Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Some Figures of the Past
By Josiah Quincy (18021882)
[Born in Boston, Mass., 1802. Died at Quincy, Mass., 1882. Figures of the Past. 1883.]
IN CUPIDS GROVE.
I HAVE mentioned the meeting-house as associated with President Adams, and as giving character to his native town. But there was another locality in Quincy which was a still more interesting resort for its inhabitants; at least, during the earlier portions of their lives. Among my boyish recollections there is distinctly visible a very pretty hill, which rose from the banks of the river, or what passed for one, and was covered with trees of the original forest growth. This was known as Cupids Grove; and it had been known under that title for at least three generations, and perhaps from the settlement of the town. The name suggests the purposes to which this sylvan spot was dedicated. It was the resort of the lovers of the vicinage, or of those who, if circumstances favored, might become so. The trunks of the trees were cut and scarred all over with the initials of ladies who were fair and beloved, or who once had been so; for it was then the fashion to pay modest maidens a compliment which would be now thought in very doubtful taste. But, as Shakespeare makes his Orlandoa fine, spirited fellow and very much of a gentlemancut the name of Rosalind upon every available bit of timber in the forest of Arden, it will not be necessary to apologize for the habits of my contemporaries in this respect. It is sad to mention that poor Cupid has long been driven from his sanctuary, which has suffered violence at the hands of his brother god of heathendom, who has so often gotten the better of him. Plutus strode by that humble hillock, and straightway the grove was cut down and sold for firewood; and not only this, but the little eminence itself was purchased for its gravel, and under that form, as I believe, has been dumped upon the vulgar highway. The fate of Cupids Grove is typical of that of the romance which was associated with places of this nature in our older New England towns. In the days when there were no public libraries, no travelling operas, no theatre trains,when, in fact, the one distraction of the week was going to meeting,who can wonder that the flowery paths leading to the domestic circle were more frequented than at present?
In those old times it happened that a certain young lawyer, named John Adams, was wont to visit a good deal at the house of a great-grandfather of mine, who had a large landed estate and several daughters; and the family tradition is that one of these ladies was not wholly uninteresting to the young fellow, who had just begun his struggle with the world. Just what it all amounted to it is impossible to say, at this distance of time; neither would it be well to say it, even if it were possible. The historical facts are that my great-aunt married Ebenezer Storera gentleman of some pretension, who was for forty years treasurer of Harvard Collegeand that young Adams married Miss Abigail Smith. Eventful years rolled by, and I, a young man, just entering life, was deputed to attend my venerable relative on a visit to the equally venerable ex-President. Both parties were verging upon their ninetieth year. They had met very infrequently, if at all, since the days of their early intimacy. When Mrs. Storer entered the room, the old gentlemans face lighted up, as he exclaimed, with ardor, What! Madam, shall we not go walk in Cupids Grove together? To say the truth, the lady seemed somewhat embarrassed by this utterly unlooked-for salutation. It seemed to hurry her back through the past with such rapidity as fairly to take away her breath. But self-possession came at last, and with it a suspicion of girlish archness, as she replied, Ah, sir, it would not be the first time that we have walked there!
AS the present paper has had so much concern with Mr. Webster, I will conclude it by giving an incident which occurred some years afterward, and which will show the overwhelming effect which his mere personal presence wrought upon men. The route between Boston and New York by the way of New Haven had just been opened, and I was occupying a seat with Mr. Webster when the cars stopped at the latter city. Mr. Webster was not quite well, and, saying that he thought it would be prudent to take some brandy, asked me to accompany him in search of it. We accordingly entered a bar-room near the station, and the order was given. The attendant, without looking at his customer, mechanically took a decanter from a shelf behind him and placed it near some glasses on the counter. Just as Webster was about to help himself, the bar-tender, happening to look up, started, as if he had seen a spirit, and cried Stop! with great vehemence. He then took the decanter from Websters hand, replaced it on the shelf whence it came, and disappeared beneath the counter. Rising from these depths, he bore to the surface an old-fashioned black bottle, which he substituted for the decanter. Webster poured a small quantity into a glass, drank it off with great relish, and threw down half a dollar in payment. The bar-keeper began to fumble in a drawer of silver, as if selecting some smaller pieces for change: whereupon Webster waved his hand with dignity and with rich and authoritative tones pronounced these words: My good friend, let me offer you a piece of advice. Whenever you give that good brandy from under the counter, never take the trouble to make change. As we turned to go out, the dealer in liquors placed one hand upon the bar, threw himself over it, and caught me by the arm. Tell me who that man is! he cried with genuine emotion. He is Daniel Webster, I answered. The man paused, as if to find words adequate to convey the impression made upon him, and then exclaimed in a fervent half-whisper, By Heaven, sir, that man should be President of the United States! The adjuration was stronger than I have written it; but it was not uttered profanely,it was simply the emphasis of an overpowering conviction. The incident was but a straw upon the current; but it illustrates the commanding magnetism of Webster. Without asking the reason, men once subjected to his spell were compelled to love, to honor, and (so some cynics would wish to add) to forgive him. No man of mark ever satisfied the imagination so completely.
THERE were some half-a-dozen houses on the avenue leading from the colleges to Sweet Auburn; they had been built before the Revolution, and were abandoned by their tory proprietors. The largest and most conspicuous was the fine mansion which had been the headquarters of Washington, and which has since gained additional interest as the residence of the poet Longfellow. It was then occupied by Mrs. Craigie, the widow of a gentleman very notable in his day. He had made a large fortune by buying up government promises, and by other speculations during the Revolution. He kept a princely bachelors establishment at the old house, and was in the habit of exercising a generous hospitality. A curious story relating to his marriage was current among his contemporaries, and there can be now no harm in giving it as I have heard it from their lips.
A great garden party had been given by Mr. Craigie, and all the fashion and beauty of Boston were assembled in his spacious grounds. The day was perfect, the entertainment was lavish, and the company were bent on enjoying themselves. Smiles and deference met the host upon every side, and new-comers were constantly arriving to pay that homage to wealth and sumptuous liberality which from imperfect mortals they have always elicited. Craigie! exclaimed an intimate friend to the host during one of the pauses of compliment, what can man desire that you have not got? Here are riches, friends, a scene of enchantment like this, and you the master of them all! I am the most miserable of men! was the startling reply. Tf you doubt it, you shall know my secret: do you see those two young ladies just turning down the walk? Well, they are both engaged, and with one of them I am desperately in love. There was no time for more, for the crowd again surged round the host, and the friend was left to meditate upon the revelation which had been made. One of the ladies who had been pointed out was a great beauty of the time, and it so happened that Mr. Craigies confidant was on very intimate terms with her family. It was well known that the match she was about to make did not gratify the ambitious views of her relations. Now whether Mr. Craigies friend betrayed his secret to the father of this young person cannot certainly be known; but the current report was that he did so. At all events, shortly after the garden party, he broke in upon the Crsus of Cambridge with an exultant air, exclaiming, Craigie. I have come to tell you glorious news; the coast is clear; Miss has broken off her engagement! Why, what the deuce is that to me? was the disappointing reply. Good heavens, man, dont you remember telling me that you were desperately in love with one of the young ladies you pointed out at the garden party? To be sure I did, sighed Mr. Craigie, but unfortunately I referred to the other young lady.
Now there is a fallacy of which logicians warn us, and which they designate as the fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Bearing this in mind, it seems quite clear that the disclosure that was made respecting the supposed state of Mr. Craigies affections had nothing whatever to do with the dissolution of the young ladys engagement. It was undoubtedly only one of those queer coincidences which seem to connect, events that have really no connection with one another. And this is the more probable because another of these strange freaks of chance is found in the sequel of the story. For it happenedor was said to have happenedthat the other young lady subsequently found good reason to break off her engagement, and, as Mrs. Craigie, came to preside over all future garden parties.
ABOUT ten the next morning I called upon Mr. Randolph, and was admitted to his bedchamber. He was sitting in flannel dressing-gown and slippers, looking very thin, but with a strange fire in his swarthy face. He seemed more like a spiritual presence than a man adequately clothed in flesh and blood .
Before I visited Mr. Randolph again, I had listened with admiration to his wonderful improvisations in the Senate, and had determined to get at his views about the oratory of Patrick Henry, of which I had heard John Adams speak in terms of some disparagement. I accordingly put a question which I supposed would call out a panegyric upon the orator of Virginia. I asked who was the greatest orator he had ever heard. The reply was startling, from its unexpectedness. The greatest orator I ever heard, said Randolph, was a woman. She was a slave. She was a mother, and her rostrum was the auction-block. He then rose and imitated with thrilling pathos the tones with which this woman had appealed to the sympathy and justice of the bystanders, and finally the indignation with which she denounced them. There was eloquence! he said. I have heard no man speak like that. It was overpowering! He sat down and paused for some moments; then, evidently feeling that he had been imprudent in expressing himself so warmly before a visitor from the North, he entered upon a defence of the policy of Southern statesmen in regard to slavery. We must concern ourselves with what is, he said, and slavery exists. We must preserve the rights of the States, as guaranteed by the Constitution, or the negroes are at our throats. The question of slavery, as it is called, is to us a question of life and death. Remember, it is a necessity imposed on the South; not a Utopia of our own seeking. You will find no instance in history where two distinct races have occupied the soil except in the relation of master and slave. I brought away only these few fragments of an elaborate defence of the course which he and other Southerners felt compelled to pursue; but they give its nature with sufficient clearness.