Слике страница
PDF
ePub

they suffered: but, so connected are all these great and glorious interests, that the struggles for one have always helped the others. Such service did they do, that Hume, whose cold nature sympathized little with their burning souls, is obliged to confess that “the precious spark of Liberty had been kindled and was preserved by the Puritans alone,” and he adds, that “ to this sect the English owe the whole freedom of their Constitution."

As among all reformers, so among them were differences of degree. Some continued within the pale of the National Church, and there pressed their ineffectual attempts in behalf of the good cause. Some at length, driven by conscientious convictions, and unwilling to be partakers longer in its enormities, stung also by cruel excesses of magisterial power, openly disclaimed the National Establishment, and became a separate sect, first under the name of Brownists, from the person who led in this new organization, and then under the better name of Separatists. I like this word, Sir. It has a meaning: After long struggles in Parliament and out of it, in Church and State, prolonged through successive reigns, the Puritans finally triumphed, and the despised sect of Separatists, swollen in numbers, and now under the denomination of Independents, with Oliver Cromwell at their head and John Milton as his Secretary, ruled England. Thus is prefigured the final triumph of all, however few in numbers, who sincerely devote themselves to Truth.

The Pilgrims of Plymouth were among the earliest of the Separatists. As such, they knew by bitter experience all the sharpness of persecution. Against them the men in power raged like the heathen. Against them the whole fury of the law was directed. Some were imprisoned, all were impoverished, while their name became a by-word of reproach. For safety and freedom the little band first sought shelter in Holland, where they continued in obscurity and indigence for more than ten years, when they were inspired to seek a home in this unknown Western world. Such, in brief, is their history. I could not say more of it without intruding upon your time; I could not say less without injustice to them.

1 Our Abolitionists and Free-Soilers were Separatists. 2 Like the Republican party. -- whose triumph is here foreshadowed.

Rarely have austere principles been expressed with more gentleness than from their lips. By a covenant with the Lord, they had vowed to walk in all his ways, according to their best endeavors, whatsoever it should cost them, and also to receive whatsoever truth should be made known from the written word of God. Repentance and prayers, patience and tears, were their weapons. “It is not with us,” said they, “as with other men, whom small things can discourage or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again.” And then again, on another occasion, their souls were lifted to utterance like this: “When we are in our graves, it will be all one, whether we have lived in plenty or penury, whether we have died in a bed of down or on locks of straw." Self-sacrifice is never in vain, and with the clearness of prophecy they foresaw that out of their trials should come a transcendent Future. “As one small candle," said an early Pilgrim Governor, “ may light a thousand, so the light kindled here may in some sort shine even to the whole nation.” And these utterances were crowned by the testimony of the English governor and historian, whose sympathy for them was as little as that of Hume for the Puritans, confessing it doubtful “whether Britain would have had any colonies in America at this day, if religion had not been the grand inducement," — thus honoring our Pilgrims.

And yet these men, with such sublime endurance, lofty faith, and admirable achievement, are among those sometimes called “Puritan knaves" and "knaves-Puritans," and openly branded by King James as "very pests in the Church and Commowealth.” The small company of our forefathers became jest and gibe of fashion and power. The phrase "men of one idea” was not invented then ; but, in equivalent language, they were styled “the pinched fanatics of Leyden.” A contemporary poet and favorite of Charles the First, Thomas Carew, lent his genius to their defamation. A masque, from his elegant and careful pen, was performed by the monarch and his courtiers, turning the whole plantation of New England to royal sport. The jeer broke forth in the exclamation, that it had “purged more virulent humors from the politic body than guaiacum and all the West Indian drugs have from the natural bodies of this kingdom." 1

And these outcasts, despised in their own day by the proud and great, are the men whom we have met in this goodly number to celebrate, - not for any victory of war, --- not for any triumph of discovery, science, learning, or eloquence, - not for worldly success of any kind. How poor are all these things by the side of that divine virtue which, amidst the reproach, the obloquy, and the hardness of the world, made them hold fast to Freedom and Truth! Sir, if the honors of this day are not a mockery, if they do not expend themselves in mere self-gratulation, if they are a sincere homage to the character of the Pilgrims, -- and I cannot suppose otherwise, — then is it well for us to be here. Standing on Plymouth Rock, at their great anniversary, we cannot fail to be elevated by their example. We see clearly what it has done for the world, and what it has done for their fame. No pusillanimous soul here to-day will declare their self-sacrifice, their deviation from received opinions, their unquenchable thirst for liberty, an error or illusion.

1 This masque, entitled Colum Britannicum, was performed at Whitehall, February 18, 1633.

From gushing multitudinous hearts we now thank these lowly men that they dared to be true and brave. Conformity or compromise might, perhaps, have purchased for them a profitable peace, but not peace of mind; it might have secured place and power, but not repose; it might have opened present shelter, but not a home in history and in men's hearts till time shall be no more. All must confess the true grandeur of their example, while, in vindication of a cherished principle, they stood alone, against the madness of men, against the law of the land, against their king. Better the despised Pilgrim, a fugitive for freedom, than the halting politician, forgetful of principle, “with a Senate at his heels.”

Such, Sir, is the voice from Plymouth Rock, as it salutes my ears. Others may not hear it; but to me it comes in tones which I cannot mistake. I catch its words of noble cheer:

“New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward who would keep abreast of Truth:
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea."

IRELAND AND IRISHMEN.

LETTER TO A COMMITTEE OF IRISH-BORN CITIZENS, AUGUST 2, 1853.

G

Boston, August 2, 1853. ENTLEMEN, — It is not in my power to be with

you on the evening of the celebration at Faneuil Hall, but, I pray you, do not consider me insensible to the honor of your invitation. .

Permit me to say that no country excites a generous sympathy more than Ireland; nor is any society more genial and winning than that of Irishmen.

Believe me, Gentlemen, faithfully yours,

CHARLES SUMNER.

« ПретходнаНастави »