A DAY IN BOSTON
By Francis Raymond Line.
Jerusalem should be visited in Holy Week. Holland should be seen in Tulip Time. The season for New Orleans if Mardi Gras.
For Boston it’s Thanksgiving. A bleak,rainy Thanksgiving which will have enough of New England’s curse in it to recall that first year of 1620-21, when more than half of the Pilgrims died from the sting of winter. A drizzly misty Thanksgiving when all around you is half obscured by haze. This
is as it should be in Boston. For Boston is not of the present,-of things seen. It is tradition,accretion,-things felt and remembered. But a Thanksgiving none the less,in which the spirit of the season radiates from the holiday displays of the shops on Tremont Street,and is caught up in the length of the last minute shopping throngs slopping along under their umbrellas past the Public Gardens. For this is the spirit which gave rise to
__the first Thanksgiving. This is Boston as it should be.
My Interstate Express performed,in simple reality,that miracle which is attributed to the Magic Carpet of fiction. I had entered the train at Chicago,-that lusty,full-bosomed corn-fed damsel by the Lake Front. Then a quick trip across Ohio. Then night. And tunnels under a city. Without a link or connection with the rest of commonplace America, I stepped out of the Great South Station into Boston. I stepped out to meet an old lady,-a regal gentlewoman whose face bore the delicate wrinkles of 300 years. Delicate,crowsfeet wrinkles they were,-patterns like Boston streets that only long time could affect. A kind of gentlewoman,whose spirit breathed of the fantasys of Mother Goose and the childhood tales of Longfellow. But a woman with steel in her soul, -put there by forbears like Hancock and Samuel Adana and a group of rebellious hot-heads who poured tea into a midnight harbor. Note that throw of the lady’s head, -the blood of Paul Revere could breed courageous disdain like that!
I stepped out onto the streets of Boston.
Summer Street meandered from the station and in its leisurely wandering soon became Winter Street. Casual,unorthodox,-just like that,-none of the checkerboard regularity which is Chicago’s pride.Boston is that way,-above any necessity for logic or explaining why. Fall Street of St.didn’t intervene. Sumner simply changed into Winter, -and led on to the Boston Common.
There along Tremont Street,-nestled,with the church on one side and heavy office buildings on the other,-was the Granary Burial Grounds. I walked through. The mist was nearly a rain now,so I turned my overcoat collar up as I stopped to read the stones. Franklin’s parents buried here. Several signers of the Declaration of Independence. Samuel Adams.Nearly a dozen governors of the Commonwealth. And John Treat Paine. And Mother Goose and Paul Revere. Besides pillars of the church galore.
The markers were of sandstone. Some were crumbling. Others had crumbled. But when the stones are all decayed,that city of the prairies, -Chicago, -will still be standing to mark what these Boston men began. And down in San Antonio,Texas,the Alamo will still be stirring worship to its heroes-heroes whose exploits were the echos of the deeds of these men of Massachusetts. History is the only real perpetual motion. It never stops. Out in California men blow hot and cold in politics and switch from Republican to Democrat because of what these men in Boston believed in. Children of Los Angeles read the tales of Mother Goosewho lies in the Granary Burial Ground. And Amy McPherson chalks up a new victory for religious showmanship because those forefathers decreed that America should be free religiously.
Yet America is really not old. The story of Paul Revere has undergone the stages from uncertain reality to the warm reverence of myth and folklore. Yet Paul Revere was burled in the Granary Cemetery upon his death in 1850. 92 years 80! Within the memory of living men. The cemetery itself is 300 years old. But,even so,Boston is old only because the rest of the countery is so disgustingly young. To a child,a man of 20 seems aged. To a dwarf a baby seems a giant.
I left the Burial Ground and walked up along the Commons toward the State house. That State house was where Coolidge really became President. For that’s where he issued the orders to quell the Boston Police Strike, which made him famous. Coolidge was a down-east Yankee for you. As New England as baked beans. And,to some people,just as indigestible. But to me lie is a symbol. Of course he wasn’t a man,-I mean with real flesh and blood warmth. But he stood for something- He stood for the hard life’ the Pil- grims went through to found the place. To them,waste meant death, and was a sin. Coolidge was that way,-he was like the depleted farms and the granite hills of his own Vermont. Lucky for America that the Latins and the Spanish came along to put fire and warmth in our blood. Lucky that we have New Orleans and California in our system of states. But lucky too,that we have Vermont and Massachusetts. Coolidge is as vital in the recipe of our nationhood as Mayor La Guardia or the Pennsylvania Dutch. It takes all kinds to Make America.
Taking a narrow street leading from the rear door of the state house,I followed down to Louisburg Square. I spent 15 minutes in Louisburg Square, but in that 15 minutes I achieved a spiritual review of all America’s literature. And all of England’s, which is the basis of our own. I was able to do all this because of the other 15 minutes which I had spent there on other past visits. And because of the love of the place and the traditions of it which had grown up within me. Just 15 minutes a day is, -so the ads, inform us, -sufficient to master the classics,provided you keep at it long enough.
`I feel I have mastered Louisburg Square. Because when I go there now I can close my eyes and see men and women of ideas trooping out of the little quadrangle and marching to every corner of America. I used to read the guide books about it. But now I’ve forgotten just exactly which one of the great literary masters did live and write here. But no matter. I don’t want to know. Enough of them achieved their greatness in Louisburg Square or at least visited here and had connections with the place,-to make it hallowed ground for me. This place seems to have become for me,like the tomb of the Unknown Soldier,-it represents them all. It is a symbol of the literary life of America.
I close my eyes and see the cairn of rocks out by Walden Pond where Thoreau hid hid hat. I think of the times when I was a kid in grammar school learning the ryhthmic poems of Longfellow and feeling that the ambition of my life would be to see his birthplace up in Portland,Maine. I dream backward and see the Windermere Lakes of England and the village where Wordsworth wrote. Because there is-there must be-affinity between those English writers and these writers of Boston town.
Then I see myself at night standing and looking into brightly lighted shop windows filled with Book-of-the-Month selections. Hundreds of titles, thousands of books. Great presses running day and night to turn them out. Books done in splashing jackets to catch the eye if not the mind. Books with catchy names, -books with pre-digested summaries on the flaps,-book digest anthologies and books within books,-a thousand pages at a wallop. Books,-millions of books, -enough every day to pave the entire square, -bastard offsprings of these simple men who printed in editions of a thousand here in Boston. But some of those books will live, just as the books of the Boston writers have lived. And,to me,whether rightly or wrongly, Louisburg Square is the symbol of literary America. Branching from this little q square tucked away back of the State House in Boston run Main Street,and Peachtree Street and the Lincoln Highway. As I leave it and open my eyes to find my way down to the shop which sells the blueberry pies,I wonder why the devil Mabel Vowles doesn’t save the vacation money she fritters away and hie herself to Boston and New York.
It wasn’t the season for blueberry pies, -at least the shop had none,so I began poking into the back of the churches in this area. It is Old England as Old England was before the war,-and may never be again. There were the same quiet back court yards of the Earls Court district in London,-the squares with cobbled entrances,the quaint basement shops along Charles Street,such as there were in Kensington,across the sea. The weird thought occurred to me, -perhaps all of the English originals of these things will be destroyed by the war. Then Londoners will have to visit Boston to show their little English heirs what their city used to be like. New England will have become the real England. Old England will have passed away. The King is dead,-long live the King.
The Commons and the Public Gardens were dreary spots. Haze had changed to mist and mist had changed to rain. The stuff was coming down in a nasty way now,so I circled the Gardens quickly,then found a low bridge over a narrows in the lake,where I could take shelter. There I stood free of the rain and gazed out of my refuge onto a surface of water which was being knifed a thousand times a minute by the cold pellets from the sky above,while I waited. There was time to think.
I thought of six years ago,-in summer, -when Barbara had been 4 and Ad— rienne was only a fairy. We had stood by this very same bridge then,-Helen and I, -and summoned one of the Swan; Boats in from the lake. And,on that summer evening,as we rode the Swan Boat, Barbara’s excited laughter tinkled across the water and mingled with the laughter of other children and then rippled into the lake like the lights which had rippled on the water from the shore. Time has made a revolution. Now,at home, I read to Adrienne from
a book which tells all about these Swan Boats in the Public Gardens of Boston. And Barbara is a fairy. Wherever I go in America, Barbara has been. Her spirit danced with the sunbeams among the cactus of Arizona as my train rolled by;she seemed to walk silently beside me,as she had once done,among the ruins of the Alamo. She had run gaily along the lake front at Chicago, had lit the worlds largest light bulb in Cleveland near where I lectured, had piled rocks on the cairn of Thoreau. I can never be really lonely wherever I go in America.
Boston has outlived her Public Gardens with the statues of her heroes. There,through the rain,toward Tremont St.,I could see the massive likeness of Wendell Phillips. Facing it,across the street,was the brilliant crimson front of a Kresge Store. Farther down,the statue of another hero was confronted with the brilliant blue of a Greyhound Station. The clock does not stand still even in Boston. Time Marches On!
And so the day marched on,and night came.But the lights stayed out. This was war, -war in Boston. The dim-out. The street lamps were blacked over. Signs were extinguished. People poked along in the darkness and in the rain. But a dim-out is only on the streets. Behind drawn curtains,in the houses on Louisburg Square,the lamps were burning bright. Behind the blackout shutters of the Public Library,the young Emersons and Howells and Hawthornes had their noses in their books. And along the dimly lit aisles of Trinity Church, modern pilgrims stopped to say a prayer at the shrine of Phillips Brooks.
The lights of Hancock and Adams and Emerson and Brookes are hard to dim.
The little old lady of Boston has been through wars before,-six or eight of them. Gingerly she shook the mist and rain from her umbrella and went through the darkened doors into the strongly lighted interior of
South Station. The last I saw of her she was at the wicket telling the gateman that she was waiting to board a train to visit her niece in Chicago,-a buxom damsel who lived by the lake front there. And her ticket,I noticed, had a transfer to the Santa Fe, with stop-over at Kansas City and Albuquerque and Los Angeles. I could see she liked to travel -she had the blood of Paul Revere in her veins.