Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Dear readers,
    I'm doing an extra post this month because Christmas is the gift-giving winter holiday that I celebrate, and I wanted to celebrate it here at Cambridge Considered. Merry Christmas.

Christmas Bells

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

The story goes that Longfellow poured this poem onto the page on Christmas morning, as the bells he described were still ringing out. He lived in the former Tory Row on Brattle Street, at the historic manor sometimes known as the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow house. There were two nearby churches, Christ Church and First Parish Unitarian Church, so he could hear two sets of bells from his home. The 1863 poem is a Christmas favorite for many.

In the fourth, fifth, and sixth stanzas of the poem, Longfellow alludes to the Civil War, which had been going on for over two and a half years at that point. The Battle of Gettysburg, which was the bloodiest of the war, had taken place that July, and Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address in November. Longfellow was a pacifist, and his son Charles had just run away to join the Army of the Potomac (part of the Union army) earlier that year, which undoubtedly made the subject of war even more heart-wrenching for him.1 Many readers also connect the despondent verses to Longfellow's grief at having lost his wife, Fanny, two years before, in a fire in their home. 2

The repeated line, “peace on earth, good-will to men” is from Luke 2:14. Another famous use of this line is from a century before, in Handel's Messiah.3 Both uses emphasize peace and goodwill on earth. Some other translations interpret the passage to mean there will be peace on earth for those who have goodwill with god. Longfellow was a liberal Christian,4 so it is fitting that he was familiar with the more universal phrasing, which does not put limits on peace. In the poem, the Christmas bells sing out those words: “peace on earth, good-will to men.” While a look at the context of the poem and at the Civil War stanzas shows the doubts and fears on Longfellow's mind, “Christmas Bells” is without a doubt a message of faith, hope, and peace.

1Website of the Longfellow National Historic Site, accessed 12/20/2010
2 Gartner, Matthew. “America's Longfellow.” Accessed 12/20/2010
3G.F. Handel, “The Messiah.” Movement 17.
4His brother insisted that he was a devoted Christian but did not belong to a denomination, while his daughter stated that he was a Unitarian Christian his whole life. See “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,” Accessed 12/20/2010.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Very Brief History of Cambridge: 1700-1800

The Early Eighteenth Century

      Cambridge in the early eighteenth century grew slowly, continuing trends established in the 1600s. Until the middle of the century, most of the residents were descendants of Puritan settlers.1 Most of them were farmers, with some traders and artisans. Voters had not been required to be church members since 1691, which indicates that the government was beginning to depart from its religious roots, but in the first half of the 1700's, there were no major religious controversies and not much religious diversity.2 During this period, Cambridge's public schooling system became more organized. Administration of the local grammar school had originally been a duty of the town selectmen, but in 1744, the town appointed a separate school board.3 The largely rural village saw some development in the first ten years of the 1700s and again in the 1750s, with larger, improved courthouses and meetinghouses built in both decades.4 Harvard participated in this trend, and some of the oldest Harvard buildings that still stand, were built during this period, starting with Massachusetts Hall in 1720.

Anglicans Arrive

       Beginning in the 1740s, and picking up considerably in the next few decades, there was a small but influential influx of wealthy English settlers. Some of these came directly from England, and others had previously settled on estates in the West Indies.5 They were Anglicans, belonging to the Church of England, which made them the de facto rivals of the original settlers. In 1761, they opened Christ Church, and the original building is still standing and still an Episcopal church. The wealthy Anglophiles were concentrated in seven elegant manors, along with their farms and gardens. The families who lived there were closely interconnected through blood, marriage, and social ties. William Brattle, a Brigadier-General in the British army, built one of those manors in 1740, and the street where the Anglicans lived is still called Brattle Street.6 However, put off by the Anglicans' religion, ostentatious displays of wealth, extravagant private parties, and perhaps most of all their Loyalist political alignment with the King of England, the locals viewed the street as its own miniature community, an island of Englishness in a New World village. They called the street Tory Row, Church Row, or sometimes, the King's Highway.7

Cambridge and the American Revolution

      You've heard of Paul Revere's ride, on April 18, 1775. Revere was in fact one of several riders who alerted the countryside that the British troops were on the move. As a part of the same journey, William Dawes rode out Massachusetts Avenue to alert Concord. The next day, the Battle of Lexington and Concord occurred. It was immediately evident that the war would be very present here in Cambridge. The Committee of Correspondence, a provisional government, confiscated many loyalist properties, especially from “Tory Row,” and many loyalists fled the area, feeling unsafe. Harvard classes were canceled on May 1. Students who didn't join the militia resumed classes that October in Concord; the Harvard campus wasn't used as a school again until June 1776.8 More than 20,000 militiamen from around New England camped in Cambridge in April of 1775. They took over Loyalist homes, Christ Church, and Harvard for various military uses, and the Common served as a training ground and a site where soldiers camped out. In fighting the war, Cambridge established the first state arsenal in what is now Arsenal Square, and an important magazine (a location for storing gunpowder) by what is now Magazine Street.9

       On July 3, 1775, George Washington formally took command of the Continental Army, as the militia was now called, in the Cambridge Common. The site is now commemorated with an archway on the side facing Mass. Ave. For nine months, in 1775 and 1776, Washington used one of the Tory Row manors as his home and headquarters, even bringing his family to stay with him.10 That manor had been inhabited by several prominent locals, but its most famous owner, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, had not yet been born.

Cambridge in the Early Republic
       In 1779, Massachusetts held a convention in Cambridge in order to decide upon a new constitution for the state. John Adams presided, and had a big hand in writing the document. This constitution, adopted in 1780, is still in effect, and it is the oldest written governing constitution in the world.11 Modern Cambridge residents would likely be very comfortable with most, but not all, of the original document. It included Enlightenment ideas about equality and natural rights; the first article begins, “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights.” Seven years later, when the federal Constitution was created, the framers looked to the constitution of Massachusetts as one of their models. The Massachusetts constitution includes several provisions about religion, permitting citizens to worship the way they chose, but also authorizing the government to require and support Protestant churches and schools. In 1781, a Massachusetts court ruled that slavery was not permitted in the state because of Article I, and in 1783 the state supreme court agreed.
       After the war, Cambridge's resources probably looked somewhat spent. The use of so many public and private spaces for military needs took its toll.12 However, towards the end of the eighteenth century, the city saw improvements that set a good precedent for industrialization in the years to come. In 1793, Cantabrigians created a Fire Society – a formal way of organizing their corps of volunteer firefighters. This was essential to protecting homes and other buildings, as there was not yet a professional fire department.13 In the same year, the West Boston Bridge was constructed, connecting Cambridge and Boston in a very convenient location, where the Longfellow Bridge is now.14 This proved to be a boon for the local economy, allowing an increased flow of trade with the Port of Boston. 
1 Martin, Mary L. and E. Ashley Rooney. Cambridge, Massachusetts Past and Present. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2008), 7.
2 Seaburg, Alan. Cambridge on the Charles. (Cambridge: Anne Miniver Press, 2001),  18.
3 Seaburg 130.
4 Seaburg 19.
5 Rooney 7.
6 Douglas, Adeline. "Tory Row." Merrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896),  26.
7 Douglas, 25.
8 Rooney 7.
9 Rooney 7.
10 Rooney 8.
11 Seaburg 22.
12 Rooney 8.
13 Seaburg 65.
14 Rooney 9.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New at Cambridge Considered

Hello, readers,
I'm back after taking a hiatus that was longer than I intended as I sorted out some computer challenges. A couple of things are new here at Cambridge Considered:

I'm starting a short series of posts called "A Very Brief History of Cambridge." These are intended for any new reader, particularly if you aren't familiar with this city's history. Because I'm summarizing so much in each one, they will be a little longer and less colorful than a normal Cambridge Considered post, but I hope they will be enjoyable and useful. The first one covers the years 1630-1700.

Additionally, there are two new sidebar pages on the site. Recommended Reading is just that, a page where I will recommend books, websites, and other sources about Cambridge history that readers might enjoy. Sites Worth Seeing is another page of recommendations, where I will list local sites that relate to topics discussed on Cambridge Considered.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Very Brief History of Cambridge: 1630-1700

       In the spirit of a fresh start after leaving old England, and in keeping with their governor John Winthrop's vision of a "city on a hill" that would be a role model to the world, the Puritans gave the simple name "Newtowne" to the settlement that they chose to be their capital in 1630. In 1638, two years after the Great and General Court of the colony founded the college at Newtowne, the settlement was renamed Cambridge after the English university town. The college, in turn, was renamed after John Harvard, who graduated from Cambridge University in England, and settled in Charlestown, MA. When he died in 1638, Harvard left the college 500 pounds, his library of 400 volumes, and his name. While it never became the capital of Massachusetts, Cambridge did become the intellectual center of the Massachusetts Bay colony.
      While it was a fresh start for the Puritans, they were not the first inhabitants of the area. The Massachusett people lived throughout what is now the Massachusetts Bay region. Their population was rapidly reduced by foreign diseases when Europeans began settling here. Because they did not use written language until European settlement began, the recorded history of this area begins in the 1600's, rather than when they arrived. The original Cambridge, as settled by the English, covered most of present-day Arlington, Bedford, Brighton, Lexington, and Newton, and pieces of Belmont and Winchester.1
        The Puritans came to the New World because they believed that the Church of England was corrupted and that religion had to be purified to be more true to original Christian teachings. They established Salem in 1630, and several other towns, including Charlestown, Watertown, Boston, and Cambridge. The Massachusetts Bay Company, officially a trading company, had a royal charter from England to settle Massachusetts. It was originally run by stockholders, but eventually expanded to include anyone in church communion. Early Cambridge was very nearly theocratic; the church and state were closely intertwined. The first meeting house, both a house of worship and a place for community business, was built in 1632. All church members could vote, and they created a religious society where interdependence was highly valued and the good of the community was supposed to come before the good of the individual.2 However, this did not mean that the Puritans were egalitarian. Church officials assigned seats in the meeting house based on family status, age, and property. Men and women sat separately. Sunday worship services included prayer, unaccompanied singing, and a reading and expounding of Scripture. Sermons were expected to last one hour, but it was not unheard of for a minister to take longer.3 Despite a religion that emphasized work above material success, clergymen often had more household luxuries than their neighbors.4
In the seventeenth century, Cambridge often lagged behind Boston, and even smaller neighbors such as Watertown. The first settlers farmed the land and raised animals, and as such, each family had a house in the village, planting fields outside, and a share in the common grazing land. As a general rule, the wealthier a family was, the closer their land would be to the center of town.5 With sandier, rockier soil and more salt marshes than most of the nearby towns, Cambridge sometimes struggled in agriculture. Boston had a stronger economic base because of its access to the sea, and so to increase its trading opportunities, Cambridge had to become connected with Boston. The first landing for a ferry to go back and forth over the Charles was built in 1635.6 Even better, the Great Bridge between Cambridge and Boston was completed in 1662. In the later part of the century, Cambridge began to gain a foothold in tanning and other small industries.7
Cambridge once had a near-monopoly on the spread of ideas in the New World. From 1638, Harvard had been home to the only printing press in the colonies, brought from England by Henry Dunster, president of the school. However, in 1674, a printing press arrived in Boston, which was quite a blow to Cambridge.8 Still, Harvard remained the only college in Massachusetts until after the Revolution, and the only college in the colonies until 1693 with the founding of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Harvard was also many locals' best bet for a steady income – they catered to the more affluent student population by selling school supplies and clothes, repairing shoes, serving food and drink, and acting as hired help at the school itself. Those who worked for the college, cleaning the halls and making the beds, were often given “country pay” – that is, they were paid in goods such as grain rather than in cash.9
In 1686, King James II of England took the colony of Massachusetts under direct rule: it was no longer to be governed by an independent charter. The governor was now appointed by the king, rather than chosen by local civil and religious bodies. This set the stage for the following century, when the colony began to move away from its separatist roots. The towns that had been founded with the “city on a hill” idea, including Cambridge and Boston, would see an influx of immigration by wealthy Anglicans who held much more English attitudes than the original settlers. The changes that took place because Massachusetts was now governed directly by England eventually led Cambridge, with the rest of Massachusetts and the other colonies, toward revolution.
1 Seaburg, Alan. Cambridge on the Charles. (Cambridge: Anne Miniver Press, 2001), 13.
2 Seaburg 17.
3 McKenzie, Alexander. “Some Thynges of Ye Olden Tyme.” Merrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 5.
4 Thomson, Roger. Cambridge Cameos: Stories of Life in Seventeenth-Century New England. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2005), 37.
5 Thomspon 20
6Martin, Mary L. and E. Ashley Rooney. Cambridge, Massachusetts Past and Present. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2008), 6.
While Cambridge and Boston have many well-known bridges today, the Great Bridge is no longer standing.
7Thompson 35.
8Rooney 7.
9Thomson 57.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Bird in the Belfry

Describing the various midnight antics of students climbing into the bell tower of Harvard Hall, Alice M. Jose wrote, “One Thanksgiving the students were anxious to present a turkey to the bell-ringer, and thoughtfully hung it to the tongue of the bell, whence it was finally taken by its delighted recipient.” My mental image is of a frozen turkey, perhaps still wrapped in plastic, but since Jose was writing in 1896, the bird was definitely not shrink-wrapped, and probably not frozen or even plucked, either. I hope the feathered offering was at least dead when it was tied to the bell. Jose probably would have mentioned it if the turkey were still gobbling.

Jose describes the incident in her essay, “A Guide to Harvard College,” which was published in the collection Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors.[1] The book tells local history with a nostalgic bent, and includes essays about the first settlement of Cambridge, the houses of “Tory Row,” and one author’s childhood in Cambridge in the 1830’s. Because of Jose’s familiar style of retelling the story, the modern reader is missing quite a bit of information, for example, what year the event supposedly took place. Although the first one was lost in a fire, there has been a building called Harvard Hall since the school’s founding in 1636.

A more recent book of Cambridge memorabilia tells the story as having occurred in 1873 in Appleton Chapel.[2] This version states that the turkey weighed seventeen pounds. However, the student newspaper The Harvard Crimson, then in its first year of publication and titled The Magenta, did not report on any prank involving a turkey in 1873. It did report – approvingly – that some vandal had made “sundry inscriptions” in the entrance of the chapel.[3] It also printed a complaint about a freshman Greek exam scheduled for the Saturday after Thanksgiving,[4] but no bird swinging from the tongue of a bell.

I would love to verify the authenticity of the story. So far, however, these are all the clues I have. Since I wanted to share the tale before Thanksgiving, I present it to you as an unsolved mystery, instead of established fact. If anyone has a lead on more information, or has seen another mention of the rumor, please let me know!

[1] Jose, Alice M. “A Guide to Harvard College.” Merrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 88.
[2] Martin, Mary L. and E. Ashley Rooney. Cambridge, Massachusetts Past and Present. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2008), 84.
[3] “Brevities.” The Magenta. November 21, 1873.  
[4] “A Plea.” The Magenta. November 21, 1873.