Due gratitude and respect
“Thus the hurry of spirits, that ever attends the eager pursuit of fortune and a passion for splendid enjoyment, leads to forgetfulness; and thus the inhabitants of America cease to look back with due gratitude and respect on the fortitude and virtue of their ancestors, who, through difficulties almost insurmountable, planted them in a happy soil.” — Mercy Otis Warren
One year ago today, my post featured a favorite quote from Martha Washington. Only recently did I discover that quote was taken from a personal letter she wrote to one of the women I most admire in American history, Mercy Otis Warren.
Those of us who are fond of history have a sort of private “honor roll” of well-known figures we admire, and among these, there are a few for whom we feel an instant, almost mystical affinity. Mercy Otis Warren is such a person for me.
She has been called “perhaps the most formidable female intellectual in eighteenth-century America” and “mother of the Bill of Rights.” This effusive praise may be a bit overblown, but it is beyond question that her influence was extraordinary for any female born into such a male-dominated society as existed in colonial America. Wife, mother, sister, writer and patriot, she was a friend and confidante to many men and women whose names are far more widely known and recognized.
It’s always amusing to discover words that sound startlingly current despite being written hundreds of years ago. I have to wonder at what sort of “hurry of spirits” could have been at play in a time when the fastest travel was by horseback, and distant communication was confined to written correspondence that might take months (or even years) to reach its destination. Yet Warren expresses regret at the haste and forgetfulness that attends the pursuit of “splendid enjoyment.” She pays tribute to the fortitude and virtue of ancestors whose lot in life was more difficult than her own, grateful for their role in planting her generation “in a happy soil.”
Perhaps this is one more indication that some things never change. Always there are people who choose gratitude for present circumstances over despair at current difficulties; those who take bold action in uncertain times, rather than cower in fear of what lies ahead.
It’s wise to look at history from many angles, and not to see the past through the rose-colored glasses of uninformed admiration. Still, I think we tend to underestimate the inspiring character of those who persevered to overcome obstacles that were removed from our paths long ago. The human story is rich with lessons in courage, strength and triumph. Spending time with these lessons is a great way to defeat despair.
One year ago today: