ON FIRST HEARING, the frenzy in which our neighbors north of New York have enswathed themselves sounds admirable in motive. The National Portrait Gallery, located in Washington, has an agreement to purchase from the Boston Athenaeum, located in Boston, the famous Gilbert Stuart portraits of George and Martha Washington, thus necessitating an emigration for our country's father, and, we suppose, mother. In indignant protest The Boston Globe has spread the alarm through every Middlesex village large and art lover, in an attempt to awaken them to a "new crusade". What was the old crusade, you may ask. It was the effort in the 1930s to save the USS Constitution from the "scrap heap". This is what The Globe compares the current struggle to. And Boston's esteemed mayor, Kevin White, has compared the proposed transaction to "the Louvre trying to sell the Mona Lisa to the Arabs."
The Globe's analogy is simply too insulting to cope with. We mean-really-a "scrap heap"? Mayor White's analogy is far more friendly and also more interesting, since by comparing Washington to the Arabs, he is reflecting the national attitude toward Washington as aplace of lavish spending-and a foreign place, at that. The analogy fails in essence, of course, because, while the Mona Lisa had no connection with the Arabs (that we know of), Mr. and Mrs. Washington have had considerable doings with our cherished city, as their name mimplies.
But that is not the heart of this dispute. And perhaps if The Boston Globe and Mayor White searched their souls about their objections to the sale, they would see the truth for what it is. The heart of the dispute is that no Bostonian believes that another Bostonian should leave Boston-ever. As William Dean Howells put it in "The Rise of Silas Lapham": "The Bostonian who leaves Boston ought to be condemned to perpetual exile." While this feeling is often and passionately expressed in Boston, the truth is that droves of Bostonians wish desperately to leave Boston, as fast and as soon as possible. It is in fact this very Bostonian-the-manager complex that accounts for the tormented New England temperament (and all the trouble that's caused the nation over the years), and which clearly explains the current cries of anguish.
On the other hand, there is another side to Bostonians to which an appeal can be made in almost any situation-their love of liberty. The city that brought us the tea party and the massacre will surely understand, in its moments of temperate and fair contemplation, that this portrait she is a human-rights issue-a human-replica rights issue, at any rate-and that the Washingtons must be set free. They do in fact belong here; Martha certainly, but George even more so. For one thing the portraits are unfinished; and what could be more appropriate for this town than the symbol of eternally unfinished work? For another, it was George who said with a straight face that he could never tell a lie.
Come home, George.