The “Chappel of Ease” and Church of Statesmen.


First Church of Christ in Quincy.

Rev. Mr. WILSON spoke as follows:—

  About fifty years ago when the town of Quincy and all the towns of old Braintree celebrated their two hundredth anniversary, the citizens were disappointed in not securing President John Quincy Adams to deliver the oration. The affair was likely to go by default, when the young men of the town came to the rescue, and without much regard to the older citizens went ahead and arranged the programme. One of the orators selected was the Rev. George Whitney, son of the venerated Parson Whitney; the young men’s choice for poet was another young man, Christopher Pearse Cranch. He is our poet to-day, his youthful spirit in no degree abated, his love for this church and town as great as ever. By name and descent he is our own, be is one of us; and it is with much satisfaction I extend your welcome to him on our two hundredth and fiftieth anniversary.


THE mild autumnal day
Is filled with visionary forms that pass
Before our sight as in some magic glass.
Along the horizon gray
The dim procession of ancestral shades
Appears, dissolves, and fades.
Grave, sad-robed fathers of the Church and State,
Matrons and mothers, mild-eyed and sedate,
And sober-suited youths and home-bred maids,
Pledged to maintain inviolate
New England’s earliest, dearest heritage,—
The faith and conduct of that sterner age.

Westward across the rough and unknown seas
We see them, an advancing, spreading host,—
Along the rocky coast
And ‘neath the forests of primeval trees
Building their simple states and villages;
And in their midst, like castles of defence
In mediæval days, to guard the tents
And cottages of those who clustered round,
Choosing a plot of ground
Whereon they found a church, though called by a name
Of more prosaic sound
Than in the stately cities whence they came,
Where proud cathedrals with their chanting choirs
Stretch their long aisles and lift their solemn spires.
Here first of all they rear
With pious hands and reverence austere
Their house of worship and of brotherhood,
Of prayer and praise and spiritual food,
Symbol supreme of trust and faith sincere.

Far back in shadowy lines the lives, the plans
Of those old Puritans
Lie sketched; and though to us their acrid creeds
Seem like the harsh and unripe fruits of spring,
Fitter for ancient Hebrews than for needs
Of Saxon men who fled from priest and king
And rituals outworn, to seek across the sea
A home for conscience and for liberty,
Let us believe their virtues far outweighed
Their faults, and note their sunshine, not their shade.
True to the essence of the doctrines taught
And to the lights they saw, they lived and wrought.
Earnest and brave, in this their new abode
They found amid the wilds a surer road
Toward freedom, union, purer Church and State.
Nothing effeminate
Or base was here. No rank malarial dews
Of courts corrupt unnerved their sturdy thews;
But like the keen salt breeze that swept along
Their shores o’er rocks and sands,
From unknown springs a spirit hale and strong
Inspired their hearts and hands.

Let not our wise noon-lighted century scorn
The narrow opening of their clouded morn.
The intolerance that allowed no light to shine
Beside their own in their crypt-guarded shrine,
Shut in and kept for future times a law
Of life and duty grander than they saw.
Our fathers sowed with stern humility,
But knew not what the harvest was to be.
More light, they said, would issue from God’s book,
Not knowing ‘twas the deeper, wiser look
The soul took of itself that gave them eyes to see.
From the rough gnarled root they planted here,
Through storm and sun, through patient hope and fear,
There grew a fair and ever-spreading tree,
With roots fast grappling in the granite rocks,
Unharmed by cold or drought or tempest shocks;
Fed by the sun and winds and seasons’ change,
It reared its trunk serenely tall and fair,
Its boughs diverging in the upper air
Of thought and liberty,
Loaded with leaves and blossoms rich and strange,
And promise of a fruitage yet to be
In the long centuries of futurity.

The slow-paced years and ages have moved on,
Through life and death and change, through peace and war
The vast historic eras come and gone;
And from the climes afar
Primeval woods and savage-haunted coasts
Filled with the gathering hosts,
Till strengthening, widening, great, united, free,
Stretches the mighty continent from sea to sea.

And with increase and change what marvels rise
Before our wondering eyes!
What new-found powers, what labyrinthine clews,
What heights, what depths, what vast encircling views!—
Religion, science, art, mechanic skill,
The enterprise of trade by seas and lands,
The teeming farm, the factory’s whirling mill;
Steam like a giant with a hundred hands;
The all-recording press
Brightening the dumb world’s dreary loneliness.
The voice and tone of distant friends brought near;
Sounds packed away for unborn ears to hear;
The lightning tamed, its blazing pinions furled,
Talking around a world
By science, law, humanity subdued
To peaceful brotherhood;
Or linked to bands and armatures of steel
Compelled to tasks of lever and of wheel,
Or caged in moony globes with dazzling ray
Turning the night to day.
No chemic power, unchallenged, undecoyed,
No blind telluric force left unemployed;
All matter subject to the imperial mind,
Prompt to the advantage of all human kind;
The mystic stars themselves reveal to man
In prismic hues defined
Their secret essence and their primal plan.
All Nature stoops and serves. The very sun
We apprentice as a painter. Earth and heaven are won
To run the errands of man’s shrewdest thought.
In this vast net the universe is caught;
While in a larger air his spirit tends
Toward diviner ends,
Dissolving old beliefs, affirming new,
Leaving the false behind to grasp the true;
Or ranging through the sister realm of art
Far from the crowded mart,
Pursuing forms of beauty and of power,
Like bees from flower to flower.
And e’en Theology, resisting long
The light, shut in her fortress grim and strong,
Endures at last the change,
And through all sects assumes a loftier range,
Untangling with wise skill the threads perplexed
Of fundamental truth and Bible text,
Dividing the pure essence from the old
Imprisoning form, the earth-dross from the gold,
The frigid product from the warm intent,
The transitory from the permanent;
No more mid strife of Antinomian wars,
Fearing the fading of its guiding stars.
From miracles and legends quaint unbound,
No mud of Genesis can clog the feet
Of those who tread the undisputed ground
Of natural law, eternal and complete,
And between science and religion see
No conflict, but perpetual amity.

Thus freed from close-walled alleys of the past
For broad highways toward vistas grand and vast,
For us the gates of knowledge open wide,
And the soul’s shining leaders side by side
Lead onward far beyond the clouded zone
Of dogmas long outgrown.
A broader faith has risen above the rim
Of the horizon, sad, perplexed, and dim,
Wherein our fathers saw
The limits of religion, truth, and law.
The frowning visage of a creed austere,
The visions born of superstitious fear,
The paralyzing touch that laid its ban
On the free instincts of the natural man,
The curse that like a shadow followed him
With sure relentless pace,
The imagined sins, detectives vague and grim,
The dark satanic mask upon the face
Of an all-loving Father, fade away
In a serener day.
No stern, inevitable doom forbids
The guests of heaven and earth to share their feast;
No sad-eyed morning opes its heavy lids.
The kindling day is all one boundless east
For us, if only true
To the great lights that broaden on our view.

But let us not forget how firm and fast
The present is still rooted in the past;
Nor, while rejoicing in our ampler space,
The slow steep steps behind us fail to trace,—
To note how gradual is the growth of truth,
How old experience dates its forms from youth.
So, looking back to those who built the shrine,
And met to hear half truths they deemed divine,
We know our fathers planted here the root
Of which the sons possess the flower and fruit.
And fitting ‘t is we celebrate to-day
With music, wise discourse, and poet’s lay,
And floral offerings gay,
The first small gathering of one little band,
The simple house in a wild alien land,
Whose spiritual corner-stone we trust
Still stands, although its founders sleep in dust.

These walls, why are they reared?
Not only for old memories long endeared,
Nor to perpetuate
Sacred traditions of an olden date;
But for truth loosed from tyrannizing creeds,
And proved in doctrines less than in the deeds;
For weekly interludes of thought and prayer,
Seclusions of release from work and care,
Serene transitions from the world of sense
To the heart’s inmost fortress of defence;
For upright lives, for strength and love and grace;
For service of our country and our race;
For symbols of the unseen world that lies
About and in us, loftier than the skies,
Deeper than earth and sea, amid the war
Of worldly aims the soul’s unchanging star
Of safety in the stress
And tide of passion and of selfishness.

And gladly would we note the noble lives,
The names whose memory in this place survives
In golden gleams along the historic thread
That binds the living to the immortal dead:
Those who through stormy days of battles grim
The struggling nation’s counsels wisely led;
And when her pathway grew perplexed and dim,
And help was far, and hope seemed almost fled,
Lifted her drooping head.
Those who as rulers and ambassadors maintained
The strength, the truth, the honor we had gained,
And through successive generations made
One name illustrious, which shall never fade;
Joined with another of an old renown,—
The name that blends with Harvard’s classic shade,
And syllables your old familiar town.

Nor less should we forget the worthy sons
And daughters who through centuries lived and died
Unknown to fame. The muse of history shuns
Their hidden records; gathered side by side
In yonder burial-ground, they leave no signs
Save in the half-obliterated lines
That tell their birth, their death. Yet not in vain,
Fathers and mothers, were your humble lives;
Each in its turn an influence that survives,
A light that shines again
In sacred memories, and in hearths and homes,
Vital as greater names that gild historic tomes.

And here permit, if memory recalls
How fifty years ago within these walls,—
Ah, crude and callow time!—
The voice you hear intoned a youthful rhyme
To celebrate the founding of this town,
Then wearing its well-earned two-centuried crown.
Ah, fleeting years of youth! Ah, passage strange
Of scenes since then; mysterious change on change!
The venerated forms that linked my life
With ancestors revered; the joy, the strife,
The blithe companionship of younger days,
The opening vistas and the untried ways
All fade in broken visions of the past;
Yet in the mould of later years recast
They take a shape that old experience lends.
Life is not loss, but gain and growth to ends
Youth could not know, and never could foresee.
And for such faith what shrine more fit than this,
Where past and present meet as with a kiss,—
This temple consecrated in the fires
Of toil and thought through a long line of sires;
Here where the old beliefs bloom out in free
Full blossom in the soul’s calm liberty,
And thoughts unknown to ancient Church or State
Through daily life now throb and penetrate.

Here may the newer faith accept and hold
All sound and reverent virtue of the old;
No lamps of vital worship left untrimmed,
No high ideal dimmed;
No genuine buddings of a noble life
Hurt by the honest thinker’s pruning knife,
While thought and feeling with united aim
Kindle and keep alive the sacred flame.

Be such the mission of the church, to link
Young hearts that feel with older minds that think,—
Reason and faith fast wedded, bound yet free,
Divinely human life their progeny.

Here may the vital truth that supersedes
The dead forgotten creeds
Warm and persuade the hearts of young and old,
And prompt to lofty thoughts and noble deeds:
A living church,— a Christian brotherhood
In all high effort for the public good.
So may this temple gather in its fold,
Conspiring with all agencies that mould
The race to higher life, till it shall stand
A beacon in the land,
And in the coming centuries ever shine
Steadfast, undimmed, still lit by truth divine.