The Rebels; or, Boston before the Revolution/Chapter V

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And mortals dared to ponder for themselves,
To weigh kings in the balance, and to speak
Of freedom, the forbidden fruit.

When the plague raged in London, one of the most remarkable features of the time was the total forgetfulness of all religious distinctions. A house of prayer was enough to suffice hearts broken down by many sorrows; and if the soul could but prostrate itself before its God, it was careless whether the body knelt or stood,--- whether hands were uplifted, or censers waved. But when the curse had departed from the land, again the temple of divine truth resounded with the din of jarring sectaries, and its sacred courts were once more polluted by man's unholy passions.

In the same manner, the scene of imminent peril, which we have described, subdued, for a while, all the rancour of political animosity.

The disinterested firmness and the ready hospitality of Mr. Osborne, were repaid with prompt and grateful affection; and it was not until Doctor Willard met the same company at the house of his friend, on the ensuing evening, that party distinctions were for a moment revived.

When he regretted the depredations of the rabble, Hutchinson answered, "The rabble would have been excusable, sir; but these things are excited by men who would honour a nobler cause. This is the price I pay for being Chief Justice at the expense of the elder Otis."

"With indignation I repel the charge that the late riots were either instigated or approved by such men as Otis and his associates," replied Willard. "They will fearlessly resist oppression, but they will never encourage violence. Have not the community expressed their abhorrence with sufficient union and energy? Have not the good citizens of Boston voluntarily taken every precaution to prevent such excesses in future?"

"That is all nonsense," exclaimed the Chief Justice. "You boast of your proceedings at Fanueil Hall---but what was Otis's speech, but the rankest rebellion? The people would do well enough, if they were not led on by a few intriguing individuals."

"Our confusions do not originate in the arts of demagogues, but in the tyranny of rulers, sir," replied the young patriot. "The Geisslers of Switzerland, the Granvels of Holland, the Lauds and Straffords of England, were the undoubted authors of the tragedies acted in their respective countries; and---" he paused a moment--- "I leave to your own conscience, who will be answerable, if one drop of American blood is ever shed in this contest."

The Governor appeared struck with the boldness of his manner, and remained silent.

"Yet there certainly were men above the common mass, among the crowd of rioters," said Somerville.

"True," answered Henry Osborne; "but were you at the bar of the House of Commons, could you in conscience, deny that the efforts of those men were to regulate and control the populace."

"I certainly do not forget the noble conduct of Samuel Adams," rejoined Somerville; "nor am I unmindful of what we owe to your father." He looked significantly at Doctor Willard, and added, "Neither have I forgotten that some of America's best blood did not disdain to seek my uncle under the Liberty-tree."

"Make what use you will of the knowledge, which circumstances have put in your power," said Willard. "I do not deny that I sought him there; but I must add, none more heartily regretted the summons, than myself."

"I believe you, young man," said Doctor Byles; but after all, you must be aware, that it is much like opening the sluices of a stream, and then attempting to stem it with sand. He who teaches a people to distrust their sovereign, and fills their heads with delirious dreams of their own rights, is answerable for all the excesses of their fury; and I must confess I see no way to put an end to these mischiefs, but by cutting off such men as Hancock and Adams. Notwithstanding all that has been said in Fanueil Hall to-day, there can be no doubt that such men are the instigators. To reason they will never listen; but indictments, fines, scaffolds, and gibbets, are the strongest arguments in the world. I never knew a man get the better in disputing with them."

"It would be but one head of the Hydra," observed Willard, in a tone he vainly endeavoured to render calm. "Public indignation is not to be mistaken for the personal interest, or the factious zeal, of a few. That the stream overruns its banks, argues that it is full even to excess; and should the waters subside into smoothness for a while, you may rely upon it, the waves beneath are rolling and gathering in their might. America never will submit, sir. We have drawn the sword of opposition, and we throw the scabbard into the fire."

"You had better put it in your pocket, young man," replied Doctor Byles, with a dryness of sarcasm that was irresistibly ludicrous. "You might very possibly want the sheath in the presence of well disciplined English armies."

"True, the British infantry can acquit themselves well in the gay reviews exhibited for royal amusement, in Hyde Park, or on Wimbledon Common; but they have never fought with Englishmen," replied Willard. "Our forefathers brought the spirit of liberty from their native land, when it was in the greatest purity and perfection there; and it has not degenerated by change of climate. Those who tamper with it, may perhaps be scorched by a flame they know not how to extinguish."

"Bravely said, Doctor Willard," exclaimed Hutchinson. "I was not aware you were so ready to throw off the mask of loyalty."

The eyes of the young patriot flashed. "I wear no masks," said he, "and those who do, will soon find them useless."

"My friend spoke of things possible , not desirable ," continued Henry Osborne. "He must be blind indeed, if he did not perceive that a momentous crisis was near at hand. The cards are shuffling fast throughout Europe."

"Where will the regiments of England, and the horde of soldiers that her wealth can buy in from the continent, find the strength that is to oppose their progress?" asked Hutchinson.

"The sword that has been sharpened on the heart, does deadlier execution than the sabre of the mercenary," rejoined Willard. "Besides England has not much to expect from foreign troops. It is notorious that the king is on exceedingly ill terms with the emperor of Germany. Frederic of Prussia hated his grandfather, and it is not probable he likes the young monarch any more for his union with the house of Mecklenburg."

"Many from the heart of this country would join the royal standard," said Doctor Byles.

"Dreadfully formidable they must be," retorted Henry Osborne, "Let me think, there would be Justice Sewall, the Honourable Mr. Paxton, Brigadier Ruggles, some twenty or thirty of the relations and dependants of Governor Hutchinson, and perhaps we might add a reverend pontifex, with bands and robe floating in the air, leading them on to victory."

"I wonder I have not been mobbed," said Doctor Byles, laughing outright. "I am sure I should have been, if the people had known one thing of which I am guilty."

"What is that?" asked Lucretia, who occasionally attended to the conversation.

"Why, your uncle has had all this trouble, because he holds five posts . Now whoever will take the trouble to notice, when he goes by my door, will see that I have lately had fifteen."

The company all smiled, and Mr. Osborne said "You attribute our difficulties to causes too local, brother Byles. A few offices bestowed contrary to our wishes, form but a feather in the balance. It is this enslaving principle of taxation without representation, that we all complain of, as ruinous; and which has already driven some of us to frightful excesses. My son and his friend have indeed talked somewhat openly; but how is it possible for any of us to conceal from our own hearts what must be the result, if the present system is pursued. With the lapse of time, this country must fall from England, like ripe fruit from the tree that has formed it; but why should the hand of oppression shake it to the ground while it is yet unripe, because it must drop in its maturity?" "Nay, if losing you is so certain," replied the Doctor, "we had best do it at once. You know the old proverb, `Good riddance, &c.?"

"England might well repeat the proverb, with regard to Massachusetts," added Hutchinson. "She has been refractory from her earliest infancy."

"And well she may be," said Henry Osborne, "when she has not the power to choose her own state officers; and is compelled to take them from men whose interest it is to oppress and vilify her." "The Governor frowned at this home-thrust. "You may thank your own obstinacy for that," replied he. "Had you complied with the royal pleasure in the reign of James the Second, your original charter would not have been condemned. But you chose to declare in favour of the revolution ministers, those makers and unmakers of kings; and what did you receive for your pains? Truly nothing more than a mutilated charter, shorn of one half its privileges, from the hands of William and Mary. Thus may rebellion always flourish. Have you other grievances, weighty as those you have mentioned?"

"You, of all men, need not ask what are our wrongs," rejoined Henry Osborne. "You need not be told, that wicked men are allowed to put their hands in our pockets, and draw from thence pay for their parasites and plunderers."

"Why, in being taxed, you do but share the fate of other British subjects," answered the Chief Justice. "To take protection implies that you promise obedience; and really, after England has fed you, clothed you, and fought for you, it is not unreasonable you should do something for your own support."

"I have no patience to hear this," exclaimed Willard, starting on his feet. "Fed and clothed us, indeed! You spurned us from you; and thanks to ourselves, we have struggled on to prosperity. France is no enemy to America, but to England. We have had wars, because we belonged to her; and if she helped us she did but her own work. Besides we are not unwilling to pay our full share toward the support of the British empire. We only wish to have our property fairly represented."

"I know that is your favourite plea," replied Somerville. "But you are in fact as virtually represented in the British parliament as our Irish brethren."

"As virtually represented as the English commons are in a council of the Cherokees!" said young Osborne.

It was Somerville's nature to sympathzie with every thing bold and fearless; and as he looked at Grace, he was delighted with the fluctuating colour that betrayed the keen interest she took in the conversation of her father and brother. Perhaps wiser men than he would have wavered in an opinion formed by accidental circumstances, and supported by pride, for the sake of a smile from lips as beautiful as the rose-bud, just bursting from its calyx.

"I cannot but support the supreme legislation of my country," said he; "and I shall always maintain the right of parliament to tax her Colonies when and how they think proper; but I must acknowledge I begin to think that the present system of taxation is impolitic, however just it may be."

"And pray, sir, may I ask on what you found so wise an opinion?" asked Doctor Byles.

"I think, that the bulk of the American people are under so strong a delusion, and the spirit that every where pervades them is so dauntless, that a victory, even if it should cost us but little blood and treasure, would take from us what is far more valuable; for, instead of faithful subjects, the king would have a parcel of discontented citizens, ready to explode at every spark of excitement. Besides, it is well for government never to attempt what they are not sure of performing. Nothing is so dangerous to authority as a command successfully resisted.

"And for fear of all this, you would have the lion fawn, and cringe, and lick the hand of the wayward baby; and if medicine must be given, it must forsooth be hid in sugar;" said Doctor Byles.

"If you have so high an opinion of their prowess, you had better join their cause, nephew," added Hutchinson, with great bitterness of manner.

Grace, alarmed at the increasing acrimony of the conversation, turned to Henry, and said, playfully, "I wish you gentlemen would leave politics, and teach me how to carry war into the enemy's quarters, on this chess board."

"A wise speech, Miss Osborne," said Doctor Byles. "I have been highly amused at the folly of this conversation; and was just about to say to brother Osborne, that we would drown all heart-burnings in a good orthodox bowl of punch, which I see he is preparing."

"Pray how much does an orthodox bowl hold?" asked Mr. Osborne.

"Are you not theologian enough to know?" rejoined the Doctor. "It contains precisely five pints ."

A smile again went round the room; but it gave place to respectful attention, when, assuming the dignified seriousness that so well became him, he took the offered glass, and said, "Do not you, my friends, forget that we are grateful men, and we will never forget that you are conscientious."

Mr. Osborne readily pledged the sentiment; political discord was again hushed, and the remainder of the evening passed in cheerful good humour.

"I have not been inattentive to your game, Miss Osborne, though I have been so earnest in conversation," said Somerville. "Miss Fitzherbert will be the conquerer, I foresee."

"As she always is in a contest with me," replied Grace, smiling. "She has taken both my castles, and all my knights."

Both, but not all your knights, Miss Osborne," rejoined Somerville, with a glance that could not be misunderstood.

The suffusion that flitted over Grace's cheek, was as light and transient, as the rose tint that the setting sun casts on the drifted snow; but Lucretia blushed that deep and glowing red, which a painful sensation can alone call to the face; and Doctor Willard turned away from the too beaming expression of Somerville's countenance, with an audible sigh.

"I understand that Whitfield is to preach for you next Sabbath, Doctor Byles," said Henry Osborne.

"He is," rejoined the clergyman; "and I suppose the joints of Hollis-street church will crack with its fulness."

"I have never heard that celebrated orator," observed Somerville; "though I was very near Bristol, when he was there, drawing such crowds after him. I remember that one who heard his farewell address to the good people of that city, said, Whitfield preached it like a lion."

And he described his eloquence well," observed Doctor Byles. "Whitfield feels the importance of his subject, and he makes others feel it."

"Brother Chauncy considers him half enthusiast, half hypocrite," said Mr. Osborne; "but I must say that I think his piety as sincere as it is fervid."

"Will you accompany me to Hollis-street, on Sunday, young ladies?" inquired Somerville.

Grace looked to her father for consent, and having readily received it, cheerfully agreed to the proposal.

"And whom must you ask, Miss Fitzherbert?" said he.

"Aunt Sandford is visiting one of her friends for a few days,---so I cannot ask her; and uncle Hutchinson has already looked that I might go."

Somerville rallied them a little about being so dutiful and obedient; and talked of Hesperian fruit, dragons, &c.

The minutes "flew away with down upon their feet;" and it was late when Doctor Willard looked at his watch, and observed, "My time must be too fast."

"How can it be otherwise, when it has such fair reasons for its flight?" said Somerville, bowing to Grace.

The young physician turned rapidly, and bade the company good evening. Doctor Byles too, who had been engaged with Mr. Osborne, in a discussion concerning the different tenets of Wesley and Whitfield, arose and prepared to depart.

"I must not lose your friendship, if I am a whig," said Mr. Osborne, as the doctor moved toward the door.

"You see, brother Osborne, that a wig is very near to me," replied he, touching his head.

"Near to your head, but not to your heart," said Lucretia.

"Those who know me well, know that they are very near each other," responded he; and bidding them all an affectionate good night, he returned to his home.

The family devotions, which immediately followed his departure, were perfectly delightful to all. The simple and impressive prayer in which the father so earnestly entreated that the snares of youth might not be concealed beneath its flowers, betrayed such a mixture of human tenderness and religious fervour, that his guests could not but forgive the emphasis with which he begged that "God would guide the hearts of kings, and give their counsellors wisdom."