Boston Hub of the Solar System

This line comes from, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table

A collection of essays written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, from 1857 to 1858 for publication in the Boston-based Atlantic Monthly. Holmes was a leading member of the 19th century Boston literary establishment. His imagined Author converses with residents at the breakfast table of a boarding house located somewhere in New England. The tone is not as flattering as you might expect from the text that gave the city its nickname.

A jaunty-looking person, who had come in with the young fellow they call John,–evidently a stranger,–said there was one more wise man’s saying that he had heard; it was about our place, but he didn’t know who said it.–A civil curiosity was manifested by the company to hear the fourth wise saying. I heard him distinctly whispering to the young fellow who brought him to dinner, Shall I tell it? To which the answer was, Go ahead!– Well, he said,–this was what I heard:–

“Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn’t pry that out of a Boston man, if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crowbar.”

Sir,–said I,–I am gratified with your remark. It expresses with pleasing vivacity that which I have sometimes heard uttered with malignant dulness. The satire of the remark is essentially true of Boston,–and of all other considerable–and inconsiderable–places with which I have had the privilege of being acquainted. Cockneys think London is the only place in the world. Frenchmen–you remember the line about Paris, the Court, the World, etc.–I recollect well, by the way, a sign in that city which ran thus: “Hôtel de l’Univers et des États Unis”; and as Paris is the universe to a Frenchman, of course the United States are outside of it.–“See Naples and then die.”–It is quite as bad with smaller places. I have been about, lecturing, you know, and have found the following propositions to hold true of all of them.

1. The axis of the earth sticks out visibly through the centre of each and every town or city.

2. If more than fifty years have passed since its foundation, it is affectionately styled by the inhabitants the “good old town of”—-(whatever its name may happen to be.)

3. Every collection of its inhabitants that comes together to listen to a stranger is invariably declared to be a “remarkably intelligent audience.”

 

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