Charles Carleton Coffin. History of Boscawen and Webster, from 1733 to 1878. Concord, N. H.: Republican Press Association, 1878. 384-394.
Nathaniel Greene was born in Boscawen, 20 May, 1797. He was christened Peter; but having great respect for the memory of his father, by permission of the legislature of Massachusetts he took the name of Nathaniel.
Educational advantages at the beginning of the century were limited to eight or ten weeks of schooling in winter, and a term of about the same length in summer. Two of his teachers were,— Miss Lucy Hartwell, who afterwards became the wife of Col. Timothy Dix, and Rev. Henry Coleman, then a young man, who subsequently was a minister in Salem, Mass., and who distinguished himself as a writer on agricultural subjects. One of Mr. Greene’s schoolmates was John Adams Dix. Together they stood with their toes to a crack in the floor, their spelling-books in their hands, and made their ” manners ” when Lucy Hartwell said, ” Attention !”
At the age of ten he went to Hopkinton, and became a clerk in a store. While there he had some three months’ additional schooling.
The death of his father when he was but eleven years of age, leaving an embarrassed estate, compelled him to begin the struggle of life under adverse circumstances. He was a great reader, and devoured all books that came in his way, and which he could find time to read. By chance he read a memoir of Franklin, which awakened in him a desire to be a printer, and especially to become an editor. The idea took complete possession of his youthful mind. He thought of it by day, and dreamed of it by night.
At this time—1809—a new paper made its appearance in Concord—the New Hampshire Patriot, established by Isaac Hill. On the 4th of July he walked from Hopkinton to Concord, and offered himself to Mr. Hill as an apprentice, and took his place at the case. That, however, was not the end of his ambition, but only the beginning. It was not to give other men’s thoughts to the world, but his own.
Having left Mr. Hill, he became connected in 1812 with the Concord Gazette, published by Jesse Tuttle. This was the beginning of his editorial career. The newspaper at that time usually contained a ponderous article on some political topic, the latest news from Europe, the victories of the French armies or of the Prussians, but very little local information. There were no reports of meetings, no gathering up of home incidents. The paper was issued weekly, and there was abundant time for an editor to prepare his thunderbolt to launch at the opposing political party.
In 1814 Mr. Greene moved to Portsmouth, and became connected with the New Hampshire War Journal, published by Beck & Foster. He remained there only a year, when he removed to Haverhill, Mass., and became connected with the Haverhill Gazette, published by Burrell & Tileston. In this situation, although but eighteen years of age, he had the sole editorial supervision of the paper. In 1817, at the age of twenty, he became his own publisher, and started the Essex Patriot. The vigor and energy of his writing had already attracted the attention of the public, and he was invited by some of the Democratic Republican politicians to start a paper in Boston ; and, complying with the request, he issued, on 6 Feb., 1821, the first number of the Boston Statesman, a weekly, still in existence. At that time there was a triangular contest for the presidency, and the Statesman advocated the election of W. H. Crawford; but the result of the election—the elevation of John Quincy Adams to the presidential chair—and the great and increasing popularity of Gen. Jackson, made it apparent to the far-seeing young editor that the succeeding election would bring Gen. Jackson prominently before the public. Mr. Greene labored earnestly to bring about the nomination and election of the hero of New Orleans; and the triumph of the party, in 1828, paved the way for Mr. Greene’s future political success.
He was appointed post-master of Boston in 1829, and occupied that official position until the accession of Gen. Harrison to the presidency, when he was succeeded by Mr. George Wm. Gordon; and although this was one of the first public removals of the new administration, yet one of the last measures of President Tyler was to reinstate Mr. Greene in the same office, which he occupied until after tho election of Zachary Taylor, in 1849. Mr. Greene had the reputation of conducting this department to the entire approval of the national executive, and, by his urbane and conciliatory deportment, to the satisfaction of the public in Boston.
While thus absorbed in official and editorial duties, he found time to acquire the French, Italian, and German languages. The French was taken up without much difficulty, as was also the Italian; and in a few wecks he was able to read them. He published, in 1836, a history of Italy, translated by himself from the Italian; and subsequently, as a birth-day present to his niece, he translated Undine from the German into the Italian. This work was read by Signor Monte, at that time professor of Italian at Harvard college, who pronounced it admirably done, and requiring very little alteration to be ready for publication.
In 1836, at the suggestion of a friend, he began German, purchasing a dictionary, a grammar, and a set of Van der Velde’s works. Taking them home, he sat down in the evening, and began with the title-page. The first word was “die” which, on referring to the dictionary, he found to be the definite article ” the.” He wrote down the word, and went on to the next, which was “wieder taufer.” He turned to the dictionary, but could not find it. Recollecting that many words in German are compounds, he looked for “wieder,” and found that it meant “again.” Then looking for “taufer,” he found that it meant ” baptiser;” and said to himself that “wieder taufer” must mean the re-baptiser, or Anabaptist. This was the title-page. He thus began with the first sentence of the text, and before retiring to rest completed the first period of a line and a half.
This was about Christmas time. Every evening during the winter he went on with his translation, and about the first of May following published the results of his labor in two duodecimo volumes, entitled “Tales from the German.” He translated about fifty volumes, many of which have been published. Such literary perseverance has few parallels.
Mr. Greene had a fine poetic fancy. Many of his contributions have been given to the public over the signature of “Boscawen,” choosing the place of his birth as his nom de plume. His stanzas entitled “Petrarch and Laura,” published in the Boston Transcript, are marked by smoothness of rhythm and delicate sentiment :
PETRARCH AND LAURA.
Oh! deem not Petrarch all unblest,
In that he Laura never knew;
That no fond word his ear caressed,
In fair return for love so true;
That no response he ever heard
To lays in which his love was told
In sweeter strains than love’s own bird
In grove or forest ever trolled.
Though Laura might disdain to hear
The music from his heart-strings wrung,
Those strains now reach the listening ear
In every land and every tongue.
Though made the subject of her scorn,
From which in life he suffered long,
There’s many a maiden, then unborn,
Who since hath loved him for his song.
Not unrewarded nor unblest
The sorrows he in song deplored;
His sonnets oft relieved the breast
From which the strains divine were poured.
They won for him undying fame,
Which brightens with the lapse of time,
And eternized fair Laura’s name,
Embalmed in “choice Italian” rhyme.
After retiring from public life, Mr. Greene spent a long period abroad, travelling through Europe. While in Paris, in 1852, he received intelligence of the death of a beloved daughter, who died at Panama, while on her way to San Francisco to establish a Home of the Sisters of Charity, to which order she had become attached. The father’s heart, wrung with grief, found expression in the appended feeling tribute to her memory :
TO MY DAUGHTER IN HEAVEN.
I had on earth but only thee;
Thy love was all the world to me;
And tbou hast sought the silent shore
Where I had thought to go before!
Away from thee, in sad exile,
My lips had long unlearned to smile;
Bright wit might flash, red wine might pour,
But I, alas! could smile no more!
Thy death in these my fading years,
Hath sealed and seared the fount of tears;
My heart may bleed at every pore,
But I, alas! can weep no more!
Ah! how thy loss my soul doth rend,
My only daughter, sister, friend!
Of thee bereft, all joy is o’er,
And I, on earth, can hope no more.
But in those realms beyond the sun,
In that bright heaven thy faith hath won.
Where thou and kindred spirits reign,
There haply shall we meet again.
Paris, Sept. 20th, 1852.
Mr. Greene married Miss Susan, daughter of Rev. “Wm. Batchelder, of Haverhill, Mass. His son. “Wm. B. Greene, was educated at West Point, and served as lieutenant in the U. S. Army; but resigning his commission he entered the ministry, and settled in Brookfield, Mass. He married a daughter of Robert G. Shaw, Esq., of Boston. At the breaking out of the Rebellion he was living abroad. At the news of the attack upon Fort Sumter he hastened home, and offered his services to the government . He was appointed colonel of the 14th Mass. Volunteers, which he ably drilled as a heavy artillery regiment, and commanded the line of fortifications on the Potomac, serving with distinction.
Mr. Nathaniel Greene died 29 Nov., 1877, at the age of eighty years and live months. From among many of the obituary notices of him we quote the following: “Another of Boston’s old and distinguished citizens has been added to the vanished throng. Few names have been more closely identified with the life and interests of this city than that of Nathaniel Greene. He was eminently a successful man. He handled the elements that lay before him with judgment and with vigor. For half a century his career was one of great activity, and it yielded results upon which he might well pride himself. He was a controlling spirit, a progressive force, in those circles wherein he moved, and his name will be remembered as long as the events of the Boston of this nineteenth century are written about or spoken of.”
The youngest son of Nathaniel Greene, Esq., was born in Boscawen July 1,1804. His opportunities for obtaining an early education were as limited as his brother’s. In 1811 he accompanied his parents to Virginia. In the succeeding year, his father having died, his mother, bearing a double burden of sorrow—her bereavement and an embarrassed estate—returned to New Hampshire. Three years passed, when Nathaniel, having become connected with the Haverhill Gazette, took charge of his younger brother, and placed him in the Bradford academy. His preceptor was the famous Benjamin Greenleaf, who has been characterized by Horace Mann as “a huge crystallization of mathematics.” In 1817, when his brother established the Essex Patriot, Charles, at the age of thirteen, began to learn the art of printing; and subsequently he served one year in the office of Mr. Lamson, at Exeter. In 1822 he went to Boston (to which city his brother had removed and was publishing the Boston Statesman) and was employed in this establishment until 1825, when he settled at Taunton, and published The Free Press one year, upon contract, and upon which he begau his editorial career, at the early age of twenty-one. Upon the closing of his contract he returned to Boston, and published The Spectator, a literary journal edited by Charles Atwood, Esq. But the Spectator, after a brief independent existence, was united with another publication, and Mr. Greene was again engaged upon the Statesman, but only for a short time, for in 1827 he became a partner with James A. Jones, of Philadelphia, in the publication of the National Palladium of that city, the first daily paper published in Pennsylvania, advocating the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency. When he withdrew from that paper, in December, 1827, the United States Gazette remarked of him that he was “an able champion of his party, greatly endeared by his conciliatory and unobtrusive deportment.” The warmth of his zeal in favor of the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency is evinced in this glowing and eloquent passage from an oration delivered 4 July, 1831: ” His race is run out. Not a drop of his blood will be left flowing when he is gone; not a lip to say, ‘I glory in his memory, for he was my kinsman.’ Is it not, my friends,—is it not a spectacle to move and touch the very soul ? If there be moral sublimity in anything, it is in unmingled self-devotion to one’s country; and what but this could have arrested, on the very threshold of the tomb, the feet of him who, though he turns to bless his country at her call, sees no child nor relative leaning forward to catch the mantle of his glory.”
In 1823 Mr. Greene was engaged in the office of the United States Telegraph at Washington, owned and conducted by Gen. Duff Green, where he remained until after the election of Gen. Jackson to the presidency. Returning to Boston, he succeeded his brother Nathaniel as joint proprietor and publisher with Benjamin True of the Statesman. The latter’s interest he purchased in a few years, and he became sole owner; and on 9 November, 1831, the Boston Morning Post made its appearance from the office of the Statesman, published and edited by Mr. Greene. It was a small sheet of sixteen columns, but quite as large as the times warranted. Mr. Greene labored with untiring diligence to make the paper worthy of public confidence. His editorials were sharp and incisive, but at the same time there was a geniality and courtesy which won the respect and esteem of political opponents. It was the period of the first secession manifestation, when Hayne and Webster were the gladiators in the senate of the United States. The Post sustained the administration, pronouncing against the new doctrine of state rights as set forth by the South Carolina school of politicians. It soon became the leading Democratic journal of New England. It was an authority, and its voice was potent in the party, and by its generous spirit became a powerful influence over young men. The Post was famous for its effective witticisms. ” We have seen the puns of this daily as sensibly affect the risibles of the sedate old man of eighty as they do the merry youths of sixteen,” says Mr. Luring, in “The Hundred Boston Orators.” On the occurrence of its fortieth birth-day the colonel thus happily spoke of it: “Forty years ago to-day the Boston Post shed its first effulgence upon an admiring world, dispelling the darkness thereof, and diffusing joy among all people of the American species. From 9 November, 1851, to this morning, it has risen with the sun each week day, giving light, warmth, and comfort to all ready to receive its blessings. It is not for us, who acted as accoucheur at its birth, to boast of the promise it gave at its first breath, or of its sturdy youth, or of the power and activity of its present manhood. All these pleasant little matters of fact will be freely admitted by generous contemporaries, with whom it has fought and shaken hands hundreds of times; and after contests of two-score years, it can truly say it harbors no unkind thought towards one of them.”
The Democratic party in the state and in Boston was in the minority, but Col. Greene was so much esteemed by men of all parties that he was elected representative to the Massachusetts legislature, and in 1848 was an aid to Gov. Morton, on account of which position he received his title of “Colonel.” Upon the accession of President Pierce, Col. Greene was appointed naval officer, which position he held for eight years. Upon his retirement it was said of him that he had “discharged the duties of the office with admirable efficiency and promptitude,—though quietly, unostentatiously, and without political proscription.” His political associates often selected him as their candidate for mayor and member of congress. He was frequently mentioned for other positions, such as postmaster-general, minister abroad, &c. Upon the breaking out of the Rebellion, he took the side of the loyal states with all his heart. Though the editorial pen often criticised the conduct of the war and the methods of the administration, Col. Greene stood unflinchingly for the union of the states and the crushing out of secession. At various meetings held in Boston, in 1862, to take action in regard to the call of the President for troops, Col. Greene made many patriotic and eloquent speeches in favor of promptly responding to the call, and exerted himself zealously in favor of enlistments. He was chairman of the general committee which held its sessions on the Common, in 1862, to promote recruiting: and his substantial aid to wounded soldiers and their families, unostentatiously administered, brought comfort to many of our brave men. The following extract from a letter written by Mr. Greene to a New York committee, in 1804, inviting him to be present at a social meeting, will serve to show his sentiments: ”The rebellion of the Southern states was totally unjustifiable ; it is a deep sin, which can only be expiated by suffering and repentance ; but the disregard of the provisions of the constitution, by those placed in power as its servants and its guardians, is as fatal to its perpetuity as the enmity of its armed repudiators. In such an alarming complication of political affairs, the salvation of the country would seem to depend upon the conduct of those who have resolved to resist both extremes,—namely, those men whose madness has arrayed them in rebellion against a benign government, and those whose sordid and wicked ambition has led them into transgressions and usurpations hardly surpassed by undisguised treason.” And again, at a banquet given in honor of Capt. Winslow, of the immortal Kearsarge, Col. Greene, in response to a call from the president, said.—”No man, no class of men, can monopolize the starry flag of the Union: it is the nation’s banner, the emblem of a nation of freemen :—its trinmphs are national glory. It is meet, therefore, that we express our thanks in glowing words to those who beneath its folds contribute to the treasurv of our common honor. In the present festivities may we forget the family jars just passed, and, like a Land of brothers, only see in the event we now celebrate, new lustre and increased strength given to our father’s house,—the great temple of liberty erected by their valor, cemented with their blood, and preserved by the bravery of their children. Would to heaven, sir, that the echoes of the applause we now offer for gallant deeds were for such a victory as would draw cheering responses from each of the thirty-five states of this great country ; that no pang should agonize one American heart; that the blow struck was like unto that which taught a foreign foe ‘the might that slumbers in a freeman’s arm.’ But, unhappily,—most unhappily,—such is not the case. The present necessity for spreading death over sea and land is an awful, a lamentable one,—a necessity that has arrayed in terrible combat one portion of our house against another portion ; but, like the Roman father, the government, while it administers justice with throbbing heart and weeping eyes, cannot withhold chastisement. Its integrity must be vindicated, its authority must be sustained, its constitution must be perpetuated, and the union of the states must be reestablished, at whatever cost. Therefore, sir, I offer as a toast, ‘ The Navy and Army of the United States. May the one drive piracy from the water, and the other treason from the land.'”
On the 24th of October, 1827, Col. Greene was married to Miss Charlotte E., daughter of Capt. Samuel Hill, of Boston, a lady of fine education and talents, whose prose and poetical contributions have often adorned the columns of the Post, and who, in the earlier days of that publication, wrote many of the book reviews,—thereby saving for the home library valuable works from the desecrating scissors and pencils of less careful reviewers. Their family consisted of six children, throe of whom now survive, all having inherited a share of their parents’ literary ability. Charles, the eldest son, has contributed many valuable articles to Sears’s Quarterly Review, besides letters and shorter articles to various periodicals and newspapers, which have been highly commended by those competent to judge of such matters. Nathaniel, the second son. ably assisted his father for more than a dozen years as managing editor of the Post, and during an extended foreign tour, under the nom de plume of “Flaneur,”‘ wrote a series of most amusing and instructive letters to that paper.
Col. Greene’s popularity in a social way is illustrated by the following extract from the Boston Journal, 21 June, 1875:
The parlors of the Central Club on Saturday evening last were the scene of a little incident so agreeable to all who participated, that we may be pardoned for making a public record of the pleasant occasion. Among the original members of the club. Col. Chas. G. Greene, editor of the Boston Post, was enrolled. He accepted the position of vice-president at the first organization, declining of late years to hold any office, though continuing one of its most interested members. His genial presence and fund of pleasant reminiscences contribute so frequently to the pleasure of a chance hour passed beneath its roof that many of his associates desired to make some permanent recognition of their regard. An excellent photograph of Col. Greene was reproduced in crayon, and hung upon the walls. “At the quarterly meeting held on Saturday evening, the donors presented the admirable portrait to the club. The president, in acknowledging the receipt of the communication, allnded in pleasant terms to the gratification which the club must feel in receiving a gift so acceptable to all, and, with many pleasant allusions to the past, introduced Col. Greene, who was not aware of the delicate compliment which had been paid to him. His remarks we cannot reproduce, but this testimonial of regard drew from him a speech replete with kindly sentiment most eloquently expressed. The club has honored itself in honoring one whose absence in every social circle is a loss, and whose presence promotes good fellowship and kindly regard.”
Col. Greene is esteemed as much for candor as for affability. The Honorable David Henshaw said of him,—”He is the self-made, self-taught man,—the energetic and polished writer; he shows the superiority of real worth over fictitious greatness.” “His name,” said a contemporary, “is a synonym for all that is deemed estimable in a private citizen or politician; his ability is unquestioned; he has never forgotten the dignity of his profession ; has always known where he stood, always manfully maintained what he believed to be right, and never smirched his fair fame by having to do with tricksters and jobbers. No editor in the country stands higher as a gentleman than Charles Gordon Greene.”