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Book of Boston
TWO FAMOUS OLD BUILDINGS
N a February night in 1688, a striking funeral pageant passed through the streets of Boston; the funeral procession of Lady Andros, the wife of Governor Andros. And how far away that seems! 1688 – that was the far-away year that marked the downfall of the second dames. That year seems far away even when one is over in England, and therefore it seems curiously far away in this New England. Yet in 1688 Boston had for decades been settled. People had already begun to think of it as a long-established place. People had already begun to look with interest at those who could rightfully claim the title of "old inhabitants"!
That winter-night funeral of Lady Andros made a grimly striking scene. A hearse with six horses drew the body. Soldiers lined the way. Torches flickered and blazed to light the snowy streets. Candles and torches lighted the old church. Six "mourning women," as they were called, walked behind the body until it was set down before the pulpit and then they seated themselves beside it like dismal ghosts. The church was crowded. The minister, with the grim directness of old times, preached frankly from the text, "All flesh is grass." And when the ceremony was over the body was borne out of the little chapel, a building standing where now stands the Old South Church, on what is now Washington Street, and carried to the burying-ground now known as that of King's Chapel, on Tremont Street, King's Chapel itself having not then been built. That winter night funeral was dramatic indeed.
What is supposed to be the grave of Lady Andros is still to be seen, here within this ancient inclosure of King's Chapel Burying-ground, and here too is many another of interest. The supposedly oldest remaining stone is that of a certain William Paddy, who died in 1658. Born in the year 1600, this man; born twenty years before the sailing of the Mayflower; born while Elizabeth was still Queen; yet here in Boston is his grave, still marked. Here rest the remains of many a Leverett and Wendell and Mather and Cotton, and especially is it the last home of many a Winthrop, and in a Winthrop tomb lies that Mary Chilton Winthrop who not only was one of those who crossed in the first voyage of the Mayflower but who, so the delightful old story has it, was the first woman to land in America from that immortal ship. I do not know how one can come to a more practical and more vivid appreciation of the American past, than by stepping aside, from the busy, rushing street, into the down-sloping bit of burial-ground, hemmed in by street and chapel and business blocks and city hall, and standing beside the very tomb – within which lie the remains of that Mayflower passenger, the first woman to step upon the Rock.
And modestly, very, very modestly, far over at one side of the graveyard, stands a stone which marks the resting-place of one Elizabeth Pain, and it simply records without any of the old-time reference to beauty of character or beauty of life or the grief of the remaining relatives, that she departed this life in 1704; and a sort of chill comes, a grim feeling of the severity of the past and of the present, when you know that this is understood to be the grave of the poor woman who gave to Hawthorne his idea of Hester Prynne: for it will, of course, be remembered that the scene of the "Scarlet Letter" was Boston and not Salem, although it was in Salem that the book was written. The poor Elizabeth with the suggestive surname was one of the earliest Americans to learn that the fatted calf is never killed for the prodigal daughter.
Here in this really ancient graveyard is the tomb of Robert Keayne, who founded, half a century before the time of the Andros funeral, his Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, which is still existent. Over at one side of the enclosure, I chanced upon the name of Tudor, a name mildly prominent in early New England history; and the thought comes of that New England Tudor – could this have been the very one! – who, when presented at the court of King George the Third, caused a look of pleased astonishment to come over the bored face of the monarch at the mention of his name: "Eh, eh, what! Tudor? One of us, eh, what?"
The present King's Chapel, beside the old burying ground, is a pillar-fronted, rather low, square-towered building, a building rather dark and dusky in effect, built not on the general lines of most of our early churches, but following the design of some of the old-fashioned little churches of London. And the pillars are not of stone, as they seem to be, but of wood. Taken by itself it would seem to be a veritable bit out of London. The very first King's Chapel was built here in the very year in which Lady Andros died, and although that first building was wood instead of stone, and although it was a little smaller than the present chapel, which is itself quite small, it must have been a church with a great deal of display and impressiveness, for along its walls were hung the escutcheons of the King of England and of the various Royal Governors who had been sent out to Massachusetts. Even in those early days it was looked upon as rather an ostentatious building.
The present chapel was built over a century and a half ago; services were first held here in 1754; and the interior is not without a certain richness of effect, simple though it is. It is really a cozily attractive little church, with its white walls and galleries and pillars and its square pews with dark mahogany top-rails and linings of red baize. The pairing of the pillars adds much to the excellent effect, as do also the Corinthian capitals. The ceiling is unusually low even for a small church and there is also the unusual feature, for America, that the floor is made of small square stones. The comfortable, square, enclosed pews seem additionally quaint and comfortable from their being fitted with stands for canes and umbrellas, and little shelves for prayer-books and Bibles, and even with chairs in addition to the fixed benches of the pews.
Tradition has not preserved the precise location of the pew in which Washington sat when they gave an oratorio in this building to entertain him in 1789, but one may fairly suppose that it was the pew known as the Governor's Pew, which was in early days surmounted by a canopy and in which sat in succession a line of pre-Revolutionary royal governors, beginning with Governor Shirley, who laid the cornerstone of the building. Here, too, sat General Gage and Sir William Howe, in the early part of the Revolutionary War. Familiar as Washington was with the churches and the architecture of the entire country he must have looked with much interest at the high-set pulpit, the very pulpit which is still in place and used, for it is believed to be the oldest in New England and possibly in the United States; it dates well back before the building of this present building, for it was transferred from the earlier church to this, and is said to be at least as old as 1717 and perhaps to have been in the older church from its very beginning in 1688. It is certainly interesting, with its twisting stair charmingly enclosed with panels and pilasters, and its heavy suspended sounding-board.
King's Chapel has a connection with what is often written about as one of the romances of early American days, for one of those who united to build the present structure was that Sir Henry Frankland who, up at Marblehead, fell in love with the inn-keeper's pretty daughter, Agnes Surriage, and brought her to Boston; his pew is still remembered and is the one now numbered 20; but Frankland played anything but a manly man's part, and the masters and lovers of real American romance, Longfellow and Hawthorne, did nothing, I think, to give the story its amazing vogue.
The present organ of King's Chapel was sent out from England in 1756, and has from time to time been rebuilt and enlarged, and it is said to have been the personal selection of the mighty Handel, who tested it and played upon it at the request of King George the Second, who counted him as a friend and asked this favor of him.
There are various old monuments, inside this church, of worthies of the past, including a noticeable one, in the most florid Westminster Abbey funeral style, to the memory of Samuel Vassall, who belied his name by being very independent indeed, and who won fame and wealth as a patriotic merchant in the old days when loyalty meant loyalty to the King.
The funeral of General Warren, who was killed at Bunker Hill, was held in this chapel after the city came into the possession of the Americans. There, too, was held the funeral of Charles Sumner. And among the monuments within the building is one to men who were connected with this chapel and who died in the Civil War. Already our churches are coming to be like those of England, where there are memorials to the men of war after war in never-ending succession.
A cheerful memory of this chapel is that it was the regular place of worship of Oliver Wendell Holmes' who, year after year, sat in pew 102 in the south gallery. One may fancy what a trial or what a reward it must often have been for the rector, after some argumentative or oratorical effort, to glance up and catch those keen eyes looking at him with appraisal in the glance; it must have kept a succession of rectors well up to the mark to know that such an autocratic critic was watching them.
The King's Chapel Burying-ground used to be known, long ago, as the Old South Church Burying Ground, although the Old South Church is a few blocks away, and on Washington Street.
On the front of the Old South is an inscription which tells that the church gathered in 1669; that the first church building was put up in 1670; that the present church building was erected in 1729; and that it was desecrated by the British troops in 1775-6. But this enumeration of facts and dates quite ignores an event which a great many people would deem the most interesting of all, and that is that Benjamin Franklin was baptised here in 1706.
What a busy day that was in the house near by, now long since vanished, where the Franklins lived! The father Josiah, and Abiah his wife, attended service at the Old South Church in the morning.
Little Benjamin was born at noon. And that very afternoon he was proudly carried to church to be christened!
One cannot but remember Benjamin's own summary of the lives of his parents. "Without any estate, or any gainful employment, by constant labor and industry, with God's blessing, they maintained a large family comfortably, and brought up thirteen children and seven grandchildren reputably." "He was a pious and prudent man," records Benjamin of his father, Josiah ; and of Abiah, his mother, he faithfully records that she was "a discreet and virtuous woman."
In the front of the church, beside the tablet of dates, is a placard which, although meant to express the standpoint of the old-time patriots as a lesson for future generations, is positively misleading, for it refers to winning victories for liberty and the people "under the law." But there could not be a greater misapprehension. The whole standpoint of the patriots of the Revolution is missed. The Revolution stood for bravely acting against the law, for not heeding danger to life or estate when it seemed right to act against the constituted authorities. The tea ships, the fight at Lexington, the stand on Bunker Hill – what an absurdity to think of such things as "under the law"! It is a solemn thing for a people to stand against the law, but the glory of the Revolution was that the patriots did stand against the law. When Joseph Warren made his entry through a window into the pulpit of this very church and there denounced in fiery words the British soldiers, the very officers and soldiers who crowded about the front of the pulpit while he spoke, he had no thought of acting under the law, nor did he dream of being under the law when, three months later, he bravely gave his life as the British came charging up the hill over in Charlestown.
The Old South is a neat and attractive building of brick with a slender spire of wood. The spire is graceful, but the tower that supports it, and which itself projects a little upon the busy sidewalk, is heavy in proportion.
Entering the church through a vestibule beneath the tower we find that the interior has not been treated in the usual style of the Gothic nave, but is broader in proportion than would be expected in a church; it has its pulpit, not at one end, but in the middle of one side; and, unexpectedly for such a small building, there are two galleries facing it. The pulpit is only in part the original pulpit, but the needful restoration was made along the original lines; it is of admirable shape, with pillar supports and elaborate cornice, and it has a little rounding projection of mahogany on its front, a sort of pleasing bulge, for the standing place of the speaker. The window behind the pulpit is big and broad, a sort of Palladian window, flanked by reeded pillars; and as one stands here it is impossible not to picture the thrilling scene when Warren made his way through this window, opened for his entrance, stepped to the little bulge in front of the pulpit, and with superb bravery delivered his thrilling address to the people who packed the building itself and the very aisles and entrances. It was a brave day for America.
The building long ago won the high-sounding name of the "Sanctuary of Freedom," because within it were held some of the most momentous of the town-meetings that preceded the Revolution; and during the Revolutionary War it was singled out by the British for contemptuous treatment, and was turned into a riding-school for cavalry, and tons of earth were thrown upon the floor to give footing for the horses; and in addition the pews were burned to keep the soldiers warm. One may regret the burning of the old pews, but it would not be in the least a regrettable act if the present cheap-looking wooden chairs, with cheap perforated seats and backs, could be given to the British or anybody else, and burned. It cost over $400,000 to save this church from being torn down for the erection of a big office building, and Boston people gladly raised the huge sum, and it does seem a pity that a very little of that sum was not utilized to put in fitting benches, if not pews.
A few relics of Revolutionary days are shown in this building, and there are photographs, to suit the taste of such as care for such a thing, of the skull of General Warren, showing the fatal bullet-hole: an exhibition which perhaps might have been spared.
Not only were the old pews burned by the British, but many valuable books and manuscripts regarding early New England, that had been stored in the tower of the old church, were also brought down and thrown in the fire to help keep the soldiers comfortable in the cold winter days of the siege.
And the most important manuscript in the world, as a leading New Englander, Senator Hoar, in his formal speech on the final recovery of the manuscript, called it, was seized upon with others of the treasures of the Old South tower, and was preserved by some strange and never to be explained chance, and long afterwards was discovered by another of the strangest of chances, over in England, and at length was returned to America. This was the absolutely invaluable holograph account of the Mayflower expedition, and of the early days in Holland and in Plymouth, by the great Governor William Bradford himself; and the story of this manuscript is the most extraordinary literary romance of the world.
When the books and manuscripts were dragged down from the tower this manuscript, which afterwards came to be known mistakenly as the "Log of the Mayflower," was spared, though no one knows by whom; no one knows whether its value was even guessed at, but presumably it must have been, for it was carried to England, no one knows by whom, and when the Americans once more took possession of the city, it was not to be found and was supposed to have been burned and its records and data thus forever lost.
More than half a century after its disappearance, an English bishop, the Bishop of Oxford, wrote a book, which attracted scarcely any attention, on the history of the church in America, and, quite a number of years after its publication, an American, turning over the leaves of the bishop's history, was startled by some references to a manuscript, undescribed except as being in the possession of the Bishop of London in the library of his palace at Fulham. The American – there is some question as to whether it was a man named Thornton or one named Barry – was fortunately one who knew early American history, and he knew that the facts quoted in that book on the church could have only one source, and that was the Bradford manuscript, which had been quoted to some extent by early American chroniclers and which everybody supposed had long ago been lost. At once definite inquiry was made, and it was learned that this was indeed the long lost work of Bradford, although neither the Bishop of Oxford nor the Bishop of London himself could throw light upon how or when it had come into English possession.
Americans at once began a campaign to recover it, frankly taking the ground, when they met with delay and doubt, that the excuse of loot in war time had never been applied to the permanent retention of literary treasures. The English themselves were inclined to agree with this, but things moved slowly, and it took about half a century before negotiations were fortunately concluded. They might have been going on even yet had it not been for another of the strangely fortunate chances in regard to the history of this manuscript, and this was that a new Bishop of London was appointed who felt cordial toward the United States and said frankly that he, for his part, would hand over the manuscript if he were given the authorization of his superior, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and that soon after this he was himself appointed, by a whimsical chance, Archbishop of Canterbury! Whereupon, in 1897, the thing was done, and the invaluable manuscript came back to Boston and was welcomed with great ceremonies and public speeches after its strange absence of a century and a quarter.
But it was not again deposited in the Old South steeple! Instead, as the prized possession of the State of Massachusetts, and not of Boston alone, it is kept in the library of the State House, up on Beacon Hill, and is there shown freely to any one who cares to see it.