(Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library Print Department)
introduce the John P. Marquand Collection at Yale University,
a rare and extensive gathering in 51 boxes of materials
open for research.
Marquand, leading American writer of the twentieth century,
was born on November 10, 1893, to Philip and Margaret Fuller
Marquand, both descendants of old New England families.
Although he was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and lived
in Rye, New York, until he was fourteen, Marquand considered
himself a New Englander. He was educated at the Newburyport
(Massachusetts) High School and at Harvard University, from
which he was graduated in 1915. From 1915 to 1917, he was
assistant magazine editor of the Boston Transcript.
After a brief period as advertising copywriter in 1920 and
1921, he became a novelist and published The Unspeakable
Gentleman (1922). Marquand was a frequent contributor
of short stories to several popular magazines of the day,
most notably The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan,
Collier's, and Good Housekeeping. Many of his
novels were also serialized in shortened form in these magazines.
A recurring theme in many of Marquand's works concerns the
life and times of the middle and upper classes in twentieth-century
New England--particularly Bostonas illustrated in
The Late George Apley (1937), Wickford Point
(1939), and H. M. Pulham, Esquire (1941). Marquand
also wrote several mysteries featuring the Oriental detective
Mr. Moto. Film versions of the Mr. Moto mysteries enjoyed
great popularity. Marquand's writings were widely received
and sold well. In addition, many of his works were successfully
adapted for stage and screen.
In 1922, Marquand married Christina Sedgwick. From this
marriage, which lasted thirteen years, a son and a daughter
were born. In 1936, Marquand married Adelaide Hooker. Two
sons and a daughter were born of this union, which also
ended in divorce in 1958.
John P. Marquand died in his sleep of a heart attack on
July 16, 1960 in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
A Grandson's Story
address, "Fathers, Sons, and Grandsons: John P. Marquand,"
by Richard E. Welch III, delivered in the Meeting House
of the First Unitarian Society (Unitarian Universalist),
Newburyport, Massachusetts, February 17, 2002.
infant John Marquand pictured with his mother
of my early memories rests in this very church. I am eight
years old, sitting in one of the front pews, very unsettled
because my mother is beside me crying. The casket is highly
polished mahogany and seems very large. I vaguely realize
that the death of my grandfather is a big deal but I am
primarily concerned about my mother's tears, the sudden
tension around the house, and the swirl of activity that
has disrupted my summer. Being a typical egocentric young
boy, my thoughts are not on the man who, somewhat out of
character, had gone out of his way to tell his grandson
animated stories of Egyptian thieves, the Serengeti Plains,
and Chinese warlords. This was the rather intimidating grandfather,
whoeven in my youthful ignoranceI vaguely realized
was a somewhat famous person. The man who only days before
had insisted that just the two of us soon have lunchone
of those intimidating formal lunches served by some housekeeper
and replete with watered down wine and finger bowlsand
discuss tales of old Newburyport. But, as I say, I was not
reflecting on him. No, I am sure my thoughts were more focused
on fishing that afternoon in the Artichoke River or considering
some appropriate torture for my older sister.
was John Phillips Marquand and his childhood was not as
idyllic as mine.
the following. A young boy, age 13, learns that his father
has lost almost all of the family's money. The family will
have to move from their extremely comfortable home in the
wealthy suburb of Rye, New York. This boy will have to leave
his private school classmates and attend a public high school.
Even more startling, the mother and father will be leaving
their son for an extended and indefinite period. The boy's
father, a failed stock broker with an engineering degree,
has found a job working on the new project called the Panama
Canal and will be departing for that distant location with
the boy's mother. The boy is to be shipped off to a small
town in Massachusetts named Newburyport. And, he is to be
raised by three elderly woman in an isolated country house.
Late George Apley, which won Marquand a Pulitzer
prize in 1960 and established him as a best-selling
This boy was,
of course, John Philips Marquand. While born and initially
raised elsewhere, he spent by far his most formative years
in Newburyport. The sudden dissolving of John Marquand's
immediate family and the resulting upbringing by his three
aunts were the defining events in his life.
In 1949, John
P. Marquand had reached the peak of both his craft and his
fame. He had just published yet another best selling novel,
this one went by the title of Point of No Return.
The novel was receiving good reviews even from some of his
more reluctant literary critics. He had won the Pulitzer
Prize for fiction with his novel The Late George Apley.
Every novel he wrote after Apley almost instantly became
a best seller. In 1949, his face was on the cover of Time
and Newsweek magazines with long feature articles
that stressed the fact that this talented novelist of manners
had become America's most successful writer of that era.
Even the higher brow New Yorker magazine carried
a long, glowing and clever profile of the author. John Marquand
must have read these complimentary pieces at either his
Beekman Place address in New York City or at his country
home on Kent's Island in Newbury, Massachusetts. At either
address he would have been surrounded by antiques and art
work that would later be displayed in various museums. He
was a wealthy and successful man. Given his introspective
nature, it is almost certain that he recognized the irony
of this fame. Here he was, a famous novelist, who was, at
heart, still that young, insecure boy living in that charming
but run down house with three spinster aunts, attending
Newburyport High School and Sunday services in this church.
It does not take
a child psychiatrist to understand that being abandoned
as a child in the first year of adolescence by your parents
and left with elderly women in a remote location would constitute
a dramatic, even a shattering, event in one's life. But,
as with many a Marquand character, the story is not that
simple. When John Marquand was left with his three aunts
at Curzon's Mill in Newburyport in his thirteenth year,
his feelings were an ambivalent stew of loss, embarrassment
even at the confusing and tender age of thirteenan
age more tender than thirteen is nowthat his father
was a financial failure. The stock market panic of 1907
had wiped out Philip Marquand's considerable inheritance.
More than the reversal of financial fortune was the fact
that the son had come to the realization that his father
was an embarrassment. Phillip, his investment banker father
having been given a comfortable nest egg, together with
a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, tried his hand as
a stock broker and had failed miserably. Indeed, he seemed
to fail at most every professional venture. His father would
never be a role model and John Marquand had little positive
to say about him throughout his father's long life.
at age 17
drew upon the very ambivalent feelings he held toward his
father in his novel Point of No Return. There the
father, John Gray, is portrayed as a more sympathetic version
of his own, someone who was sure he could beat the system
and make a fortune. A man who loved to live high on the
hog when fortune smiled upon him, but who frequently lost
I am always reminded of one scene from the novel, set in
this very church, each time I actually make it to a service
and the offertory begins:
[John Gray] used to say, what was Unitarianism? He was
in no position, not for a minute, to embark on a theological
discussion or to criticize the tenets of a religion embraced
by Emerson and Channing. He realized also that a belief
in the brotherhood of man and in the general progress
of mankind, onward and upward forever, was a stabilizing
influence, good for him and everybody else, particularly
for the children. He would have been glad to consider
this mild dogma every Sunday and even listen to the asthmatic
sound of the organ...if it had not been necessary to have
[the minister] tell him about it....The best thing about
Unitarianism was that there was no compulsion about attending
its servicesnone at least for him.
Let me interrupt
and hasten to add that these lines were penned before
the arrival of either the Reverend Bertrand Steeves or
the current Reverend Harold Babcock.
Sunday, during one of his rare financially flush periods,
John Gray appeared dressed and ready to attend services
with his family. "John," his surprised wife
asks, "why are you going?" He responds: "Let's
say I have a new sense of spiritual responsibility this
morning that demands direct action."
When it was time for the offering, John Gray flips open
his billfold and deliberately drops a hundred dollar gold
treasury note into the wooden contribution box for the
entire congregation to see.
After the service his wife confronts John Gray and tells
him that "at least you might have put it in an envelope."
"That's true," John Gray said. "Of course,
that's perfectly true. I've always wanted to do that...ever
since I was a little boy. I know it's childish of me,
but I don't suppose I am sorry."
Book-of-the-Month Club Board of Judges mulling over
a selection, with Marquand presiding. L-R John Mason
Brown, Gilbert Highet, Marquand, Clifton Fadiman and
Basil Davenport. (Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library
Indeed John Gray,
much like Marquand's father, never seems sorry. He is always
promising his son Charley a pony as soon as he makes his
next financial killing. The pony never comes. Eventually,
Charley Graylike the son of John Marquandcame
to realize that the pony would never arrive. As the diligent,
careful son Charley Gray noted: "His father had never
tried too hard. He had never grown measured and tired by
trying." It was left to son Charley, and to John Marquand,
to try hard and become tired, due to the fecklessness of
The embarrassment of such a father also must have been mixed
with a great feeling of loss. Suddenly, the mother of this
thirteen year old child was leaving. There is no doubt that
this boy unequivocally loved his mother. To suddenly be
without her for a long, indefinite period of time, obviously
had a profound effect upon young John Marquand's relationship
with his mother but also, in all likelihood, with the father
who was causing this separation.
however, were mixed with a certain exhilaration that John
Marquand always felt when coming back to Curzon's Mill in
Newburyport. He had spent almost every summer of his youth
at Curzon's Mill, and this small, remote section of Newburyport
was magical to him.
During these boyhood summers Marquand had a chance to know
his grandfather, John Phillips Marquand, the man for who
he was named. His grandfather was a very successful investment
banker in New York who had married Margaret Curzon of Newburyport.
As a result, he summered with the extended family at Curzon's
Mill. The author would later recall that his grandfather
obviously enjoyed the place but was not above complaining
that everyone seemed to be living off him as it was only
his money that kept the buildings painted and the gardens
planted. His grandfather told young John how he first met
his wife Margaret Curzon: "They were sitting under
an apple tree, Margaret was painting a picture and they
asked me to stay to supper and then they found there wasn't
any supper. I took Margaret down in the carriage and bought
some. That was forty years ago. I've been buying everybody's
supper ever since. The whole damn family's supper."
Later in his life, the authowho took pleasure and
comfort in thinking that he (like his grandfather for who
he was named) had inherited the Marquand trait of achieving
success from humble beginningsfound that history was
repeating itself only now it was his bank account that seemed
to be buying the whole damn family's supper.
Mill as seen from the Artichoke River near Newburyport
was fascinated by his maiden aunts. His grandmother's sister,
his great aunt Mary Russell Curzon, lived year round at
the Yellow House, next to the Mill, and provided John Marquand
with a unique glimpse into the past. Mary Russell Curzon
was a well educated woman who had been courted by the poet
John Greenleaf Whittier, who would row across the Merrimac
to visit the Curzon sisters and write truly boring sonnets
about these women, the river, and Curzon's "bowery
mill." Another poetWilliam Ellery Channingand
the artist William Morris Hunt both proposed marriage to
Mary. But, displaying an early feminist streak and good
sense, she turned them all down, preferring her own company.
[An ardent abolitionist, she offered her house as a stop
on the Underground Railroad. Once, a very large male slave
was delivered hidden in a wooden crate to her remote home.
Upon unpacking the crate she made the tragic discovery that
the man had been shipped upside down from Boston and was
now definitively dead. With little hesitation, this temptress
of poets and artists dragged the quickly stiffening body
back to the orchard, buried the slave and planted a pear
tree over the unmarked grave, a tree that flourishes still.]
This was a woman who read the classics each morning as she
arose early, who taught young John Marquand how to build
a fire, how to stitch up one's own wounds with sewing thread,
and who lived only by candle light and kerosene lamps, lighting
both with a flint and steel (as she distrusted matches).
As he later wrote, after having traveled extensively in
every continent except Antarctica and having made the acquaintance
of the powerful, the rich, and the famous, this elderly
woman impressed him far more than anyone else that he ever
During most of the year, John Marquand lived alone with
the three elderly women. All were serious Unitarians and
accompanied young John to weekly services in this very church.
Here he developed a faithor at least one was drilled
into himthat, while not necessarily a comfort, did
hold him throughout a rather tumultuous life.
The Mill and Yellow House were at the end of a long, unpopulated
road. There were no neighbors. In many ways, it was a life
tinged with antiquity, closely resembling the Federalist
era, while the rest of America was hurrying towards the
jazz age. But, for this brief intervaland perhaps
for the first and last timehe felt truly a part of
a place and, thus, in the truest sense, secure.
In the summers
things changed when his wealthy and more sophisticated New
York cousins would take over one of the buildings. Marquand
was fond, yet envious, of these cousins who had retained
their money, their family, and their casual confidence.
These experiences, when mixed with a acute observation and
substantial literary talent, laid the groundwork for Marquand's
later gentle yet pointed social satires.
Marquand was hardly the first author to use the pains and
embarrassments of youth as artistic fodder. Had his immediate
family not been shattered and its wealth lost, the author
instead might have become a basically happy, if quietly
desperate, member of the upper middle class like many of
his fictional characters. And he might never have felt compelled
to leave the contentment he found at Curzon's Mill and Newburyport
to seek a life that never provided an equivalent sense of
comfort and belongingno matter how much fame and fortune
he garnered. Again, this theme of lost security and happiness
and the unsuccessful attempt to recapture it in the rush
and mobility of contemporary America runs through Marquand's
novels, and it often is as much an issue today as it was
50 years ago.
and Adelaide Marquand promote the United China Relief
Writer's Committee. Marquand donated the entire royalties
from his famous "Mr.Moto" detective series
to the $5,000,000 campaign, for which he also worked
as chairman. Writers Pearl Buck, Dorothy Fisher, Joy
Homer, and Vincent Sheehan also contributed royalties.
(Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library Print Department)
One would hope
that the author also learned from the weaknesses and selfishness
of his father and that he would make it a priority to raise
a family that was not subjected to the same sense of abandonment
as he had suffered. But that was not always to be. And,
given the demands of writing and the psychic scars he may
have carried, maybe it was too much to ask.
John Marquand married twice. He first courted and won Christina
Sedgwick from a faded aristocratic family in Stockbridge,
Massachusetts. Two children were produced, John, Jr. and
my mother, Christina Marquand. The marriage, however, failed
and, as is often the case, both were a bit at fault. Christina
Sedgwick, while charming and delightful, was far from practical
and could not create the stable, peaceful home for which
Marquand yearned. Marquand, wrapped up in beginning his
literary career and feeling inferior to the Sedgwick family,
was far from the model husband. Perhaps both were too young
to appreciate what they had before it was ruined. But, Marquand
did remain close to his first two children throughout his
Marquand's second marriage was to a wealthy Connecticut
heiress, Adelaide Hooker. While this marriage lasted longer,
and produced three children, it was frequently rocked by
arguments, affairs, and separations. The result was a chaoticalbeit
privilegedupbringing for his last three children.
The now famous author's relationship with these three children
was little better than his relationship with his own father.
Moto, (played by Peter Lorre), the mild-mannered Japanese
private investigator who was in the late 1930's the
subject of eight films, all written by Marquand.
failures weighed upon Marquand and underlie much of his
last novel, Women and Thomas Harrow. It is a darker
and more modern novel than his others and was written soon
after his first wife had died of cancer at a relatively
young age. The novel details the failed marriages of a fictional
playwright, but primarily focuses upon the regrets that
the main character feels when confronting his first wife
and a love that never faded. Once again this church, thinly
disguised, is featured prominently and perhaps is best described
in the passage read by the Rev. Bertrand Steeves.
In this novel,
published two years before his death, Marquand creates the
climatic scene where the main character, Thomas Harrow,
meets his first wife the day after he has entered the church
and relived his first wedding ceremony. Looking back, Harrow,
probably much like the author, felt that "he had been
careless with human relationships that he had [casually]
tossed away a great many things that were valuable"
and that now life was closing in upon him. Thomas Harrow
tells his first wife, Rhoda, of his entry into the church:
morning when I went to get the mail, a new, young minister
in front of the ... church asked me to step inside. Frankly,
I'd never been there since we were married ... the place
was so dead-quiet Calvinist it startled me. I don't know
why it is lately that quiet places do; maybe they make
me feel afraid of God, not that I honestly feel afraid.
It may be only the thought of an impending conversation.
asks him what he had been thinking in the church and he
so simple that there isn't much to say. All right, I thought
I loved you when you were walking up the aisle, and I
thought I loved you still. It's as simple as that ...
Thomas Harrow leaves knowing that he will never see his
first wife again. Thomas Harrow, undoubtedly like the now
older Marquand, realizes that the there was little exciting
left in his artistic work or his life, that he has squandered
human relationships and perhaps his talent. Anticipating
that impending conversation with God, he again thinks back
to the church and "the vanished minister saying, 'God
bless you, Thomas.' Those were days when he had everything
without knowing it, youth, and Rhoda, and his untarnished
talent." As he drives home, Harrow realizes, based
on his life: "In the end, no matter how many were in
the car, you always drove alone."
So what is one to take from this? It is that, in the end,
it is you yourself who is responsible for your fate and
conduct when you have that impending conversation with God.
Well, in that belief, Marquand is simply being a Unitarian
and confronting the faith's not always comforting challenges
and responsibilities. Or should one focus on the fact that
a formerly famous author had a less than perfect father
and became a less than perfect husband and father? That
he was a man who never truly found happiness and satisfaction?
Perhaps, but to love and err is to be human and true contentment
is a fragile and rare commodity that is often overlooked
until much too late. Still, he was a father who was truly
mourned and missed by his oldest daughter, a daughter who
got it right and raised a family of five strong willed children
in a close, loving, and stable environment. And he was a
grandfather who showed a deep affection for his grandson
and who took the time to watch over him, proving once again
the universal truth that it is much easier to be a grandparent
than a parent. But still, he was a man who did enough so
that a grandson still fondly remembers him after forty years
and is willing to bore an entire congregation in his memory.
Overall, that's not so bad. Might we all have such an influence
upon our grandchildren.
An address, Fathers, Sons, and Grandsons:
John P. Marquand, by Richard E. Welch III, delivered
in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society (Unitarian
Universalist), Newburyport, Massachusetts, February 17,
Spire Above Yankee City
by John P. Marquand
What follows is the preface and the abridged text of
published by the American Unitarian Association in the
Christian Register, November, 1949.
(photo courtesy of Patricia Bashford)
on Massachusetts North Shore, has been immortalized
by Sociologist W. Lloyd Warner as Yankee City
in the scholarly series of the same name. Also, it is the
locale (under the name Clyde) of the latest
of No Return,
by Newburyports best known citizen, John P. Marquand.
What does the First Parish church mean to this venerable
seaport? What does its spire symbolize to its citizens?
In this sermon, delivered at the beginning of the campaign
to raise funds for the rebuilding of the spire, Pulitzer
Prize winner Author Marquand gives his answers. He was chairman
of the Steeple Committee, and is active in the affairs of
the Unitarian Church.
Now that work
has been started on the reconstruction of the spire of our
church, it might be interesting also to endeavor to reconstruct
with words some of the time and human forces which were
responsible originally for its design. To do so, we must
not consider this building solely as a religious edifice
but instead as what it also is, a work of art and a monument
to the spirit and thought of the age which conceived it.
Its lines were drawn by an architect whose name, ironically
enough, is lost to us today. Its foundation, frame and the
spire, delicate carvings which adorn it were also fashioned
by the unidentifiable hands of the artisans and shipwrights
of Newburyport, men of diverse religions. Obviously, there
was a unity of thought, some common spiritual ground, some
convention of expression shared by all these vanished individuals.
We have only to look around us to be aware of the spiritual
flowering of a past many of whose values have lasted to
This church, as we all know, was built in 1801 to take the
place of an older building that once stood in Market Square.
It was built in the midst of what architects and historians
now term the Federalist Era. It was built not much more
than a decade after the ratification of the Constitution
of the United States, when the American Eagle adorned the
sterns of ships and perched on the top of brass door knockers.
the Yangtzee, 1935
when this church was built, was a much more self-sufficient
community than it is today, with such slender and uncertain
means of communication to tie it to other communities on
the eastern seaboard that England and France and the West
Indies were almost as near to Newburyport, as far as ease
of access went, as many towns on the mainland. The easiest
means of travel was by sea. It was the sea that brought
trade and ideas to Newburyport in 1801 and in consequence
Newburyport was predominantly a maritime community. It was
a town with a future rather than a past. It was, believe
it or not, even suffering with growing pains in 1801.
Only a year ago, I showed some of Newburyport to a visitor
who had been born and raised in California and he made a
comment on the place so obvious to anyone living here that
neither you nor I would even have thought of it. He said
he would never have believed that there could be so many
old houses 30 all together and in one place. He would not
have said this about Newburyport in 1801. Large sections
of Newburyport in those days were as new as a real estate
development in Los Angeles. Newburyport in 1801 had a population
of about 8,000 but everyone was sure that this was only
a beginning. There was a brisk rum, fish and molasses trade
with the West Indies in 1801 and, if the Baltic and Russian
trade had not started, it was about to start. Newburyport
was also a shipbuilding center with a national reputation.
That almost revolutionary innovation, the half model, had
been or was about to be invented facilitating the cutting
of ship's timbers. Around this basic industry revolved the
smaller ones of sailmaking, ropemaking and forging, each
in its proper orbit. The first woolen mill in America was
starting in Byfield. Experiments were being made in Newburyport
in the manufacture of nails and in improving the Franklin
pictured in October of 1952, getting instructions from
his pilot before taking a ride in an Air Force jet trainer
at Elgin AFB in Florida. Marquand visited the base as
a member of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference,
which toured military installations under the sponsorship
of the Department of Defense. (Photo courtesy of Boston
Public Library Print Department)
In 1801 money
was being made from trade and manufacture almost as rapidly
and on a sounder basis than it had been made by privateering
in the early days of the Revolutionary War. With suddenly
accumulated fortunes came the obvious demand for larger
houses, for silver service, jewelry and modem house furnishings.
Local promoters were encouraged to start interesting new
real estate enterprises. In a little while there would be
opportunities for attractive investments on newly opened
Fruit Street and, a few years later, the Federalist houses
of High Street were built. Newburyport was not the world
of yesterday in 1801 but the brave new world of tomorrow
where comfort, taste and education and gadgets would all
abound in a hitherto unknown profusion.
It is difficult
today, as one looks back into local history to imagine a
town with so long a past as having been young once, or to
think of the elms that now line High Street and Green Street
as only ungainly saplings and of the houses there as freshly
framed and unpainted. Perhaps the best way to form some
idea of Newburyport's youth is to turn to the advertisements
in the files of the old Herald. Newburyport one finds not
only had its own distillery but even, at the close of the
Revolutionary War, ten jewelers and watchmakers. There were
also publishers and engravers who could supply local printings
of popular English authors, translations and originals of
the classics, maps, charts and works on navigation. There
were excellent silversmiths, a saddlemaker, a chaisemaker
and cabinetmakers. Merchants were selling long and elaborate
assortments of French and British textiles. The reception
given George Washington in 1799, with its parade of floats
designed to represent local industry shows that Newburyport
was a metropolis compared with most of America, a worldly,
sophisticated place rightly regarded with suspicious suspect
by country people going there to market. One discovers that
in this era a highly educated pig visited Newburyport capable
of entertaining ladies and gentlemen with feats of reading
and addition. He must have done remarkably well because
it is said later that he was burned alive in Havana and
his owner was imprisoned there by the Inquisition. Also,
a gentleman named Monsieur Perette visited Newburyport bringing
with him a self-moving carriage. "An eagle automaton,"
we read "suitably caparisoned draws the carriage forward
with as much rapidity as though it was drawn by horses.
The driver seated in the carriage holds the reins and directs
the course of the extraordinary carriage."
We find that emigres from European revolution flocked to
Newburyport. Messrs. Renard and Dupatty started an academy
of the dance here and there was also a Monsieur Lebarre
who had taught music to the Duchess of Orleans, the Princess
Linisky and the Princess of Salmak. He was now ready to
teach Newburyport ladies and gentlemen the piano, the spinet,
Spanish and English guitar, flute and violin. If one wished
to go further in genteel accomplishments, there were also
in Newburyport a qualified instructor of the small sword
and saber and several teachers of drawing and painting.
In fact, Newburyport, with its teachers and its artisans,
could supply by 1801 almost anything that you might desire
intellectually or materially. It was in this slightly garish
climate, that the new building of the First Religious Society
was reared on Pleasant Street.
Marquand family in their home, late in 1927; John, Johnny,
Tina and Christina Sedgwick Marquand. The dog is Prince.
(Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library Print Department)
This town cannot
be duplicated by a modern community. No town in America
today with a population of 8,000 could possibly support
silver smiths, dancing teachers, drawing teachers, academies
for young ladies and gentlemen, printers, engravers and
shipbuilders. There must have been a fresher and more wine-like
quality on the East wind then.
At the same time in spite of luxury Newburyport was essentially
a sober, godfearing place. The number of its churches and
their generous size is enough to prove it. Feelings on every
subject, beliefs and disbeliefs, ran stronger than they
do today. There were no hazy half grounds of opinion, fewer
confusions, fewer attempts at broadmindedness which bewilder
in this present. There was right and there was wrong and
every citizen of Newburyport seemed convinced that he knew
In Newburyport in 1801 there was a ferment of ideology which
has not ceased working yet. There was the clash of wealth
and privilege against newly enunciated rights of the common
man. Washington had delivered his farewell address but already
the United States was on the edge of a whirlpool of a European
war. Mankind was on the march and no one knew exactly where
mankind was going. The United States of America was still
not much more than an abstraction. Though there was a common
language and the basis of a common political belief, a Newburyporter
walking the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, might
very well have felt that he was in a foreign country. He
would also have had something of the feeling in Quaker Philadelphia
or in Dutch New York Even in Boston and Salem there was
not quite the same integration of values that existed on
State Street and Market Square.
It would not seem that this unstable atmosphere would be
conducive to the development of an independent culture.
The influence of the old world was strong in all varieties
of thought and manners, but there was already discernible
the beginnings of a difference. In not so many years the
United States would produce a Hawthorne, a Melville, and
an Emerson and a Thoreau, all of whom would be essentially
American; but Gilbert Stuart was already painting portraits
that were not entirely British. In Salem, MacIntire the
architect, was employing the Georgian forms and conventions,
but the buildings he designed were not entirely Georgian.
Something new, something subtly different had been added
and this was also true of the builders of Newburyport. Their
sense of line and form was not exactly Georgian and not
author and his son Lonny just before the publication
of Women and Thomas Harrow in 1958
In those days
in New England behind the instincts of every artisan for
what was suitable and what was not there lay, of course,
the tradition of the sea.
The climax of the sailing ship, as exemplified by the Flying
Cloud and The Glory of the Seas, was still just
around the corner but already every year, every Yankee shipwright
was making constant efforts to create a new lightness, a
new strength in his designs. He was developing a distaste
for everything that even hinted at unnecessary weight or
clumsiness and some of the best shipwrights in the world
worked on the banks of the Merrimac in 1801. Their instinct
for line and form is with us still for here in Newburyport
we still live partially in a Federalist atmosphere of their
creation. High Street, in spite of its modern interpolations,
is as beautiful a residential street as there is anywhere
because local shipwrights worked on so many of its houses.
You have only
to look about you at the interior of our church to understand
the flawlessness of their taste. The columns that support
the gallery, the light, never obtrusive decoration that
adorns the pulpit, still tell the worldless story of the
builders and of their age. In the balance and simplicity
of every thing around us there is a sense of serenity, and
a reminder of a spirit that rises above mundane things.
None of us here can escape this impression and none of us
can definitely analyze it. We only know that it is exactly
as it should bethe atmosphere which should belong
to a 'House of God.' This atmosphere was created by the
architects and by the builders of this edifice not consciously
and without a jarring note. It is the sort of indirection
and the inner moaning that lies behind all true art, and
it has been achieved here in daylight without the aid of
shadow from Gothic aches, without the prismatic effect of
stained glass windows.
There is nothing anywhere else quite like Newburyport woodwork.
The embellishments on our Federalist houses have always
seemed to me to have their especial character, and they
have invariably escaped the pitfalls of fussiness and needless
elaboration. Compared to ours, the exterior and interior
ornamentation of the houses along the Battery at Charleston
is heavy and almost dull. It may be the local prejudice
but it seems to me that the same is slightly true with the
mansions on the Hudson and even with the Salem of MacIntire.
Our church is
not a ship but it has all the certainty of Donald McKay's
Glory of the Seas dedicated to a higher purpose.
For more than a hundred years the spire of our church stood
above our town as its greatest single monument to some of
the most glorious moments of America's past. It had a message
and a moaning for everyone who saw it. No matter what his
individual religious belief might be, it expressed a spirit
and an aspiration which has never left our city from the
days of its first settlement. Something of that spire belonged
to all of us and so it was more than the property of any
single religious sect. When over a century of wind and weather
weakened the timbers of our spire, it was taken down. It
is very fitting that it is now being rebuilt, not alone
by this parish and not alone by the contributions of citizens
of Newburyport, but by many others who have seen it and
who 'could not forget.'
joins host Clifton Fadiman and Edward Weeks, editor
of the Atlantic Monthly, to talk about Boston
on WBZ's Conversation broadcast, "The Hub
of the Universe" in May 1955. Marquand's writing
was many Americans' only impression of Boston.
The most famous
of Federalist architect, MacIntire himself, has called it
the finest spire in New England and he did it honor by placing
its replica in Salem. The late Ralph Adams Cram, who was
America's outstanding authority on the Gothic, has called
it the most beautiful wooden spire in the world. But it
has spoken for itself. It really needs no tributes or superlatives.
And yet I have heard it said that this spire should not
be raised again. I have heard it said that the debt incurred
by its restoration is too dangerous, that it would be better
at most to build a simpler, cheaper spire. I have heard
it said that it is only an elaboration, that it perform
no useful function, and answers no social need. This is
only common sense. It would be much cheaper, much easier,
not to rebuild this spire. The workmen who are now engaged
in restoring it could readily be employed in more useful
work. But then so, too, could have the stonecutters who
adorned the Cathedral at Chartres and so, too, could Michelangelo
whose paintings in the Sistine Chapel do nothing to support
its ceiling. Art very seldom performs a practical function,
but the man through all the ages has never lived by bread
alone. The people of Newburyport throughout this town's
long history have never been motivated solely by the dialectics
of materialism. Because they never have been and I hope
they never will be, they are rebuilding this church steeple
now so that it will.