Recent Histories on the Coöperative Plan
SELDOM has there been a more daring disregard of unfavorable conditions than in the selection of what is now Cambridge as the site of the infant Harvard College, two hundred and fifty years ago. By the middle of 1638, this town had not merely parted with its early name, but had witnessed the wholesale removal of its population. Only eleven families remained, of those who had apparently been taking root on its soil, the rest of the community having been carried away bodily to the valley of the Connecticut, where, under the inspiration of the Reverend Thomas Hooker, it began a new life under the name of Hartford. The Hartford community, commemorated in this Memorial History,1 was the old community, with a change of location and change of name ; for the settlers brought with them their old magistrates, their old ministers, and, in fact, all the town’s “ political and ecclesiastical machinery.” It has been common to ascribe this migration to the Connecticut Valley, in which other towns than Cambridge participated, though to a much less extent, to an existing disaffection with the religious and political administration of Massachusetts Bay. It is much more probable that a different idea was in the mind of their leader. Under the conditions of their settlement in the wilderness, a theocratic system, whose code of laws consisted mainly of “ Moses his judicialls,” seemed to have better prospect of uninterrupted development than on the seaboard, where the ideal symmetry of a Puritan community was too much exposed to unwelcome arrivals from Old England. The same vessel which brought the settlers their supplies of lumber or provisions was painfully liable to land among them some jovial semi-pagan like Thomas Morton, or some veritable firebrand like Anne Hutchinson or George Fox. Obviously, the settlement at Hartford was, by its very inaccessibility, largely free from this liability, and therefore almost wholly unembarrassed by inharmonious elements. The transplanted Puritanism thus came almost of necessity to develop into a more pronounced type than that of the Bay settlements. A man like Hooker could not at once fade out of the recollection of the places which had known him, and the Hartford settlement was by no means forgotten at Boston and Cambridge, as appears from references to it in more than one writer of this period. Even Cotton Mather’s Magnalia embalms one curious reference to it; not in an adaptation to Cambridge and Hartford of the Horatian apostrophe, “ 0 matre pulchra filia pulchrior ” (though he might appropriately enough have written “ filia asperior,” in one of the prodigious lapses into Latin which bristle on almost every page), but in plain English. His active though somewhat lurid imagination, in fact, designates it as the place where “ the last great conflict with Antichrist ” would take place.
The tremendous distinction which the great Boston divine would thus have conferred upon Hartford need not be taken as expressing anything uncomplimentary in his view of it, but merely his lively sense of its remoteness. We have seen that this remoteness helped to intensify its religious characteristics. It contributed also to make it an exceptionally homogeneous community. At the beginning of the present century there were few New England towns in which the native English stock had held its own so well against all foreign admixtures, and there are few in which local traits have been more strongly intensified and perpetuated. The persistence of the type is scarcely less marked in the political ideas which have held sway here. Hartford was not merely an important headquarters of patriotic sentiment all through the War for Independence, but a veritable hot-bed of Federalist sentiment after the war. After New England Federalism had met with its most crushing reverses elsewhere, it survived most tenaciously in this immediate vicinity ; and no other town than Hartford could have been so appropriately selected as the place of assembling of that Hartford Convention which signalized the year 1814, and which so roused the apprehensions of timid patriots in all parts of the Union.
It is no doubt owing to the fact that the real story of Hartford in the past is so much more than a history of the territory now included under the municipal name of Hartford that Dr. Trumbull, the accomplished editor of these two volumes, has been led to make them include the county as well as the city. The result is not wholly satisfactory, and a comparison of this Memorial History with that of Boston, which the phraseology of the title seems to invite, is by no means to the advantage of the former. Indeed, the use of the coÖperative method, as applied to historical publications, in the two volumes now before us, must inevitably suggest the limitations of that method. Mr. Lowell, in one of his more recent addresses, has emphasized the distinction “ between literature and merely printed matter.” Dr. Trumbull could hardly have hoped, at the best, to reach in these two volumes the high level of “ literature ” as thus understood. Needless pains, however, have been taken to render this impossible, if we may judge from the Publisher’s Note prefixed to one of the volumes, calling attention to the “ portraits and many views which were not originally contemplated, and which the subscribers receive without additional expense.” These features, together with the disheartening array of local annals in the volume devoted to the country towns, while they no doubt stir the sensibilities of the local magnates therein glorified, have an unfortunately cheapening effect on the work as a whole.
Indeed, we cannot help thinking that Dr. Trumbull has missed the true significance of that wider and more comprehensive influence which such a centre of political life as this must have had from the beginning. There have been few more interesting testimonies to the substantial “ unity of history,” as insisted on by Mr. Freeman, than the successive reappearances of the city-state, as a political institution, in ancient Greece and Rome, in mediæval Italy, and, lastly, in New England. It was because the leaders of the Hartford community possessed a real genius for political affairs that a colony, and not a mere county, came gradually to crystallize about Hartford as a nucleus. It was for a long time doubtful just where the boundaries of the colony were to be definitely drawn. Springfield was claimed as belonging to its jurisdiction, but was later included in Massachusetts. Woodstock, on the other hand, after being recognized for a series of years as a Massachusetts town, was, in 1749, attached to the Connecticut Colony. To the south of Hartford, however, was a community even more ambitious than itself to exercise the functions of a city-state. In the interesting pages of Mr. Levermore’s recent volume, The Republic of New Haven, one may read how this gallant municipality also was hemmed in, and finally swallowed up, by the ever vigilant Connecticut Colony. If the Memorial History could have done more to spread before the reader the fascinating story of Hartford’s connection with this development and growth, he could well afford to lose much of what is here told by an army of writers, but with an almost painful lack of proportion.
The town which Hooker and his associates founded grew up in one of the most fertile of New England valleys, yet it has by no means been a Bœotia in literary unfruitfulness. Hooker, indeed, was himself the first of a long line of writers who have constituted its men of letters. Its literary flowering-time was early, if we include the stilted productions of Barlow, Trumbull, and their associates in the last century. This school of letters has been long since outgrown, with other affectations, though a belated member of its ranks, the late James Gates Percival, seems not to have been aware of the fact. Some highly amusing lines, in which he gave indignant expression to his resentment, are printed in this work, and testify to Hartford’s lack of appreciation. In the more modern period it has had writers of real distinction, who have not lacked for appreciation, either at home or abroad. To this, indeed, the pages of our own magazine bear witness, for among its Hartford contributors have been numbered such names as Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Howard Brownell, Charles Dudley Warner, and S. L. Clemens ; and also, in virtue of their birth there, Edmund Clarence Steelman, John Fiske, Rose Terry Cooke, and William Henry Bishop. It is significant that as the first name of eminence among the Hartford men of letters is that of a clergyman, so is one of the last, also, the late Dr. Horace Bushnell. To this nineteenth-century divine the citizens of the Hartford of to-day gratefully acknowledge their indebtedness, for his life among them resulted in a most noteworthy quickening of their civic pride and public spirit, — a noble service on the part of any citizen.
We have spoken of the descent of this work from the Memorial History of Boston. By another line that work was also the progenitor of Mr. Winsor’s great work on America.
The fourth volume of the series, devoted to French Explorations and Settlements in North America, and to the minor essays of the Portuguese, Dutch, and Swedes,2 shows plainly the serious view of the editor, and his resolution to keep the work within the strict lines of the plan laid down at the outset. The thoroughness with which the ground is covered, the patience with which the cartography — the most original contribution, it may be said, in all the volumes thus far published — has been developed, the careful array of authorities, all these elements give the work a solidity and impressiveness which both stimulate the student and discourage him. The foundation here laid for historical study in an independent manner is admirable, but a cursory examination may well lead one to despair of attacking history as a study, unless he is to confine himself to an exceedingly minute field.
This, we say, is the first impression likely to be made upon the expectant student, and if it warns off all merely desultory speculators or indolent minds much is gained. But this volume itself invites to other moods. The clear, excellently arranged monograph on Champlain, by Mr. Slafter, shows how a single topic may be made interesting by the narration anew of an historical career, when the writer has sifted the material for the narrative and has fully possessed himself of the facts. Dr. Shea’s chapter, again, on The Jesuits, Recollects, and the Indians is a good example of how a man of full mind can group and bring into orderly form a great variety of scattered data, by the use of a convenient comprehensive topic. Mr. Stewart, in dealing with the subject of Frontenac and his Times, had a certain disadvantage in following Dr. Parkman, since that writer was able to go over the ground more fully in narrative, and to invest it with the charm of his style. It was impossible, however, to avoid this distinct subject, for Frontenac was too striking a force in the history of Canada.
Mr. Stewart, moreover, by his residence among the scenes of Frontenac’s career, has the gain which often comes from personal association, and he writes with directness and an intelligent sense of the proportion of his subject.
The introduction to the volume, however, is the paper which on many accounts is the most noteworthy contribution. Somewhere in the series it was proper that there should be a general survey of the physiographical conditions of historical development in the country, and the editor has chosen this volume as the place for Professor Shaler’s paper on the Physiography of North America. It is one of those generalizing and suggestive views which the author has a peculiar faculty for presenting, and it is of great value to the student for the lines of thought and study which it opens. We cannot recall another single paper which would do more, if carefully considered, to bring about in our schools and colleges that true union of geographical and historical studies which has been so wofully neglected. The treatment of the subject by Mr. Shaler is fascinating to the reader. It starts a great number of most interesting questions, and it may well revive the courage of one who is at first appalled by the apparent hopelessness of undertaking historical investigation on a large scale. Here is opened to him a field of research which permits him to use all the admirable material so carefully gathered in this and other volumes of the series, and yet to occupy his thought with large and vital problems. The reader who enters the fourth volume by this door will find himself in a more generous place than he might otherwise have known.
- The Memorial History of Hartford County, Connecticut. 1633-1884. Edited by J. HAMMOND TRUMBULL, LL. D. In two volumes. Boston : Edward L. Osgood. 1886.↩
- Narrative and Critical History of America. Edited by JUSTIN WINSOR. Vol. IV. French Explorations and Settlements in North America, and those of the Portuguese, Dutch, and Swedes, 1500-1700. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.↩