Chapter IX.

From: Grandfather’s Chair (1841)
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Published: E. P. Peabody 1841 Boston


  THE children were now accustomed to assemble round Grandfather’s chair, at all their unoccupied moments; and often it was a striking picture to behold the white-headed old sire, with this flowery wreath of young people around him. When he talked to them, it was the past speaking to the present—or rather to the future, for the children were of a generation which had not become actual. Their part in life, thus far, was only to be happy, and to draw knowledge from a thousand sources. As yet, it was not their time to do.

  Sometimes, as Grandfather gazed at their fair, unworldly countenances, a mist of tears bedimmed his spectacles. He almost regretted that it was necessary for them to know any thing of the past, or to provide aught for the future. He could have wished that they might be always the happy, youthful creatures, who had hitherto sported around his chair, without inquiring whether it had a history. It grieved him to think that his little Alice, who was a flower-bud fresh from paradise, must open her leaves to the rough breezes of the world, or ever open them in any clime. So sweet a child she was, that it seemed fit her infancy should be immortal!

  But such repinings were merely flitting shadows across the old man’s heart. He had faith enough to believe, and wisdom enough to know, that the bloom of the flower would be even holier and happier than its bud. Even within himself—though Grandfather was now al that period of life, when the veil of mortality is apt to hang heavily over the soul—still in his inmost being, he was conscious of something, that he would not have exchanged for the best happiness of childhood. It was a bliss to which every sort of earthly experience—all that he had enjoyed or suffered, or seen, or heard, or acted, with the broodings of his soul upon the whole—had contributed somewhat. In the same manner must a bliss, of which now they could have no conception, grow up within these children, and form a part of their sustenance for immortality.

  So Grandfather, with renewed cheerfulness, continued his history of the chair, trusting that a profounder wisdom than his own would extract, from these flowers and weeds of Time, a fragrance that might last beyond all time.

  At this period of the story, Grandfather threw a glance backward, as far as the year 1660. He spoke of the ill-concealed reluctance with which the Puritans in America had- acknowledged the sway of Charles the Second, on his restoration to his father’s throne. When death had stricken Oliver Cromwell, that mighty protector had no sincerer mourners than in New England. The new king had been more than a year upon the throne before his accession was proclaimed in Boston; although the neglect to perform the ceremony might have subjected the rulers to a charge of treason.

  During the reign of Charles the Second, however, the American colonies had but little reason to complain of harsh or tyrannical treatment. But when Charles died, in 1685, and was succeeded by his brother James, the patriarchs of New England began to tremble. King James was a bigoted Roman Catholic, and was known to be of an arbitrary temper. It was feared by all Protestants, and chiefly by the Puritans, that he would assume despotic power, and attempt to establish, Popery throughout his dominions. Our forefathers felt that they had no security either for their religion or their liberties.

  The result proved that they had reason for their apprehensions. King James caused the charters of all the American colonies to be taken away. The old charter of Massachusetts, which the people regarded as a holy thing, and as the foundation of all their liberties, was declared void. The colonists were now no longer free-men; they were entirely dependent on the king’s pleasure. At first, in 1685, King James appointed Joseph Dudley, a native of Massachusetts, to be president of New England. But soon afterwards, Sir Edmund Andros, an officer of the English army, arrived, with a commission to be governor-general of New England and New York.

  The king had given such powers to Sir Edmund Andros, that there was now no liberty, nor scarcely any law, in the colonies over which he ruled. The inhabitants were not allowed to choose representatives, and consequently had no voice whatever in the government, nor control over the measures that were adopted. The counsellors, with whom the governor consulted on matters of state, were appointed by himself. This sort of government was no better than an absolute despotism.

  “The people suffered much wrong, while Sir Edmund Andros ruled over them,” continued Grandfather, “and they were apprehensive of much more. He had brought some soldiers with him from England, who took possession of the old fortress on Castle Island, and of the fortification on Fort Hill. Sometimes it was rumored, that a general massacre of the inhabitants was to be perpetrated by these soldiers. There were reports, too, that all the ministers were to be slain or imprisoned.”

  “For what?” inquired Charley.

  “Because they were the leaders of the people, Charley,” said Grandfather. “A minister was a more formidable man than a general, in those days. Well; while these things were going on in America, King James had so misgoverned the people of England, that they sent over to Holland for the Prince of Orange. He had married the king’s daughter, and was therefore considered to have a claim to the crown. On his arrival in England, the Prince of Orange was proclaimed king, by the name of William the Third. Poor old King James made his escape to France.”

  Grandfather told how, at the first intelligence of the landing of the Prince of Orange in England, the people of Massachusetts rose in their strength, and overthrew the government of Sir Edmund Andros. He, with Joseph Dudley, Edmund Randolph, and his other principal adherents, were thrown into prison. Old Simon Bradstreet, who had been governor when King James took away the charter, was called by the people to govern them again.

  “Governor Bradstreet was a venerable old man, nearly ninety years of age,” said Grandfather. “He came over with the first settlers, and had been the intimate companion of all those excellent and famous men who laid the foundation of our country. They were all gone before him to the grave; and Bradstreet was the last of the Puritans.”

  Grandfather paused a moment, and smiled, as if he had something very interesting to tell his auditors. He then proceeded:

  “And now, Laurence—now, Clara—now, Charley—now, my dear little Alice—what chair do you think had been placed in the council chamber, for old Governor Bradstreet to take his seat in? Would you believe that it was this very chair in which Grandfather now sits, and of which he is telling you the history?”

  “I am glad to hear it, with all my heart!” cried Charley, after a shout of delight. “I thought Grandfather had quite forgotten the chair.”

  “It was a solemn and affecting sight,” said Grandfather, “when this venerable patriarch, with his white beard flowing down upon his breast, took his seat in the Chair of State. Within his remembrance, and even since his mature age, the site where now stood the populous town, had been a wild and forest-covered peninsula. The province, now so fertile, and spotted with thriving villages, had been a desert wilderness. He was surrounded by a shouting multitude, most of whom had been born in the country which he had helped to found. They were of one generation, and he of another. As the old man looked upon them, and beheld new faces everywhere, he must have felt that it was now time for him to go, whither his brethren had gone before him.”

  “Were the former governors all dead and gone?” asked Laurence.

  “All of them,” replied Grandfather, “Winthrop had been dead forty years. Endicott died, a very old man, in 1665. Sir Henry Vane was beheaded in London, at the beginning of the reign of Charles the Second. And Haynes, Dudley, Bellingham, and Leverett, who had all been governors of Massachusetts, were now likewise in their graves. Old Simon Bradstreet was the sole representative of that departed brotherhood. There was no other public man remaining to connect the ancient system of government and manners with the new system, which was about to take its place. The era of the Puritans was now completed.”

  “I am sorry for it,” observed Laurence; “for, though they were so stern, yet it seems to me that there was something warm and real about them. I think, Grandfather, that each of these old governors should have his statue set up in our State House, sculptured out of the hardest of New England granite.”

  “It would not be amiss, Laurence,” said Grandfather; “but perhaps clay, or some other perishable material, might suffice for some of their successors. But let us go back to our chair. It was occupied by Governor Bradstreet from April, 1689, until May, 1692. Sir William Phips then arrived in Boston, with a new charter from King William, and a commission to be governor.”

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