Address to the Boston school children (1865).
On Tuesday forenoon, July 28, 1865, the Seventy-Second Annual Festival of the Public Schools
took place in Music Hall.
There was, as usual, a densely crowded attendance of the parents and friends of the children.
The hall was handsomely decorated for the occasion.
The choir of children numbered twelve hundred, under the direction of Mr. Carl Zerrahn
Addresses were made by Mayor Lincoln
, Rev. Henry Burroughs, Jr.
, Hon. Richard H. Dana
, and Wendell Phillips
“I spoke without gesture,” Mr. Phillips
says, “fearing if I moved a finger, I should topple over on one side and fall into Mayor Lincoln
Fellow-Citizens: I was invited by the Mayor
to address the scholars of the schools of Boston
, but like my friend Mr. Dana
, who preceded me, I hardly know in what direction to look in the course of this address for the scholars.
I can hardly turn my back on them, nor can I turn my back on you. I shall have to make a compromise,--that everlasting refuge of Americans
[Applause.] I recollect, when I was in college, that when a classmate came upon the stage we could recognize in the audience where the family, the mother, or sister were, by noticing him when he made his first bow. He would look toward them, and they would invariably bow in return.
By this inevitable sign, I have distinguished many a mother, sister, and father among the audience to-day.
This is the first time for many years that I have participated in a school festival.
I have received no invitation since 1824, when I was a little boy in a class in a Latin school, when we were turned out in a grand procession on yonder Common at nine o'clock in the morning.
And for what?
Not to hear eloquent music.
No; but for the sight of something better than art or music, that thrilled more than eloquence, a sight which should live in the memory forever, the best sight which Boston
ever saw,--the welcome to Lafayette
on his return to this country after an absence of a score of years.
I can boast, boys and girls, more than you. I can boast that these eyes have beheld the hero of three revolutions; this hand has touched the right hand that held up Hancock
Not all this glorious celebration can equal that glad reception of the nation's benefactor by all that Boston
could offer him,--a sight of its children.
It was a long procession, and, unlike other processions, we started punctually at the hour published.
They would not let us wander about, and did not wish us to sit down.
I there received my first lesson in hero-worship.
I was so tired after four hours waiting I could scarcely stand.
But when I saw him,--that glorious old Frenchman!--I could have stood until to-day.
Well, now, boys, these were very small times compared with this.
Our public examinations were held up in Boylston Hall.
I do not believe we ever afforded banners; I know we never had any music.
Now they take the classes out to walk on the Common at eleven o'clock. We were sent out into a small place eight feet by eleven, solid walls on one side and a paling on the other, which looked like a hencoop; there the public Latin scholars recreated themselves.
They were very small times compared with these.
As Mr. Dana
referred to the facilities and opportunities
that the Boston
boys enjoy, I could not but think what it is that makes the efficient man. Not by floating with the current; you must swim against it to develop strength and power.
The danger is that a boy, with all these facilities, books, and libraries, may never make that sturdy scholar, that energetic man, we would wish him to become.
When I look on such a scene as this, I go back to the precedent alluded to by you, sir, of him who travelled eighteen miles and worked all day to earn a book, and sat up all night to read it. By the side of me, in the same city of Boston
, sat a boy in the Latin School, who bought his dictionary with money earned by picking chestnuts.
Do you remember Cobbett
,--and Frederick Douglas
, whose eloquent notes still echo through the land, who learned to read from the posters on the highway; and Theodore Parker
, who laid the foundation of his library with the book for which he spent three weeks in picking berries?
Boys, you will not be moved to action by starvation and want.
Where will you get the motive power?
You will have the spur of ambition to be worthy of the fathers who have given you these opportunities.
Remember, boys, what fame it is that you bear up,--this old name of Boston
A certain well-known poet says it is the hub of the universe.
Well, this is a gentle and generous satire.
In Revolutionary days they talked of the Boston Revolution
When Samuel Johnson
wrote his work against the American
colonies, it was Boston
When the king could not sleep over night, he got up and muttered “Boston
When the proclamation of pardon was issued, the only two excepted were the two Boston
fanatics,--John Hancock and Sam Adams
[Applause.] But what did Boston
They sent Hancock
to write his name on the Declaration of Independence
in letters large enough,
almost, for the king to read on the other side of the ocean.
then meant liberty.
Come down to four or five years ago. What did Boston
mean when the South
went mad, and got up a new flag, and said they would put it in Boston
on Faneuil Hall?
It was Boston
that meant liberty, as Boston
had meant independence.
And when our troops went out in the last war, what was it that gave them their superiority?
It was the brains they carried from these schools.
When General Butler
was stopped near the Relay House
with a broken locomotive, he turned to the Eighth regiment, and asked if any one of them could mend it. A private walked out of the ranks, and patted it on the back and said, “I ought to know it; I made it.”
When we went down to Charleston
, and were kept seven miles off from the city, the Yankees
sent down a New Hampshire Parrott
that would send a two-hundred-pound shot into their midst.
The great ability of New England
has been proved
. Now, boys, the glory of a father is his children.
That father has done his work well who has left a child better than himself.
The German prayer is, “Lord
, grant I may be as well off to-morrow as yesterday!”
No Yankee ever uttered that prayer.
He always means that his son shall have a better :starting-point in life than himself.
The glory of a father is his children.
Our fathers made themselves independent seventy or eighty years ago. It remains for us to devote ourselves to liberty and the welfare of others, with the generous willingness to do toward others as we would have others do to us.
Now, boys, this is my lesson to you to-day.
You cannot be as good as your fathers, unless you are better.
You have your fathers' example,--the opportunities and ;advantages they have accumulated,--and to be only as .good is not enough.
You must be better.
copy only the spirit of your fathers, and not their imperfections.
There was an old Boston
merchant, years ago, who wanted a set of china made in Pekin
You know that Boston
men sixty years ago looked at both sides of a cent before they spent it, and if they earned twelve cents they would save eleven.
He could not spare a whole plate, so he sent a cracked one, and when he received the set, there was a crack in every piece.
had imitated the pattern exactly.
Now, boys, do not imitate us, or there will be a great many cracks.
Be better than we. We have invented a telegraph, but what of that?
I expect, if I live forty years, to see a telegraph that will send messages without wire, both ways at the same time.
If you do not invent it, you are not so good as we are. You are bound to go ahead of us. The old London
physician said the way to be well was to live on a sixpence, and earn it. That is education under the laws of necessity.
We cannot give you that.
Underneath you is the ever-watchful hand of city culture and wealth.
All the motive we can give you is the name you bear.
Bear it nobly!
I was in the West
where they partly love and partly hate the Yankee
A man undertook to explain the difference between a watch made in Boston
and one made in Chicago
He asked me what I thought of it. I answered him as a Boston man should: “We always do what we undertake to do thoroughly.”
That is Boston
has set the example of doing; do better.
Sir Robert Peel
said in the last hours of his life: “I have left the Queen
's service; I have held the highest offices in the gift of the Crown; and now, going out of public life [he had just removed bread from the tax-list], the happiest thought I have is that when the poor man breaks his bread in his cottage, he thanks God that I
Fellow-citizens, the warmest compliment I ever heard was breathed into my ears from the lips of a fugitive from South Carolina
In his hovel at home he said: “I thank God for Boston
; and I hope before I die I may tread upon its pavements.”
has meant liberty and protection.
See to it in all coming time, young men and women, you make it stand for good learning, upright character, sturdy love of liberty, willingness to be and do for others as you would have others be and do unto you. But make it, young men and women, make it a dread to every one who seeks to do evil.
Make it a home and a refuge for the oppressed of all lands.