Letter From Boston

A poem by James Russell Lowell

December, 1846.

Dear M----
By way of saving time,
I'll do this letter up in rhyme,
Whose slim stream through four pages flows
Ere one is packed with tight-screwed prose,
Threading the tube of an epistle,
Smooth as a child's breath through a whistle.

The great attraction now of all
Is the 'Bazaar' at Faneuil Hall,
Where swarm the anti-slavery folks
As thick, dear Miller, as your jokes.
There's GARRISON, his features very
Benign for an incendiary,
Beaming forth sunshine through his glasses
On the surrounding lads and lasses,
(No bee could blither be, or brisker,)--
A Pickwick somehow turned John Ziska,
His bump of firmness swelling up
Like a rye cupcake from its cup.
And there, too, was his English tea-set,
Which in his ear a kind of flea set,
His Uncle Samuel for its beauty
Demanding sixty dollars duty,
('Twas natural Sam should serve his trunk ill;
For G., you know, has cut his uncle,)
Whereas, had he but once made tea in't,
His uncle's ear had had the flea in't,
There being not a cent of duty
On any pot that ever drew tea.

There was MARIA CHAPMAN, too,
With her swift eyes of clear steel-blue,
The coiled-up mainspring of the Fair,
Originating everywhere
The expansive force without a sound
That whirls a hundred wheels around,
Herself meanwhile as calm and still
As the bare crown of Prospect Hill;
A noble woman, brave and apt,
Cumæan sibyl not more rapt,
Who might, with those fair tresses shorn,
The Maid of Orleans' casque have worn,
Herself the Joan of our Ark,
For every shaft a shining mark.

And there, too, was ELIZA FOLLEN,
Who scatters fruit-creating pollen
Where'er a blossom she can find
Hardy enough for Truth's north wind,
Each several point of all her face
Tremblingly bright with the inward grace,
As if all motion gave it light
Like phosphorescent seas at night.

There jokes our EDMUND, plainly son
Of him who bearded Jefferson,
A non-resistant by conviction,
But with a bump in contradiction,
So that whene'er it gets a chance
His pen delights to play the lance,
And--you may doubt it, or believe it--
Full at the head of Joshua Leavitt
The very calumet he'd launch,
And scourge him with the olive branch.
A master with the foils of wit,
'Tis natural he should love a hit;
A gentleman, withal, and scholar,
Only base things excite his choler,
And then his satire's keen and thin
As the lithe blade of Saladin.
Good letters are a gift apart,
And his are gems of Flemish art,
True offspring of the fireside Muse,
Not a rag-gathering of news
Like a new hopfield which is all poles,
But of one blood with Horace Walpole's.

There, with cue hand behind his back,
Stands PHILLIPS buttoned in a sack,
Our Attic orator, our Chatham;
Old fogies, when he lightens at 'em,
Shrivel like leaves; to him 'tis granted
Always to say the word that's wanted,
So that he seems but speaking clearer
The tiptop thought of every hearer;
Each flash his brooding heart lets fall
Fires what's combustible in all,
And sends the applauses bursting in
Like an exploded magazine.
His eloquence no frothy show,
The gutter's street-polluted flow,
No Mississippi's yellow flood
Whose shoalness can't be seen for mud;--
So simply clear, serenely deep,
So silent-strong its graceful sweep,
None measures its unrippling force
Who has not striven to stem its course;
How fare their barques who think to play
With smooth Niagara's mane of spray,
Let Austin's total shipwreck say.
He never spoke a word too much--
Except of Story, or some such,
Whom, though condemned by ethics strict,
The heart refuses to convict.

Beyond; a crater in each eye,
Sways brown, broad-shouldered PILLSBURY,
Who tears up words like trees by the roots,
A Theseus in stout cow-hide boots,
The wager of eternal war
Against that loathsome Minotaur
To whom we sacrifice each year
The best blood of our Athens here,
(Dear M., pray brush up your Lempriere.)
A terrible denouncer he,
Old Sinai burns unquenchably
Upon his lips; he well might be a
Hot-blazing soul from fierce Judea,
Habakkuk, Ezra, or Hosea.
His words are red hot iron searers,
And nightmare-like he mounts his hearers,
Spurring them like avenging Fate, or
As Waterton his alligator.

Hard by, as calm as summer even,
Smiles the reviled and pelted STEPHEN,
The unappeasable Boanerges
To all the Churches and the Clergies,
The grim savant who, to complete
His own peculiar cabinet,
Contrived to label 'mong his kicks
One from the followers of Hicks;
Who studied mineralogy
Not with soft book upon the knee,
But learned the properties of stones
By contact sharp of flesh and bones,
And made the experimentum crucis
With his own body's vital juices;
A man with caoutchouc endurance,
A perfect gem for life insurance,
A kind of maddened John the Baptist,
To whom the harshest word comes aptest,
Who, struck by stone or brick ill-starred,
Hurls back an epithet as hard,
Which, deadlier than stone or brick,
Has a propensity to stick.
His oratory is like the scream
Of the iron-horse's frenzied steam
Which warns the world to leave wide space
For the black engine's swerveless race.
Ye men with neckcloths white, I warn you--
Habet a whole haymow in cornu.

A Judith, there, turned Quakeress,
Sits ABBY in her modest dress,
Serving a table quietly,
As if that mild and downcast eye
Flashed never, with its scorn intense,
More than Medea's eloquence.
So the same force which shakes its dread
Far-blazing blocks o'er Ætna's head,
Along the wires in silence fares
And messages of commerce bears.
No nobler gift of heart and brain,
No life more white from spot or stain,
Was e'er on Freedom's altar laid
Than hers, the simple Quaker maid.

These last three (leaving in the lurch
Some other themes) assault the Church,
Who therefore writes them in her lists
As Satan's limbs and atheists;
For each sect has one argument
Whereby the rest to hell are sent,
Which serve them like the Graiæ's tooth,
Passed round in turn from mouth to mouth;--
If any ism should arise,
Then look on it with constable's eyes,
Tie round its neck a heavy athe-,
And give it kittens' hydropathy.
This trick with other (useful very) tricks
Is laid to the Babylonian meretrix,
But 'twas in vogue before her day
Wherever priesthoods had their way,
And Buddha's Popes with this struck dumb
The followers of Fi and Fum.

Well, if the world, with prudent fear
Pay God a seventh of the year,
And as a Farmer, who would pack
All his religion in one stack,
For this world works six days in seven
And idles on the seventh for Heaven,
Expecting, for his Sunday's sowing,
In the next world to go a-mowing
The crop of all his meeting-going;--
If the poor Church, by power enticed,
Finds none so infidel as Christ,
Quite backward reads his Gospel meek,
(As 'twere in Hebrew writ, not Greek,)
Fencing the gallows and the sword
With conscripts drafted from his word,
And makes one gate of Heaven so wide
That the rich orthodox might ride
Through on their camels, while the poor
Squirm through the scant, unyielding door,
Which, of the Gospel's straitest size,
Is narrower than bead-needles' eyes,
What wonder World and Church should call
The true faith atheistical?

Yet, after all, 'twixt you and me,
Dear Miller, I could never see
That Sin's and Error's ugly smirch
Stained the walls only of the Church;
There are good priests, and men who take
Freedom's torn cloak for lucre's sake;
I can't believe the Church so strong,
As some men do, for Right or Wrong,
But, for this subject (long and vext)
I must refer you to my next,
As also for a list exact
Of goods with which the Hall was packed.

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