a true praise
; for good men are as the green plain of the earth is, as the rocks,
and the beds of rivers are, the foundation and flooring and sills of
The power of labor which belongs to the English race fell here into a
climate which befriended it, and into a maritime country made for
trade, where was no rival and no envious lawgiver. The sailor and the
merchant made the law to suit themselves, so that there was never, I
suppose, a more rapid expansion in population, wealth and all the
elements of power, and in the citizens' consciousness of power and
sustained assertion of it, than was exhibited here.
Moral values become also money values. When men saw that these people,
besides their industry and thrift, had a heart and soul and would stand
by each other at all hazards, they desired to come and live here. A
house in Boston was worth as much again as a house just as good in a
town of timorous people, because here the neighbors would defend each
other against bad governors and against troops ; quite naturally
house-rents rose in Boston.
Besides, youth and health like a stirring town, above a torpid place
where nothing is doing. In Boston they were sure to see something going
for-ward before the year was out. For here was the moving principle
itself, the primum mobile, a living mind agitating the mass and: a ways
afflicting the conservative class with some odious novelty or other; a
new religious sect, a political point, a point of honor, a reform in
education, a philanthropy.
From Roger Williams and Eliot and Robinson and the Quaker women who for
a testimony walked naked into the streets, and as the record tells us "
were arrested and publicly whipped, – the bag-gages that they were ; "
from Wheelwright the Antinomian and Ann Hutchinson and Whitefield and
Mother Ann the first Shaker, down to Abner Kneeland and Father Lamson
and William Garrison, there never was wanting some thorn of dissent and
innovation and heresy to prick the sides of conservatism.
With all their love of his person, they took immense pleasure in
turning out the governor and deputy and assistants, and contravening
the counsel of the clergy ; as they had come so far for the sweet
satisfaction of resisting the Bishops and the King.
The Massachusetts colony grew and filled its own borders with a denser
population than any other American State (Kossuth called it the City
State), all the while sending out colonies to every part of New England
; then South and West, until it has infused all the Union with its
We are willing to see our sons emigrate, as to see our hives swarm.
That is what they were made to do, and what the land wants and invites.
The towns or countries in which the man lives and dies where he was
born, and his son and son's son live and die where he did, are of no
I know that this history contains many black lines of cruel injustice;
murder, persecution, and execution of women for witchcraft.
I am afraid there are anecdotes of poverty and disease in Broad Street
that match the dismal statistics of New York and London. No doubt all
manlier of vices can be found in this, as in every city; infinite
meanness, scarlet crime. Granted. But there is yet in every city a
certain permanent tone ; a tendency to be in the right or in the wrong
; audacity or slowness ; labor or luxury ; giving or parsimony ; which
side is it on ? And I hold that a community, as a man, is entitled to
be judged by his best.
We are often praised for what is least ours. Boston too is sometimes
pushed into a theatrical attitude of virtue, to which she is not
entitled and which she cannot keep. But the genius of Boston is seen in
her real independence, productive power and northern acuteness of mind,
– which is in nature hostile to oppression. It is a good city as cities
go ; Nature is good. The climate is electric, good for wit and good for
character. What public souls have lived here, what social benefactors,
what eloquent preachers, skilful workmen, stout captains, wise
merchants ; what fine artists, what gifted conversers, what
mathematicians, what lawyers what wits ; and where is the middle class
so able, virtuous and instructed ?
And thus our little city thrives and enlarges, striking deep roots, and
sending out boughs and buds, and propagating itself like a banyan over
the continent. Greater cities there are that sprung from it, full of
its blood and names and traditions. It is very willing to be
outnumbered and out-grown, so long as they carry forward its life of
civil and religious freedom, of education, of social order, and of
loyalty to law. It is very willing to be outrun in numbers, and in
wealth ; but it is very jealous of any superiority in these, its
natural instinct and privilege. You cannot conquer it by numbers, or by
square miles, or by counted millions of wealth. For it owes its
existence and its power to principles not of yesterday, and the deeper
principle will always prevail over whatever material accumulations.
As long as she cleaves to her liberty, her education and to her
spiritual faith as the foundation of these, she will teach the teachers
and rule the rulers of America. Her mechanics, her farmers will toil
better ; she will repair mischief ; she will furnish what is wanted in
the hour of need ; her sail-ors will man the Constitution ; her
mechanics re-pair the broken rail ; her troops will be the first in the
field to vindicate the majesty of a free nation, and remain last on the
field to secure it. Her genius will write the laws and her historians
record the fate of nations.
In an age of trade and material prosperity, we have stood a little
stupefied by the elevation of our ancestors. We praised the Puritans
because we did not find in ourselves the spirit to do the like. We
praised with a certain adulation the invariable valor of the old
war-gods and war-councillors of the Revolution. Washington has seemed
an exceptional virtue. This praise was a concession of unworthiness in
those who had so much to say of it. The heroes only shared this power
of a sentiment, which, if it now breathes into us, will make it easy to
us to understand them, and we shall not longer flatter them. Let us
shame the fathers, by superior virtue in the sons.
It is almost a proverb that a great man has not a great son. Bacon,
Newton and Washington were childless. But, in Boston, Nature is more
indulgent, and has given good sons to good sires, or at least continued
merit in the same blood. The elder President Adams has to divide voices
of fame with the younger President Adams. The elder Otis could hardly
excel the popular eloquence of the younger Otis ; and the Quincy of the
Revolution seems compensated for the shortness of his bright career in
the son who so long lingers among the last of those bright clouds,
"That on the steady breeze of honor sail In long succession calm and beautiful"
Here stands to-day as of yore our little city of the rocks ; here let
it stand forever, on the man-bearing granite of the North ! Let her
stand fast by herself ! She has grown great. She is filled with
strangers, but she can only prosper by adhering to her faith. Let every
child that is born of her and every child of her adoption see to it to
keep the name of Boston as clean as the sun ; and in distant ages her
motto shall be the prayer of millions on all the bills that gird the
town, " As with our Fathers, so God be with us ! " SICUT PATRIBUS, SIT
DEUS NOBIS !