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The honor which you offered, through the courteous agency of your late Secretary" to meet you to-day, is one to be desired; but not to be accepted without reluctance and apprehension.
While considering what the duty undertaken is, and how it is to be performed, a multitude of objects present themselves for notice. At first, the mind rests on the great event which you are associated to commemorate; but soon it is drawn away, and attracted through the centuries, which slowly produced that event. It returns to the memorable scene of the landing; and again it is hurried away, and finds itself descending in the course of time, to the existing day and generation. It stands, fearfully, on that ever advancing boundary, which separates time that has been, from time that shall be; and holding up the lights which numbered years have left, it vainly attempts to discern, what unnumbered years must unfold. It shrinks before the awful truth, that all which has been, all that is, and all that shall be, flows from the will, and the wisdom, of that ONLY ONE, with whom there is no prospect, no retrospect. Penetrated as it may be with this truth, it cannot escape from the feeling, that the agents in any given time, strongly influence, if they do not determine, the destiny of themselves, and of their successors. What, then, is the duty of the living, to the dead; of the living, to those that are to live!
In what school can this duty be so profitably learned, as in that in which the Pilgrim Fathers are the teachers? Your comprehensive philanthropy,
your filial patriotism demand that their precepts and example, should be brought down, and applied to successive ages.
The delicate, and the difficult vocation of the present moment, is, to discourse to you of the past, with that sobriety which the occasion requires; to deal justly, but frankly, with the present;—and to attempt to descry what the future may disclose; but yet to avoid disturbing the expectations and the hopes, which are gratefully and confidently cherished.
To what parts of that long course of cause and effect, which is past and passing into the shadows of antiquity; or moving onward with ourselves; or looked for through the misty coverings of the years that are coming, shall I invite your attention?
How embarrassing is it to select; impossible it is to touch, however lightly, on all that interests and affects the descendants of the Pilgrims. Let us first render our homage to these ILLUSTRIOUS MEN in the days of their adventure and peril. Availing ourselves of a fiction, often less reverentially and piously resorted to, let us be the spectators of the scene in which they were engaged; let us stand upon the shore, which our Fathers were approaching.
Here begins that vast wilderness, which no civilized man has beheld. Whither does it extend, and what is contained within its unmeasured limits? Through what thousands of years has it undergone no change, but in the silent movements of renovation and decay. To how many vernal seasons has it unfolded its leaves ;-to how many autumnal frosts
has it yielded its verdure. This unvaried solitude! What has disturbed its tranquillity, through uncounted ages, but the rising of the winds, or the rending of the storms. What sounds have echoed through its deep recesses, but those of craving and of rage from the beasts which it shelters; or the war-song and the war-whoop of it sullen, smileless masters. Man, social, inventive, improving man, his footstep, his handywork, are nowhere discerned. The beings who wear his form have added nothing to knowledge, through all their generations. Like the game which they pursue, they are the same now, which their progenitors were, when their race began. These distant and widely separated columns of smoke, that throw their graceful forms towards the sky, indicate no social, no domestic abodes. The snows have descended to cover the fallen foliage of the departed year; the winds pass, with a mournful sound, through the leafless branches; the Indian has retired to his dark dwelling; and the tenants of the forest, have hidden themselves in the earth, to escape the search of winter.
This ocean that spreads out before us! how many of its mountain waves rise up between us and the abodes of civilized men. Its surges break and echo on this lonely shore, as they did when the storms first waked them from their sleep, without having brought, or carried, any work of human hands, unless it be the frail canoe, urged on by hunger or revenge. How appalling is this solitude.
of the wilderness!
How cheerless this wide waste
of waters, on which nothing moves!
A new object rises to our view! It is that proud result of human genius, which finds its way where it leaves no trace of itself, yet connects the severed continents of the globe. It is full of human beings of a complexion unknown in this far distant clime. They come from a world skilled in the social arts. Are they adventurers, thirsting for gain, or seeking, in these unexplored regions, new gifts for the treasury of science? Their boats are filled; they touch the land. They are followed by tender females, and more tender offspring; such beings as a wild desert never before received. They commence the making of habitations. They disembark their goods. Have they abandoned their returning ship? Are they to encounter, in their frail tenements, the winter's tempest and the accumulating snows? Do they know, that these dark forests, through which even the winds come not without dismal and terrifying sound, is the home of the savage, whose first prompting is to destroy, that he may rob? Do they know that disease must be the inmate of their dwellings in their untried exposure? If the savage, if disease, selects no victims, will famine stay its merciless hand? Do they know how slowly the forest yields to human industry? Do they realize how long, how lonesome, how perilous it will be, to their little group, before want can be supplied and security obtained? Can they have come, voluntarily, to encounter all these unavoidable evils? Have they given up their native land, their precious homes, their kind friends, their kindred, the comfort and the fellowship of civilized and polished life? Is
this the evidence of affectionate solicitude of husbands, of anxious tenderness of parents, or the sad measure of distempered minds? Wherefore are they come? What did they suffer, what did they fear, what do they expect, or hope, that they have chosen exile HERE, and to become the watchful neighbour of the treacherous Indian!
They gather themselves together, and assume the posture of humble devotion. They pour forth the sentiments of praise, of hope, of unshaken confidence. They cast themselves, their wives, their children, into the arms of that beneficent PARENT, who is present in the wilderness no less than the crowded city. It is to HIM that they look for support, amidst the wants of nature, for shelter against the storm, for protection against the savage, for relief in disease.
WHAT the Pilgrims suffered, in their first years, how firmly, how confidently, they bore up against all perils and afflictions; how their hearts were encouraged and their hands were strengthened is the familiar knowledge of this interesting place. You, gentlemen, have called before you, on former occasions, the first talents of the land. You have again and again listened to all that learning and feeling could offer. You have been restrained from breaking forth in your applause, only by the fear of losing something of the unexhausted flow of eloquence. You have lately had presented to you, in a modern form, New England's Memorial."(2) It comes from the hand of one, who is by birthright the historian of