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THE PILGRIM FATHERS.
AN ADDRESS, DELIVERED BEFORE THE NEW ENGLAND SOCIETY, IN THE
CITY OF NEW YORK, DECEMBER 23, 1839.
TOWARDS the close of the year 1558, about two hundred and eighty-one years ago, a little more than nine times the period which has been commonly assigned as the term of a generation, and only four times the threescore years and ten which have been divinely allotted to the life of man, a virgin Princess ascended the throne of England. Inheriting, together with the throne itself, a full measure of that haughty and overbearing spirit which characterized the royal race from which she sprung, she could not brook the idea of any partition of her power, or of any control over her person. She seemed resolved that that race should end with her, and that the crown which it had so nobly won on Bosworth Field should seek a new channel of succession, rather than it should be deprived, in her person, and through any accident of her sex, of one jot or tittle of that high prerogative which it had now enjoyed for nearly a century. She seemed to prefer, not only to hold, herself, a barren sceptre heir of her's succeeding --- but even to let that sceptre fall into the hands of the issue of a hated, persecuted, and finally murdered rival, rather than risk the certainty of wielding it herself, with that free and unembarrassed arm which befitted a daughter of the Tudors.
Accordingly, no sooner had she grasped it, and seated herself securely upon the throne of her fathers, than she declared to her suppliant Commons — who doubtless presumed that they could approach a Queen of almost six-and-twenty, with no more
agreeable petition, than that she would graciously condescend to select for herself an help-meet in the management of the mighty interests, which had just been intrusted to her — that England was her husband; that she had wedded it with the marriage ring upon her finger, placed there by herself with that design on the very morning of her coronation; that while a private person she had always declined a matrimonial engagement, regarding it even then as an incumbrance, but that much more did she persist in this opinion now that a great kingdom had been committed to her charge; and that, for one, she wished no higher character or fairer remembrance of her should be transmitted to posterity, when she should pay the last debt to nature, than to have this inscription engraved on her tombstone: “Here lies Elizabeth, who lived and died a Maiden Queen."
In the purpose thus emphatically declared at her accession, the Queen of whom I speak persevered to her decease. Scorning the proverbial privilege of her sex, to change their minds at will upon such a subject, and resisting the importunities of a thousand suitors, she realized that vision of a Midsummer Night's Dream, which was so exquisitely unfolded to her by the immortal Dramatist of her day:
6 I saw,
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
But Elizabeth was not quite content to wait for a tombstone, on which to inscribe this purpose and its fulfilment. Proclaimed, as it annually was, through the whole length and breadth of the Old World, from almost every corner of which proposals of a character to shake and change it were continually poured in upon her, — she resolved to engrave it once and forever upon the New World also, where as yet there was no civilized suitor to tease her with his pretensions, whose very existence had been discovered less than a century before by Christopher Columbus, and the Northern Continent of which had been brought within the reach of her own prerogative by the subsequent discovery of Sebastian Cabot. To that whole continent she gave the name of VIRGINIA; and at her death, after a reign of five-and-forty years, that whole continent, through all its yet unmeasured latitudes and longitudes, from the confines of Labrador to the Mexican Gulf, was known by no other title, than that which thus marked it as the dominion of a Maiden Queen.
But it was that Queen's dominion only in name. Four times, indeed, she had essayed to people it and plant her banners there. But in vain. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, to whom the first patent for this purpose was granted, being compelled to return prematurely to England by the disasters he had experienced on the coast of Newfoundland, was lost in a storm on the homeward passage, and all that survived of his gallant enterprise, was that sublime exclamation, as he sat in the stern of his sinking bark “ It is as near to Heaven by sea as by land.” By the resolute and undaunted efforts of his illustrious brotherin-law, Sir Walter Raleigh, however, three separate companies of colonists were afterwards conducted to the more southern parts of the continent, and each in succession commenced a settlement at Roanoke Bay. But two of them perished on the spot, without leaving behind them even so much as the means of ascertaining whether they had owed their destruction to force or to famine; — while the third, which, indeed, was the first in order, within a year from its departure, returned in disgust to its native land. And the whole result of Virginia colonization and Virginia commerce, upon which such unbounded hopes of glory and of gain had been hung by Raleigh, and cherished by the Queen, had hitherto consisted in the introduction into England, by this last named band of emigrants returning home in despair, of a few hundreds of tobacco, and in Queen Elizabeth herself becoming one of Raleigh's pupils in that most. maidenly and most queenly accomplishment, —- smoking a pipe. Not one subject did Elizabeth leave at her death in that wide spread continent, which she had thus destined to the honor of perpetuating the memory of her haughty and ambitious virginity.
Within a year or two past, a second Maiden Queen has ascended the throne which the first exchanged for a grave in 1603. And when she casts her eye back, as she can scarcely fail frequently to do, to the days of her illustrious prototype, and compares the sceptre, which Elizabeth so boldly swayed for nearly half a century with that which trembles in her girlish hand, she may console herself with the reflection, that if the strength and potency of her own are greatly inferior, its reach and sweep are, practically at least, vastly more extended. She sees the immediate successor to Elizabeth, uniting the crowns of England and Scotland, and preparing the way for that perfect consolidation of the two countries which another century was destined to complete. Ireland, too, she finds no longer held by the tenure of an almost annual conquest, but included in the bonds of the same great union. While beyond the boundaries of the Imperial Homestead, she beholds her power bestriding the world like a Colossus, a foot on either hemisphere; in one, military posts and colonial possessions hailing her accession and acknowledging her sway, which were without even a name or local habitation in the history of the world, as Raleigh wrote it; and in the other, a company of adventurers which Elizabeth chartered a few years before her death, to try the experiment of a trade with the East Indies by the newly discovered passage round the Cape of Good Hope, converted from a petty mercantile corporation into a vast military empire, and holding in her name and expending in her service territorial dominions and revenues equal to those of the most powerful independent monarchies.
But where is Virginia ? Where is the ancient dominion” upon which her great Exemplar inscribed the substance of that "maiden meditation” which even now, mayhap, is mingled with the weightier cares of majesty in her own breast? Have all attempts to plant and colonize it proved still unsuccessful ? Is it still unreclaimed from original barbarism -- still only the abode of wolves and wild men? And why is it not found on the map of the British possessions why not comprised in the catalogue of Her Majesty's Colonies? Two centuries and a third ago only, when Elizabeth quitted the throne, it was there, unsettled indeed, and with not a civilized soul upon its soil, but
opening its boundless territories to the adventure and enterprise of the British people, and destined, to all human appearances, to be one day counted among the brightest jewels in the crowns of the British princes. Why is it not now seen sparkling in that which encircles her own brow ?
If we might imagine the youthful Victoria, led along by the train of reflections which we have thus suggested, and snatching a moment from the anxious contemplation of colonies which she is in immediate danger of losing, to search after those which have been lost to her already, - if we might imagine her turning back the page of History to the period of the first Stuart, to discover what became of the Virginia of Elizabeth after her death, how it was finally planted, and how it passed from beneath the sceptre of her successors, — if we might be indulged in a far less natural imagination, and fancy ourselves admitted at this moment to the royal presence, and, with something more even than the ordinary boldness of Yankee curiosity, peering over the royal shoulder, as, impatient at the remembrance of losses sustained, and still more so at the prospect of like losses impending, she hurries over the leaves on which the fortunes of that Virginia are recorded, and the fortunes of all other Virginias foreshadowed, what a scene should we find unfolding itself to her view!
She sees, at a glance, a permanent settlement effected there, and James the First, more fortunate than his mother's murderer, inscribing a name not on a mere empty territory only, but on an organized and inhabited town. A page onward, she perceives a second and entirely separate settlement accomplished in a widely distant quarter of the continent, and the cherished title of New ENGLAND is now presented to her view. Around these two original footholds of civilization, she sees a hardy, enterprising, and chivalrous people rapidly clustering, while other settlements are simultaneously established along the territory which divides them. Thousands of miles of coast, with their parallel ranges of interior country, are soon seen thickly studded over with populous and flourishing plantations. The population of them all, which had run up from 0 to 300,000 by the close of the seventeenth century, is found advanced to more