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Address to the Boston school children (1865).

On Tuesday forenoon, July 28, 1865, the Seventy-Second Annual Festival of the Public Schools of Boston 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, Esq. “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's arms.”

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. [226]

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 and Washington. 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 [227] 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 he ridiculed. 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 do? They sent Hancock to Philadelphia to write his name on the Declaration of Independence in letters large enough, [228] almost, for the king to read on the other side of the ocean. Boston 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. You must [229] 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. The Chinese 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. 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 [230] ever lived.” 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.” Boston 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.

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