The Bunker Hill oration, after the lapse of only a year, was followed by the celebrated eulogy upon Adams and Jefferson. This usually and with justice is ranked in merit with its two immediate predecessors. As a whole it is not, perhaps, quite so much admired, but it contains the famous imaginary speech of John Adams, which is the best known and most hackneyed passage in any of these orations. The opening lines, “Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote,” since Mr. Webster first pronounced them in Faneuil Hall, have risen even to the dignity of a familiar quotation. The passage, indeed, is perhaps the best example we have of the power of Mr. Webster’s historical imagination. He had some fragmentary sentences, the character of the man, the nature of the debate, and the circumstances of the time to build upon, and from these materials he constructed a speech which was absolutely startling in its lifelike force. The revolutionary Congress, on the verge of the tremendous step which was to separate them from England, rises before us as we read the burning words which the imagination of the speaker put into the mouth of John Adams. They are not only instinct with life, but with the life of impending revolution, and they glow with the warmth and strength of feeling so characteristic of their supposed author. It is well known that the general belief at the time was that the passage was an extract from a speech actually delivered by John Adams. Mr. Webster, as well as Mr. Adams’s son and grandson, received numerous letters of inquiry on this point, and it is possible that many people still persist in this belief as to the origin of the passage. Such an effect was not produced by mere clever imitation, for there was nothing to imitate, but by the force of a powerful historic imagination and a strong artistic sense in its management.
In 1828 Mr. Webster delivered an address before the Mechanics’ Institute in Boston, on “Science in connection with the Mechanic Arts,” a subject which was outside of his usual lines of thought, and offered no especial attractions to him. This oration is graceful and strong, and possesses sufficient and appropriate eloquence. It is chiefly interesting, however, from the reserve and self-control, dictated by a nice sense of fitness, which it exhibited. Omniscience was not Mr. Webster’s foible. He never was guilty of Lord Brougham’s weakness of seeking to prove himself master of universal knowledge. In delivering an address on science and invention, there was a strong temptation to an orator like Mr. Webster to substitute glittering rhetoric for real knowledge; but the address at the Mechanics’ Institute is simply the speech of a very eloquent and a liberally educated man upon a subject with which he had only the most general acquaintance. The other orations of this class were those on “The Character of Washington,” the second Bunker Hill address, “The Landing at Plymouth,”