Friday, August 11, 2006

Across The Street and Three Centuries

If you cross the street from Abigail Adams, you can look back at the First Parish Church she adorns from the sylvan vantage point of the old burial ground. It has the calm of a spot of extreme age, well tended. There are no hard edges remaining, even on the hardest of original edges displayed there.

These were austere and uncompromising men and women that were buried here. Life was not a bowl of cherries for anybody three hundred years ago, as the mute evidence of the numerous tiny nameless markers at the foot of the parent's graves testify. No man should bury his children, it is said. I suspect it was said recently.

The various inscriptions about the denizens here are very chaste in their praise. It was enough, apparently, to commemorate their importance to the town and the country, to single them out for mention. There are two bronze plaques from the 1920s which list the names of the local inhabitants that participated in the Revolutionary War, flanked by another listing those first hardy souls that founded the city.

The founder's plaque has but a few names: Hancock, Adams, Quincy, Hoar. They are the ancestors of the men of those names we learn of in the history books. Hoar was a doctor, and the third president of Harvard University. The boneyard itself was set aside in 1640.

Henry Adams was born in 1583. It is useful to put that in perspective. William Shakespeare baptized his first daughter in 1583. Michelangelo was still painting the back wall of the Sistine Chapel just forty years before that. Andrea Palladio, that most influential of architects, whose Four Books Of Architecture that church was most surely based upon, was still alive in1580. When I first began working in the 1970s, I worked with people whose experience went back to before the Depression. Henry Adams and his neighbors rubbed elbows with the Middle Ages.

The inscription on the lovely gate leading into the burying ground reads: "The Mortal Shall Put On Immortality."

Certainly that. There's also a kind of fame, made indistinct by the passage of time, which fertilizes the grass here. We are watching the proceedings from the stands, mostly. These are the men and women who strode into the arena, and slew the beasts.

Whatever rest they've gotten, they earned.


Patrick Martin said...

Sippican, your post inspired me to write up some musings I've been having since my summers in France many years ago. Thanks!

tjl said...

Sippican -

You have a way of capturing these classic New England scenes visually and then providing an apt verbal improvisation on the theme of the photo.

I always thought Quincy granite was the quintessential Massachusetts building material, even though it's far less common than clapboard or shingles. Granite best expresses that gaunt, uncompromising, foursquare, rock-ribbed Yankee personality that is reflected in so much 19th century architecture.