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قراءة كتاب American Sketches

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‏اللغة: English
American Sketches

American Sketches

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

which may appear extravagant to the modern American. The Old South Meeting-House, to give a single instance, is an object of simple-hearted veneration to the people of Boston, and the veneration is easily intelligible. For there is scarcely an episode in Boston's history that is not connected, in the popular imagination, with the Old South Meeting-House. It stands on the site of John Winthrop's garden; it is rich in memories of Cotton and Increase Mather. Within its ancient walls was Benjamin Franklin christened, and the building which stands to-day comes down to us from 1730, and was designed in obedient imitation of English masters. There, too, were enacted many scenes in the drama of revolution; there it was that the famous tea-party was proposed; and thence it was that the Mohawks, drunk with the rhetoric of liberty, found their way to the harbour, that they might see how tea mixed with salt-water. If the sentiment be sometimes exaggerated, the purpose is admirable, and it is a pleasant reflection that, in a country of quick changes and historical indifference, at least one building will be preserved for the admiration of coming generations.

It is for such reasons as these that an Englishman feels at home in Boston. He is secure in the same past; he shares the same memories, even though he give them a different interpretation. Between the New and Old England there are more points of similarity than of difference. In each are the same green meadows, the same ample streams, the same wide vistas. The names of the towns and villages in the new country were borrowed from the old some centuries ago; everywhere friendly associations are evoked; everywhere are signs of a familiar and kindly origin. When Winthrop, the earliest of the settlers, wrote to his wife, "We are here in a paradise," he spoke with an enthusiasm which is easily intelligible. And as the little colony grew, it lived its life in accord with the habit and sentiment of the mother-country. In architecture and costume it followed the example set in Bristol or in London. Between these ports and Boston was a frequent interchange of news and commodities. An American in England was no stranger. He was visiting, with sympathy and understanding, the home of his fathers. The most distinguished Bostonians of the late eighteenth century live upon the canvases of Copley, who, in his son, gave to England a distinguished Chancellor, and whose career is the best proof of the good relations which bound England to her colony. Now Copley arrived in England in 1774, when his native Boston was aroused to the height of her sentimental fury, and he was received with acclamation. He painted the portraits of Lord North and his wife, who, one imagines, were not regarded in Boston with especial favour. The King and Queen gave him sittings, and neither political animosity nor professional rivalry stood in the way of his advancement. His temper and character were well adapted to his career. Before he left New England he had shown himself a Court painter in a democratic city. He loved the trappings of life, and he loved to put his sitters in a splendid environment. His own magnificence had already astonished the grave Boston-ians; he is described, while still a youth, as "dressed in a fine maroon cloth, with gilt buttons"; and he set the seal of his own taste upon the portraiture of his friends.

I have said that Boston loves relics. The relics which it loves best are the relics of England's discomfiture. The stately portraits of Copley are of small account compared to the memorials of what was nothing else than a civil war. Faneuil Hall, the Covent Garden of Boston, presented to the city by Peter Faneuil some thirty years before the birth of "Liberty," is now but an emblem of revolt. The Old South Meeting-Place is endeared to the citizens of Boston as "the sanctuary of freedom." A vast monument, erected a mere quarter of a century ago, commemorates the "Boston Massacre." And wherever you turn you are reminded of an episode which might easily be forgotten. To an Englishman these historical landmarks are inoffensive. The dispute which they recall aroused far less emotion on our side the ocean than on the other, and long ago we saw the events of the Revolution in a fair perspective. In truth, this insistence on the past is not wholly creditable to Boston's sense of humour. The passionate paeans which Otis and his friends sang to Liberty were irrelevant. Liberty was never for a moment in danger, if Liberty, indeed, be a thing of fact and not of watchwords. The leaders of the Revolution wrote and spoke as though it was their duty to throw off the yoke of the foreigner,—a yoke as heavy as that which Catholic Spain cast upon Protestant Holland.

But there was no yoke to be thrown off, because no yoke was ever imposed, and Boston might have celebrated greater events in her history than that which an American statesman has wisely called "the glittering and sounding generalities of natural right."

However, if you would forget the follies of politicians, you have but to cross the bridge and drive to Cambridge, which, like the other Cambridge of England, is the seat of a distinguished university. You are doubly rewarded, for not merely is Cambridge a perfect specimen of a colonial village, but in Harvard there breathes the true spirit of humane letters. Nor is the college a creation of yesterday. It is not far short of three centuries ago that John Harvard, once of Emmanuel College in England, endowed the university which bears his honoured name. The bequest was a poor £780, with 260 books, but it was sufficient to ensure an amiable immortality, and to bestow a just cause of pride upon the mother-college. The daughter is worthy her august parentage. She has preserved the sentiment of her birth; she still worships the classics with a constant heart; the fame of her scholars has travelled in the mouths of men from end to end of Europe. And Harvard has preserved all the outward tokens of a university. Her wide spaces and lofty avenues are the fit abode of learning. Her college chapel and her college halls could serve no other purpose than that for which they are designed. The West, I believe, has built universities on another plan and to another purpose. But Harvard, like her great neighbour Boston, has been obedient to the voice of tradition, and her college, the oldest, remains also the greatest in America.

Culture has always been at once the boast and the reproach of Boston. A serious ancestry and the neighbourhood of a university are enough to ensure a grave devotion to the things of the spirit, and Boston has never found the quest of gold sufficient for its needs. The Pilgrim Fathers, who first sought a refuge in New England, left their country in the cause of what they thought intellectual freedom, and their descendants have ever stood in need of the excitement which nothing save pietism or culture can impart. For many years pietism held sway in Boston. The persecution of the witches, conducted with a lofty eloquence by Cotton Mather, was but the expression of an imperious demand, and the conflict of warring sects, which for many years disturbed the peace of the city, satisfied a craving not yet allayed. Then, after a long interval, came Transcendentalism, a pleasant mixture of literature and moral guidance, and to-day Boston is as earnest as ever in pursuit of vague ideals and soothing doctrines.

But pietism has gradually yielded to the claim of culture. Though one of the largest buildings which frown upon the wayfarer in Boston is a temple raised to the honour of Christian Science and Mrs Eddy, literature is clearly the most fashionable anodyne. It is at once easier and less poignant than theology: while it imparts the same sense of superiority, it suggests the same emancipation from mere world-liness. It is by lectures that Boston attempts to slake its intellectual thirst—lectures on everything and nothing. Science, literature, theology—all is put to the purpose. The enterprise of the Lowell Institute is seconded by a thousand private ventures. The patient