George Sharswood.

Address delivered at the University of Pennsylvania, before the Society of the alumni, on the occasion of their annual celebration, December 10th, 1856 online

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Online LibraryGeorge SharswoodAddress delivered at the University of Pennsylvania, before the Society of the alumni, on the occasion of their annual celebration, December 10th, 1856 → online text (page 1 of 3)
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Pluladelplda, December 19, 1850.
Hon. George Sharswood,
Dear Sir :
The Undersigned, a Coniniittee of the Board of Managers of the
Society of the Alumni of the University of Pennsylvania, in behalf of
the said Society, take great pleasure in requesting of you a copy of the
excellent address, delivered by you on the occasion of the late Anni-
versary of the said Society, for publication.

Yours very respectfully,

Vincent L. Bradford,
H. D. (treoory,
John M. Collins,
(t. Herman Rorinett,
Wm. RoTrH Wister.

PhUadelpliia, March 9, 1857.

I consider the Address delivered before the Society of the Alumni as
their property, and accordingly send you herewith the copy.

Allow me to return you my thanks for the complimentary manner in
which you have communicated this request.

Very truly yours,

Geo. Sharswood.

To Messrs. Vincent L. Bradford, H. D. Gregory, John M.Collins,
G. Herman Rorinett, W. Rotch "Wister, Committee.


An anniversary celebration of the foundation of a
college or university is an homage publicly paid to
Learning. It has moreover other high and useful
ends. The Alumni come together from the business
and conflicts of active life, to bear an earnest and
solemn testimony to their younger brethren, who have
succeeded them, to the incalculable benefits derived
from a collegiate education. They come to warn
them that these are the golden hours of their lives
— that here are to be formed the habits of study and
principles of conduct, which make or mar the man.
They come to urge upon them, by the most impres-
sive of all appeals — that which is the voice of per-
sonal experience — not to slight the opportunities,
which are here presented to them, by the diligent
use of which they will be able to make the best
preparation for a life, useful to those who, in the
order of Providence, may be dependent upon them,
to their country and to their fellow-men.

Nor is this all. They come to commune with
the past — to revive the recollections of men and
scenes, the retrospect of which softens and improves
the heart — to brighten the chains of early friend-


ship, the links of which contract rust by time and
separation — and to offer an annual tribute, however
humble, to the cause of sound education.

To the individual who addresses you, the memo-
ries of his college course are among the most de-
lightful of his life. It would be a pleasure to him
to recall and dwell upon the characters of his college
friends and companions, to trace their history and
fortunes, and point with pride to many who have
lived to gain distinction in various walks of use-
fulness. As to some, indeed, it would only be to
weave a chaplet for their tombs. " After life's fitful
fever, they sleep well" — to them as indeed to the
longest liver, a short, uneasy paroxysm, and then —
the calm repose of death. But he feels that such a
record would be out of place, presented to those
who have not the same associations to invest it with

Of the venerated and beloved men, who formed
at that time the faculty of Arts, he has a right to
speak with more freedom. He addresses many, who
enjoyed the benefit of their example and instruc-
tions. Their lives and characters form a part of
the history of this University. The grave has now
closed over them all, and consecrated the memory
of their virtues in the hearts of their pupils and

James G. Thomson, the Professor of Laupuag-es,
was born in the year 1777, at Newark, in Delaware,


where his father, William Thomson, was the prin-
cipal of an academy long distinguished for the men
of eminence, whom it had trained and sent forth,
prior to the American Revolution, and which has
since expanded into a college. Here he received
the rudiments of his education under the parental
eye. In the year 1794, William Thomson was
elected to and accepted the post of Professor of the
Languages and Principal of the Grammar School of
Dickinson College, at Carlisle, The first incum-
hent of that chair was James Ross, who occupied it
from the organization of the college, in 1784, until
1792. After retiring from it, and during the va-
cancy which succeeded, Mr. Ross was engaged as a
private teacher at Carlisle. The advent of Mr.
Thomson to that place was the signal for the re-
moval of Mr. Ross; and it is related that when
asked the reason of his change of residence, he re-
marked that he " had to contend with boy teachers
previously, but now that a man teacher had come,
there was no room for him." Mr. Ross Avas long
a resident of this city, and justly eminent among
its classical teachers. He was the author of a Latin
Grammar of note, an Accidence, and some other
school books. Here he died at an advanced age ;
and his remains were, at a subsequent period, re-
moved to Carlisle, where they now repose near the
dust of Nisbet, the first President of Dickinson. In
1804, William Thomson was called to the chair of


Humanity in the College of New Jersey, at Prince-
ton ; but his son, the subject of the present notice,
graduated at Dickinson, while his father remained
there, in the year 1797. Among his fellow col-
legiates, though not in the same class, was the pre-
sent venerated Chief Justice of the United States,
one of the most distinguished foster-sons of that
institution.* In the following year, at the age of
twenty-one, young Thomson came to Philadelphia,
literally to seek his fortune ; for he used to relate
himself, that when he crossed Market Street Bridge,
all he possessed in the world was a trunk of clothes and
five dollars in money. He brought with him, how-
ever, a letter of introduction from Dr. Nesbit to Mr.
James Davidson, then Professor of Languages in this
University, and at the same time Principal of the
Grammar School, whose daughter he subsequently
married. Throuo-h Mr. Davidson's influence he was
engaged as assistant in the Grammar School, from
which situation he was soon transferred to the post
of Principal of the Friends' Academy in this city.
The duties of that place he continued to fulfil with
growing reputation, until, in 1806, upon the resig-
nation of Mr. Davidson, he was appointed his suc-
cessor in the chair of this University. Here he
remained until 1828; and from that period, until

* Now in the class of 1809, on the roll of our honored sister, to the
name of Jacobus Buchanan, will soon be added Rerunipublicarum
foederatarum Praeses: the first President of the United States from the
old Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but not, we may hope, the last.


his death, in 1849, lie devoted himself entirely to
practical farming, for which he had all his life mani-
fested a gTcat partiality.

Professor Thomson had been trained in an excel-
lent school. His father was a Scotchman, as were
also Dr. Nisbet and Mr. Davidson, by whose ex-
ample and precepts his habits and principles as an
instructor were formed. He most carefully insisted
upon an accurate knowledge of the grammatical
structure of the languages, while, at the same time,
he did not neglect in his prelections to lead the
mind of the student to a discernment and relish of
the beauties of the chaste models of poetry, history
and eloquence, which, in turn, became the text
books of his recitation-room. Beyond question, it
is in the slow, patient and constant exercise of the
power of discrimination in analysis — in the conse-
quent improvement of the most important of the
mental faculties, the judgment — and in the forma-
tion of habits of concentrated and steady attention,
that classical studies are most useful to the youthful
intellect. While the memory is not over-burdened,
every lesson tends to the gradual developement of
the intellectual strength. It is true, that atten-
tion to grammatical and prosodical niceties may be
carried to excess. This seems to be the rage at
present in the literary institutions of England. But
the other extreme is also to be equally avoided.
Hence, it is not good policy to run over in a cursory


manner a large number of different authors. It is
not the way to make either an accurate or a ready
scholar, nor to form a true taste. The maxim,
multmn sed non nmlia, applies with peculiar force ;
and such was the leading feature in Professor Thom-
son's course. The recitation was short, but he ex-
acted a perfect knowledge of it in every student.
Pages could not express a higher eulogium upon
him as a teacher of the true old stamp.

Professor Thomson's notions of discipline were
rigid. Within the college walls his manner was
stern and distant; beyond them, it was kind and
genial. It may be truly said of him, that

If severe in aught,
The love he bore to learning was in fault.

No portrait or even outline of his personal appear-
ance, that I am aware of, remains ; but no one, who
ever saw him, can fail to recall his strongly marked
and prominent features, his erect posture, and the
almost military precision of his gait.

Eobert M. Patterson, M. D., the Vice Provost, and
Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophv,
was a man whose name and fame are so familiar to
all who hear me, that it is unnecessary to attempt
on this occasion any general sketch of his life. It
has already been done, and presented to the public
from the pens of those who, from long intimacy.

A D D K E S S. 11

were best able to perform the task.* Dr. Patterson
was the son of a former Professor of Mathematics,
Avho illustrated this University, and the country of
his adoption, by liig-h scientific attainments, and by
a public life of varied and active usefulness. His
no less distinguished son followed so closely in his
steps, occupying- the same honorable and responsible
offices of Professor, Director of the Mint of tlie
United States, and President of the American Phi-
losophical Society, that their lives seem to present
a most remarkable parallel. Dr. Patterson was an
inmate of the University from his earliest years ; his
father having had his dwelling in a part of that old
and capacious structure, which formerly stood on
this spot, and which was erected at the expense of
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for the resi-
dence of the Chief Magistrate of the Union, when
it was hoped that Philadelphia might permanently
be established as the Federal City. He graduated
liere, in 1804, after having passed through the
Grammar School and the Department of Arts, and
some years later received his diploma as Doctor of
Medicine from our Medical School. Thus his entire
training was within our pomoeria ; he was emphati-
cally a child of this Institution. His reputation

* I refer particularly to '• A Short Biography of Robert M. Patterson,
M. D., by Samuel Breck, President of the Pennsylvania Institution for
the Instruction of the Blind," and "An Obituary Notice of Dr. Patter-
son, read before the American Philosophical Society, by the Hon. John
K. Kane."


belongs to us ; and it is such as well to be a source
of just pride to all who have a share in the honors
of our Alma Mater.

He was Professor from 1812 to 1828; and it is
in that capacity we are now to consider him. Al-
though it may have the appearance of exaggera-
tion, yet, in truth, it is scarcely such to say that he
was the idol of the college. It may well be doubted
whether there ever was in any institution of learning
a more popular Professor. With a high order of
intellect, an enthusiastic fondness for the studies of
the chair he filled, and most attractive qualities as
a lecturer and experimenter, he united, at the same
time, urbanity of manners with strictness of discip-
line. He thus secured, that which it is difficult to
gain at the same time, the attachment^ confidence
and respect of the young men, who formed his
classes. In his recitation-room the wildest and most
unruly spirits were under willing restraint. A sad
but gentle look from him, evincing his displeasure,
was the most severe and efl^'ectual rebuke. Indeed,
he rarely had occasion to administer any other. He
could have commanded the ready services of every
youth in the college for whatever he asked. It is
an uncommon quality — such a power over the wills
of others, especially when exerted successfully on
the buoyant and inconsiderate spirits of the young.
No small part of that influence, in the case of Dr.
Patterson, is undoubtedlv to be attributed to the

A ]) DRESS. 1 3

natural blending of dignity and ease in all his in-
tercourse with those around him. The students
were treated with all the politeness and respect due
to those who had fully attained to manhood. It
was a marked illustration of how much manners
contribute to the character and position which men
attain and enjoy. That true politeness, which does
not consist mainly in the graces of the person, but
is the natural expression of a heart-felt desire that
those with whom we converse, should be pleased
and happy, is a powerful magnet, which never fails
to draw friends and admirers. It may be termed
the minor morals ; but it springs from the greater
morals — the power of self-control — a proper, and,
therefore, an humbling sense of one's own defici-
encies. He who really thinks more of what he is
not, and what he might and ought to be, than of
what he is, can hardly fail to possess good manners,
though he may be ignorant of the rules of artificial
etiquette, and be wanting in the polish which in-
tercourse with refined society gives ; things not to
be despised, indeed, but not equal in value to the
former. Freshmen and sophomores are hardly upon
the dividing line, between boyhood and manhood;
juniors and seniors flatter themselves that they have
passed it. The more jealous are the younger classes;
and there is nothing so grateful to human nature as
a concession upon those points of which we feel not
quite sure. A professor's position with the student,

1-i ADD R ESS.

depends more upon his first two, than his last two
years. It is during that time, if ever, he has to
gain his respect and confidence.

Dr. Patterson had a very active, vigorous mind.
It was plain to all who attended his lectures and
recitations, that he was himself constantly making
progress. He communicated his instructions more
in the spirit of an inquirer himself, than in the
dogmatic ex cathedra style of one who knew all that
was to be known. He watched with evident in-
terest the progress of each student ; and it was his
great aim to excite an interest in the exercises of
his class-room, by pointing out and illustrating their
practical bearing upon the arts and business of life.

The Rev. Frederic Beasley, D.D., the Provost
and Professor of Belles Lettres and Moral Philoso-
phy, was a divine of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
His birth place and early home was Edenton, North
Carolina. He graduated at the College of New
Jersey, while that institution was under the presi-
dency of the Pev. Dr. Samuel Stanhope Smith, one
of the most distinguished men in his profession,
which this country has ever produced. Dr. Smith's
Lectures on Moral and Political Philosophy, on the
Evidences of Christianity, his Essay on the Causes of
the Variety of the Complexion and Figure in the
Human Species, and two volumes of Sermons, are
still regarded by scholars as monuments of a culti-
vated taste, sound learning and genuine piety. It

A n D 11 ESS. 15

may be observed in passing, that Dr. Smitli's Moral
and Political Philosophy, was the text book on that
snbject used during Dr. Beasley's incumbency of
the chair in this University. A sounder or better
book for the purpose, in my judgment, has yet to
appear. It repudiates the Utilitarian tlieor)-, and
insists that there is an essential distinction between
right and wrong, not dependent upon the will of
any being, but founded in the nature of things, and
growing out of the necessary moral relations of the
rational creation. " Although I rejecl," says he,
" the abstract principle, that the excellence of virtiie
consists in its conformity to the will of the Creator,
or that His will alone cou-stitutes its excellence ; yet,
wherever His will is clearly indicated, whether in
the structure of the universe, and the order of Pro-
vidence, or in the constitution of our own nature,
and the relations which He has established between
us and other beings, it must, from His infinite wis-
dom and goodness, be the surest rule of duty to us."
The student of that book will have no difficulty in
recognizing, that the Bible, as the revealed will of
God, was received by Dr. Smith, as the surest evi-
dence of what was right and wrong, and that hc^
submitted his reason implicitly to its teachings on
all such topics. In this respect it differs materially
from some late works of wide reputation and recep-
tion, which, professing, indeed, to be systems of
ethics, founded upon Christianity, are found, when ex-


timinecl, to be really systems of Christianity founded
on or tortured into conformity to the authors' theories
on morals.

As his college mates, Dr. Beasley was associated
with Bishop Hobart, with Gaston, Mercer, and the
eloquent and lamented KoUock, "equally," to use
his own words, " the ornaments of the bar, the
pulpit, and the deliberative councils of the nation."
He survived all these early friends, with whom he
continued to correspond as long as they lived ; and
it is an affecting incident that, in his last illness,
he A'vas observed, during the hours of slumber, to
repeat the name of Hobart, as though his mind re-
verted, most naturally and delightfully, to the scenes
and associations of his college years. Soon after
receiving his first degree, he was elected to a tutor-
ship in the college. He was ordained a deacon in
1801, and took charge of a parish at Elizabeth town.
New Jersey. In 1803, he removed to St. Peter's
Church, Albany, and subsequently became co-rector
with the Rev. Dr. Ben, of Christ Church, in Balti-
more. From this post he was called to the Provost-
ship of this University, in 1815, in which he con-
tinued until 1828. He was then elected the rector
of St. Michael's Church, Trenton. From this place,
in 1836, he removed to Elizabethtown, and, under
the pressure of age and the bodily infirmities of a
constitution, which was never strong, sought quiet
and retirement on the spot where he had begun his

A I) I) K E S S. 17

professional career; and where he had formed that
domestic relation which was nearest his heart, and
formed the solace of his life. Here in sweet serenity,
from the enjoyment of a good hope, he peacefnlly
fell asleep, November 1, 1845.

Dr. Beasley was an accomplished scholar. His
learning as a divine was evinced by several able
controversial treatises, and his taste in criticism by
contributions to the periodical literature of the day.*
To Mental Philosophy, however, he especially de-
voted his attention, and in 1822, gave to the world
as the matured result of his studies, a volume en-
titled, "A Search of Truth in the Science of the
Human Mind." The principal aim and scope of this
w^ork, Avas to vindicate INlr. liOcke from the charge

* An article from his pen in ihe first inHnl)er of the American (Jnar-
terly Review, ''on the Eulogies of Jefferson and Adams," may be
referred to as an illustration of his abilities in criticism. " For several
montiis during his residence in ElizabethtoMn, he was closely occupied
in ineparing a series of papers relating to the painful controversy,
which has for several years distracted the Church, with regard to the
])eculiarities of the Oxford divinity. Believing, as he did, that free
and full discussion is the great safeguard of truth, and believing, too,
that essential and dangerous errors were connected with that system,
he felt himself called upon, as one of the oldest presbyters of the
Church, to express his opinion njion the important suliject. He
entered, as he had done in other cases, into a full discussion of the
points at issue, and with his usual vigor and vivacity. His productions
upon this subject have been favorably received by many, not only in
this country but also in England, and they have been particularly
noticed in the Christian Observer, one of the oldest and best established
periodicals of the Church in that country, as evincing much ability and
research upon the topics involved in that controversy." Funeral ser-
mon by the Kev. Richard Channing Moore, Rector of St. John's
Church, Elizabethtown, Nov. 4th, 18^5.


of having taught what was then commonly termed
the Ideal Theory : a theory which rested upon the
hypothesis that whatever the mind takes notice of in
perception is an image or representation of outward
objects — that every object of thought is but an
impression or idea, a faint copy of some preceding
impression. Assuming this hypothesis as correct,
Berkeley, the celebrated Bishop of Cloyne, logically
and ingeniously deduced the conclusion that we have
no certain evidence of the existence of an outward
universe— that indeed we can absolutely know nothing,
but the fact of the existence of these ideas and
impressions and of the sensible subject perceiving
them. Mr. Hume boldly proceeded a step further ;
and on the same premises built a system of universal
scepticism, denying all evidence of the existence
of the mind itself, and affirming that what we call
such is really nothing but a succession of impres-
sions and ideas, and that cause and effect are but
names for an invariable antecedence and sequence,
any necessary connexion between which we have
no sufficient grounds to infer. These conclusions
aroused at the same time Dr. Thomas Reid, the
founder of the Scottish School of Metaphysics, and
the celebrated Immanuel Kant, the father of transcen-
dentalism. They took very different modes of com-
bating the hypothesis in question; the one by
appealing to certain fundamental principles of human
belief, resting on the common sense of mankind : the

A I) 1) ]{ E S S. 19

other by an eiFort to prove that there exists know-
ledge a priori^ not deduced from sensation or reflec-
tion, but by the criticism of Pure Reason. Kant's
reasoning, however, tended to a subjective instead of
an objective idealism. According to him the mind
imposes its own laws on the material universe.
Space, time, cause and effect, are not in the universe
itself, but merely in the mind, and are therefore but
the forms or categories of knowledge. It was long,
however, before the writings of the transcendental
school attracted the attention of philosophers in Eng-
land or this country. Dr. Beasley contented himself
with showing, in opposition to Dr. Reid, that Avhile
Mr. Locke certainly traced the origin of all our
knowledge to sensation and reflection, he nowhere
taught that the perceptions of the mind are merely
ideas, images or representations of outward things;
but that, on the contrary, while admitting that the
mode of perception is an unfathomable mystery, he
held that external objects produce ideas or notions
of them through the instrumentality of the senses,
and expressly repudiated the doctrine that we have
no sufficient evidence of the existence of a material

It is curious to observe that Raid and his followers
battled only with the hypothesis that the ideas,
which are the objects of the nnderstanding when
a man thinks, are things numerically different both
from the object existing and the snbject perceiving.


They had no conception of the doctrine of the
modern ideal system, founded upon the principles of
Kant, in which a representative object is allowed,
but only as a modification of the mind itself: a
theory which has landed its author and his followers
in a refined and imaginative pantheism. " The most
consistent scheme of idealism," says Sir William
Hamilton, '■' known in the history of philosophy is
that of Fichte ; and Fichte's idealism is founded on a

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Online LibraryGeorge SharswoodAddress delivered at the University of Pennsylvania, before the Society of the alumni, on the occasion of their annual celebration, December 10th, 1856 → online text (page 1 of 3)