David J. (David Josiah) Brewer.

Crowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) online

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Online LibraryDavid J. (David Josiah) BrewerCrowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) → online text (page 2 of 56)
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form soils, until the sun's rays had become so tempered by dis-
tance and waste as to be chemically fit for the decompositions
necessary to vegetable life ? Having waited through those ^ons
until the proper conditions had set in, did it send the fiat forth:
** Let life be ! *^ These questions define a hypothesis not without
its difficulties, but the dignity of which was demonstrated by the
nobleness of the men whom it sustained.

Modern scientific thought is called upon to decide between
this hypothesis and another; and public thought generally will
afterward be called upon to do the same. You may, however,
rest secure in the belief that the hypothesis just sketched can
never be stormed, and that it is sure, if it yield at all, to
yield to a prolonged siege. To gain new territory modern argu-
ment requires more time than modern arms, though both of
them move with greater rapidity than of yore. But however the
convictions of individuals here and there may be influenced, the
process must be slow and secular which commends the rival
hypothesis of Natural Evolution to the public mind. Strip it
naked and j^ou stand face to face with the notion that not alone
the nobler forms of the horse and lion, not alone the exquisite
and wonderful mechanism of the human body, but that the
human mind itself — emotion, intellect, will, and all their phe-
nomena — were once latent in a fiery cloud. Surely the mere
statement of such a notion is more than a refutation. But the
hypothesis would probably go further than this. Many who hold
it would probably assent to the position that at the present mo-
ment all our philosophy, all our poetry, all our science, and all
our art — Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, and Raphael — are poten-
tial in the fires of the sun. We long to learn something of our


origin. If the Evolution hypothesis be correct, even this unsat-
isfied yearning must have come to us across the ages which
separate the unconscious primeval mist from the consciousness of
to-day. I do not think that any holder of the Evolution hypoth-
esis would say that I overstate it or overstrain it in any way. I
merely strip it of all vagueness, and bring before you unclothed
and unvarnished the notions by which it must stand or fall.

Surely these notions represent an absurdity too monstrous to
be entertained by any sane mind. Let us, however, give them
fair play. Let us steady ourselves in front of the hypothesis,
and, dismissing all terror and excitement from our minds, let us
look firmly into it with the hard, sharp eye of intellect alone.
Why are these notions absurd, and why should sanity reject
them ? The law of relativity, of which we have previously
spoken, may find its application here. These Evolution notions
are absurd, monstrous, and only fit for the intellectual gibbet, in
relation to the ideas concerning matter which were drilled into
us when young. Spirit and matter have ever been presented to
us in the rudest contrast, the one as all-noble, the other as all-
vile. But is this correct ? Does it represent what our mightiest
spiritual teacher would call the eternal fact of the universe ?
Upon the answer to this question all depends. Supposing, instead
of having the foregoing antithesis of spirit and matter presented
to our youthful minds, we had been taught to regard them as
equally worthy and equally wonderful; to consider them in fact
as two opposite faces of the self-same mystery. Supposing that
in youth we had been impregnated with the notion of the poet
Goethe, instead of the notion of the poet Young, looking at mat-
ter, not as brute matter, but as ^^ the living garment of God *' ; do
you not think that under these altered circumstances the law of
relativity might have been an outcome different from its present
one ? Is it not probable that our repugnance to the idea of
primeval union between spirit and matter might be considerably
abated ? Without this total revolution of the notions now preva-
lent, the Evolution hypothesis must stand condemned; but in
many profoundly thoughtful minds such a revolution has already
taken place. They degrade neither member of the mysterious
duality referred to; but they exalt one of them from its abase-
ment, and repeal the divorce hitherto existing between both. In
substance, if not in words, their position as regards the relation
of spirit and matter is: «What God hath joined together let no



man put asunder. » And with regard to the ages of forgetful-
ness which he between the unconscious hfe of the nebula and
the conscious hfe of the earth, it is, they would urge, but an ex-
tension of that forgetfulness which preceded the birth of us all.

I have thus led you to the outer rim of speculative science,
for beyond the nebulae scientific thought has never ventured
hitherto, and have tried to state that which I considered ought,
in fairness, to be outspoken. I do not think this Evolution hy-
pothesis is to be flouted away contemptuously; I do not think it
is to be denounced as wicked. It is to be brought before the
bar of disciplined reason, and there justified or condemned. Let
us hearken to those who wisely oppose it; and to those who
wisel}^ support it; and let us tolerate those, and they are many,
who foolishly try to do either of these things. The only thing
out of place in the discussion is dogmatism on either side. Fear
not the Evolution hypothesis, steady yourselves in its presence
upon that faith in the ultimate triumph of truth which was ex-
pressed by old Gamaliel when he said : " If it be of God, ye
cannot overthrow it; if it be of man, it will come to naught.*
Under the fierce light of scientific inquiry, this hypothesis is sure
to be dissipated if it possess not a core of truth. Trust me, its
existence as a hypothesis in the mind is quite compatible with
the simultaneous existence of all those virtues to which the term
Christian has been applied. It does not solve — it does not pro-
fess to solve — the ultimate mystery of this universe. It leaves
in fact that mystery untouched. For granting the nebula and
its potential life, the question, Whence came they ? would still
remain to baffle and bewilder us. At bottom, the hypothesis does
nothing more than " transport the conception of life's origin to
an indefinitely distant past."

Those who hold the doctrine of Evolution are by no means
ignorant of the uncertainty of their data, and they yield no more
to it than a provisional assent. They regard the nebular hy-
pothesis as probable, and in the utter absence of any evidence
to prove the act illegal, they extend the method of nature from
the present into the past. Here the observed uniformity of nat-
ure is their only guide. Within the long range of physical in-
quiry, they have never discerned in nature the insertion of
caprice. Throughout this range the laws of physical and intel-
lectual continuity have run side by side. Having thus deter-
mined the elements of their curve in a world of observation and



experiment, they prolong that curve into an antecedent world,
and accept as probable the unbroken sequence of development
from the nebula to the present time. You never hear the really
philosophical defenders of the doctrine of uniformity speaking of
impossibilities in nature. They never say, what they are con-
stantly charged with saying, that it is impossible for the builder
of the universe to alter his work. Their business is not with the
possible, but the actual — not with a world which might be, but
with a world that is. This they explore with a courage not un-
mixed with reverence, and according to methods which, like the
quality of a tree, are tested by their fruits. They have but one
desire — to know the truth. They have but one fear — to believe
a lie. And if they know the strength of science, and rely upon
it with unswerving trust, they also know the limits beyond which
science ceases to be strong. They best know that questions offer
themselves to thought which science as now prosecuted has not
even the tendency to solve. They keep such questions open, and
will not tolerate any unnecessar}^ limitation of the horizon of
their souls. They have as little fellowship with the atheist who
says there is no God as with the theist who professes to know
the mind of God. "Two things,*^ said Immanuel Kant, "fill me
with awe; the starry heavens and the sense of moral responsibil-
ity in man.^* And in his hours of health and strength and sanity,
when the stroke of action has ceased and the pause of reflection
has set in, the scientific investigator finds himself overshadowed
by the same awe. Breaking contact with the hampering details
of earth, it associates him with a power which gives fullness and
tone to his existence, but which he can neither analyze nor com-

(Peroration of a Lecture on Light, Delivered in New York in 1873)

WHEN the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock, and
when Penn made his treaty with the Indians, the new-
comers had to build their houses, to chasten the earth
into cultivation, and to take care of their souls. In such a com-
munity, science, in its more abstract forms, was not to be thought
of. And, at the present hour, when your hardy Western pioneers
stand face to face with stubborn Nature, piercing the mountains


and subduing the forest and the prairie, the pursuit of science,
for its own sake, is not to be expected. The first need of
man is food and shelter; but a vast portion of this continent is
already raised far beyond this need. The gentlemen of New
York, Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washing-
ton, have already built their houses, and very beautiful they are;
they have also secured their dinners, to the excellence of which
I can also bear testimony. They have, in fact, reached that pre-
cise condition of well-being and independence when a culture, as
high as humanity has yet reached, may be justly demanded at
their hands. They have reached that maturity, as possessors of
wealth and leisure, when the investigator of natural truth, for
the truth's own sake, ought to find among them promoters and

Among the many grave problems before them they have this
to solve, whether a Republic is able to foster the highest forms
of genius. You are familiar with the writings of De Tocqueville,
and must be aware of the intense sympathy which he felt for
your institutions ; and this sympathy is all the more valuable, from
the philosophic candor w4th which he points out, not only your
merits, but your defects and dangers. Now, if I come here to
speak of science in America in a critical and captious spirit, an
invisible radiation from my words and manner will enable you to
find me out, and will guide your treatment of me to-night. But,
if I, in no unfriendly spirit — in a spirit, indeed, the reverse of
unfriendly — venture to repeat before you what this great his-
torian and analyst of democratic institutions said of America, I
am pursuaded that you will hear me out. He wrote some three
and twenty years ago, and perhaps would not write the same
to-day; but it will do nobody any harm to have his words re-
peated, and, if necessary, laid to heart. In a work published in
1850, he says: ^^ It must be confessed that, among the civilized
peoples of our age, there are few in which the highest sciences
have made so little progress as in the United States.^* He de-
clares his conviction that, had you been alone in the universe,
you would speedily have discovered that you cannot long make
progress in practical science, without cultivating theoretic science
at the same time. But, according to De Tocqueville, you are not
thus alone. He refuses to separate America from its ancestral
home; and it is here, he contends, that you collect the treasures
of the intellect without taking the trouble to create them.


De Tocqueville evidently doubts the capacity of a democracy
to foster genius as it was fostered in the ancient aristocracies.
"The future/^ he says, "will prove whether the passion for pro-
found knowledge, so rare and so fruitful, can be born and de-
veloped so readily in democratic societies as in aristocracies. As
for me,*^ he continues, "I can hardly believe it.'^ He speaks of
the unquiet feverishness of democratic communities, not in times
of great excitement, for such times may give an extraordinary
impetus to ideas, but in times of peace. "There is then,^* he says,
"a small and uncomfortable agitation, a sort of incessant attrition
of man against man, which troubles and distracts the mind with-
out imparting to it either animation or elevation.^* It rests with
you to prove whether these things are necessarily so — whether
the highest scientific genius cannot find in the midst of you a
tranquil home, I should be loath to gainsay so keen an observer
and so profound a political writer, but, since my arrival in this
country, I have been unable to see anything in the constitution
of society to prevent a student with the root of the matter in
him from bestowing the most steadfast devotion on pure science.
If great scientific results are not achieved in America, it is not
to the small agitations of society that I should be disposed to
ascribe the defect, but to the fact that the men among you who
possess the endowments necessary for scientific inquiry are laden
with duties of administration or tuition so heavy as to be utterly
incompatible with the continuous and tranquil meditation which
original investigation demands. It may well be asked whether
Henry would have been transformed into an administrator, or
whether Draper would have forsaken science to write history; if
the original investigator had been honored as he ought to be in
this land. I hardly think they would. Still I do not think this
state of things likely to last. In America there is a willingness
on the part of individuals to devote their fortunes, in the matter
of education, to the service of the Commonwealth, which is with-
out a parallel elsewhere; and this willingness requires but wise
direction to enable you effectually to wipe away the reproach of
De Tocqueville.

Your most difficult problem will be not to build institutions,
but to make men; not to form the body, but to find the spiritual
embers which shall kindle within that body a living soul. You
have scientific genius among j^ou; not sown broadcast, believe
me, but still scattered here and there. Take all unnecessary im-


pediments out of its way. Drawn by your kindness I have come
here to give these lectures, and, now that my visit to America
has become almost a thing of the past, I look back upon it as a
memcry without a stain. No lecturer was ever rewarded as I
have been. From this vantage ground, however, let me remind
you that the work of the lecturer is not the highest work; that
in science the lecturer is usually the distributor of intellectual
wealth amassed by better men. It is not solely, or even chiefly,
as lecturers, but as investigators, that your men of genius ought
to be employed. Keep your sympathetic eye upon the origi-
nator of knowledge. Give him the freedom necessary for his re-
searches, not overloading him either with the duties of tuition or
of administration, not demanding from him so-called practical re-
sults — above all things, avoiding that question which ignorance
so often addresses to genius : " What is the use of your work ? "
Let him make truth his object, however unpractical for the time
being that truth may appear. If you cast your bread thus upon
the wate"s^ then be assured it will return to you, though it may
be after many days.



}he compilers of a recent < Dictionary of Names > call Clement
L. Vallandigham << an American Democratic politician, leader
of the Copperheads during the Civil War.>> This is intended
to be invidious, but it may be accepted as without prejudice to a
man who stood for one extreme of principle as emphatically as Wen-
dell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison did for another. The
great Whig leaders of Europe in the eighteenth century, the great
Republican and Democratic leaders of America in the first quar-
ter of the nineteenth, taught that the world cannot be forced to
become civilized — that coercion in the hope of advancing civilization
involves and necessitates reaction, and that every war forced as a
mode of propagating ideas supplants progress with reaction as far as
its influence goes. They held a theory which afterwards came to be
known as <^ Evolution,*^ — the idea that progress is a mere mode of
mind and morals, and that it must come from slow growth, — the
patient, charitable, long-suffering propagation of moral ideas with full
confidence in their ultimate triumph. As a corollary of this, they
taught the nonintervention of one people in the affairs of another
and, that each people might be evolved most effectively by pressure
from its own "environment,'^ they advocated "local self-government,®
the disbandment of standing armies, the disuse of naval armament,
and the utmost possible reliance on moral rather than on physical
force. Cobden and Bright advocated this theory in England in con-
nection with the agitation for universal free trade. In America the
" Copperheads '' of the North represented it with an obstinacy often
as devoted and daring as that John Brown showed when he invaded
Virginia as an exponent of the conflicting idea that it is the highest
duty of every brave and manly man to compel his neighbors, at the
peril of his life and theirs, to be just, and just at once. The Cop-
perhead of the North, the Abolitionist of the South often represented
the highest type of individual courage, standing, the one and the
other, isolated in the community, and vindicating each his ideas of
right at the risk of liberty and fortune, if not of life itself. Such an
individualist was Vallandigham when he made his speech of February
20th, 1861, against Centralization, and, accepting him as "the leader
of the Copperheads, >* it is as such that posterity will judge him.



He was born at New Lisbon, Ohio, July 29th, 1820. In the con-
gressional campaign of 1858, his eloquence made him one of the most
prominent Democratic leaders of Ohio, and his lack of caution or his
contempt for it, added to his celebrity by making his utterances fre-
quently available as " campaign material >' for his opponents. He was
elected to Congress in 1857 and served until 1863, when he was ban-
ished to the South as ^^a war measure. >> From the South he went
to Canada, and in 1863 the « Copperheads » of Ohio nominated him for
Governor. He was defeated and was not afterwards prominent in
politics. He died at Lebanon, Ohio, June 17th, 1871, from the acci-
dental discharge of a pistol. It was asserted by many at the time
that he had committed suicide, but as the prejudices of the Civil War
period abate, it becomes evident that there was no just ground for
the assertion. As a leader, Vallandigham lacked balance and the
faculty of calculation. He was swayed too much by his emotions,
and his intellectual powers, which might otherwise have exerted a
controlling influence, were too often held in abeyance by the force of
his feelings, W. V. B.



(From a Speech on the State of the Union, Delivered in the House of
Representatives, February 20th, 1861)

DEVOTED as I am to the Union, I have yet no eulogies to pro-
nounce upon it to-day. It needs none. Its highest eulogy
is the history of this country for the last seventy years.
The triumphs of war and the arts of peace, — science; civiliza-
tion; wealth; population; commerce; trade; manufacture; litera-
ture; education; justice; tranquillity; security to life, to person,
to propert)^; material happiness; common defense; national re-
nown; all that is implied in the ^^ blessings of liberty**; these,
and more, have been its fruits from the beginning to this hour.
These have enshrined it in the hearts of the people; and, before
God, I believe they will restore and preserve it. And to-day
they demand of us, their embassadors and representatives, to tell
them how this great work is to be accomplished.

Sir, it has well been said that it is not to be done by eulogies.
Eulogy is for times of peace. Neither is it to be done by lamen-
tations over its decline and fall. These are for the poet and the


historian, or for the exiled statesman who may chance to sit amid
the ruins of desolated cities. Ours is a practical work; and it is
the business of the wise and practical statesman to inquire first
what the causes are of the evils for which he is required to de-
vise a remedy.

Sir, the subjects of mere partisan controversy which have
been chiefly discussed here and in the country, so far, are not
the causes, but only the symptoms or developments of the mal-
ady which is to be healed. These causes are to be found in the
nature of man and in the peculiar nature of our system of gov-
ernments. Thirst for power and place, or pre-eminence, — in a
word, ambition, — is one of the strongest and earliest developed
passions of man. It is as discernible in the schoolboy as in the
statesman. It belongs alike to the individual and to masses of
men, and is exhibited in every gradation of society, from the
family up to the highest development of the State. In all vol-
untary associations of any kind, and in every ecclesiastical organ-
ization, also, it is equally manifested. It is the sin by which the
angels fell. No form of government is exempt from it; for even
the absolute monarch is obliged to execute his authority through
the instrumentality of agents; and ambition here courts one mas-
ter instead of many masters. As between foreign States, it man-
ifests itself in schemes of conquest and territorial aggrandizement.
In despotisms, it is shown in intrigues, assassinations, and revolts.
In constitutional monarchies and in aristocracies, it exhibits it-
self in contests among the different orders of society and the
several interests of agriculture, trade, commerce, and the profes-
sions. In democracies, it is seen everywhere, and in its highest
development; for here all the avenues to political place and pre-
ferment, and emolument, too, are open to every citizen; and all
movements and all interests of society, and every great question,
— moral, social, religious, scientific, — no matter what, assumes, at
some time or other, a political complexion, and forms a part of
the election issues and legislation of the day. Here, when com-
bined with interest, and where the action of the Government
may be made a source of wealth, then honor, virtue, patriotism,
religion, all perish before it. No restraints and no compacts can
bind it.

In a Federal Republic all these evils are found in their am-
plest proportions, and take the form also of rivalries between the
States; or more commonly and fincAW at least, — especially where



geographical and climatic divisions exist, or where several con-
tiguous States are in the same interest, and sometimes where
they are similar in institutions or modes of thought, or in habits
and customs, — of sectional jealousies and controversies which end
always, sooner or later, in either a dissolution of the Union be-
tween them, or the destruction of the federal character of the
Government. But however exhibited, whether in federative or
in consolidated Governments, or whatever the development may
be, the great primary cause is always the same — the feeling that
might makes right; that the strong ought to govern the weak;
that the will of the mere and absolute majority of numbers ought
always to control; that fifty men may do what they please with
forty-nine; and that minorities have no rights, or at least that
they shall have no means of enforcing their rights, and no rem-
edy for the violation of them. And thus it is that the strong
man oppresses the weak, and strong communities, States and
sections, aggress upon the rights of weaker States, communities,
and sections. This is the principle; but I propose to speak of it
to-day only in its development in the political, and not the per-
sonal or domestic relations.

Sir, it is to repress this principle that Governments, with their
complex machinery, are instituted among men; though in their

Online LibraryDavid J. (David Josiah) BrewerCrowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) → online text (page 2 of 56)