« PreviousContinue »
templates the works and dwellings of his own species, 6 who were of old men of renown.'
As he muses among the ruins of Grecian, or Roman grandeur, how many interesting associations spring up around him at every step. What giant forms pass before the eye of his inagination, as in the dim twilight, they come out from the broken arches and mouldering porticoes. What strange communion does he hold with the mighty dead of other centuries ! Demosthenes again thunders in Athens, and the throne of Philip is shaken. Cataline comes back to form a new conspiracy against the liberties of Rome, and Cicero, to drive him with confusion and desperation from the senate house. The muses of Homer and Virgil, pour their sublimest notes into his ravished ear, and he finds himself sweetly bewildered, amid the thousand recollections and enchantments of the scene.
Now, if such as these are the magical creations of fancy, by which every traveller of taste and reading finds himself surrounded in Greece and Italy, what would be the emotions of the lineal descendants of Solon, Themistocles, and Leonidas; or of Brutus and the Scipios, could they now trace back their genealogy to those illustrious men, and surveying the mighty ruins of their power and glory, say, 'these men were our fathers; and though the hand of time has crumbled their marble tombs, and the winds of a hundred ages have swept over the unknown receptacles of their dust, their blood still flows warm in our veins. Their memorial is embalmed in our hearts, though the glory has so long since departed from these classic lands.'
Such emotions and reflections as these are natural to the mind of man. There is perhaps no civilized nation, . or savage tribe, in which a similar veneration is not felt
for a remote ancestry. With what strange pleasure does the Scottish mountaineer listen, 'through the live-long night,' to the wild notes of the border Minstrel ! With what transport do the wild men of America, recount in the rude war song, the valor and sufferings of their forefathers; and how does it charm away sleep from the little prattler by your fire-side, to hear the simplest tales of other times !
There can be no doubt, that this deep and heart-stiring interest in the antiquities of the nation to which men belong, and this innate reverence for their ancestors, may be carried too far. Extravagant panegyric never fails to detract, even from a well earned reputation—and when men ascribe that glory to their fathers, which belongs only to God, or, without personal talents and moral worth, affect to set up for solid capitalists, upon the credit of their ancestors, such impiety and effrontery deserve the severest reprehension. But something more than mere cold and casual allusions, is certainly due to the memory of those, from whom, under God, a happy posterity have received all their civil and religious blessings. And if ever the founders of a state, were entitled to live in the grateful remembrance of all generations, this honor belongs, pre-eminently, to the first settlers of New England.
What though they could not boast their descent from the fabled demi-gods of Latium, or Troy; what though no royal arms emblazoned their escutcheons; what though their achievements and sufferings are not enshrined in the golden numbers of a Homer, or a Virgil ; and they have left us no triumphal arches, nor sculptured monuments, nor exquisite paintings; no Belvidere Apollo, no cemented manuscripts, no wide marble wastes,' and no Fuit llium : surely we need not lament this want of royal and classical renown, when the legacy of our fathers contains so much, that is infinitely better. For while in daring and fortitude, they did not come behind the most renowned adventurers of antiquity, they possessed moral and religious qualities, which as far out-shone all the heathen virtues, as the brightness of the sun transcends the ignited vapors of the stagnant pool. Instead of imported stars and purple, they bequeathed io their children the plain, homespun robe of republicanism. Instead of hereditary titles, they left their invaluable christian counsels and example. To supply the want of literature and the fine arts, we have their laws and institutions, which, with some few exceptions hereafter to be specified, bear the stamp of transcendent wisdom and forecast.
And blessed be God, instead of ruins, the deserted memorials of former greatness, we have the busy hum of commercial enterprize in the large and flourishing towns on our sea-board.
We have a thousand siniling villages, and innumerable well cultivated farms within our borders; and there are immense forests in the west, which are daily falling before the sons of New England. We have Colleges too, founded by the piety and munificence of our fathers; and a vast number of elementary schools, for which we are primarily indebted to their wise and liberal policy. And what is more than all, we have derived from the same source, the heaven-born institutions of the Gospel; the holy sabbath, the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments. If we have no ruined temples of massy stone and exquisite workmanship to boast of, we have thousands of neat and spacious churches, in which the God of Abraham deigns to dwell, and to bless his American Israel.
Surely, the Pilgrims who were driven by persecution across the ocean into a savage wilderness, and to whom their descendants are indebted for richer blessings than any other people ever enjoyed, ought to be had in everlasting remembrance. But let us not in celebrating their virtues, forget who it was that endowed them with such uncommon wisdom and piety ; that brought them bither on the wings of the wind; and that made the hungry to dwell here, that they might prepare a city for habitation.' We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst aflict the people, and cast them out. For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them ; but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favor unto them. Had this passage been designed by the sacred writer, for the present celebration, it could not have been more appropriate: and were our fathers, now permitted to appear, and write their own memorial in the skies, it would most certainly begin and end with-Not unto us, O Lord; not unto us, but to thy name give glory. Let us then, throughout these joyful solemnities, keep our eye steadily fixed upon the hand of God, scarcely less visible in the first settlement and subsequent prosperity of New England, than it had been, in behalf of his ancient covenant people.
To do full justice to this subject, in all its branches, would require talents and piety of the first order, leisurely employed in collecting, arranging, and digesting materials for several volumes. Though much has been written in professed history, annals, and biographical sketches, such a work as the world has a right to demand, is still a desideratum. Nothing has yet been executed, on a plan sufficiently broad and comprehensive. We have, so far as I am informed, no full length portrait of our Puritan ancestors, in the light and shade of their manifold sufferings, for righteousness' sake; of their religious principles and christian example ; of their government, laws, institutions, and usages, and of the combined influence of all these, upon the character and happiness of their descendants. Without detracting, therefore, from the merits of what has been already presented to the public in various forms, we may surely indulge a wish, that something more full and perfect might be attempted. It must be obvious, upon a moment's reflection, that the limits of a single discourse, though of uncommon length, will barely admit of a very general and rapid outline.The utmost to which I can aspire on this occasion, is to exhibit a brief and intelligible sketch, of the ordering and protection of a wise and mysterious providence, in the sufferings, perils, and deliverances of our Puritan fathers -together with the prominent features of their character, and the happy result of their prayers and labors, in the unexampled prosperity of six generations.
In briefly tracing the chain of events, which led to the settlement of New England, I shall begin with the tyrannical reign of Henry the eighth. That prince, when he mounted the throne of England, in 1509, was an obedient son of the Papacy; and early took the field, as a theological disputant, in defence of the seven sacraments, against the powerful attacks of Luther, the great German Reformer. This performance was so highly acceptable to the Pope, that he conferred upon Henry and his successors the glorious title of DEFENDER OF THE FAITH.