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Boston is a city in the northeastern part of the United States, the population of which is composed solely of those who live in the past and those who exist in the present. The one class reads the Transcript, goes to the Copley and thinks the "Mayflower" is still the ship of state. The other reads the tabloids, goes to the moving pictures and never thinks. So there is no particularly cogent reason why any real spirit of freedom, either of thought or action, should become an integral part of the Boston cosmos.
That no such spirit does thrive here was certainly obvious yesterday when the Watch and Ward Society under the gallant leadership of the Reverend Frank Chase amused some and irritated others who were spending the noon hour in or near the Park Street Church. For no one can name any city the Athens of America where as delightful a demagogue as Mr. Mencken is forbidden freedom.
Yet this little prophylactic frolic was but the outer representation of any inner ill. For a long time this Watch and Ward Society, among whose inactive members are some of the more esteemed citizens of the city, has played guardian to the people, established their moral code. And that code, being the expression of the active and more bigoted members, has been both a rule of ignorance and a law of pettiness. When any urban group submits to the ethical dicta of a prejudiced and demi-intelligent minority, that group has lost whatever claim to progressive decency it ever possessed.
The Watch and Ward Society has for years, with no legal status whatever forced the booksellers and news dealers of the community to refrain from selling any book or paper on their list of the immoral, unmoral, and anti-Wardian Thus they have been able to act as dictators with no opposition. For they have remained sufficiently indefinite as a legal entity to prevent attack upon them. Mr. Mencken's point, according to his own words, is to bring them out in the open before a court. Thus their right to dictatorship can be once and for all tested. That he is right in this, few can doubt.
Of course there are many who scruple at the publicity complex so manifest in Mr. Mencken's case. Yet, for once, the gentleman for Baltimore is on the side of sanity and discretion. If Boston is to harbor Tartuffes, it is well to be aware of the fact here, that one may protect oneself against them. And since the Watch and Ward Society is firmly established it is evident that Mr. Mencken is waging justified, protective warfare. Ethics are not the most facilely adjusted elements in any urban administration. Yet an occasional acquaintance with them hurts no one. Ward bosses of the Watch variety who believe that the end justifies the means are rather anachronistic anyway. And certainly they do not present the most pleasant spectacle either in Boston book shops or on Boston Common.
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