“OUR FIRST CITIZEN”
Read at the meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society,
January 30, 1865.
WINTER’S cold drift lies glistening o’er his breast;
For him no spring shall bid the leaf unfold
What Love could speak, by sudden grief oppressed,
What swiftly summoned Memory tell, is told.
Even as the bells, in one consenting chime,
Filled with their sweet vibrations all the air,
So joined all voices, in that mournful time,
His genius, wisdom, virtues, to declare.
What place is left for words of measured praise,
Till calm-eyed History, with her iron pen,
Grooves in the unchanging rock the final phrase
That shapes his image in the souls of men?
Yet while the echoes still repeat his name,
While countless tongues his full-orbed life rehearse,
Love, by his beating pulses taught, will claim
The breath of song, the tuneful throb of verse,–
Verse that, in ever-changing ebb and flow,
Moves, like the laboring heart, with rush and rest,
Or swings in solemn cadence, sad and slow,
Like the tired heaving of a grief-worn breast.
This was a mind so rounded, so complete,
No partial gift of Nature in excess,
That, like a single stream where many meet,
Each separate talent counted something less.
A little hillock, if it lonely stand,
Holds o’er the fields an undisputed reign;
While the broad summit of the table-land
Seems with its belt of clouds a level plain.
Servant of all his powers, that faithful slave,
Unsleeping Memory, strengthening with his toils,
To every ruder task his shoulder gave,
And loaded every day with golden spoils.
Order, the law of Heaven, was throned supreme
O’er action, instinct, impulse, feeling, thought;
True as the dial’s shadow to the beam,
Each hour was equal to the charge it brought.
Too large his compass for the nicer skill
That weighs the world of science grain by grain;
All realms of knowledge owned the mastering will
That claimed the franchise of its whole domain.
Earth, air, sea, sky, the elemental fire,
Art, history, song,–what meanings lie in each
Found in his cunning hand a stringless lyre,
And poured their mingling music through his speech.
Thence flowed those anthems of our festal days,
Whose ravishing division held apart
The lips of listening throngs in sweet amaze,
Moved in all breasts the selfsame human heart.
Subdued his accents, as of one who tries
To press some care, some haunting sadness down;
His smile half shadow; and to stranger eyes
The kingly forehead wore an iron crown.
He was not armed to wrestle with the storm,
To fight for homely truth with vulgar power;
Grace looked from every feature, shaped his form,
The rose of Academe,–the perfect flower!
Such was the stately scholar whom we knew
In those ill days of soul-enslaving calm,
Before the blast of Northern vengeance blew
Her snow-wreathed pine against the Southern palm.
Ah, God forgive us! did we hold too cheap
The heart we might have known, but would not see,
And look to find the nation’s friend asleep
Through the dread hour of her Gethsemane?
That wrong is past; we gave him up to Death
With all a hero’s honors round his name;
As martyrs coin their blood, he coined his breath,
And dimmed the scholar’s in the patriot’s fame.
So shall we blazon on the shaft we raise,–
Telling our grief, our pride, to unborn years,–
“He who had lived the mark of all men’s praise
Died with the tribute of a Nation’s tears.”