by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. Today is the first day of spring. I open the shutters, strictly closed against the dreary winter just passed. It is vibrant… it is radiant… it is the sun as we have not seen it for some months now.
Of course, being that we are in New England, we must take nothing for granted. The calendar says spring, but I reckon winter has at least one great blast left for us. Heavy wet snow in the morning, melted by afternoon.
Spring is to me a reminder, personally delivered, saying summer visitors are just around the corner. Prepare. If you’re not organized, they’ll come anyway, but you’ll be forced to tell each of them the facts that follow. This is time consuming, and results in visitors being given different “tours”… some long and leisurely, others rushed, because I have other things to do.
This year I intend to approach the matter differently. And so I am writing for you, dear traveler, the facts I feel that you must have and know about this place you are visiting. For this is no ordinary place, as you will soon see, and it would be most unfortunate if you came and went without knowing why it is so distinctive and significant.
How history should be told
I have been a writer on historical subjects for over 50 years. I am now clear on what it takes to write history that people will read and understand. For the goal of history is never to exult the writer, but to inform the reader.
The worst possible way of doing this is to rely on dates to carry the story. Pilgrims came here on such and such a date. Abraham Lincoln visited on such and such a date. George and Martha Washington were resident here from such and such a date to such and such a date.
This is not history; this is a historical obstacle course. It may work for crossword puzzles, but it does not do if you want to know and retain something of significance about this or any other place. Dates are significant only to provide clarity on just when certain things happened. But if you say nothing but dates, you must perforce bore your audience.
It is hardly any wonder why so many youngsters in our school systems rate history at the bottom of their favorite classes and groan about the dates they were forced to memorize.
But history is not a matter of dates alone, it is a matter of people… what they did, when they did it, how they did it, why they did it. And so history becomes the greatest subject of all, for it is about all of us, each in our turn, each in our way, each in our time.
So now I want you to join me on the north side of the Cambridge Common. It is where I have lived for the last 40 years or so. This does not necessarily mean that I know anything about the place, for the mere passing of time or close proximity does not confer insight or a credible understanding of what is all around me on any given day.
It is my intention that when you put down this article and come and visit, you will be prepared for the great stories that took place just steps away, and which shaped a nation and the lives of millions.
The Pilgrims landed in North America in 1620. Most were sick. All were debilitated. Many died. No one emerged unscathed. These people came through the terrible North Atlantic in pursuit of the God who governed and directed them.
They landed at Plymouth Rock, and were so bereft of provisions that when they found a few Indian graves near the beach, they ransacked these tombs for corn and other foodstuffs and devoured the contents. The colony hung by a thread through the long terrible winter of 1621. The spirit may have been willing, but the bodies, frail and pathetic, were weak.
It took them a full decade to arrive at what was then called Newtowne. Sir Richard Saltonstall, from a prominent English family, landed his party at a bend in the Charles River. And to show you how little time has elapsed from that event, I used to banter with Senator William Saltonstall, a direct descendant, in summers at Manchester-by-the-Sea. We must not, therefore, think of the Pilgrims as far distant, but as much closer to us than we usually allow.
The Pilgrims were motivated by two great objectives. One, and always prime, was their direct relationship with God. They also wanted to know what was “out there”. To understand these early days and what has come since, we must do the conjuring trick of erasing from our minds any idea, anything we consider modern, and put ourselves precisely in the shoes of the Pilgrims, whose survival on this continent was not guaranteed, and for whom longevity seemed an elusive possibility.
Nonetheless, they regularly sent out scouting parties to see what they could see of the natives, who they knew were there, and of the many things they knew nothing about at all. Thus what takes the modern traveler just about 53 minutes by car, from Plymouth to Cambridge, took ten years… with no path, no guide, not even wayward hearsay and gossip to enlighten them. We must never forget how far they went when going anywhere at all was a matter of faith and determination.
In due course, they arrived at Newtowne, a place of swamps and disease. Their needs were basic and immediate… which leads to the first macabre tale. On the south side of the Common, just up a bit from what much later became Harvard Square, you will find a cemetery… unkempt… a place for vagrants… an outdoor urinal. Thus showing there is no respect for the dead.
This, curiously enough, was a Puritan belief as well. The first cemetery that was placed on that sight offered no reverence for the dead. Pilgrims who died were thrown over the parapet to be eaten by beasts. There is no demarcation left of just where this way of burial was handled. The marks have been lost over time.
It often puzzled me why the bodies were treated with such scant respect… but then I began to think of all these Pilgrims had to do to keep body and soul together under the most unhappy circumstances. There was simply too much to do, and too few to do it to worry about whether the mourning niceties had been kept. Thus once the spirit left the body, the body was thrust away, a thing of no significance whatsoever, and treated accordingly.
Created in 1630
The Cambridge Common was created in 1630. It was a place for the members of the congregation to pasture their cows and other livestock. The enclosure movement, which rocked English society in the 18th Century, was not yet common in North America. The communal land that constitutes the Common was therefore at the heart of their way of living.
It was not that they necessarily liked each other, it was that they needed each other. And perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a people is they no longer need each other, and so become careless about their relations, thus leading to terrible social consequences.
On the Common, just 8.5 acres in size, more was going on than just tethering animals on common ground. When you stand in the middle of the Common as I have done so many times over 40 years, you must be aware of the great events that occurred all around you.
First, in the 17th Century, the sheer arrival of these people and their inspiring trek to religious freedom for all constituted an event of epic importance. This was the first place in the world where genuine freedom of belief came to exist. Of course, it didn’t happen without incident or tragedy. No great event involving religion has ever taken place without brutality and intolerance. It seems that every culture says, in its own way, “I love me, so I have no regard for thee.”
The true message of New England and of the Common is that here, people finally came to grips with the necessity for tolerance and diversity… which ultimately became the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Look around you now… if you are a believer, you are welcome here to believe. If you are a non believer, you are welcome here to believe nothing more than you care to. These are grand ideas, by no means inevitable.
Unfortunately, of course, not everyone agreed. And so, on the perimeter along what is now Massachusetts Avenue, there is a plaque, so often covered with weeds, commemorating the migration in 1636 of the Reverend Thomas Hooker from his intolerable situation.
It is worth noting that not only was religious diversity advanced here, but the rights of women too. Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) was not only a significant theologian, but she was a woman doing the theological work of men, suffering accordingly. This is why, when you look upon the Common, you must see first intolerance, then slowly diversity. Cambridge showed the way and still does.
Education, the next great event.
The first thing the Puritans had to do was secure hearth and home. This took some time, but as soon as they had done so, they created an educational system not just for themselves, but for, in due course, the general public.
Here, the significant name to keep in mind is John Bridge (1578-1665), Puritan. John Bridge had a goal, and that goal was to see an educated people… people who could help themselves solve problems and run a democracy where each man had a vote… an idea which had lay dormant in ancient Greece for 2,000 years.
He believed that there could be no salvation without understanding, and there could be no understanding without education. Bridge was obviously a very talented, even charismatic leader, though little in fact is known about him. He arrived in Cambridge in 1632, where he became the supervisor of the first public school established in Cambridge (1635). He served as deacon of the church from 1636 to 1658, and represented the people in the Great and General Court from 1637 to 1641.
As a result of his leadership, Cambridge quickly became the most intelligent and well educated town in North America… a designation it has never lost in over 350 years.
To commemorate his groundbreaking work, which became a pattern for the new nation, and for every other nation, a large and imposing monument was erected on the Cambridge Common on September 20, 1882. It was given by Samuel James Bridge, of the sixth generation from John Bridge. It stands there to this day… certain, arresting, confident. Here is a man who dared to dream the great dreams, and his great dream was to uplift the downtrodden, the needy, persecuted, and disdained. The public school you went to, wherever it was located, owes a debt to John Bridge and his work in Cambridge.
N.B. John Bridge’s descendants kept up their work in providing impacting and instructional monuments. Each was the embodiment of a great idea. Thus, when Harvard College decided in 1884 to depict its founder, John Harvard, there were no likenesses to be had, for there are no known pictures or other representations of the founder.
As a result, Sherman Hoar (1860-1898), a member of the class of 1882, was selected as the model for the seated figure known worldwide, a symbol of youth, determination, and idealism. The Bridge family financed this great work by Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), the famous sculptor who designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Lines of people queue for the privilege of rubbing his boot for luck.
In 1775, Cambridge had a population of about 1,500. It was a town where education was valued and God was revered. It was also a town swept by the hot winds of freedom, liberty, justice, and equality… every one a key concept of the late 18th Century intelligentsia.
Later, the famous English poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) said of the French Revolution “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” That sentiment, if not Wordsworth’s exact words, defined Cambridge in the years of Revolution. Revolutions, after all, are made by the youth who believe the resplendent sentiments which enthrall, captivate, and bewitch them, so motivated no discomfort matters.. nothing matters… but the great thoughts which are the very gospel to them, and which justify anything.
This was Cambridge, on the threshold of revolution. Look before you, and consider the situation as the participants must have done. This great idea came alive on the Common. On these grounds, now more accustomed to frisbees and soccer balls, General George Washington took plow boys and transformed them into soldiers, and ultimately these soldiers into victory.
Washington moved daily from his grand home on Brattle Street, confiscated from the town’s leading merchant Henry Vassal, who remained loyal to the Crown. Washington on a pleasant day like this would walk to his office in what is now Harvard Yard, just a few blocks away. He was a great man. He was a man who might have been king. Nonetheless he stopped along the way, to check on the well being of his troops. This is what good leaders do.
When you see the Common, you must imagine it as it was in its various stages. Troops during the Revolution slept under hastily erected tents, which might mean bringing the materials from home, since the commissary of the newly formed United States was meager, and there was no money for amenities. Men grew hardened under such circumstances or they died; there was no middle ground.
What you must consider when you look about the Common is how they lived their lives. Many of them died through disease. The biggest problem of course was what to do with all the human waste, and that of the horses. It was noisome… it was dangerous. And the camp on the Common teetered on the brink of demise from disease.
The great figures of the Revolution were not nearly as important just then as the people who discarded the waste and kept disease at bay. But the great figures came nonetheless. In due course they included the household names of the Revolution: the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), Washington’s pet, who returned to Cambridge as part of his great American tour of 1825… General Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817), who came to America with liberty on his lips... and General Henry Knox (1750-1806), whose men brought more than 60 tons of cannons and other armaments from Ticonderoga to Cambridge, approximately 200 miles, step by aching step… an achievement of genius.
We should remember, too, Martha Washington. She was in 1775 age 44, a lady of great charm and resources, who brought jellies and other dainties from Mt. Vernon... her kit packed with smiles and cool hands.
I hope now through these brief words you understand why I regard these handful of acres as among the very most important and significant in our entire history. Personally, I feel blessed at the thought that I am able to advance and maintain the work necessary to keep the true meaning of this worthy place vibrant and alive, forever.
It is a thrill and it is necessary, for without people who remember history, there will be no history to remember.
I have selected to accompany this article the “Old 100th” hymn. Composed in 1551 by Loys Bourgeois, it is arguably the most well known hymn in the Christian repertoire. It is very probably the first hymn rendered by the Pilgrims upon their arrival, although because there are many versions of the lyrics, we cannot be sure which ones the Pilgrims used.
“All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.”
And so, taking their strength from God’s mercy, they found the wherewithal to confront another day.
Click here to listen.
A special message from Dr. Jeffrey Lant to people who are collecting items of value...
When you collect an item of value, you have taken on a responsibility for as long as you possess it. It is not enough to collect an objet d' art... you must tend it. Here, in these photographs just taken, you see two of the many helpers, Fernando and Mitchell Mafra, who keep The Lant Collection humming along in perfect order.
One of the things that is certain to happen to you if you collect items with fabric... that is to say chairs, bedroom coverlets, and drapes, is that these items will attract dirt, dust, and grit. This means you must protect yourself against these certain destroyers, and the best way to handle this is to be aware of the people in your neighborhood who can chemically treat the fabric so that any damages to it, such as a spilled glass of red wine (the worst possible marauder), are minimized.
Personally, I use MWI Fiber-Shield, and have been doing so for over a decade. You simply explain to them what you want to do, from trying to erase a longstanding stain to treating the fabric so that any destructive elements are minimized... they are also willing to review your situation and make recommendations.
This time, they came to clean a Persian rug which receives much foot traffic, and treat several chairs from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.
Their work is thorough with minimum chemical smell, which is easily dispersed by opening and keeping your windows open before and during the treatment. I take this opportunity to thank Fernando and Mitchell... I'm certain to see you again.
As for the rest of you, don't gamble with the integrity of your fabrics. The best fabrics in the world, which I use in my decoration, are very costly. Why risk their "health" when MWI Fiber-Shield is at hand, ready to save them all?
I have added "The Work Song" from the film "Cinderella" (1950). It was written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston. It's lyrics should inspire you to take on the necessary assistance so you do not have to do it all by yourself.
All I hear is Cinderella, from the moment I get up
till shades of night are falling
There isn't any letup, I hear them calling, calling
Go up and do the attic and go down and do the cellar, you can do them
Don't let this happen to you!
Click here to listen to the song.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. The first thing that irritated me about the Boston Globe’s obituary for the Reverend J. Donald Monan, S.J., was the lack of the title he arguably rated the most important in his life. That is to say, his membership in the Society of Jesus (founded in 1540). Every Jesuit is punctilious about this designation… never neglecting to include it as an essential part of his signature and life. It is a source of pride, and I might say, an aggressive outlook instilled by Saint Ignatius of Loyola into the hearts of every man who has become a member of the Society.
These men are the crème de la crème of advanced Roman Catholicism. They are bright, driven, even some might say obsessed with their mission of burning their high Roman Catholic ideals into the minds of young men particularly.
When I was at Harvard, though I am not a Roman Catholic, I was often invited to partake of their fellowship. Discussions were frank, exuberant, laced with wit and knowledge. It was a privilege to be in their midst. It was often suggested to me sotto voce that I consider their path to God. I was honored, but my way was not theirs.
Still, I am as exact about protocol as they are. Thus it appalled me to see right on the very front page on March 19th, 2017, the announcement of Father Monan S.J.’s demise. It went out without the publication of his full and proper name being given… The Reverend J. Donald Monan S.J. (1924-2017).
The author, Mark Feeny, should be ashamed of himself as the Boston Globe continues its long history of garbling the titles and styles of people who earn them, and did not deserve the Boston Globe’s casual, unenlightened, and lazy approach to this matter.
I became involved with Boston College in 1975. That year, as those who lived through it will recall, was a time of recession for America and its academic circles. Jobs were scarce, pay low, disappointment likely… and so my Ivy League colleagues and I lamented. We had worked so hard, and now our careers were stalled. No one felt this more strongly than I did. For if the glory of a Ph.D. is having it conferred by Harvard, it is the more painful when one cannot conjure that degree into the plum academic career one had envisioned for so long.
I spent my time that year writing and publishing furiously to augment my already substantial credentials, and began looking for jobs in college administration, where, because of my background at Harvard, I had a leg up in the job market.
One of the many jobs I applied for was an entry level administrative position at Boston College. This position was in the Evening College. I may have thought myself overqualified for this job, but with the job market in its dismal depths, I could not afford to be overly pernickety. Moreover, as it proved, I was offered a great benefit not given me by other institutions that I could work in the evening, thus opening my morning and early afternoon hours to the book I was writing based on my Harvard doctoral dissertation.
Thus, early each day I wrote the book that launched me academically, “Insubstantial Pageant: Ceremony and Confusion at Queen Victoria's Court” (published in 1977). Then I was transformed each afternoon into a high level gofer for the Reverend James A. Woods S.J., Dean of the Evening College. It was an unusual model, but it worked.
I meet Father Woods S.J.
Father Woods S.J. will go down in Boston College history as a disappointed man who did not get the academic advancement that he wanted, but who turned his disappointment into his renowned expertise in continuing education. He was a builder, he was indefatigable, and his instructions in continuing education improved the lives of thousands of adults who had full time careers but were not willing to stop their education because of it. Father Woods S.J. made sure they could continue with reasonable effort and at reasonable price.
To understand Father Woods S.J. and Father Monan S.J., it is necessary to take one look at both of them. Father Woods S.J. was obese… there is no other word to use. This weight problem undoubtedly contributed to the fact that he was not appointed President of Boston College upon the resignation of the Reverend W. Seavey Joyce S.J.
Woods had worked closely with Joyce for many years, and was reasonably confident of becoming his successor; at least he thought so. When Father Monan S.J. was appointed President of Boston College in 1972, Father Woods S.J. was deeply disappointed, to say no more. The spare, ghost-like Father Monan S.J. upended the handshaking, backpacking Father Woods S.J., whose favorite saying when anyone asked him how he was, was an ebullient “Couldn’t be better! Couldn’t be better!” That was his sentiment. Whether it was accurate or not didn’t matter; it was his signature phrase.
Woods S.J. of course probably disliked Monan S.J. on sight. Moreover, as they lived together in priestly habitation, Father Woods S.J. had the distinction of seeing his successful rival every single day as he left for his job as President of the College. It was, I do not have to imagine, no doubt galling in the extreme.
Father Monan S.J. needed money
Boston College, when Father Monan S.J. took over, was a mediocre place so lightly regarded that there was talk of the University of Massachusetts absorbing it. Father Monan S.J. needed a goal, and the kind of strength and determination that would make a total revision of Boston College and its status successful.
Father Woods S.J. had his role in Monan S.J.’s great plan in this way. He was pushed to the backwater of the Evening College. There his job was to provide essential resources for Monan S.J.’s larger picture… you see the Evening College was a cash cow. Every quarter, it turned in reliable resources in ever increasing amounts to the general coffers of Boston College. It is not too much to say that without this constant river of predictable cash coming in, Monan S.J.’s grander plan would have come a cropper. Every nickel was needed to build a great University, and Father Woods S.J. and his reliable revenues could never be overlooked and disregarded.
Of course, Woods S.J. was irritated by this equation. He works, and he was ever a hard worker, while Monan S.J.’s reputation grows and shines. Monan S.J. of course was in the catbird seat. What he said, he got, all supplied by the man who found it difficult to stay civil with Monan S.J., and sometimes was not.
Monan S.J. of course did not help himself, maintaining the frostiest relations with Woods S.J. Every once in a while, but only occasionally, Monan S.J. would make the short walk to our office in the Evening College to host a short meeting on the topics of the day. His shortcomings as a leader were easily seen by the way he ignored our office staff, never saying a kind word to anyone, such pleasantries apparently beneath him.
He did the same with Father Woods S.J. There was no glad handing, no backslapping, no “Did you hear the one about…?” It was the acknowledged leader keeping his underling in place, while taking all the treasure of the land for his own projects and the advancement of his ideas. You can see why Father Woods S.J. was always irritable when Father Monan S.J. was about. The man was a living embodiment of what Woods S.J. had lost. It was his grand objective in life, and he did not get it.
I enter the scene
Right from the get go, I came to learn why Father Woods S.J. hired me. First, I had a Harvard Ph.D. and he had no higher degree of any kind. Second, I had experience at Harvard in creating what amounted to extra curricular special programs with high level guests.
Technically, I was there to create new courses for the curriculum, and I used my position at Boston College to meet many of Boston’s great figures at the time. I would go visit them, suggest a kind of course they might teach, and handle the necessary details. In short order, my desk at Boston College looked like an uncontrollable explosion in a data factory. There were papers, synopses, notes, and ideas everywhere, burying my desk.
My heart wasn’t in this job of course, but I was grateful to have it at a difficult time, although my salary was a joke; just $12,000 a year, a pittance even in 1975.
Because Father Woods S.J. was anxious to burnish the credentials of his minimal staff, he gave permission for me to go to England and finish my work with Hamish Hamilton in London. It was one of the great gifts of my life, and launched a literary career that has now spanned 62 volumes.
To protect my job, I one day had an insight so clever it tickles me to this day. I discovered that the New England seat on the National Advisory Council on Adult Education was open. Without telling Father Woods S.J. I approached every member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, both Senators and Representatives, and asked them to endorse Father Woods S.J. for the seat.
Given the help of then Representative and now Senator Edward Markey, graduate of Boston College, the matter was easily accomplished. Only Representative Gerry Studds (D-Mass) opposed, saying he did not know Father Woods S.J. and could not endorse. He should have followed our path, as he was later admonished in the well of the House of Representatives for molesting page boys.
One day Father Woods S.J. came to me in a pother saying “What have you been doing?” The tone was not friendly. “I’ve just had a call from the F.B.I.” They were of course doing their usual background check… nothing strange here, except that Woods S.J. had never had one before. And of course I had not bothered to enlighten him about what I was doing. I told him it was a pleasant surprise and that he should be patient, one of the attributes in minimal supply in his repertoire.
Of course his attitude changed dramatically when he was appointed by President Carter as a member of the Council, filling the available New England seat. I was present when the document arrived from the White House. It was his commission, and it was enormous; it catered to the substantial egos of such people as Father Woods S.J. It was the first thing you saw when you entered his office. There it seemed to say “I have checked you Father Monan S.J., make what you will of this distinguished honor.” As such, it placed him on the national stage in a field of importance, adult continuing education.
This was but one of several notable things I helped Father Woods S.J. accomplish, as he searched for an appropriate Jesuit College for his much desired presidency. As such, I helped him write his dissertation for his Ed.D. degree, and anything else that needed my Harvard trained touch.
Woods S.J., however, never did get his Jesuit presidency or any other. Instead he performed his unique role as milch cow, turning over predictable revenues that enabled Father Monan S.J. to do his job at Boston College, by burnishing his own reputation, turning a mediocre educational institution into something better.
Even so, Boston College has not achieved the academic goals which are required of a great University. The library about which they are so proud has very few resources of any significance whatsoever. Then again books are not at the heart of Roman Catholic education; dogma is.
I had occasion to see this firsthand in the development of the Evening College curriculum, which had to be Roman Catholic first, and true second. This is not the formula for greatness, for a great University must harbor and assist in the development of equally great ideas… and this was never the case at Boston College, and is not the case now.
Thus, Father Monan S.J.’s biography is scattered not with the names of prominent scholars, or even of significant Catholic thinkers, but with Doug Flutie, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1984, arguably the highest achievement of Father Monan S.J.’s entire regime, football not scholarship.
Thus we leave the story very much in medias res. Father Woods S.J. achieved in due course a watered down version of his original goal, the force behind his James A. Woods, S.J., College of Advancing Studies, the Evening College of old.
When it was launched in 2002, I received a note of invitation to attend the inauguration. Since I was arguably the worst employee he ever hired, the man who upon resignation was asked by Father Woods S.J. “Do you still work here?”, insulting but honest, I was not a little surprised.
Still when I arrived at the grand garden party attended by hundreds, Father Woods S.J. took me by the hand and escorted me to the opening of his magnum opus, where in great majesty hung his citation from President Jimmy Carter, “Greetings from the President...” It was quite possibly the highest honor of his entire life, a gift from the President... and from me.
I have selected as accompaniment for this article the Boston College Fight Song and Alma Mater Lyrics “For Boston”. It was written and composed by T.J. Hurley, a member of the Boston College Class of 1885. It is peppy and upbeat, just the way a great fight song should be.
“For Boston, for Boston,
Thy glory is our own!
For Boston, for Boston,
'Tis here that Truth is known.
And thy work is crown'd.
For Boston, for Boston.”
Father Monan S.J. would have agreed.
Ave atque vale!
Click here to listen to the song.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 63 books, and counting.