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Let us rejoice, fellow-citizens, even in this hour of affliction, that he was ours so long. Let us thank God, as we bend over his honored dust, for having given us such a man, and let us not murmur that in His own good time He has taken him back to Himself. Such a man can never be wholly lost to us. ample remains. His noble acts survive him. His memory will be among the cherished treasures of all our hearts. Of such as him we may say with the poet,
“ The dead are like the stars by day,
Withdrawn from mortal eye;
In glory through the sky."
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY.
AN ADDRESS AT THE LAYING OF THE CORNER STONE OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF
BOSTON, 17 SEPTEMBER, 1855.
We are here, Mr. Mayor, gentlemen of the City Council, and fellow-citizens, to lay the Corner Stone of a Building for the Public Library of the City of Boston. We have come to take the first formal step towards making permanent provision for an Institution, which we believe is to exert a most important and powerful influence upon the character of our community, so long as our community shall have a character among men.
By a more than fortunate coincidence, we have been able to select for this purpose the 225th anniversary of the day, which has become associated, in New England History, with the original foundation of our City. On this day, just two centuries and
, a quarter ago, at a Court of Assistants of the Massachusetts Company, held at Charlestown (Governor Winthrop in the chair), it was “Ordered, That Trimountaine shall be called Boston."
I know not how a nobler Commemoration of our Municipal Birthday could have been devised than that in which we are engaged, or one calculated to invest it with a more enduring charm in the hearts of future generations. Certainly, no Birthday Offering could easily have been arranged, more welcome to a venerated mother, or more worthy of grateful and affectionate children, than the Institution which is here to be established.
It is fit, my friends, that such a transaction, on such a day, should be marked by something of public and solemn ceremonial. It is fit, that the voice of Prayer should be lifted up at such an hour and in such a connection, and that songs of Praise should flow forth from the lips and from the hearts of these graceful young ladies and these joyous pupils of the Schools. It is eminently fit, that the Conscript Fathers of the City should lend the sanction of their official presence to the scene, and that some word of remembrance, of congratulation, and of hope should not be wanting on the part of those, who have been honored with a commission to conduct so interesting a work.
I think myself happy, Mr. Mayor, in being privileged, as President of the Board, to speak that word, and in being allowed to associate myself, in ever so humble a manner, with this crowning act of the maturity of my native place.
And now, fellow-citizens, it is most agreeable to reflect that the Institution which we are engaged this day in establishing, is in such precise and beautiful conformity with the policy and the principles of those noble Colonists by whom Boston was founded. Too often, alas! in the progress of great cities, the most costly and conspicuous structures serve only, as they rise, to signalize some fresh departure from the simplicity and purity of the olden time. But we are here to erect no such monument of our own degeneracy. We are here to engraft no strange or uncongenial branch upon the old Puritan vine. We liave come rather, in the fulness of time, to carry out to its legitimate consummation, a system which was the peculiar pride and glory of the New England settlers, and which they cherished and cultivated as the especial strength and safeguard of the civil and religious freedom which they planted upon these shores.
With a wisdom and a forecast, which seem, as we look back upon them, little less than the immediate promptings of a Divine Power, the fathers of Massachusetts and founders of Boston allowed scarcely an hour to elapse after their arrival, before making some incipient provision for the public instruction of their children. Within five years after Trimountaine was called Boston, the small beginnings of our common-school system may be distinctly traced upon our ancient records. And from that day to this, the institutions of free popular education have gone on from strength to strength, - have been extended and improved, year by year, under the liberal and fostering care of our public authorities, - until, during the single year last past, nearly 25,000 children have received, within our city limits, as good an education as the wide world can afford, without cost or charge to themselves, but at the willingly incurred expense, all told, of little less than four hundred thousand dollars to the public treasury.*
By the munificent bequest of a native son of Boston, — whose name will be remembered among us as long as the Pyramids amid which that memorable Codicil was conceived, or the palaces of the Pharaohs on one of which it was written (John Lowell, Jr.), - a system of free lectures has been added, of late years, to our other means of popular instruction, and has abundantly justified the generous purposes of its lamented founder. But education does not end with the schools;
nor is all education conducted within the school-room or the lecture-room. Even a College Degree is but the significant A. B. of a whole alphabet of learning still to be acquired. The great work of self-culture remains to be carried on long after masters and tutors and professors have finished their labors and exhausted their arts. And no small part of this work, I need hardly say, is to be carried on under the influence of good reading and by the aid of good books.
Who shall undertake to measure the importance or calculate the value of good reading, as an instrument in advancing the welfare and promoting the happiness of mankind! Even one good book, read by snatches, in the intervals of labor, or in the watches of the night, - what unspeakable comfort and aid has it not often imparted to the humblest, or, it may be, to the loftiest, mind and heart !
I speak not of the Bible, which is an exception to all books, and which might almost be a substitute for all ; --- a library in itself, able alone to carry civilization and culture into every home where it is thoroughly and thankfully and thoughtfully readi- itself the Corner Stone of all Christian literature for ever!
But even among books of merely human composition and origin, and dealing with merely human and mortal relations
* The precise figures in the city auditor's report, then just published, were 24,827 pupils ; -- Expenditures, including new school houses, $389,135.64.
and interests, - how many have there not been, and are there not still, -- for a good book never dies,- of a power not only to afford amusement or instruction for an hour or a day, but to mould a whole character, and marshal a whole life! How many of the mightiest, as well as of the humbler, intellects of the world's history have borne testimony to the influence of “the precious life-blood of some master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”
Need I recall to you the example of our own FRANKLIN, who tells us himself, in his charming little autobiography, that, while indulging his passionate fondness for reading, as a child of twelve years old, he found among the few books which his father could afford to own, a work of De Foe's, entitled an · Essay on Projects, from which, perhaps, (says he) I derived impressions that have since influenced some of the principal events of my life?” Or, need I remind you how much of that clear, pure, transparent style, which distinguished him above almost all other American writers or even English writers, of his own day or of any day, he attributed to the use which he had made of volume of the Spectator' which fell into his hands” by the merest accident?
Such were the instruments by which the great Bostonian pursued that system of self-culture which prepared him for his wonderful career as a philosopher and a patriot; — books, odd volumes, sometimes found by chance on the meagre shelves of the family book-case, - sometimes falling into his hands by less natural and accountable accidents, --sometimes borrowed from his fellow-apprentices and read by stealth while they were sleeping. “How often (says he) has it happened to me to pass the night in reading by my bedside, when the book had been lent and was to be returned the next morning, lest it might be missed or wanted !” And you all remember the practical testimony which he gave to his own sense of the value of reading, by setting on foot the very first Social Circulating Library known to the annals of the world.
But I may not take up more of the time of this occasion in rhapsodies upon reading, or in illustrating or exemplifying the value of good books. I have said more than enough already to