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In my student days colonial history never interested me. I did not then understand why but I am now perfectly certain that it was because persons and events were discussed, in most of the books set before me, only as their careers touched New England and hence in so fragmentary a way as to make them appear mere puppets with tiresome dates attached. The treatment usually accorded Sir Harry Vane offers an excellent example of what I
He flashed before us, in the history books, as a brilliant, handsome youth who espoused the cause of Mrs. Hutchinson, — and then disappeared for ever from view. Because his wonderful career in England was deemed to have nothing to do with the subsequent history of Massachusetts we were deprived of the great privilege it would have been to make his inspiring life-story a part of our mental equipment! If this volume errs in the other extreme by talking over-much of Vane and of La Tour after their connection with Boston has ceased the fault may be attributed to a reaction from my own defective education.
The truth is that it is biography rather than history which really allures me; history seems to me worse than useless unless it illustrates the times of which it writes as those times affected the lives of its men and women. A book like this has no justification, to my mind, save as it makes us understand just a little better the part New England, in the person of its chief town, has played in the mighty drama of nations made up of thinking, feeling men and women.
Up to the time of the Revolution, of course, Boston was the biggest place in all the colonies as well as the chief settlement of Massachusetts. This numerical preëminence needs to be borne in mind if we would understand many acts on both sides of the ocean. To understand the America of to-day, too, we must needs know the Boston of the fathers. So only can we be sure that the excrescences of modern government are no essential part of that Christian state of which Winthrop dreamed and for which Vane was glad to die.
The books consulted in the preparation of