Benjamin Franklin Thomas.

Speeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) online

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in the use of tools, without any perception of the prmci-
ples which underlie them. We find, often too late except


as a warning to others, that there is nothing in this world
half so practical or half so economical as accurate
knowledge, patient labor, thorough disciplme, the care-
ful composition, the constant trainmg, of the army of the

And first we may remark, that this reserved power is
necessary to the thorough possession of ourselves. It
is true, abstractly, that a man owns himself, his powers
and faculties ; but, in nmety-nine cases in an hundred,
he never comes mto the quiet enjoyment of his estate.
With some opportunities for observing men m intel-
lectual conflict, I venture to say there is no respect in
which the difference is so marked as in the extent
to which they possess themselves, their own powers and
resources. We hear much of self-culture and self-devel-
opment ; and it is well. All true culture is self-cidture ;
all true development is self-development. We hear
far less than we ought of the thorough possession of a
man's self; of spiritual forces so orderly disposed, so
loyal, so tramed to prompt obedience and action, that
they will rally, and form into line for service, at the first
tap of the drum.

There are men, with all the learning of the schools,
whose learning is but a clog and hinderance : their learn-
ing masters them, not they theh learning ; creating such
a pressure on the brain, that it has no free, natural play
and motion ; ever commg in at the wrong time, or coming
in too late ; hke the baggage of an eastern army, the
great impediment to the march ; or rather like the undis-
ciplined hordes of nations that followed Xerxes from
Asia to the plains of Doriscus, and from Doriscus to


Thermopylae. Better, infinitely better, one well-trained
Spartan band.

Necessary to this self-possession are calmness, — the
calmness which sprmgs only from the consciousness of
strength in reserve, of measured strength, of power to
strike the needed blow at the decisive moment ; the
orderly disposition of our forces, a place for every thing,
and every thing in its place ; the military eye which
surveys the Avhole field of action, sees where the fight
will be thickest and hardest, and the forces needed ; and,
rarest of powers, the power to refrain, to withhold your
fire; to sit still when there is no occasion to be on
your feet ; the power and gift of silence, the power to say
nothing when you have nothing to say, or nothing that
had not better be unsaid ; the power of masterly inac-
tivity, the eff"ective grace of repose.

Instead of schools to teach us how to talk, we want
schools to teach us how to be silent ; sanitary clubs and
commissions, whose end and aim shall be to prevent the
spread of this insanabile cacoethes loquendi.

In this power of self-mastery is wrapped the faculty and
grace and liberty of obedience ; the power to recognize the
presence of law, and to bend to it ; to mark its bounds,
and keep withm them. " Qui nescit ignorare ignorat
scire." The rebellious is never the truly wise spirit. It
is for ever breaking and bruising itself against the walls
of its fancied prison-house. Into the obedient, ever open,
and receptive sphit, wisdom loves to come and take up
her abode.

He only well commands who knows to serve weU, to
obey promptly, gracefully, with thorough loyalty of mind


and heart ; the rarest of virtues, not the pecuhar vh-
tuc of our countrymen, very apt to confound the absence
of wholesome restraint with hberty ; whereas true free-
dom is for the loyal soul, — liberty m law. The loyal
spirit feels restraint as a woman Avears the bracelet on
her white arm ; the rebel spirit, as the culprit the hand-
cuffs on his galled and swollen Avrists.

Again : we remark, that the gathermg and traming of
this army of the reserve is the easiest and cheapest way
of conducting, not a great war only, but the campaign of

If a man means to do any thing m this world to win
the battle of life, it is easier to he than to seem. In the
long-run, reality is easier than sham, wisdom than cun-
nmg, the king's highway than the by-path or cross-cut.
It is often a simpler thuig to acquire strength than to
conceal the lack of it. Nothing indeed is more exhaust-
ing than the shifts to cover up ignorance ; the craft
requhed to seem to know what a man knows not ; the
constant caution, lest our hollow wares should come to
the light ; the everlasting repetition " of wise saws and
modern instances ; " the perpetual dread of being found
out, — that the blown bladder may be pierced by some
shaft of ridicule, and collapse for ever ; to say nothing
of the sinkmg of the knees, the drooping of the head,
and the suffusion of blood upon the brain.

" The easiest way," said Su* Boyle Koche, " to avoid
danger, is to meet it plump. If there is work in a man's
way, the best possible thing that can be done is to go
through it, and on a man's own feet. If he ride round it,
•line chances out of ten he must come back, and walk


straight through it." It often costs less labor to do work
than to avoid it. Looking at a specific work or duty, the
simplest and best thmg is to do it, and do it well if you can.
Looking at life as a whole, the truth of the remark be-
comes yet clearer. The doing of a thmg well not only
prevents the necessity of doing it again, but adds to
the mind's reserved force, and renders the domg of the
next thing easier and simpler. The resisting of one
temptation helps to disarm the power of the second. It
is not long before labor and self-denial become positive
enjoyments, and this without including the gaudia cer-
tarninis, or the highest of all possible satisfactions, the
purest of all possible delights, — the consciousness of
duty discharged.

There can be no real comfort or satisfaction in a cam-
paign in which you have to rely upon raw, undisciplmed,
not to say mutinous forces, hastily conscripted, acting
without system or concert. You must feel there is a
reserved force, well appointed and trained, upon which
you can draw in a moment of need ; whose strength you
have measured ; and which, great or small, is rehable and

For example : A young man is to study law. It is his
business to understand it, and expound it to others.
Fidelity to his clients and to his oath of office requires
this. He cannot, with decent self-respect or as an honest
man, assume to say what the law is, unless he has dili-
gently sought to know what it is. The best, the cheapest
thing he can do for his campaign of life, is to bring to
the study of the law a mmd weU trained and enriched
by Hberal culture, and then to set about the mastery of


its principles. This training, this culture, this mastery
of principles, will make up a glorious army of the reserve,
the worth of which, his life long, can never be overrated ;
the want of which, his life long, can never be supplied.
Men of genius and untmng industry have, indeed, a mea-
sure of success without them. But they, of all men, most
deeply regret their lack ; for they, of all men, best under-
stand what larger victories might have been gracefuUy
won with their aid.

How common, on the other hand, utter failure from
the want of this reserved power !

A young man of fair powers, but of little or no train-
ing, is anxious, restless, for active life. He would enter
upon the arena not only unarmed, but incapable of bear-
ing the weight of armor. He will have only practical
knowledge. When the occasion comes, he will study for
it. He has what are called j^i^omising qualities ; qualities
which seldom or never ^ja?/. He has a certain facility of
acquisition, but retains nothing save the confidence which
such facility is apt to beget. He talks fluently, never
hesitates for a word, and seldom gets the right one. He
writes with perfect ease, and therefore never writes well.
He never doubts, and therefore never understands.

His wished-for opportunity comes. He gets up a
great array of cheap learning and cheaper eloquence ;
enters upon the contest with drum beating and banner
flying. Difliculties sprmg up he had not foreseen, and
he has no reserved force to meet them. He shrivels, and
his client's cause with him. The way of life is strew^n
with sprouts like this. " Having no root in themselves,
they endure but for a time."


It is obvious to remark, that, in life as in war, the force
which may suffice for ordinary service may be wholly
inadequate for its larger exigencies, for its decisive mo-
ments. In almost every life, those decisive moments
come, when the question of victory or defeat, of press-
ing onward or hngering behind, must depend upon our
reserved power ; when the door of opportimity is swung
open, and, if ready, we may enter ; if not, the door closes
upon us.

Great occasions do not make great men. (Of this the
country needs no proof.) They find them out, and give
them larger development and a broader theatre of ac-
tion. Great men make great occasions. They impart to
them a strength, a beauty, a glory of their own. They
bathe and irradiate them with the light of then* ge-
nius. They give to them of their own immortahty.
Nay, more : great men are great occasions, the great
events of history ; not merely the beacon-lights on the line
of human progress, but the efficient motive-powers, the
eausm causantes : they make, they constitute history.
Their hands bend the arch of the new heaven, and mould
the new earth, if so be that they feel the Divine Arm
around them and upholding them, and do the work of
God with the armor of God. I have no great faith in
" village Hampdens " or the " mute, inglorious Miltons "
that rest in country churchyards. If a man has a lever to
move the world, the chances are that he will find a place
to put it. Genius is very apt to crop out : so men of
large reserved power are apt to find occasions to bring
it into action, to give it effective utterance.


The introduction, into the Senate of the United
States, of a resolution in relation to the sale of the
pubhc lands, was not a great occasion. The debate
upon it for some days dragged heavily. The vast re-
served power of one man made it the event of our
history for a generation.

The second speech of Mr. Hayne, to which Mr. Web-
ster was called upon to reply, was able and brilliant, its
constitutional argument specious, its attack upon New
England and upon Mr. Webster sharp even to bitterness.
But Mr. Hayne did ?io^ understand this matter of reserved
power. He had seen Mr. Webster's van and corps of
battle, but had not heard the firm and measured tread

It was a decisive moment m Mr. Webster's career.
He had no time to impress new forces ; scarcely time to
bm-nish his armor. All eyes were turned to him. Some
of his best friends were depressed and anxious. He was
calm as a summer's morning ; calm, his friends thought,
even to indifference. But his calmness was the repose
of conscious power, the hush of nature before the storm.
He had measured his strength. He was in possession
of himself. He knew the composition of his " army of
the reserve." He had the eye of a great commander,
and he took in the whole field at a glance. He had the
prophetic eye of logic, and he saw the end from the be-
ginning. The exordium itself was the prophecy, the
assurance, of victory. Men saw the sun of Austerlitz,
and felt that the Imperial Guard was moving on to the
confiict. He canie out of the conflict with the immortal
name of the Defender of the Constitution.



Of this speech, and the mode of its deHvery, one of
the greatest of our orators has said, " It has been my
fortune to hear some of the ablest speeches of the great-
est hving orators on both sides of the water ; but I must
confess, I never heard any thing which so completely
realized my conception of what Demosthenes was when
he delivered the Oration for the Crown." I venture to
add, that, taking into view the circumstances under which
the speech was delivered, especially the brief time for
preparation, the importance of the subject, the breadth of
its views, the strength and clearness of its reasoning, the
force and beauty of its style, its keen wit, its repressed
but subduing passion, its lofty strains of eloquence, the
audience to which it was addressed (a more than Roman
Senate), its effect upon that audience, and the larger
audience of a grateful and admiring country, history has
no nobler example of reserved power brought at once
and effectively into action. The wretched sophistries
of nullification and secession were swept before his
biu:ning eloquence as the dry grass is swept by the
fire of the prairies.

The general impression in hearing Mr. Webster was, I
think, that, great as was the speech, the man was greater
than the speech ; that there was vast reserved power be-
hind the power in action. Sometimes it was brought to
the conflict at a moment's warning. I remember such
an occasion some fourteen years ago. It was at a small
assembly of about an hundred gentlemen. INIi-. Webster
had spoken, in reply to a sentiment in his honor, well,
but without great life or vigor. A remark by a subse-
quent speaker looked like a reflection upon his public



course. It were better to have roused the Hon from his
lair. There was no sudden spring, no visible passion ;
but you could see and feel that the very depths of his
being were stirred. Those dark eyes, in their deep, dark
caverns, glowed like stars. The hall in which we sat
vibrated with the vibrations of his thought.
. The speech I will not assume to report. One of the
topics, I remember, was his relations with the Common-
wealth of Massachusetts, the open arms with which she
had received him, the kindness she had heaped upon
him, the trust and confidence she had reposed in him.
His great heart became liquid as he spoke, and he poured
it out in love, loyalty, and gratitude : then, drawing him-
self up to his full stature, till through our moist and
loving eyes his proportions seemed colossal, he said, with
quiet dignity but with trembling lips, " I have dared to
hope, Mr. President and gentlemen, that I have not
proved myself wholly unworthy of her trust and con-
fidence." I never before understood the lines of Mil-
ton: —

" The angel ended, but in Adam's ear
So charming left his voice, that he awhile
Thought him still speaking, still stood fixed to hear."

He sleeps well by the sea he loved so well.

His prayer was granted. When his eyes were turned
to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, he did not
see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments
of a once-glorious Union.

There is another reason for the composition and disci-
pline of the army of the reserve, to which I attach much
importance. It is, that power in reserve is necessary to


give full force and effect to power in action. Of the
impressions made upon us by the use of great power,
material or spiritual, one of the most striking, I think, is
the sense it creates of power not used ; of power behind
the power in action, greater than itself. The power
which is wholly spent and exhausted in the effort loses
half its charm. For its highest effect, it must beget
the impression, that we see but in part, the arc of a
power full-orbed, the stream from a full, overflowing
fountain, the vanguard of a greater host. We do not
admhe the well whose bottom is hit by every dip of the
bucket, the mill-pond that is drained for one grist (even
if it be our corn), the picture without a background, the
quiver with one arrow, the hen with one chicken, the
mind with one idea, the heavens with one star, even if
it be the north star.

A speech seems to us truly great, only when a man
stands behind it who is greater than the speech, with
power in reserve ; not if it plainly drains his memory,
exhausts his vocabulary, and stretches his brain to lesion.
It is not merely what is said, but who says it ; not merely
what he says, but what he is.

When, in a crisis of our history, there was given, at a
festive celebration in Washington, the sentiment, " The
Federal Union, it must be jiTeserved^' the words and the
thought were familiar and commonplace ; but the devoted
patriotism, the energetic brain, the commanding spirit,
the unflmching courage, the hon will, of Andrew Jack-
son were behuid the words, and the country breathed
more freely for their utterance. Would to God our
heroes were not all m history !


" Clan-Alpine's best are backward borne :
Where, where, was Roderick then ?
One blast upon his bugle-horn
Were worth a thousand men."

Of material power, it is also true, that its effect is
deepened and strengthened by the sense of a greater
power behind the power we see or hear or feel.

Night, solemn, glorious night, with its hosts of stars,
has its army of the reserve, of suns and stars behind the
stars we see, in infinite procession ; the countless legions
whose banners of light never yet waved to mortal eye.

Nature indeed, in her beauty or in her grandeur ; in
the dewdrop sparkling in the chalice of a flower, or in
Mont Blanc touched with the first light of morning ;
in the field-brook that sings with the singing corn, or in
Erie pouring out its world of waters ; in summer s
breeze or winter's tempest ; in glassy lake or surging
ocean ; first deeply impresses us when we feel its re-
served power, see on its face the smile, and read in its
living lines the thoughts, of God.

Art also touches and moves us by its reserved power.
This picture is true to the rules, the idea of the
painter fairly brought out, the work finished even with
the minutest detail of Dusseldorf. It is not without
power, but power fully spent and exhausted. We look
and comprehend it, and do not care to look again. It
has no reserved power; nothing to pay for a second

Here is another, of which a critic has said, " It was a
crude painted medley, with a general foggy appearance."
Be not dismayed ; look again, look into it. The fog


gradually lifts up, and the picture comes out of seeming
chaos, and marshals itself into light and order and beauty.
Some mist may yet hang over it ; but it glows and is alive
with the genius and the inspiration of the poet-painter.

In the great masters of English thought (of the world's
thought), you have striking examples of this reserved
power. You read an Essay of Bacon, or the "Advance-
ment of Learning," twenty times. New forces of wisdom
and beauty come out at every reading. You find the
most diligent study has not exhausted the depths of
meaning. With a telescopic vision, what seem to be
nebulae now would be resolved into burning stars. You
get some idea of the height and breadth of Bacon by
reading the edition of his Essays by Whately. The
archbishop is a sensible man, of large mental stature ;
but how he looks trotting along by the side of Lord
Bacon, and occasionally throwing over his shoulders a
corner of the giant's mantle !

And the great master of the drama; the priest who sat
at the confessional of the human passions ; the philoso-
pher who unravelled the mysteries of our being as the
cunning fingers of Miss Prissy would untangle a snarled
thread ; the child of Nature, who laid his ear so close to
his mother's heart that he could hear its faintest beatings ;
historian, statesman, sage, poet (noiHTEs, maker) : such
is our sense of reserved power in him, that what we most
admire and love, as " Hamlet," " Macbeth," " Lear," the
" Tempest," seem really but the j)la;i/s of Shakspeare, the
sport and pastime of his mighty spirit ; waves born to
our feet from a deep sea our oar has never vexed or
plummet sounded.


Biu-ke, whom the late Mr. Buckle would put in
a strait-jacket, but who will be likely to outlive his
keepers ; ( quis custodiet custodes ?) whose volume of
thought pours out very much as Niagara pours over the
Horseshoe, with the rapid's thimder, the mist, the spray,
the bow of everlasting beauty ; never seems exhausted,
but as if there were an hundred inland seas of thouo-ht


behind, waiting to be poured out.

A little reflection will satisfy us how constantly, though
it may be unconsciously, we use this test of the fulness
or want of reserved power. You read a book, an essay,
or an article in a review, and you determine almost at a
glance whether the matter has just been pumped into the
author's skull, and then pumped out again, or whether
he draws from a full living spring. The modern multi-
plication of books is, for the most part, the poui'ing of
water from one pitcher into another. Very few of them
are mixed, as Mr. Opie mixed his colors, with brains. As
we grow older, we seek the fountains, the old wells of
English undefiled ; for the great teachers of the race
and of the coming generations have spoken or written in
our mother-tongue. I shall go to my grave, I fear, m the
delusion that Bacon,

" In one rich soul,
Plato, the Stagyrite, and Tully, joined ; "

that Shakspeare held the perfect mirror up to nature ;
that the "Paradise Lost" is the greatest of epics, if not
the first; that, of written and forensic eloquence, the
great masters are Edmund Burke and Thomas Erskine ;
that no man is fitted for the bar, the pulpit, or the chair
of instruction, who has not given himself to the diligent


and thorough study of the Enghsh classics. A certain
grace, pohsh, refinement, may be got iii other schools :
these constitute oui- j^Ghulum vitce.

Reserved power may not alvi^ays prevent partial defeat
or temporary failure ; but it will avert the dismay and
despondency which too often follow partial failiu'e. The
man of reserved power may bend before the storm ; but
he will bend only as, Landor says, " the oak bends before
the passing wind, to rise again in its majesty and m its
strength." Nay, it seems at times as if, Antseus-like, he
got new strength from contact with the earth, new vigor
from the fall. Apparent defeat may be real victory ; the
moving from Moultrie to Sumter. His army of the
reserve may not have been brought into action at
the needed moment. He will be ready for another
trial. He knows the power is in him, and will do its

We all remember the case of Sheridan. After his
first speech in the House of Commons, he asked Mr.
Woodfall what he thought of it. "I am sorry to say, I
do not think it is in your Ime. You had much better
have stuck to your old pursuits." — " It is in me, and it
shall come out.'' It did indeed come out. He lived to
hear from Pitt (no longer sneering Pitt) the motion, that
the House of Commons should adjourn to recover from the
eff"ects of Mr. Sheridan's eloquence.

The brilliant writer and statesman Disraeli, late Chan-
cellor of the Exchequer, and leader of the House of
Commons, was literally groaned and sneered down in his
first attempt to speak upon the floor. He knew his re-
served strength. " The day will come when you will be


glad to hear me." It came long ago. He is to-day, with
the exception of his successor, ]\Ir. Gladstone, the most
effective debater in the Commons of England.

The material army of the reserve, though trained by
the discipline of conflict and endurance, is worn and
wasted by the same cause. Its thmned and broken ranks
must be fiUed and replenished with new life, new brain,
bone, and muscle.

It is not wholly so with the spkitual army of the
reserve. This, too, is tramed and strengthened by strug-
gle and suffering : but, in this, every accretion of power
is permanent ; every enlistment not only for the cam-
paign of life, but for the life everlasting. It is a beauti-
ful doctrme, which the study of the human mind tends
more and more to confirm, that knowledge, once gained,
is never lost ; that we never really forget ; that what we
caU imperfection of memory is but a defect m the mate-
rial instrument, some mist or dulness in the mhror which
reflects the beam of light. It is a beautiful doctrine, but
a fearful one ; suggestmg the questions. What knowledges
have we garnered in this everlastmg storehouse ? on what
spiritual breads have we fed, that have thus entered uito
the very substance and framework of oiu* being 1 what

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Online LibraryBenjamin Franklin ThomasSpeeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) → online text (page 8 of 15)