An old-time picnic.
There is ever a charm in the reading of letters of earlier years, and this is especially true when the sentiments as expressed in the written words leave a pleasing impress of the writer's individuality, as disclosed by criticism and opinions regarding events and personal experiences. Such a charm, we think, attaches to a letter bearing date of Brookline, July 20, 1817, and written by Miss Fanny Searle1 to her sister, Mrs. Margaret Curzon,2 then at Havana, Cuba. In it is a description of an all-day excursion on the Middlesex canal on July 18, 1817. The readers of the Historical Register may be interested in it because of details which occurred in Medford. [p. 8] The picnic party consisted of a large gathering of what was best in the society of the old town of Boston. It was held at the ‘Lake of the Woods,’ now known as Horn pond, in Woburn. The Indian name was Innitou. There were represented the Winthrops, Quincys, Amorys, Sullivans, Grays, Masons, Tudors, Eliots, Cabots, and others. Daniel Webster and wife were also of the party. Mr. Webster was then thirty-five years of age. He had taken up his residence in Boston in August of the previous year. In the following year, 1818, he was to establish his fame at the bar by his matchless argument on the great Dartmouth college case before the Supreme Court of the United States. It is interesting to note, as we do in the letter, the impression made by Webster upon an educated and cultivated woman on a social occasion. His great career in the Senate began ten years later. But to quote from the letter. Space will not permit its insertion in full.
Since I last wrote, many pleasant things have happened to me particularly, of these the most prominent is a day passed on the Canal, and its shores; there was such a variety in the amusements of the day, and of so choice a kind, that I felt no fatigue from 9 in the morning till 10 at night. We entered the boat at Charlestown at 1/2 past 9. The party was too large to have any stiffness; indeed there was the utmost ease and good humor without sadness through the day. The shores of the Canal for most of the distance are beautiful. We proceeded at the rate of 3 miles an hour, drawn by two horses, to the most romantic spot (about 9 miles from Boston) that I ever beheld. The lake is about twice the size of Jamaica Pond or larger, and has a small wooded island in the center. On the island was a band of musicians which began to play as soon as we landed. It seemed a scene of enchantment; Cousin Kate who was by my side seemed too much affected to speak. We had many wits in the party and there was no lack of bon mots. The gentlemen played off upon each other, to our amusement. When spirits flagged, we had the resource of music. Five instruments, and vocal music from Mrs Quincy, Mr Callender and [p. 9] occasionally Mr Webster and young May,3 with whom I was very much pleased, and who discovered, I thought, true modest assurance, with very good sense. The ascent of the Canal was altogether new to me, and very interesting. It was all the pleasanter for having so many children to. whom it was likewise a novelty—especially the locks through which we passed. After landing, the children danced on the green under a tent or awning. Later we enjoyed an excellent cold dinner, which we were quite hungry enough to relish. The day was the hottest of the season. After lunch, we dispersed for an hour as best pleased us. We again re-entered the boat; tables were placed the whole length of it, on which were arranged fruit, wine, ice and glasses. It was the prevailing opinion that we had started for home too soon, so we landed at another delightful spot,4 where we stopped an hour. This was as pleasant an hour as any in the day, and here it was that I was particularly struck with May. We were standing on the edge of the pond and observed some pond lilies a little distance in the water, but too far to be reached from the shore. Some lady expressed a wish to have one. ‘Is there no gentleman spirited enough to come forward and get them’ said Mr Webster. ‘Is no one gallant enough, strange, 'tis very strange.’ May stood it so far, and then darted forward, urged on by Mr W. who said he was glad the days of chivalry were not over. ‘Very glad to see you have so much courage, Mr May.’ ‘It would have required more courage not to have done it, after the challenge I received,’ said May. ‘I claim no merit, Sir.’ ‘A little farther Sir’ said Mr Webster, ‘there is another on your right, one on the other side’ &c May went on until he was up to his middle. I besought Mr Webster not to urge him further. ‘Oh’ said he, ‘it does not hurt a young man to wet his feet. I would have gone myself, were it not for the ladies.’ May came up with his hands filled with lilies which he gave to Mr Webster, and he in turn gave one to each lady near. Mr Sullivan came up just then, and asked May what induced him to do it. ‘Mr Webster's eloquence’ said he. ‘It never brought me a lily before,’ said the Orator. ‘Though it has many laurels’ replied May. Mr W. bowed, and thus ended the little episode. [p. 10] I have not done justice to Mr Webster's words, look and manner. No words of mine can paint them to you. It always delights me to see him, and I was never so charmed with him as this day. To all the wit and power of mind of all the other gentlemen, he super-adds a tenderness and unaffected feeling that is seldom seen in his sex, and especially at his time of life, and in his pursuits. We again entered the boat, and pursued our course a few miles, stopping near a house5 which we did not enter, but where coffee was served in the boat. The children had another cotillion while the boat was descending the lock. We walked a short distance, got into the boat again, took coffee listened to sweet strains, saw the sun descend and the moon rise, and reached our place of debarkation just after the last tints of daylight had faded.Other parts of Miss Searle's letter are devoted to expressions of her intense enjoyment of the day as it passed, and its delightful retrospection, the chatty intimacy naturally existing between sisters, and her personal judgment of the various persons of the picnic party. As we read of the events of that perfect day, a hundred years ago, we find ourselves conjecturing as to whether, in after years, when, after some great debate in the Senate where his magnificent oratory had swept all before it, the ‘great expounder’ sought the quiet of his room, his thoughts would revert from the triumphs of forensic battles to those sylvan hours when he distributed to the ladies of that summer picnic party in Medford the water-lilies which his eloquence had inspired others to gather.
C. H. L.