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MASSACHUSETTS HISTORICAL SOCIETY,
ELECTED APRIL 26, 1838.
Hon. THOMAS L, WINTHROP, L.L.D.
JOSEPH WILLARD, Esq.
Hon. JAMES SAVAGE.
Rev. THADDEUS MASON HARRIS, D. D.
Hon. JAMES SAVAGE,
The Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society have been classed in series, each comprising ten volumes; and the present volume is the seventh of the third series.
The volumes are sold at the very moderate price of one dollar, neatly done up in boards. The whole set, or any single volume, may he had on application at the Library, over the Savings Bank, Tremont Street, or of C. C. Little & Co., Booksellers, No. 112 Washington Street, Boston.
AN ACCOUNT OF THE MASSACHUSETTS HISTORI
[Prepared by William Jenks, D. D., a member of the Society.]
The common remark, that no nation can trace so readily and accurately its origin, as ours, has been grounded, no doubt, on the consideration of the progress of European society at the time our country was discovered. The three centuries and a half, which have now nearly elapsed since that period, have formed, comparatively, times of light, and mutual influence, in the history of mankind. By printing, extended navigation, and commercial treaties, the nations have apparently approximated each other
; and it would seem, that, even of necessity, the history of each must be recorded and known.
But, in fact, the preservation of the particulars involved in the progress of any people, is a distinct and definite labor for some individual, or association, appropriately devoted to the subject. Official documents must, indeed, in civilized nations, exist ; but these are necessarily meagre and restricted, or formal and uninteresting: and the historian is compelled to gather his materials from a wide surface, and to welcome the intelligence derived
* The Rev. Dr. Cogswell, one of the editors of the American Quarterly Register, having applied for a memoir of the Massachusetts Historical Society, for insertion among the interesting statistics of that highly respectable periodical publication, the Rev. Dr. JENKS was appointed to prepare one; and, by a subsequent vote, the Publishing Committee were directed to include it in the forthcoming volume of the Collections.--Pub. Com.
from the more private memoir, as well as the public record.
If such observations apply even to the old establishments of Europe and Asia, in which the series of public documents and private memoirs, has, in so many instances, been kept almost unbroken ; it may easily appear, that the difficulties attending the often perilous work of colonization, succeeded by the alteration of character and pursuits in the descendants of original colonists, must enhance the labor of collecting materials for historical use.
Thus, for instance, in the settlement of New England, we should imagine that, engaged in as it was when science and literature had produced their wonders at Oxford, Cambridge, and other seats of learning in the mother country, no material fact would pass without observation, nor fail to be transmitted to our times. And it is, indeed, a subject for gratulation, that several of the actors in the busy scenes of that day were qualified by education and experience for the task. Thus was the illustrious WinTHROP, first governor of Massachusetts, and so were several of his associates. But, not being at once intrusted to the press, for no press had been erected, their memorials, in their single preciousness, were exposed to the ravages of fire, the negligence and indifference of subsequent possessors of them,* and the innumerable " changes and chances” of an emigrant's fortunes.
The Rev. Dr. Cotton MATHER prepared several memorials, especially of an ecclesiastical character, at a period tolerably early, while yet many of the first race of immigrants were alive. But his desultory manner of writing, much like a modern review, did not allow him to establish his narratives by a severe attention to dates and historical facts, nor to give attention to statistical details. Valuable as are many of the materials he has left us, we are grieved
* The fate, for instance, of the learned President Chauncy's mss. as related in Allen's Biographical Dictionary is in point. A member of the Historical Society, not many years ago, had been promised, on his application for that purpose, the indulgence of examining a barrel or two of ancient papers in a neighboring town, belonging to a family descended of the early settlers. “ They are now," said the lady, " in the garret-an unfit place for you to enter ;” and the inspection was deferred. On calling again, he had the mortification to learn, that, as the occupants had been repairing the house, these papers, being found in the way, had the day before been committed to the flames !
to think how much he might have done for our history, and has yet neglected.
Similar remarks might apply to Gookin,* and HUBBARD, † and to Morton, I to Eliot, § and Williams, || whose works have been, either by members of this Society, or by the Society itself
, reproduced to the public ; and it was not until the time of HUTCHINSON, I that a history at all worthy of the subject appeared before the world.
Previously, however, to the accomplishment of any portion of this labor, the Rev. Mr. Prince,** had, with indefatigable zeal, and at no inconsiderable expense, collected a mass of documents in reference to the country, both in printed works and mss. Early in life he had conceived the idea which he labored to embody in his “New England Library.” Of this valuable collection, which suffered
* Gookin's " Historical Collections of the Indians in New England," rich as they are in details, yet leave much to inquire for. Happily, another work of his has, at length, after lying long in England, been published in the Transactions of a sister society here, + See Sarage's Winthrop, I. 296, 7.
The remarks, however, may not be thought applicable to the edition of Morton with which we are now favored from a discriminating, industrious, and learned editor, who has so greatly enriched it with his notes. Judge Davis's edition of the “ Memorial" was published in 8vo. 1826.
§ Few particulars, comparatively, of a historical kind, are gleaned from the productions of this eminently pious, devoted and successful missionary and pastor. Like the primitive Christians, his effort was rather “to live, than to record, great things."
The remark just made in reference to "the apostle Eliot” may apply to Roger Williams, several of whose letters, autograph mss. were contained in a voluine of the Trumbull collection belonging to the Historical Society, which perished in the conflagration of November 10, 1825. He has found, however, able biographers in the late Rev. Dr. Bentley and Rey. Prof. Knowles.
In the highly valuable notes with which Mr. Savage has accompanied his edi. tion of Gov. Winthrop's History, will be found an appreciation of Hutchinson's merits as an accurate, laborious, and well-informed historian. Two volumes of his History of Massachusetts, with an Appendix of important documents, had been printed before his departure for England. Within a few years, the concluding volume has been published there. It seems desirable, that an American edition of the whole, with additional notes, should appear. It is believed that a proposition of this nature was not long since made to our eminent jurist, Judge STORY, whose engagements have not allowed him to give the project attention. Could it engage, as successfully as did the History of Winthrop, the learned labor of the diligent antiquary who so happily edited that work, the writer doubts not that the public and himself would have no cause for regret. Much and steady light, in addition even to Minot and BRADFORD's Histories, will, we may anticipate, be thrown on the stirring period of Hutchinson's life, when we shall possess the long expected, entire collection of the works of the elder President Adams, preparing, as is understood, by his distinguished son.
** Mr. Prince's historical work, the New England Chronology, with the additional numbers designed for a second volume, has been faithfully edited by a member of the Historical Society, the Hon. N. HALE, 8vo. 1826. But for most of what may be important in relation to Mr. Prince, the writer must gratify himself by referring to the excellent “ History of the Old South Church,” by his late beloved Christian brother, the lamented Dr. WISNER.
the predatory and destructive violation of a barbarous soldiery during the revolutionary war, a portion only remains, divided between the study of Mr. Prince's successor, and the library of this Society. To the latter destination have been consigned, by loan, or deposit, such portions of these treasures as were deemed essential in a historical view, or valuable as books of reference.*
The destruction, by fire, of the ancient, original library of Harvard college, in 1764, and the dispersion, or detruction, by a mob, of the valuable collection of books and Mss. in the hands of governor Hutchinson,t some of which belonged to the State, but were loaned for the completion of his History, must have irrecoverably deprived the country of many precious records. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at, that literary men, who reflected on all these and many other losses, sustained in various ways, should desire a place of deposit for whatever scattered remains might be yet accumulated, and an association to preserve and use them.
It is difficult, if not impracticable, to discover, at the present period, the actual germ of the Society, in the first thought, intention, or effort of any individual mind. Mr. WALLCUT, the only survivor of the first ten who associated, does not sustain the claim made for him by the late Dr. Snow,f and by Dr. Allen. The writer will, therefore, avail himself of the reminiscences and minutes of his valued friend, the Rev. Dr. HARRIS, better able, perhaps than any one now living, tó ascend to the fountain head of the institution, having taken a very early and deep interest in its success.
The Rev. Dr. BELKNAP has been uniformly regarded as a principal founder of this Society. His valuable History of New Hampshire had been written under great disadvantages, and published with inadequate patronage. The labor of twenty-two years, as he states, was devoted to it; and in his last volume, published in 1793, nine years after
* The deposit of these selected volumes and mss. was made in 1814, under a specific and recorded agreement. The selection was confided to the late Rev. Dr. Holmes and ALDEN BRADFORD, LL. D. In effecting the object, Dr. Harris also had, from the first, been deeply interested and active.
+ See Holmes's Annals, and Eliot's Biographical Dictionary.
History of Boston. p. 356. Pres. Allen's Biographical Dictionary, art. Belknap.