Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

meating its entire length and breadth, and purifying and fertilizing the whole region through which it passes.

And then, although other States may surpass her in the number of their population, and in the abundance of their wealth, and in the magnitude and magnificence of their cities, and though Charter Oaks may fall and be forgotten, - Connecticut will still continue to enjoy the proud reputation which already so justly belongs to her, of having been second to no State in the Union, whether large or small, in her contributions to the moral dignity, stability, and grandeur of our great American Republic.

Allow me, sir, before taking my seat, to offer as a sentiment,

CONNECTICUT AND MASSACHUSETTS The dust of their earliest Governors reposes in a common tomb, and the blood of not a few of their later sons has been mingled in a common cause. May their living children be always united in the bond of fraternal love, and beneath the banner of a Union, of which their fathers furnished the original models, and the earliest successful examples !

THE

OPENING OF THE DOWSE LIBRARY.

A SPEECH AT THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE MASSACHUSETTS HISTORICAL SOCIETY,

APRIL 9, 1857.

You will hardly expect me, gentlemen, to resume my position as President in this beautiful apartment, and to take possession of this sumptuous official chair, without something more than a mere formal acknowledgment of the honor you have done me by the re-election which has just taken place. For that honor I sincerely thank you; but with this almost magical transformation fresh in our view, and with this communication and this key newly placed in my hand, I should be quite inexcusable were I to waste an instant on any thing so merely accidental, personal, and temporary, as the result of our annual election of officers.

I can hardly be mistaken in thinking, that this occasion is destined to be long remembered as an epoch in the history of our society, and that from the opening of yonder folding-doors, I might almost say, " on golden hinges turning,” — through which we have just been admitted to the enjoyment of these ample accommodations and these priceless treasures,

will be dated a new era of its existence.

More than sixty-six years have now elapsed since its original organization. On the nineteenth day of February last, the full term of sixty-three years was completed since the date of its original act of incorporation. Our society has thus just passed over that precise period in its career, which old superstition has been accustomed to regard as somewhat peculiarly critical. But certainly all the omens for the future are most auspicious. It has gone through, indeed, with a pretty protracted chrysalis state, but to-day it is permitted to display plumage and pinions, which promise a more sustained and prosperous progress than any of us could hitherto have ventured to anticipate for it.

I would not speak disparagingly, however, of its day of small things. I would by no means forget or depreciate the services of those who watched over its humble beginnings. On the contrary, I cannot but feel that our very first acknowledgments, on such an occasion as this, should be paid to the memory of those devoted and excellent men by whom this oldest Historical Society in America was so well and so wisely instituted and organized.

In that precious volume of original records which has been carefully bound up for preservation, we find that the first formal meeting of the society took place on the twenty-fourth day of January, 1791. It was held at the house of the Hon. William Tudor, and was attended by only eight persons. There is a tradition that a previous meeting had been held, at which there were but five, — and that on this subsequent occasion each of the five had been relied on to bring a friend. Foremost on the list of those present, by every claim of personal merit as well as of alphabetical order, is found the name of the Rev. JEREMY BELKNAP, D.D., the well-known historian of New Hampshire, and author of the American Biography, whose services to the general cause of American History, as well as to this society in particular, can never be over-estimated. Next stand the cherished names of the Rev. John Eliot, D.D., and the Rev. James Freeman. Then comes the Hon. James Sullivan, afterwards Governor of Massachusetts, and our first President. Next we find mentioned in order, the Rev. Peter Thacher, D.D.; Judge Tudor himself, the host of the occasion and our first Treasurer; Mr. Thomas Walcutt, and James Winthrop, Esq., of Cambridge. At this meeting, however, two of the original members of the society appear to have been absent, whose names can by no means be spared from our little roll of distinguished founders, - William Baylies, Esq., of Dighton, and the Hon. George Richards Minot, of Boston, whose valuable contributions to the history of Massachusetts, and more especially during one of its most momentous periods, are fresh in the grateful remembrance of us all.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

These were our Decemviri ; and to their timely forecast and their devoted efforts it is due, not only that this society had an existence at all at that early day, but that so many of the materials of our New England and American history were seasonably rescued from oblivion and decay, and placed within the reach of those who have known so well how to use them. I trust that more of the portraits of these venerable founders of our society may hereafter adorn our walls.

Meantime, it is not a little interesting, as we enter to-day upon these commodious and elegantly furnished apartments, to look back upon the narrow and economical arrangements of that early period, --- when we find it a matter of formal entry and acknowledgment, that the first gift to the society came in the shape of a little paper-covered blank book for records, presented by President Sullivan, and when, as we learn soon afterwards (viz., on the 30th of June, 1791), the Treasurer was desired to purchase twelve chairs, - which are carefully described as “Windsor green, elbow chairs,” — and “a plain pine table,” which is required to be “ painted, with a draw and lock and key,” and “an inkstand, &c.” The little paper book is still extant, with all its pages filled up in the large round hand of the first Recording Secretary, Mr. Walcutt; and the chairs, inkstand, &c., are believed to be the same, which, until within a few months past, have constituted a principal part of the furniture of our rooms, and which will still, I trust, be sacredly preserved as memorials of our small beginnings.

It would occupy too much time for such an occasion as this to attempt any detailed account of the gradual rise and progress of the society. An excellent sketch of it, by our venerable and valued associate, the Rev. Dr. Jenks, may be found in the seventh volume of the Third Series of our Collections; and the admirable Anniversary Discourse of Dr. Palfrey, in the ninth volume of the same series, contains a faithful review of the first half century of our existence. I hope that a full history of the society, as exhibited in its original records, and in a shape in which it may be circulated separately from our ordinary publications, may soon be undertaken and completed by some one of our number. There is ample evidence, however, both within and without these walls, of

1

the aggregate results which have been accomplished. In the numerous and prosperous kindred associations, in other States and in our own State, which have grown up under its example and encouragement, and to all of which we hold out afresh this day the right hand of fellowship; in the thirty-three well-filled volumes which have been published under its auspices, and by its direct agency; in the many other valuable publications for which it has furnished materials, and, in some cases, authors; in the precious collection of books and pamphlets and manuscripts which it has gradually accumulated here for the convenient consultation of the students and writers of history; in these and many other considerations and circumstances, we may find abundant proof, that no insufficiency of means, no narrowness of accommodations, no plainness of furniture, and no paucity of numbers, have prevented the society from fulfilling the largest expectations which could have been reasonably formed of it, even by the most hopeful of its founders and friends.

It will be well for our own reputation, if we, in our turn, and in this day of its comparative prosperity, shall succeed in leaving behind us the evidences of a proportionate progress.

Before turning entirely from the reminiscences of the past, I must not omit to add to the list of those to whom the society has owed most, in other days, the name of Christopher Gore, another Governor of Massachusetts and our second President, who generously emulated the example of his predecessor, Governor Sullivan, in his devotion to its interest, and whose liberal contributions of money, as well as of time, render him pre-eminent, perhaps, among our earlier benefactors.

The first dawning of our present bright and auspicious day may be traced to the munificence of the late Samuel Appleton, from whose executors the sum of $10,000 was received a few years since, as a publishing fund, and of which the worthy first fruits are already before the public, in the long-lost Pilgrim History of Governor Bradford, so recently and admirably edited by our associate, Mr. Charles Deane.

The next rays of our sunrise were found in the liberal donations of our excellent fellow-members, Mr. David Sears and Mr. Nathan Appleton, seconded by a similar donation from our re

« ZurückWeiter »