John Winthrop by John Greenleaf Whittier

Story type: Essay

On the anniversary of his landing at Salem.

I see by the call of the Essex Institute that some probability is suggested that I may furnish a poem for the occasion of its meeting at The Willows on the 22d. I would be glad to make the implied probability a fact, but I find it difficult to put my thoughts into metrical form, and there will be little need of it, as I understand a lady of Essex County, who adds to her modern culture and rare poetical gifts the best spirit of her Puritan ancestry, has lent the interest of her verse to the occasion.

It was a happy thought of the Institute to select for its first meeting of the season the day and the place of the landing of the great and good governor, and permit me to say, as thy father’s old friend, that its choice for orator, of the son of him whose genius, statesmanship, and eloquence honored the place of his birth, has been equally happy. As I look over the list of the excellent worthies of the first emigrations, I find no one who, in all respects, occupies a nobler place in the early colonial history of Massachusetts than John Winthrop. Like Vane and Milton, he was a gentleman as well as a Puritan, a cultured and enlightened statesman as well as a God-fearing Christian. It was not under his long and wise chief magistracy that religious bigotry and intolerance hung and tortured their victims, and the terrible delusion of witchcraft darkened the sun at noonday over Essex. If he had not quite reached the point where, to use the words of Sir Thomas More, he could “hear heresies talked and yet let the heretics alone,” he was in charity and forbearance far in advance of his generation.

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I am sorry that I must miss an occasion of so much interest. I hope you will not lack the presence of the distinguished citizen who inherits the best qualities of his honored ancestor, and who, as a statesman, scholar, and patriot, has added new lustre to the name of Winthrop.

DANVERS, 6th Month, 19, 1880.

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