Read at the President’s Levee, Brown University,
29th 6th month, 1870.
To-day the plant by Williams set
Its summer bloom discloses;
The wilding sweethrier of his prayers
Is crowned with cultured roses.
Once more the Island State repeats
The lesson that he taught her,
And binds his pearl of charity
Upon her brown-locked daughter.
Is ‘t fancy that he watches still
His Providence plantations?
That still the careful Founder takes
A part on these occasions.
Methinks I see that reverend form,
Which all of us so well know
He rises up to speak; he jogs
The presidential elbow.
“Good friends,” he says, “you reap a field
I sowed in self-denial,
For toleration had its griefs
And charity its trial.
“Great grace, as saith Sir Thomas More,
To him must needs be given
Who heareth heresy and leaves
The heretic to Heaven!
“I hear again the snuffled tones,
I see in dreary vision
Dyspeptic dreamers, spiritual bores,
And prophets with a mission.
“Each zealot thrust before my eyes
His Scripture-garbled label;
All creeds were shouted in my ears
As with the tongues of Babel.
“Scourged at one cart-tail, each denied
The hope of every other;
Each martyr shook his branded fist
At the conscience of his brother!
“How cleft the dreary drone of man.
The shriller pipe of woman,
As Gorton led his saints elect,
Who held all things in common!
“Their gay robes trailed in ditch and swamp,
And torn by thorn and thicket,
The dancing-girls of Merry Mount
Came dragging to my wicket.
“Shrill Anabaptists, shorn of ears;
Gray witch-wives, hobbling slowly;
And Antinomians, free of law,
Whose very sins were holy.
“Hoarse ranters, crazed Fifth Monarchists,
Of stripes and bondage braggarts,
Pale Churchmen, with singed rubrics snatched
From Puritanic fagots.
“And last, not least, the Quakers came,
With tongues still sore from burning,
The Bay State’s dust from off their feet
Before my threshold spurning;
“A motley host, the Lord’s debris,
Faith’s odds and ends together;
Well might I shrink from guests with lungs
Tough as their breeches leather
“If, when the hangman at their heels
Came, rope in hand to catch them,
I took the hunted outcasts in,
I never sent to fetch them.
“I fed, but spared them not a whit;
I gave to all who walked in,
Not clams and succotash alone,
But stronger meat of doctrine.
“I proved the prophets false, I pricked
The bubble of perfection,
And clapped upon their inner light
The snuffers of election.
“And looking backward on my times,
This credit I am taking;
I kept each sectary’s dish apart,
No spiritual chowder making.
“Where now the blending signs of sect
Would puzzle their assorter,
The dry-shod Quaker kept the land,
The Baptist held the water.
“A common coat now serves for both,
The hat’s no more a fixture;
And which was wet and which was dry,
Who knows in such a mixture?
“Well! He who fashioned Peter’s dream
To bless them all is able;
And bird and beast and creeping thing
Make clean upon His table!
“I walked by my own light; but when
The ways of faith divided,
Was I to force unwilling feet
To tread the path that I did?
“I touched the garment-hem of truth,
Yet saw not all its splendor;
I knew enough of doubt to feel
For every conscience tender.
“God left men free of choice, as when
His Eden-trees were planted;
Because they chose amiss, should I
Deny the gift He granted?
“So, with a common sense of need,
Our common weakness feeling,
I left them with myself to God
And His all-gracious dealing!
“I kept His plan whose rain and sun
To tare and wheat are given;
And if the ways to hell were free,
I left then free to heaven!”
Take heart with us, O man of old,
Soul-freedom’s brave confessor,
So love of God and man wax strong,
Let sect and creed be lesser.
The jarring discords of thy day
In ours one hymn are swelling;
The wandering feet, the severed paths,
All seek our Father’s dwelling.
And slowly learns the world the truth
That makes us all thy debtor,–
That holy life is more than rite,
And spirit more than letter;
That they who differ pole-wide serve
Perchance the common Master,
And other sheep He hath than they
Who graze one narrow pasture!
For truth’s worst foe is he who claims
To act as God’s avenger,
And deems, beyond his sentry-beat,
The crystal walls in danger!
Who sets for heresy his traps
Of verbal quirk and quibble,
And weeds the garden of the Lord
With Satan’s borrowed dibble.
To-day our hearts like organ keys
One Master’s touch are feeling;
The branches of a common Vine
Have only leaves of healing.
Co-workers, yet from varied fields,
We share this restful nooning;
The Quaker with the Baptist here
Believes in close communing.
Forgive, dear saint, the playful tone,
Too light for thy deserving;
Thanks for thy generous faith in man,
Thy trust in God unswerving.
Still echo in the hearts of men
The words that thou hast spoken;
No forge of hell can weld again
The fetters thou hast broken.
The pilgrim needs a pass no more
From Roman or Genevan;
Thought-free, no ghostly tollman keeps
Henceforth the road to Heaven!