Chapter 28


When General George Washington, on a February day in I 776, walked into his study in the Craigie house, at Cambridge, he was cheered by a glad surprise. It was his birthday, and as his best present came Colonel Henry Knox, the Boston bookseller, with tidings that he had safely sledded across the snow from Canada fifty cannon, with ammunition and supplies for the American army besieging Boston.

It was precisely the birthday present that Washington most desired. "Nothing could



be more apropos," he exclaimed joyfully. And then he went to work to drive the British from Boston.

One hundred and three years later, on a February day in 1879, another dearly loved and famous American walked into the same study in the same Cambridge house, to be greeted with an equally glad surprise.

It was the seventy-second birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, owner and occupant of that historic Craigie house which had been the headquarters of Washington during the siege of Boston. And in that pleasant front room that was his as it had been Washington’s study, the " white Mr. Longfellow," as the great Norwegian writer called him, spied something new,—a big armchair, cleverly framed and artistically carved, in the seat of which was sunk a brass plate upon which this greeting was inscribed: "To the author of ‘The Village Blacksmith’ this chair, made from the wood of the ‘spreading chestnut tree,’ is presented as an expression of grateful regard and veneration by the children of Cambridge, who, with their friends, join in the best wishes and congratulations on this anniversary, February 27, 1879."

Seven hundred boys and girls had joined forces to present to the beloved poet this gracious token of their affection. It was also a memorial of the famous" spread-



ing chestnut tree" of Brattle Street in Cambridge, under which, for so many years, had stood the "village smithy" which Longfellow’s verse had made known to seventy times seven hundred American school children.

It was, in its way, as agreeable a surprise to him as Colonel Knox’s ox loads of cannon and shot had been to Washington,—though one was the emblem of war and action, while the other spoke of peace and ease. And if you wish to know how appropriate Longfellow considered the gift, take down his poems, and turn to the verses which he entitled "From my Arm-chair," and which begin:

"Am I a king, that I should call my own

This splendid ebon throne?"

At that time Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was esteemed the children’s poet, the king of American bards, the fruitage of all those long years of Massachusetts genius and thought and culture which culminated in the four eminent American and Massachusetts poets who stood beside the open grave of their common friend Charles Sumner in Mount Auburn, when Massachusetts laid her champion to rest, —Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson, and Holmes.

That chair still stands in the poet’s study in Craigie house; and if one of the boys or girls who know so many of the ennobling poems of



Longfellow could sit in that carven chair, and with closed eyes could look back along the years of Massachusetts’s literary growth, what would be seen?

Something should be seen from it, certainly. It was a magic chair, if we may trust Longfellow’s own words:

"The Danish king could not, in all his pride, Repel the ocean tide;

But, seated in this chair, I can, in rhyme,

Roll back the tide of Time."

So, seated in that magic chair, the boy or girl who looks into the past should be able to "roll back the tide of Time," and exclaim, with the poet, its owner:

"I see again as one in vision sees!" What would he see?

A long procession of earnest, gifted, and laborious workers with the pen—Massachusetts men and women, all—coming out of the past and filing before the youthful watcher in the chair,—the twentieth-century boy or girl, for whose enlightenment, education, and culture these men and women of the commonwealth have all recorded, reasoned, romanced, taught, or sung.

First, the heralds, trumpeting forth in martial or in soberer strains the merits of Massachusetts as a home for those across the sea: doughty Captain John Smith, with dinted corselet and battered morion, equally handy with the sword or pen, writing down with the latter: "Of all the parts of the world I have yet seen not inhabited, I would rather live here than anywhere; " gentle William Bradford, the Moses of the wilderness, the second governor of Plymouth colony, writing the first history



of Massachusetts almost before there was any Massachusetts to write the history of; stately John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts Bay, proclaiming that Massachusetts was "a paradise," and writing that noble essay on liberty, at once patriotic and eloquent, in which he said: "This liberty is the proper end and object of authority. . . . This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard, not only of your goods, but of your lives, if need be." And so the heralds pass.

Then come, with slow and solemn steps, in black Geneva cloaks and starched white bands, the ministers of the colony, well meaning but tyrannical teachers, writing little that is palatable or digestible in these gentler days of wider love and broader brotherhood, but with an enthusiasm for learning and a fervor of expression that entered into the education of the people and laid the foundation for a permanent and broadening culture when the tyranny of theology should at last be broken:

John Cotton and Roger Williams, Nathaniel Ward and Michael Wigglesworth, and those two pompous hut stalwart preachers, half prophets of liberty, Increase and Cotton Mather, tireless and often tiresome writers. Among these preachers walks the figure of a woman,— the first American woman writer and poet, Mistress Anne Bradstreet, who called herself, with a quaint egotism, "the tenth muse," possibly because she thought the other nine would not recognize her as really a member of their tuneful sisterhood.

Here, too, in that somewhat somber throng are the businesslike figures of the recorder Johnson, the "father of Woburn," and the grim soldier, Captain Mason,



leader and historian of the Pequot War; John Eliot, "apostle to the Indians" and translator of the famous Indian Bible; Matthew Byles of Boston, wit, preacher, and poet; jolly Peter Folger of Nantucket, grandfather of Franklin; sad-eyed Mary Rowlandson of Lancaster, who told the story of her Indian captivity; Samuel Sewell, judge and diarist, as great a gossip as the Englishman Pepys; and closing that long line of stern teachers of a sterner morality, the greatest and sternest, the wisest and deepest of them all, Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher of Northampton, to whom a kindlier age has reared a monument at pleasant Stockbridge. So the pioneers pass.

Then follows the line of new Americans, whose pens, somewhat uncertain in rhythm or stilted in story, open the way to wider and nobler views of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the van walks Dr. Benjamin Franklin, greatest, wisest, noblest of them all, ever a loyal son of Massachusetts and his "dear Boston," though the most of his wonderful life was passed in Philadelphia. Essayists, orators, and statesmen follow the portly doctor: James Otis, fiery and fearless; Samuel Adams, dauntless and forcible; John Trumbull, the wit of the Revolution, who studied law with John Adams, and there wrote his greatest satire, "McFingal;" fussy old John Adams, himself the prince of letter-writers and most unselfish of patriots; Jonathan Mayhew, whose sermons and essays were called the "morning gun of the Revolution ;" Joseph Warren, the orator of the Boston Massacre and most famous victim of Bunker Hill; Thomas Hutchinson, royalist governor



and historian, whose better qualities are only now becoming rediscovered; and two women to close the train —Phyllis Wheatley, the remarkable Boston slave girl and poet, complimented by Washington, and Mercy Warren, the intrepid sister of James Otis and first historian of the Revolution.

So they pass; but, as they go, they unroll before the dreamer in the magic chair their greatest, noblest work, the State Constitution of Massachusetts, and her Declaration of Rights, written while yet England rode rough-shod through the war-swept colonies,—"a worthy monument," says Mr. Goddard, "to the intellectual elevation of the statesman who modeled and the people who accepted it,"—John Adams being its "chief architect."

Enter the new republic, and with it the writers of the free commonwealth of Massachusetts. They come in meager numbers, for the first years of independence and nation-building gave but little time for writing or story-making. And yet two story-tellers lead, women both of them,—Hannah Foster of Brighton, who wrote the sentimental" Coquette," and Susannah Rowson, the Newton school-teacher, with her tearful tale of "Charlotte Temple." Quite the opposite of these sentimental ladies, now comes William Tudor with his "North American Review," in which Massachusetts men, later famous in letters, wrote with strength, though sometimes, so young people might think, they were "mighty dry." John Quincy Adams, President, patriot, essayist, and poet, is in the van, short, stout, and always active, with Joseph Story (pen couched like a lance to charge against Thomas Jefferson) and Jared Sparks, first of



American writers of popular history and biography, to whom all later writers on American history owe a lasting debt. Two women follow these: Hannah Adams, with her " History of New England," first to be used as a schoolbook, and Catherine Sedgwick, whose "Hope Leslie" was once dear to thousands of children. After them walk two once famous poets, Richard Henry Dana, who wrote the " Buccaneer" and discovered Bryant, and Charles Sprague with his Shakespeare Ode, followed by John Pierpont, the hymn-writer, and three friends of children whose names the story-crammed boys and girls of America still know and reverence,—Lydia Maria Child, Peter Parley (whose real name was Samuel G. Goodrich), and Jacob Abbott, creator of the "Rollo Books."

Then, with a triumphant burst of welcoming music, that startles even the dreamer in the magic chair, enter the last and best,—the giants of this passing show, the top and crown of the Old Bay State’s two centuries of literary growth. The names alone startle the ear, brighten the eye, and set the heart astir; for what boy or girl does not think of them with veneration and and wish he might have seen those heroes of the pen ?—those clear-eyed reformers Channing, Garrison, Parker, and Phillips; those wise and practical philosophers and thinkers Emerson, Alcott, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller; those stirring historians Bancroft and Motley, Ticknor and Parkman and Prescott; those splendid orators Webster, Sumner, and Everett; those matchless story-tellers Hawthorne and Louisa Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe: those greatest of American poets Bryant and Whittier, Holmes and Lowell,



and, the prince of them all, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in whose magic birthday chair at Craigie our overfilled dreamer is just now waking up.

They are Massachusetts men and women all! What other little patch of earth of eighty-three hundred square miles can show so noble, so triumphal a procession? Is it not enough to stir boys and girls to deep and grateful thoughts, whether Massachusetts or Montana, Boston or New Orleans, be their home ?—for all were, as are they, Americans.

Wake up! young dreamer in the children’s magic chair. Pass from one yellow colonial house to another, from one Revolutionary headquarters to another, from one poet’s home to another, from Longfellow’s at Craigie house to Lowell’s at Elmwood.

And, as you pass from the home of America’s most famous poet to that of America’s foremost man of letters, pause at the old-fashioned gate of Elmwood, and say, as did Longfellow, standing on that very spot:

"Sing to him, say to him, here at his gate,

Where the boughs of the stately elms are meeting, Some one hath lingered to meditate

And send him unseen this friendly greeting;

"That many another bath done the same,

Though not by a sound was the silence broken.

The surest pledge of a deathless name

Is the silent homage of thoughts unspoken."