TOPICS OF THE TIME
THE monument to Colonel Robert Shaw just erected in Boston is, all things considered, the most accomplished, the greatest work of plastic art yet produced in America. It is fitting that the art of the New World should culminate in this tribute to one who dedicated his pure young life to his country, to freedom, to the uplifting of a people in bondage, to the ennobling of the whole race of man.
As a school-boy Rob Shaw was the very type of the American school-boy of our own day—high-spirited, just, affectionate, frank, and pure of heart. His letters home show every trait of a natural, unaffected, pleasure-loving, manly youth. His parents were his confidants. To them every boyish whim, every prejudice, every hope was confessed. It was indeed a happy childhood and youth, troubled only by occasional anxiety for the health of that honored mother who still lives to see the memory of her boy assured, not only in his own great deeds, but in immortal art.
In the volumes, privately printed, in which his parents brought together with loving reverence the letters of the boy and the soldier, along with posthumous tributes which were paid to his character and his heroism, we can watch the flowering of this noble spirit in a congenial and fortunate soil, through sunny days, till fate and opportunity brought the compelling duty and the crowning act of heroic patriotism.
He was a type, and yet his individuality was exceptionally winning—in personal beauty, in an indescribable charm of bearing and of spirit. Once, at a fancy ball, and without a mask, he so easily passed for a sweet-faced girl that the astonishment was great when, as he gleefully told the story, he spoke out "in a loud, swaggering voice." No clearer idea of his sympathetic nature and the gentle rectitude of his character could be given than in the tribute of a classmate who declared: "He could do what few men can, and that is, tell his friends of their faults in such a way as not to give offense, and also make them correct them."
Reared in an atmosphere of reform and intellectuality, and related to men like Lowell, Curtis, and Barlow, he took the antislavery and reform ideas of the time without morbidness or suspicion of superiority or self-consciousness. At fifteen (in the year 1852) he writes home from Neuchatel in answer to a suggestion that that one should not be afraid of declaring one's religious opinions. He said he should not be afraid of declaring them "if there could be any kind of use in it"; but he did not wish merely to bring up discussions which would be stupid and tiresome, as he did not want to become "reformer, apostle, or anything of that kind"; he thought there was "no use of doing disagreeable things for nothing." In the same letter he asks: "Have you seen that book named 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'?" Next year he writes: "I've been reading 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' again lately, and always like it better than before, and see more things in it"; adding, as if in answer to some inner questioning: "I don't see how one man could do much against slavery."