The prophecy of Samuel Sewall that Christians should be found in Newbury so long as pigeons shall roost on its oaks and Indian corn grows in Oldtown fields remains still true, and we trust will always remain so.
Yet, as of old, the evil personage sometimes intrudes himself into company too good for him. It was said in the witchcraft trials of 1692 that Satan baptized his converts at Newbury Falls, the scene, probably, of one of Hawthorne's weird _Twice Told Tales_; and there is a tradition that, in the midst of a heated controversy between one of Newbury's painful ministers and his deacon, who (anticipating Garrison by a century) ventured to doubt the propriety of clerical slaveholding, the Adversary made his appearance in the shape of a black giant stalking through Byfield. It was never, I believe, definitely settled whether he was drawn there by the minister's zeal in defence of slavery or the deacon's irreverent denial of the minister's right and duty to curse Canaan in the person of his negro.
Old Newbury has sometimes been spoken of as ultra-conservative and hostile to new ideas and progress, but this is not warranted by its history. More than two centuries ago, when Major Pike, just across the river, stood up and denounced in open town meeting the law against freedom of conscience and worship, and was in consequence fined and outlawed, some of Newbury's best citizens stood bravely by him. The town took no part in the witchcraft horror, and got none of its old women and town charges hanged for witches, "Goody" Morse had the spirit rappings in her house two hundred years earlier than the Fox girls did, and somewhat later a Newbury minister, in wig and knee-buckles, rode, Bible in hand, over to Hampton to lay a ghost who had materialized himself and was stamping up and down stairs in his military boots.
Newbury's ingenious citizen, Jacob Perkins, in drawing out diseases with his metallic tractors, was quite as successful as modern "faith and mind"
doctors. The Quakers, whipped at Hampton on one hand and at Salem on the other, went back and forth unmolested in Newbury, for they could make no impression on its iron-clad orthodoxy. Whitefield set the example, since followed by the Salvation Army, of preaching in its streets, and now lies buried under one of its churches with almost the honors of sainthood.
William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newbury. The town must be regarded as the Alpha and Omega of anti-slavery agitation, beginning with its abolition deacon and ending with Garrison. Puritanism, here as elsewhere, had a flavor of radicalism; it had its humorous side, and its ministers did not hesitate to use wit and sarcasm, like Elijah before the priests of Baal. As, for instance, the wise and learned clergyman, Puritan of the Puritans, beloved and reverenced by all, who has just laid down the burden of his nearly one hundred years, startled and shamed his brother ministers who were zealously for the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, by preparing for them a form of prayer for use while engaged in catching runaway slaves.
I have, I fear, dwelt too long upon the story and tradition of the old town, which will doubtless be better told by the orator of the day. The theme is to me full of interest. Among the blessings which I would gratefully own is the fact that my lot has been cast in the beautiful valley of the Merrimac, within sight of Newbury steeples, Plum Island, and Crane Neck and Pipe Stave hills.
Let me, in closing, pay something of the debt I have owed from boyhood, by expressing a sentiment in which I trust every son of the ancient town will unite: Joshua Coffin, historian of Newbury, teacher, scholar, and antiquarian, and one of the earliest advocates of slave emancipation. May his memory be kept green, to use the words of Judge Sewall, "so long as Plum island keeps its post and a sturgeon leaps in Merrimac River."
Amesbury, 6th Month, 1885.
To Rev. Charles Wingate, Hon. James H. Carleton, Thomas B. Garland, Esq., Committee of Students of Haverhill Academy:
DEAR FRIENDS,--I was most agreeably surprised last evening by receiving your carefully prepared and beautiful Haverhill Academy Album, containing the photographs of a large number of my old friends and schoolmates. I know of nothing which could have given me more pleasure. If the faces represented are not so unlined and ruddy as those which greeted each other at the old academy, on the pleasant summer mornings so long ago, when life was before us, with its boundless horizon of possibilities, yet, as I look over them, I see that, on the whole, Time has not been hard with us, but has touched us gently. The hieroglyphics he has traced upon us may, indeed, reveal something of the cares, trials, and sorrows incident to humanity, but they also tell of generous endeavor, beneficent labor, developed character, and the slow, sure victories of patience and fortitude. I turn to them with the proud satisfaction of feeling that I have been highly favored in my early companions, and that I have not been disappointed in my school friendships. The two years spent at the academy I have always reckoned among the happiest of my life, though I have abundant reason for gratitude that, in the long, intervening years, I have been blessed beyond my deserving.
It has been our privilege to live in an eventful period, and to witness wonderful changes since we conned our lessons together. How little we then dreamed of the steam car, electric telegraph, and telephone! We studied the history and geography of a world only half explored. Our country was an unsolved mystery. "The Great American Desert" was an awful blank on our school maps. We have since passed through the terrible ordeal of civil war, which has liberated enslaved millions, and made the union of the States an established fact, and no longer a doubtful theory. If life is to be measured not so much by years as by thoughts, emotion, knowledge, action, and its opportunity of a free exercise of all our powers and faculties, we may congratulate ourselves upon really outliving the venerable patriarchs. For myself, I would not exchange a decade of my own life for a century of the Middle Ages, or a "cycle of Cathay."
Let me, gentlemen, return my heartiest thanks to you, and to all who have interested themselves in the preparation of the Academy Album, and assure you of my sincere wishes for your health and happiness.
OAK KNOLL, DANVERS, 12th Month, 25, 1885.
EDWIN PERCY WHIPPLE.
I have been pained to learn of the decease of nay friend of many years, Edwin P. Whipple. Death, however expected, is always something of a surprise, and in his case I was not prepared for it by knowing of any serious failure of his health. With the possible exception of Lowell and Matthew Arnold, he was the ablest critical essayist of his time, and the place he has left will not be readily filled.
Scarcely inferior to Macaulay in brilliance of diction and graphic portraiture, he was freer from prejudice and passion, and more loyal to the truth of fact and history. He was a thoroughly honest man. He wrote with conscience always at his elbow, and never sacrificed his real convictions for the sake of epigram and antithesis. He instinctively took the right side of the questions that came before him for decision, even when by so doing he ranked himself with the unpopular minority. He had the manliest hatred of hypocrisy and meanness; but if his language had at times the severity of justice, it was never merciless. He "set down naught in malice."
Never blind to faults, he had a quick and sympathetic eye for any real excellence or evidence of reserved strength in the author under discussion.
He was a modest man, sinking his own personality out of sight, and he always seemed to me more interested in the success of others than in his own. Many of his literary contemporaries have had reason to thank him not only for his cordial recognition and generous praise, but for the firm and yet kindly hand which pointed out deficiencies and errors of taste and judgment. As one of those who have found pleasure and profit in his writings in the past, I would gratefully commend them to the generation which survives him. His _Literature of the Age of Elizabeth_ is deservedly popular, but there are none of his Essays which will not repay a careful study. "What works of Mr. Baxter shall I read?" asked Boswell of Dr. Johnson. "Read any of them," was the answer, "for they are all good."
He will have an honored place in the history of American literature. But I cannot now dwell upon his authorship while thinking of him as the beloved member of a literary circle now, alas sadly broken. I recall the wise, genial companion and faithful friend of nearly half a century, the memory of whose words and acts of kindness moistens my eyes as I write.
It is the inevitable sorrow of age that one's companions must drop away on the right hand and the left with increasing frequency, until we are compelled to ask with Wordsworth,--
"Who next shall fall and disappear?"
But in the case of him who has just passed from us, we have the satisfaction of knowing that his life-work has been well and faithfully done, and that he leaves behind him only friends.
DANVERS, 6th Month, 18, 1886.