Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims

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ADDRESS AT THE FIRST ANNUAL DINNER, N. E. SOCIETY,
PHILADELPHIA, DECEMBER 22, 1881

On calling upon Mr. Clemens to make response,
President Rollins said:

"This sentiment has been assigned to one who was never exactly
born in New England, nor, perhaps, were any of his ancestors.
He is not technically, therefore, of New England descent.
Under the painful circumstances in which he has found himself,
however, he has done the best he could--he has had all his
children born there, and has made of himself a New England
ancestor. He is a self-made man. More than this, and better
even, in cheerful, hopeful, helpful literature he is of New
England ascent. To ascend there in any thing that's reasonable
is difficult; for--confidentially, with the door shut--we all
know that they are the brightest, ablest sons of that goodly
land who never leave it, and it is among and above them that
Mr. Twain has made his brilliant and permanent ascent--become
a man of mark."

I rise to protest. I have kept still for years; but really I think there
is no sufficient justification for this sort of thing. What do you want
to celebrate those people for?--those ancestors of yours of 1620--the
Mayflower tribe, I mean. What do you want to celebrate them for? Your
pardon: the gentleman at my left assures me that you are not celebrating
the Pilgrims themselves, but the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth rock
on the 22d of December. So you are celebrating their landing. Why, the
other pretext was thin enough, but this is thinner than ever; the other
was tissue, tinfoil, fish-bladder, but this is gold-leaf. Celebrating
their lauding! What was there remarkable about it, I would like to know?
What can you be thinking of? Why, those Pilgrims had been at sea three
or four months. It was the very middle of winter: it was as cold as
death off Cape Cod there. Why shouldn't they come ashore? If they
hadn't landed there would be some reason for celebrating the fact: It
would have been a case of monumental leatherheadedness which the world
would not willingly let die. If it had been you, gentlemen, you probably
wouldn't have landed, but you have no shadow of right to be celebrating,
in your ancestors, gifts which they did not exercise, but only
transmitted. Why, to be celebrating the mere landing of the Pilgrims
--to be trying to make out that this most natural and simple and
customary procedure was an extraordinary circumstance--a circumstance to
be amazed at, and admired, aggrandized and glorified, at orgies like this
for two hundred and sixty years--hang it, a horse would have known enough
to land; a horse--Pardon again; the gentleman on my right assures me that
it was not merely the landing of the Pilgrims that we are celebrating,
but the Pilgrims themselves. So we have struck an inconsistency here
--one says it was the landing, the other says it was the Pilgrims. It
is an inconsistency characteristic of your intractable and disputatious
tribe, for you never agree about anything but Boston. Well, then, what
do you want to celebrate those Pilgrims for? They were a mighty hard
lot--you know it. I grant you, without the slightest unwillingness, that
they were a deal more gentle and merciful and just than were the people
of Europe of that day; I grant you that they are better than their
predecessors. But what of that?--that is nothing. People always
progress. You are better than your fathers and grandfathers were
(this is the first time I have ever aimed a measureless slander at the
departed, for I consider such things improper). Yes, those among you who
have not been in the penitentiary, if such there be, are better than your
fathers and grandfathers were; but is that any sufficient reason, for
getting up annual dinners and celebrating you? No, by no means--by no
means. Well, I repeat, those Pilgrims were a hard lot. They took good
care of themselves, but they abolished everybody else's ancestors. I am
a border-ruffian from the State of Missouri. I am a Connecticut Yankee
by adoption. In me, you have Missouri morals, Connecticut culture; this,
gentlemen, is the combination which makes the perfect man. But where are
my ancestors? Whom shall I celebrate? Where shall I find the raw
material?

My first American ancestor, gentlemen, was an Indian--an early Indian.
Your ancestors skinned him alive, and I am an orphan. Not one drop of my
blood flows in that Indian's veins today. I stand here, lone and
forlorn, without an ancestor. They skinned him! I do not object to
that, if they needed his fur; but alive, gentlemen-alive! They skinned
him alive--and before company! That is what rankles. Think how he must
have felt; for he was a sensitive person and easily embarrassed. If he
had been a bird, it would have been all right, and no violence done to
his feelings, because he would have been considered "dressed." But he
was not a bird, gentlemen, he was a man, and probably one of the most
undressed men that ever was. I ask you to put yourselves in his place.
I ask it as a favor; I ask it as a tardy act of justice; I ask it in the
interest of fidelity to the traditions of your ancestors; I ask it that
the world may contemplate, with vision unobstructed by disguising
swallow-tails and white cravats, the spectacle which the true New England
Society ought to present. Cease to come to these annual orgies in this
hollow modern mockery--the surplusage of raiment. Come in character;
come in the summer grace, come in the unadorned simplicity, come in the
free and joyous costume which your sainted ancestors provided for mine.

Later ancestors of mine were the Quakers William Robinson, Marmaduke
Stevenson, et al. Your tribe chased them put of the country for their
religion's sake; promised them death if they came back; for your
ancestors had forsaken the homes they loved, and braved the perils of the
sea, the implacable climate, and the savage wilderness, to acquire that
highest and most precious of boons, freedom for every man on this broad
continent to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience--and
they were not going to allow a lot of pestiferous Quakers to interfere
with it. Your ancestors broke forever the chains of political slavery,
and gave the vote to every man in this wide land, excluding none!--none
except those who did not belong to the orthodox church. Your ancestors
--yes, they were a hard lot; but, nevertheless, they gave us religious
liberty to worship as they required us to worship, and political liberty
to vote as the church required; and so I the bereft one, I the forlorn
one, am here to do my best to help you celebrate them right.

The Quaker woman Elizabeth Hooton was an ancestress of mine. Your people
were pretty severe with her you will confess that. But, poor thing!
I believe they changed her opinions before she died, and took her into
their fold; and so we have every reason to presume that when she died she
went to the same place which your ancestors went to. It is a great pity,
for she was a good woman. Roger Williams was an ancestor of mine.
I don't really remember what your people did with him. But they banished
him to Rhode Island, anyway. And then, I believe, recognizing that this
was really carrying harshness to an unjustifiable extreme, they took pity
on him and burned him. They were a hard lot! All those Salem witches
were ancestors of mine! Your people made it tropical for them. Yes,
they did; by pressure and the gallows they made such a clean deal with
them that there hasn't been a witch and hardly a halter in our family
from that day to this, and that is one hundred and eighty-nine years.
The first slave brought into New England out of Africa by your
progenitors was an ancestor of mine--for I am of a mixed breed, an
infinitely shaded and exquisite Mongrel. I'm not one of your sham
meerschaums that you can color in a week. No, my complexion is the
patient art of eight generations. Well, in my own time, I had acquired a
lot of my kin--by purchase, and swapping around, and one way and another
--and was getting along very well. Then, with the inborn perversity of
your lineage, you got up a war, and took them all away from me. And so,
again am I bereft, again am I forlorn; no drop of my blood flows in the
veins of any living being who is marketable.

O my friends, hear me and reform! I seek your good, not mine. You have
heard the speeches. Disband these New England societies--nurseries of a
system of steadily augmenting laudation and hosannaing, which; if
persisted in uncurbed, may some day in the remote future beguile you into
prevaricating and bragging. Oh, stop, stop, while you are still
temperate in your appreciation of your ancestors! Hear me, I beseech
you; get up an auction and sell Plymouth Rock! The Pilgrims were a
simple and ignorant race. They never had seen any good rocks before, or
at least any that were not watched, and so they were excusable for
hopping ashore in frantic delight and clapping an iron fence around this
one. But you, gentlemen, are educated; you are enlightened; you know
that in the rich land of your nativity, opulent New England, overflowing
with rocks, this one isn't worth, at the outside, more than thirty-five
cents. Therefore, sell it, before it is injured by exposure, or at least
throw it open to the patent-medicine advertisements, and let it earn its
taxes:

Yes, hear your true friend-your only true friend--list to his voice.
Disband these societies, hotbeds of vice, of moral decay--perpetuators of
ancestral superstition. Here on this board I see water, I see milk, I
see the wild and deadly lemonade. These are but steps upon the downward
path. Next we shall see tea, then chocolate, then coffee--hotel coffee.
A few more years--all too few, I fear--mark my words, we shall have
cider! Gentlemen, pause ere it be too late. You are on the broad road
which leads to dissipation, physical ruin, moral decay, gory crime and
the gallows! I beseech you, I implore you, in the name of your anxious
friends, in the name of your suffering families, in the name of your
impending widows and orphans, stop ere it be too late. Disband these New
England societies, renounce these soul-blistering saturnalia, cease from
varnishing the rusty reputations of your long-vanished ancestors--the
super-high-moral old iron-clads of Cape Cod, the pious buccaneers of
Plymouth Rock--go home, and try to learn to behave!

However, chaff and nonsense aside, I think I honor and appreciate your
Pilgrim stock as much as you do yourselves, perhaps; and I endorse and
adopt a sentiment uttered by a grandfather of mine once--a man of sturdy
opinions, of sincere make of mind, and not given to flattery. He said:
"People may talk as they like about that Pilgrim stock, but, after all's
said and done, it would be pretty hard to improve on those people; and,
as for me, I don't mind coming out flatfooted and saying there ain't any
way to improve on them--except having them born in, Missouri!"



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