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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Webster at Bunker Hill

By Samuel Griswold Goodrich (1793–1860)

[From Recollections of a Lifetime. 1857.]

THE FIRST time I ever saw Mr. Webster was on the 17th of June, 1825, at the laying of the corner-stone of the Bunker Hill Monument. I shall never forget his appearance as he strode across the open area, encircled by some fifty thousand persons—men and women—waiting for the “Orator of the Day,” nor the shout that simultaneously burst forth, as he was recognized, carrying up to the skies the name of “Webster!” “Webster!” “Webster!”

It was one of those lovely days in June, when the sun is bright, the air clear, and the breath of nature so sweet and pure as to fill every bosom with a grateful joy in the mere consciousness of existence. There were present long files of soldiers in their holiday attire; there were many associations, with their mottoed banners; there were lodges and grand lodges, in white aprons and blue scarfs; there were miles of citizens from the towns and the country round about; there were two hundred gray-haired men, remnants of the days of the Revolution; there was among them a stranger, of great mildness and dignity of appearance, on whom all eyes rested, and when his name was known, the air echoed with the cry—“Welcome, welcome, Lafayette!” Around all this scene, was a rainbow of beauty such as New England alone can furnish.

I have seen many public festivities and ceremonials, but never one, taken all together, of more general interest than this. Everything was fortunate: all were gratified; but the address was that which seemed uppermost in all minds and hearts. Mr. Webster was in the very zenith of his fame and of his powers. I have looked on many mighty men—King George, the “first gentleman in England;” Sir Astley Cooper, the Apollo of his generation; Peel, O’Connell, Palmerston, Lyndhurst—all nature’s noblemen; I have seen Cuvier, Guizot, Arago, Lamartine—marked in their persons by the genius which has carried their names over the world; I have seen Clay, and Calhoun, and Pinkney, and King, and Dwight, and Daggett, who stand as high examples of personal endowment, in our annals, and yet not one of these approached Mr. Webster in the commanding power of their personal presence. There was a grandeur in his form, an intelligence in his deep dark eye, a loftiness in his expansive brow, a significance in his arched lip, altogether beyond those of any other human being I ever saw. And these, on the occasion to which I allude, had their full expression and interpretation.

In general, the oration was serious, full of weighty thought and deep reflection. Occasionally there were flashes of fine imagination, and several passages of deep, overwhelming emotion. I was near the speaker, and not only heard every word, but I saw every movement of his countenance. When he came to address the few scarred and time-worn veterans—some forty in number—who had shared in the bloody scene which all had now gathered to commemorate, he paused a moment, and, as he uttered the words “Venerable men,” his voice trembled, and I could see a cloud pass over the sea of faces that turned upon the speaker. When at last, alluding to the death of Warren, he said—

“But ah, Him!—the first great martyr of this great cause. Him, the patriotic victim of his own self-devoting heart. Him, cut off by Providence in the hour of overwhelming anxiety and thick gloom: falling ere he saw the star of his country rise—how shall I struggle with the emotions that stifle the utterance of thy name!” Here the eyes of the veterans around, little accustomed to tears, were filled to the brim, and some of them “sobbed aloud in their fulness of heart.” The orator went on:

“Our poor work may perish, but thine shall endure: this monument may moulder away, the solid ground it rests upon may sink down to the level of the sea; but thy memory shall not fail. Wherever among men a heart shall be found that beats to the transports of patriotism and liberty, its aspirations shall claim kindred with thy spirit!”

I have never seen such an effect, from a single passage: a moment before, every bosom bent, every brow was clouded, every eye was dim. Lifted as by inspiration, every breast seemed now to expand, every gaze to turn above, every face to beam with a holy yet exulting enthusiasm. It was the omnipotence of eloquence, which, like the agitated sea, carries a host upon its waves, sinking and swelling with its irresistible undulations.