23. Peter J. Gomes | Of royal weddings and election sermons

Harvard’s Pusey Minister in Memorial Church and Boston’s/America’s iconic gay chaplain,  Peter J. Gomes,  Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, was an old friend whose essence I may well have missed if Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick was right  (as I thought he must be at once I read it)  that this black Baptist,  crypto-Anglican conservative gay Boston Brahmin was,  in an era of often limiting identity politics,  “the freest man”,  Patrick declared,  “I have ever known.”  Peter is much on my mind this weekend of a royal wedding and a papal beatification. His recent death has led inevitably to some very long thoughts, for he and I went a long way back and passed through very stormy seas together,  about the history of which I wish to go on record.

As anyone will know who has ever seen the breakthrough book that established me as not only an architectural but also as an intellectual and cultural historian,  Boston Bohemia,  I have benefited enormously from Peter Gomes’s good opinion of me:  “brilliant,  historic,  profoundly relevant scholarship,”  blazoned across my books front cover over Peter’s name was the ticket to a positive review in The New York Times,  my first and key review because no Boston paper would touch my book with a ten foot pole;  not content with which acolade Peter folowed up with a full scale essay review that fully documented Emily Dickenson’s ruminations about fame;  more Peter’s than mine then:  that like the bee,  if it has a song,  and a wing,  it has also a sting.  What Peter Gomes wrote about my work deserves so much more to be said about his, and  on a much larger scale:

It is afterall about some of Boston’s most sacred shrines and sacred cows:  Harvard,  Groton and St. Paul’s Schools,  the city’s private men’s clubs,  its leading churches and cultural institutions . . . . This is a world Shand-Tucci knows and admires;  and although he writes with the ear of a novelist and the eye of an anthropoligist,  and looks at much the same landscape as have others, . . . he sees things differently. . . . Shand-Tucci does not make the point these people simply  ‘happen’  to be gay,  he argues that it was a gay culture that enabled and sustained them . . . . One can almost hear the gasps of exasperation over the Athenaeum tea cups . . . . Such matters,  so the argument goes, are best left in the closet with the other skeletons . . . . Cold Roast Boston . . . .will not be able to look at their old school chapels . . . with quite the same ignorant confidence;  and this may be a very good thing . . . . When we see something new and different in what we have seen before and think we know so well,  then we have discovered the lively transaction of learning itself and what we and what we see are changed . . . . [T]hanks to Douglass Shand-Tucci,  it will never be the same again.  

Thanks to Peter J. Gomes,  and twice over,  for never mind his enormous effect on the reception of my book,  to repeat what Peter wrote about my work and apply it to his own is to acknowledge a ministry which was truly huge.  Peter’s The Good Book reached into corners of America where Boston Bohemia never could. 

And yet nothing would do but that as the finale to the splendid black-tie dinner he gave in honor of my publication day at Sparks House we both staged in front of  a puzzled Kirkland House tutor,  Chris Rowe,  a fierce debate — this was 1994 — over same sex marriage.  Peter Gomes and I were always kinder to each other in print than in person.

This was a reflection I now think of more than angst or rivalry —  a friend used to say the problem was there was never with Peter and I in the same room enough oxygen for us both  —  it was a way we forced things hard to say  (that needed to be said then;  less so now perhaps)  to the surface.  Was it a kind of  “gay rage”?  I wonder about that because I will never forget the opening of Peter’s funeral sermon for Harvard Dean Archie Epps,  a close friend of us both who deserved to be Dean of Harvard College but wasn’t,   in our view largely because Archie was black,  a situation I was somewhat involved in :  Archie,  Peter declared straight out,  had done a good deal better by Harvard than Harvard had done by Archie.  Whether or not that was  “black rage,” it was the truth,  and spoken by Peter to much assembled power.

H E R O E S

I am not just thinking about Peter Gomes this weekend  — whether or not relevant to the present series on “the Boston religion” the reader may judge for himself or herself  —  and of royal weddings and papal beatifications,  though of both more soon here  —  but of Phillips Brooks,  Boston’s 19th century priest-poet and saint-bishop,  who made of Trinity Church in Copley Square a transatlantic religious mecca in his day.  Peter and I argued a lot over Trinity Church too,  and in no small measure because Bishop Brooks was in a very real sense Peter Gomes’s hero;  a huge bust of Brooks was installed in his Cambridge study.  His Brooks and my Brooks,  however, were as different as they were the same.

One thing I know Peter did not mind at all about what my studies disclosed was that St. Charles Brent,  then a young Cowley Father novice and Boston slum priest,  was very much Brooks’s companion;  think Paul and Titus.  Indeed,  although Peter Gomes disdained the digital revolution I have embraced  —  another argument  —  and thus never would read these essays though he professed to be devoted to my work,  I suspect his loyal secretary of so many years,  Jan Randolph,  who mediated between us in this as in other things,  printed out for Peter my Brooks e-book,  found elsewhere on this site.

One of the reasons I have long since figured out Peter loved Boston Bohemia  was that in it I had  “outed”  —  remember that word?  —  Bishop Brooks,  to the scandal of many of the  “liberals”  of Trinity Church,  and having gone through his own ordeal  —  Peter might just as well have been a bishop; he was often mistaken for one in England  —  he was moved by that echo historically;  an echo felt in my case,  by the way,  most keenly in connection with an episcopal hero of mine own,  Bishop Paul Moore of New York.  I had rather a fierce debate with Bishop Moore on the matter of my outing Brooks at another dinner  honoring the publication of my book,  this time in New York at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and given by James Parks Morton, the then dean,  and was puzzled by it considerably.  It was only when I read Honor Moore’s wonderful book,  The Bishop’s Daughter,  that I realized at once there had been another bishop somewhat waryof the way Douglass outed prelates.

And that is another reason all this is on my mind this weekend.  As it happens,  in between royal wedding and papal beatification,  on Saturday,  my old college friend,  church historian R.  William Franklin  —  I am Harvard College Class of 1972 and Bill was then a doctoral student  —  was consecrated a bishop yesterday.  He thus now sits in the episcopal chair of St. Charles Brent!  Bill,  by the way,  gave my breakthrough book anoher rave review in a Chicago scholarly journal.

One of my fondest memories of our Harvard years was how often we would sit up too late and drink too much  (port, of course) to his ever patient wife’s distress,  listening to a recording of the coronation of Elizabeth II,  which had taken place two decades earlier, in 1953.  I can still hear the majestic opening strains of  “I was glad when they said unto me  we will go into the House of the Lord”  —  set by Sir Hubert Parry,  who composed as well the glorious setting of William Blake’s  “Jerusalem”.  My favorite hymn,  I think it was Peter’s too.  “And did those feet in ancient time?”

Peter and I listened to that same recording more than once at my old family house on Jones Hill in Dorchester.  And this weekend,  of course,  I heard Parry’s hymn and anthem again for the first time in many years at the wedding of Prince William and his bride,  the Duchess of Cambridge.

And so too should Peter have.  Let it also be said that his aversion to technology would not have kept him from a television this weekend,  either from Rome on Monday or London on Friday,  but mostly from London,  where Peter became well acquainted in the highest quarters of the Court of St. James, and was as welcome there as I,  somewhat my own fault Peter used to insist,  am not anymore. Which was the hugest arguemnt of all, but not to the point here.  (I am a distant relation of  the Duchess of Cornwall,   the daughter of a man I much admired,  Bruce Shand, who won a Military Cross at Dunkirk and another at El Alamein and,  perhaps because his father was a close friend of both Gropius and Le Corbusier,  liked my work.  Born Camilla Shand,  Bruce’s daughter is the second wife of Prince Charles.  Peter touched at some length on his own relationship with the Royal Family in the opening of his book,  The Scandalaous Gospel of Jesus, where significantly the book  —  so daring it was called  “subversive”  by The New York Review of Books  —  , opened with a description of Peter having drinks with Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother).

Well,  this time I let bygones be bygones.  I watched the wedding for both of us.

S P I R I T S

If I avoided London much more than Peter it was only because when places and people disappoint I tend to move on.  Peter was different.  He would not give up on anyone or anything.  Even if it meant playing someone elses game,  which I thought ran risks too close to home.  Interestingly,  when asked once according to Anthony Flint if he thought Harvard was using Dean Epps,  Peter’s response was, “maybe it was a double game.  Maybe Harvard was using Archie and maybe Archie was using Harvard”. 

Never having been encouraged to throw in my lot with any institution  —  a loose cannon and not a team player were two comments about me  I could not dispute  —  I cannot opine here very usefully.  Certainly both Peter Gomes and Archie Epps in their different ways came to personify Harvard,  and I was always struck by the fact that no white person in my time in Cambridge came close to doing so as well. It wasn’t always my Harvard,  to be sure,  but I had my crack at that when President Neil Rudenstine sponsored and supported my Harvard book for Princeton Architectural Press, one of the great honors of my life,  the more so as Harvard’s president wrote a superb preface to my book.  And if there was more reward to have it was surely Archie telling me he kept it by his bedside and read an entry every night.

I was also an admirer of larger (though never finer)  spirits than they or Bruce Shand  —  all of whom hovered over this weekend  —  in London Diana,  Princess of Wales,  and in Rome Pope John Paul II  —  and remain such with respect to the survivor of them all,  that exemplary monarch,  now nearing her sixtieth year on the throne,  Elizabeth II.  Less so,  much less so,  Benedict XVI. 

Bishop Franklin,  as I must now get used to calling my old college friend, was untill just this last year or so stationed in Rome at the Anglican Centre and at the American Academy,  where his wife,  the Columbia classicist Carmella Vircillo Franklin,  was director,  and I’m afraid I found myself often suggesting to Bill various ideas he would patiently point out to me were really not very much of help in so traditionally authoritarian an evnironment.  One idea I urged very much on him as Bill struggled to defend the Episcopal Church’s openness to same-sex marriage and to the consecration of our first openly gay bishop  —  in Boston’s orbit,  of course:  Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire  —  was that he should stress to unbelieving Romans that American Anglican bishops are not appointed by pope or monarch,  but elected,  and by deputies both clerical and lay, albeit in good Catholic order with consents necessary from a majority of the bishops and lay diosecan councils nationwide.

In this arena too Peter and I bonded strongly.  Allies in the cause of gay civil rights,  we were as much so as anglophiles,  and not just because we loved The Book of Common Prayer in the morning every Sunday and almost as much Masteroiece Theatre in the evening. We were both ardent constitutional monarchists.

Now as heirs of Christendom in the widest sense,  I’m sure Peter saw as do I in both the Roman Papacy and the British Monarchy alike the most ancient and regal institutions of western civilization,  symbols alike of the Roman Empire and the British Empire,  neither without flaw but both huge drivers of our civilization. To see as we have this past weekend both engage a watching world with pomps over a thousand years old (older,  depending on when you decide these two institutions achieved recognizable form) was bound to be spectacular.

But as Americans and Bostonians —  and recall that the most conservative American  (which Peter certainly wasn’t)  is very liberal indeed by European standards — we both leaned more toward London than Rome,  and not just gay civil rights played into that posture.  I at least have always been impressed with the way the British Monarchy over the centuries has transformed itself in so dynamic a way into the constitutional guarantor of Magna Carta and Habeus Corpus,  English Common Law and parliamentary democracy and representative government generally,  all this undoubtedly Britain’s greatest gifts to the world,  particularly through the United States,  gifts which document and ground,  as Churchill somewhere says,  the term  “mother country.”

Of course,  that monarchy has as often as not been forced as much as persuaded to those great advances in human history,  never mind that the institution can seem absurd enough in the case of individual monarchs,  their consorts and heirs and so on.  But that such has hardly always been the case is a point that hardly needs to be made in a year when we are all lining up to see  “The King’s Speech.”  Seems like only yesterday,  moreover,  it was Helen Mirren in  “The Queen.”

In the same category I must put the jejune commentary one had to put up with on American television all through the royal wedding.  It reminded me of a friend whose intellect I greatly respect,  and whose politics I often share,  who rather mindlessly announced he was pleased when the car of Prince Charles and his wife was attacked by a mob recently and I had to point out to him his was rather an unthinking knee-jerk lefty reaction.  In striking contrast to various Middle Eastern royals,  the Prince of Wales and his wife were en route to a charity performance for retired firemen or AIDS victims or some such  (Diana was one of the first to take up the AIDS cause) and were doing,  in fact,  their duty,  thank you,  when I was sure anyone with their money and what not could just as easily have taken off to go skiing with their Middle Eastern equivalents.

Peter was unusual among American progressives,  for that’s what he really became,  in understanding that sort of thing.  Happily,  therefore,  I applauded when it fell to him to revive  —  in his capacity,  as I would insist on saying to his great chagrin,  as  “world’s greatest preacher,”  —  in some sense Boston’s own history in this department.

S E R M O N S

Harvard Commencement and Election Day were Boston’s two great Puritan holidays,  the pagentry of both of which has largely lapsed today.  The last of it went in the 1970s when Governor Michael Dukakis  —  fine governor,  but no imagination at all  —  discontinued the centuries-old tradition of the Massachusetts governor driving in state to Harvard Yard from the Boston State House,  his carriage escorted by scarlet uniformed mounted lancers,  pennants flying.

Still,  there was always Peter,  who although the title had also lapsed,  never denied being the Preacher to the University,  once Boston’s proudest acolade,  and when Governor Deval Patrick proposed in 2007 to,  in effect,  revive another even more ancient tradition,  the Election Sermon,  albeit on Innauguration Day,  Peter was obvioulsy the only person imaginable to deliver it.

To be sure,  the Election Sermon is not a Royal Wedding nor a Papal Beatification,  but the event was as characteristic as any royal or papal event  in any Old World capitol,  its symbolism being of the primacy of the word, a crucial self identifier indeed for a New World capitol whose significance, as  Oxford historian Diarmaid MacCulloch points out in Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, was that it was when founded  “possibly the most literate society than existing in the world.”

By 2007 the choice of Peter Gomes was certainly seen to honor that consinuing aspiration.  But as recently as in in the 1970s or ’80s,  when first he became a figure at Harvard,  it would have been seen,  depending or not what you knew about him,  to be quite otherwise.  Never mind how literate Harvard remained,  it was  possibly also in the western world a most rarified  ‘closet.’

I suppose there is no harm today,  and I think there must be some good  —  in aid of an historical record that might otherwise remain blank in this respect  —  in disclosing the fact that while I had several heterosexual mentors at Harvard, above all George R. Ursul and Eliott Perkins and Archie C. Epps III, some key gay  relationships I formed in Harvard Yard when I was an undergraduate in Dudley House in the early 1970s carried over into a much more explicitly gay circle in the 1980s when I was a tutor in Eliot House,  traces of which show up two books of mine,  Boston Bohemia of 1994 and The Crimson Letter of 2003.

It has to be said that while I still get enthusiastic and amazingly personal responses years later to both books from students,  The Crimson Letter  especially has been often ill received by the gay establishment,  which to my mind is too prone,  like certain ethnic groups,  to play the victim’s card;   sensationalizing,  for instance,  all out of proportion historically,  the persecution of gays by the Lowell administration in the 1920s,  when in that decade the big story is their persecution of Jews,  not gays.  Both my Harvard gay studies books on the other hand disclose that there was also historically a more positive gay experience characteristic of college life, although one that as Dinitia Smith pointed out in The New York Times, I may never be fully forgiven for exposing!  Especially by those who so cherish their victimhood and the stereotypes with which they are most comfortable that they don’t like to admit,  for example,  that the outrage of gay bashing is often that not only the victims but the attackers are gay,  in the latter case acting out of their huge sense of self-loathing.

David Brudnoy, the gifted Boston talk show host who was also gay,  and one of the few that gave me an hour on his program,  used to say that I  “drove both sides crazy,  though for different reasons.”

My earliest contacts in the Yard in the late 1960s and early 1960s centered on Dudley House and included my first experience of a same-sex married couple, a couple,  two resident tutors,  whose  nightly meals together in Lehman Hall presented quite a normal,  healthy,  even genteel presence at a time when I was more apt to see gay people in a bar than anywhere else.  Alas,  I have forgotten their names.  But the names of the Master of Dudley House,  Thomas Eugene Crooks,  who was also the Director of the Harvard Summer School  (and if rumor was correct a CIA recruiter) and the man he appointed as his Senior Tutor or Resident Dean,  John Robert Marquand,  also secretary to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences,  I will never forget I’m sure.

Both were gay,  including quite a cohort of gay dons in Harvard Yard,  of whom I will mention two:  the dean who presided therein,  Burris Young and,  by the early 1970s,  Peter Gomes. Peter,  I may say,  seemed also to me John Marquand’s best friend.  Reputedly they dined together weekly.  Certainly John exercized a  decided influence over Peter.

It would not be hard to list the character flaws of any of us,  or the mistakes,  and when John formed  a particularly close bond with an undergraduate many furies were justifiably let loose,  but what stands out these many years later in my mind is what good friends we all were to each other and how dedicated so many were to their students in what was,  to say the least,  a challenging situation. One relic of all that today,  for instance,  is the Marquand Prize for Advising,  all the donors to which I daresay were not gay.

As a budding historian who found himself in one of the most stimulating intellectual environments possible I was at once interested to observe that what I liked most about Harvard was the River Houses,  the syatem of residential colleges established by Abbott Lawrence Lowell.  Do I dare,  I wonder,  call him a bit of a hero to me still  because he was an educational visionary as well as a narrow minded bigot;  people tend to be like that historically, however complicated it makes things, something  Harvard students are expected to figure out.  Anyway, nothing was clearer than that the River Houses, in those days entirely a same-sex milieux,  seemed to depend on homosexual as well as heterosexual men who were in fact more than usually accepting of each other.  I had already noticed this in the clergy of the Episcopal Church,  especially the Cowley Fathers,  at whose monastary just upriver from Eliot I often was to be found.

So when the Master of Eliot House, Alan Heimert,  a great scholar of the New England Mind who did me the considerable honor to be interested in my work,  invited me to join the Senior Common Room of Eliot House,  I jumped.  Peter,  already ensconced in the Lowell House SCR,  predicted it would be the end of our friendship.   For whatever reasons he and Professor Heimert were not friends.

My first task, in 1981,  was to write a history and architectural guide to Eliot House,  the guts of which I incorpoarted years later in my Harvard: An Architectural Tour.  As originally written I laid great stress on the Matthiessen Room and Memorial by sculptor John Skelton, which was to be dedicated the next year.   Named after F.  O.  Matthiessen,  perhaps the most influential American scholar of his generation and one of the founders of American studies,  who also was the first Senior Tutor of Eliot House,  also gay,  he seems to me still the supreme example of the kind of don who is the lynchpin of the residential college.  However,  though I certainly hymned Matthiessen in my history,  I nowhere mentioned that he was homosexual and that he was in the end a true victim  —  he leaped to his death from a Boston hotel room  — and  of more than McCarthyism.

Why I did this I’m sure I would not like to say;  so am glad I have forgotten.  I certainly know,  however  —  because  “PDST Eliot House N43c”  is written in the flyleaf of John Boswell’s 1980 book on same sex marriage and because the date  “Jan 1980”  is written on my copy of Louis Hyde’s book of 1978 drawn from Matthiessen’s journals  —  N43c being my study that year  —  that I am correct in recalling what consoled me,  others too,  about what must have been a problematic situation.  Matthiessen’s sexuality didn’t come up either in Professor Harry Levin’s otherwise superb dedication speech,  but his kind words in that speech as published about my work were something of an olive branch;  that and the much more important fact that in the bibliography of his speech,  issued as  “Matty at Eliot House,”  thanks to Levin and George Abbott White,  the first Matthiessen Room Keeper,  the Hyde book was duly noted,  scandal that it was,  it having been so far as I know the first place Matthiessen and Russell Cheney were outed as a same sex couple.  With that footnote of 1982 I like to think we at least unlocked the door to the scholarly closet at Harvard,  door  which in 1984 the newly founded Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus began to wrench open wider yet and wider.

Still,  of course,  my own small circle was  very much on the wrong side of that door as history was unfolding.  How wrong?  In 1985 Peter gave the  benediction at President Reagan’s second Innaugural;  he would also give the National Cathedral sermon at the innaugural of Reagan’s successor,  George H.  W. Bush.  Very wrong.

But then,  in the 1990s.  things began to move very quickly,  beginning with Peter’s stunning coming out at a campus demonstration against homophobia in 1991 and my own ‘debut’ in Boston Bohemia in 1994,  with Peter alone urging me on in the face of many others advising me  to the contrary,  all the  while watching my back and blazoning his reviews all over the front cover of my book.  Two years later Peter’s own The Good Book became a best seller and that same year my article on the Harvard gay Civil War book I had found was published in The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, a journal that was yet another triumph of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus,  for which the year following in 1997 I gave the keynote speech at their annual dinner.

A new world had indeed arrived,  or seemed to,  untill even the accomplishments of those days would be topped by todays.  Now  the caucus is spearheading the endowing of the first named chair in sexuality and gender at Harvard,  to be named in Matthiessen’s honor,  while I’m happy to say  K.  P.  Van Anglen,  the present Keeper of the Matthessien Room is helping to assemble material for a catalogue raisonee of Russell Cheney’s paintings and assisting  a biographer probe the relationship of Matthiessen and Cheney.

Yet when John Marquand died in 1992 I think his sexuality did not arise.  And it certainly didn’t come up  —  in public at least  —  when Thomas Eugene Crooks passed away in 1998.  The idea that my old friend and mentor would go to his grave miscast and misunderstood depressed me deeply.  Yet when I was asked to speak at the ceremony I had to decline,  told as I was that his wife and children would allow no such mention.  Family values,  I guess.

But Peter’s stately ascent upward made up for a lot,  and it can now be said of all Tom’s brothers  —  did I mention he received the Purple Heart at Anzio in the Second World War?  —  that Peter did for mainstream America what I had only done,  and only with his help,  for elites like Episcopalians:  discover in an historical scholarship not rooted in indentity politics or the cult of the victim some sense  still of their dignity as players on the historical stage.

So the last chapter,  as I see it now,  was Peter’s  “Election Sermon”  of 2007,  something of a companion from my perspective to my Crimson Letter of  2003.  Of course my book is all about gay Harvard,  Peter’s sermon not at all.  But a continuous source of friction between us over the years was his membership in the gay Log Cabin Republicans,  the gala dinners of which at Peter”s house I well knew as my best friend of those days,  who I generally accompanied,  always attended.  Well,  Peter gave the  “Election Sermon,”  not as a Republican,  albeit a Reagan Republican or a Bush I Republican,  but as  a Democrat,  converted thereto I am told by Governor Patrick himself.

J E R U S A L E M

In his study of the Election Sermon from the first one in 1634 through the subsequent centuries,  A.  W.  Plumstead suggests that such sermons were especially challenging because  “dealing as they did with the cold facts of building  ‘God’s city on a hill'” they were not always good news.  “Election preachers,”  Plumstead pointed out,  “were . . . to be  ‘watchmen upon Jerusalem’s wall.”  Which was perhaps to much to ask of anyone,  then or now,  including Peter Gomes.

Yet is not the British Jerusalem the origin of the American Jerusalem?  And was not Peter’s preaching very much in that tradition? I can certainly affirm that  “Jerusalem”  even then was very much the anthem of my small circle,  as Anglophile,  of course,  as it was mostly gay.  When Blake says in that poem,  “I will not cease from Mental Fight / Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,”  Oxford theologian and Blake scholar Christopher Rowland explains his meaning thusly:  one must always  “speak out,”  but also never forget  “the importance of people taking responsibility for change.” 

Most of us with respect to  “Jerusalem”  will be put in mind of the 1981 film,  “Chariots of Fire,”  where the Christian runs for the honor of God and the Jew to defeat anti-Semitism.  Well, all of us,  religious or not,  American or not,  gay or not,  black or not,  Catholic or Protestant or Jew or Hindu,  conservative or liberal,  run for something,  yes?  How amazing that Blake’s poem,  especially as set by composer Sir Hubert Parry in 1916 and orchestrated six years later by Elgar,  seems to answer whatever that cause may be;  mystifying,  even confounding,  it is,  for I know of no hymn like the Blake/Parry one that is at once so unifying and so divisive.   As Blake scholar Jason Whittaker remarks,  “the hymn is frequently used by royalists . . . but has often been a favorite of the left,  taken up by the Jarrow marchers.”  Wonderingly,  he can only behold and celebrate  “the  tensions between Blake’s revolutionary attitudes and the hymns adoption as an athem of the [royal] establishment,  both now so deeply embedded in the national iconography. Indeed,  to my mind,  no royal event is now imaginable without what the American critic Alfred Kazin called with some reason a  “Socialist hymn.”  Nor, I will add,  could any rock history be written without reference to to Emerson,  Lake and Palmer’s brash but magnificant setting of 1972.

I loved that Hendrik Hertzburg in his lefty ruminations in The New Yorker,”  Royal Pains”  he called his piece, focussed on how the crowds around the Trafalgar Square jumbotron  were singing along with the Queen and everyone else in the Abbey.  Amazed,  he wrote:

Think of William Blake two centuries ago,  aflame with prophetic mysticism and revelatory rapture,  writing these deathless,  daring lines in obscurity.  Just three or four years earlier,  he had been arrested and charged with sedition for making treasonable remarks against the king. [Blake was acquitted.] There has to be something right about a country that expresses its patriotism in a song that denounces industrial oppression and then cries in ecstasy,  ‘Bring me my arrows of desire!'”

Nor forget,  Peter might have said in an expansive mood,  “my bow of burning gold . . . my spear: O clouds unfold! . . . my chariot of fire.”

F A R E W E L L

Even Peter Gomes might have preferred a quieter exit than Elijah’s,  and to that end I will append this somewhat more  personal coda.

The aura of Pope John Paul IIs 1979 visit to Boston  —  where he celebrated on Boston Common the first papal mass in America of his pontificate,  a pontificate  that would be so tremendously influential in Europe in the fall of Communism but less so in America,  where  in his reign the vision of Vatican II seemed to fade more and more each year  —  has faded for many in subsequent years.  By contrast the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Boston three years earlier,  the first of a reigning British sovereign,  remains a vivid finale to the Bicentennial of the United States the visit marked.

Peter Gomes that year had been at Harvard’s Memorial Church only two years in 1976.  I had just graduated in 1972.  I had tickets to the grandstand seating opposite Fanueil Hall,  along with Francis Moloney,  Assistant Director of the Boston Public Library and something of a local historian.  I remember how keen Frank was to see the Queen on the balcony from which in July of 1776 the Declaration of Independence had been proclaimed,  and how attentive he was to her speech afterward,  to which she referred in her  Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth and the world  that year: expressing perhaps surprise,  Elizabeth II declared that her reception had been the same in Boston as elsewhere,  and this despite the fact that  ” it was in Boston where the first shots in the war between Britain and America were fired.”

I do not remember seeing Peter that day;  I may not yet have met him.  But my chief mentor of those days,  Walter Muir Whitehill,  had the invitation,  which I did not have,  I hope Peter had. Walter wrote about it movingly the following year:

At 6:00 P. M. the Queen gave a reception on board “Britannia” . . . . At 7:00 the awnings were raised so that the guests might see the Royal Marines Band,  which began to beat a Retreat . . . on the pier.  Beyond them on the opposite side of the pier,  was the escort destroyer,  HMS Eskimo,  decked with flags,  with crew in whites,  manning the rails . . . . As the band began  ‘God Save the Queen’  Eskimo quietly backed into  [Boston Harbor]  in preparation for escorting Britannia” to sea;  the finest theatre possible,  perfectly timed . . . . .The guests went ashore,  and  “Britannia”  itself quietly backed out . . . . The Queen and Prince Philip stood at the rail waving,  and the band,  now re-embarked,  played  “Auld lang syne,” There wasn’t a dry eye on the pier.  “Britannia”  moved toward the North End so that the Queen might wave to the great crowds assembled there along the waterfront.  The two ships put to sea in the twilight.

 

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S O U R C E S

Boswell,  John.  CHRISTIANITY<  SOCIAL TOLERENCE AND HOMOSEXUALITY  (Yale)  1980

[Brooks,  Phillips]  see  “Saint Phillips Brooks” in  GODS OF COPLEY SQUARE this site.

[Crooks, Thomas E.] Obituary www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/1998/10.01/ThomasCCrooksFor.html

Flint, Anthony.  “Archie Epps”,  BOSTON GLOBE  (8/23/2003)

Gomes,  Peter J.  THE GOOD BOOK  (Morrow)1996

Gomes,  Peter J.  “Beautiful Buildings,  Beautiful Music,  Beautiful Men,”  BOSTON BOOK REVIEW  (n.d.) 1994?

Hertzburg,  Hendrik.  “Royal Pains”,  THE NEW YORKER (April 28, 2011)

Levin,  Harry.  MATTY AT ELIOT HOUSE  )the House) 1982

Marotta, Toby.  SONS OF HARVARD (Morrow) 1982

MacCulloch, Diarmaid.  CHRISTIANITY: THE FIRST THREE THOUSAND YEARS  (Palgrave) 2002

[Matthiessen,  F. O]  see Shand-Tucci, Douglass.  THE CRIMSON LETTER.  See also Hyde, Louis, this bib.

[Patrick, Deval] Either to view or to readthe text of the governor’s remarks go to http://www.memorialchurch.harvard.edu

Plumstead, A. W.  THE WALL AND THE GARDEN  (Univ. of Minnesotta Press)  1968

Rowland,  Christopher.  see  www.opendemocracy.net

Shand-Tucci,  Douglass.  THE CRIMSON LETTER  (St. Martin)  2003

Shand-Tucci,  Douglass.  BOSTON BOHEMIA  (Massachusetts)  1994

Shand-Tucci,  Douglass.  HARVARD: AN ARCHITECTURAL TOUR  (Princeton) 2001

Shand-Tucci,  Douglass.  “A Gay [Harvard] Civil War Novel Surfaces” in HARVARD GAY AND LESBIAN REVIEW (Spring 1996)

Whitehill,  Walter.  THE QUEEN’S VISIT  (Bostonian Society)  1977

Whittaker,  Jason.  (with Shirely Dent)  RADICAL BLAKE  (Palgrave) 2002

 

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