George Spring Merriam.

The life and times of Samuel Bowles online

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It was mine, it is not I.

" What ye lift upon the bier
Is not worth a single tear.
'Tis an empty, searshell — one
Out of which the pearl has gone;
The shell is broken— it lies there;
The pearl, the aU, the soul is here.
'Tis an earthen jar, whose lid
Allah sealed, the while it hid
The treasure of his treasury,
A mind that loved him, — let it lie 1
Let the shard be earth's once more,
Since the gold is in his store 1

. . . " Weep awhile, if ye are fain —
Sunshine still must follow rain ;
Only not at death — for death.
Now I know, is that first breath
Which our souls draw when they enter
Life which is of all life center.

. . . "Be ye stout of heart, and come
Bravely onward to your home 1 "

The estimate in which a public man is held by his con-
temporaries is in most cases fairly mirrored in the news-
paper articles following his death. If some allowance
is to be made for an excessive charity toward one
jnst gone, yet upon the whole the judgment of character
is generally broader and fairer than a man receives in
his life-time. In the case of Mr. Bowles, a special full-
ness was given the newspaper notices of him by the
interest of journalists in a fellow-craftsman, and by the


circumstance ttat his long illness had given them an
opportunity to prepare his obituary in advance. These
articles collected would fill a volume about as large as
the present one. With hardly an exception they express
warm and high appreciation. They recognize with una-
nimity the excellence of the Repiiblicmi as a newspaper,
and the peculiar success of its chief in creating such
a paper in a provincial town. They are hardly less
unanimous in acknowledging the courage of Mr. Bowles,
as well as the effectiveness of his writing, and most of
them pay honor to his sincerity and fidelity to conviction.
Many note his causticity as excessive, while some attrib-
ute it largely to overstrained nerves. The remark is
common, that since Greeley's death Bowles has held the
first place among journalists. Among the calm and
measured judgments are that of the Nation, that the Re-
publican has been "the most comprehensive newspaper,
we believe it is no exaggeration to say, in the country " ;
and of the Hartford Courant : "We are inclined, all
things considered, to place him first among the great
journalists the country has produced." Henry Watter-
son, in the Courier Journal, quoted the cool and guarded
words of the Chicago Times, as free from suspicion of
friendly bias, and, condensing them, said :

" To say of a man that he edited the model proviacial news-
paper in the most newspaper-reading country on the globe,
that he gave this provincial newspaper national influence and
importance, and that he was a statesman rather than a politician,
is to say all that could be claimed for a joumaUst. Yet it is no
more than of right belongs to Samuel Bowles."

On the whole, very few men die whose obituaries,
could they return to life, would be such pleasant read-
ing for them. He won the prize so rare in his profession
that every young man who enters journalism should
Vol, n.— 29


renounce tlie expectation of winning it — personal appre-
ciation from the world.

But it was in his home town that the finest eulogy
was pronounced on him. It was spoken by his pastor,
and in the church with which he was connected. He
had grown up in it from childhood, had listened to the
preaching of its successive ministers, and though in
later years of necessity an infrequent attendant, he had
given to it freely of his money and his sympathy, with
at times a felicitous word of suggestion or encourage-

The minister has not lost all of his old advantage as a
public teacher. His habit of judging from the moral
stand-point often enables him, when he is not under
dogmatic trammels, to look deeper into the nature of
men and things than is the wont of the journalist, and
to speak out of his week's meditation a weightier word
than the man who stands between the telegraph and the
printing-press. On the Sunday after Mr. Bowles's death,
Rev. A. D. Mayo preached in the Church of the Unity a
sermon which was mainly a delineation of his character.
From the symmetrical portrait a few salient features are
here given :

" I have watched with the deepest interest the hearing of
OTir friend toward the new civihzation which is appearing in
our New England since the days of the great revolution of
1860. He realized, as very few men who stay at home in New
England do, the essential changes, social, reUgious, poUtical,
that have come over the land of the Puritans during the last
generation. He was always laboring with the problems of the
adjustment of the new to the old ; so that the New England of
the comLag time shall stUl hold in her heart the mighty faith
in righteousness, industry, freedom, and knowledge, which
have made her the bulwark of the repubUc iu the days that
have gone by. ... I saw that, after aU, he was a Puritan of

m MEMOEUM. 451

the old stock, believing in religion and morality as the soul of
society, so intensely that his belief made him angry, impatient,
sometimes contemptuous, of such as did not believe ; having
no confidence that Springfield, or Massachusetts, or the repub-
Uc, could grow in any save the old-fashioned way of honesty,
piety, intelligence, and sleepless jealousy for the freedom to
become all of -which they are capable. He was a most intelli-
gent friend of the new education in all its bearings, and has
been since I have been here one of the firmest supporters of
that portion of our citj' government which is intrusted with
the precious treasure, the schools of the people. He under-
stood the real meaning of the word which is in such danger of
f allin g into a destructive cant — economy; that it means for
men, church, city, nation, the wise saving from the body, for
the generous spending on the soul. I am inclined to think
that his service in this home-lot, at the reconstruction of New
England, will, in the end, be found the most original and
valuable of all his public doings. ... If New England is to
be saved from the all-devouring enemies of modem civiliza-
tion, — a fanatical despotism and a Godless communism, — and
kept abreast of the age, in the line of her great renown, it
win be largely by the aid of such patient, intense, and cathoUc
thinkers as Samuel Bowles.

" The sharpest words he wrote at us goaded us to cUmb over
the granite wall of our local narrowness, and look off into
the free, broad fields of humanity outside. I have seen few
Western men who knew the West as he knew it, and no man
west of the AHeghanies or south of Washington who had
so fair an estimate of New England as he of every state of
the Union.

" He had some of the best characteristics of the best Ameri-
can statesmen ; his intellectual range was wide, clear, and
rapid, reminding one of the marvelous mental catholicity of
Seward more than of any other of our public men. He was
essentially a public moralist, and had no faith in governing
the world by tricks, by playing off one set of famous people
against another, or by anything but doing right on a scale
as large as a nation's needs. He had a prodigious faith in


genuine work, and a hatred of sham work anywhere that
almost amounted to a monomania.

" If he was often so extreme and unsparing in his attacks upon
the prevailing evils of our pubhe life as to give the impression
that he had little care for the consequences, he was also singu-
larly conservative and cautious in real administration ; in this
being again a true son of the Puritans, — a race fearfuUy radi-
cal and untamable in miscellaneous talk, but moderate and
conservative beyond all the great peoples in the actual embodi-
ment of ideas and ideals in laws.

" No man better saw than he, that, whatever may be true of
Old "World empires, which must be governed by parties who
represent their different orders of society, this repubhc must
be finally administered by that portion of the people who can
rise above parties, sects, social and cultured cliques, and the
narrowness of section and race. What he called ' independent
journalism' meant essentially the same thing as unsectarian
Christianity, unsectional politics, and reformed civil service.
A nation reaUy governed by a majority of the whole people
must be a nation educated above these Old World traditions of
partisan prejudice and hatred.

" No real man, full of American blood and nerves, can now-
adays be quite fair, impersonal, and catholic, in the ebb-tide
of a revolution that has shaken a continent, in the flood-tide of
such popular insanities as threaten us to-day. But it is a very
noble thing to insist that this is the way we should all go, and
try to go that way with all our might. It is easy enough for
a man to be catholic and broad in politics, religion, philosophy,
and society, who has no central faith or care for anything ; and
that heartless and Godless flippancy of judgment is one of the
most dangerous diseases of the day. But a thousand times do
we honor brave Samuel Bowles, bristling at aU points with his
most provoking personality, pushing on to the higher mark of
our calling in national Kfe, beyond the whole race of mUd-
mannered, moderate, routine men, who fear, of all things -on
earth, the opposition of a man aUve with a great purpose to the
ends of his finger naUs, electric even to the very hairs of his


" The new journalism after all will rise no higlier than the
men who wield it. The newspaper is in hterature like the
violiQ in music, — the most sensitive and subtle medium of com-
munication between a man and mankind. It can become an
all-pervading blessing or an aU-pervading curse easier than
any other written or spoken word. If any class of men and
women should be the sons and daughters of God, and the
brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ, consecrated
through all the recesses of the heart, it should be these minis-
ters of the press who watch while men sleep, and meet us at the
breakfast table, talking to us even while we ask a blessing on
the food.

" The quality that made him what he was — a man apart
from the editors and statesmen and scholars and men of affairs
who were going the same way — was that marvelous blending
of man and woman which marked bim as one of the higher
order of superior men. Every first-class man is made so by
virtue of the womanhood that flavors every manly power and
grace ; as the granite hill-slope of Berkshire is translated to a
garden of the Lord, by the trailing arbutus that blossoms
through every ragged ravine, chases the retreatiag snow bank,
and flings out fragrant welcome of spring to the traveler borne
swiftly down the winding road to the valley of peacefuhiess
below. He bore into his public life the soul of a high-minded,
sensitive, and high-strung woman ; flaming out against evils
of which good men of another type are too tolerant ; like the
noblest woman, smitten now and then with admiring hero wor-
ship for men who doubtless in another world wiU. justify the
prophecy of their good angels who have glorified and loved
them in this. He who went after the woman in him often
found the sternest, most reticent, and exclusive of able men ;
while he who charged down upon the savage mailed warrior he
took hJTn to be, sometimes found his arm in a clasp as genial
and gentle as a sister's, his heart captured by a charm that
made him a friend and lover for life.

" His faults were chiefly of the kind we forgive in our wives
and mothers, remembering how hard it is for a spirit all through
alive and sensitive, impetuotis, aspiring, and impatient for the


good time coming, to bear itself with, the poise of a calm and
passionless Minerva iq days like these. Such men as he, so
vital, pronounced, and complex in their constitution, can never
be well understood, even by their most fervent admirers, until
the artist Death gives us their portrait, relieved against the
background of the shadow-land, flushed by the rising sun of
the life immortal."

Seven years have passed since his death. In a double
sense, he built his own monument. In the hearts of his
friends his memory wiU be green so long as they shall
last. The newspaper he planted not only lives and flour-
ishes, but has still its best inspiration and governing
tradition in the qualities he gave to it.

At the beginning of this story there was given a
sketch of the old New England life, just drawing to its
close when his life began; but who can undertake to
summarize and picture the broad aspects of American
society when his life closed 1 The expansion has been so
vast and manifold, the play of new and old forces is so
complex and energetic, and we ourselves are so in the
midst of the stream, that we cannot see our age in its
true proportion and perspective. Even geographical lines
have lost their old significance. No such isolated and
distinct New England exists as that of sixty years ago,
nor any such isolated and distinct America. The old
Calvinistic theology, which seemed then just chipping
off a little at the edges, has practically lost most of that
which distinguished Calvinism from other schools of
Protestant Christianity, while the intellectual elements
of Christianity itself are held in solution by the common
mind of civilization, and the wisest prophet cannot pre-
dict what will be the new forms of crystallization. The
sixty years have seen a life-and-death struggle between
American democracy and slavery, and the purged and
renovated nation seems to stand strong, able to slough


off its lesser ills, and hopefully eoufrouting the future.
The assertion for women of an equal privilege and an
equal responsibility vrith men has gone far toward reali-
zation. The attitude of society toward its criminals and
outcasts has profoiindly altered. The current of civili-
zation moves with new directness and energy toward a
more even diffusion of material advantages. Amid the
falling of creeds there slowly emerge the outlines of a
nobler faith in God and a higher hope for man. With
new opportunities come new dangers, — restlessness, a
feverish drain of vitality, an impatience of nature's slow
and sure ways, an overhaste which balks itself; and
sometimes too a dizzjong sense of bewilderment and loss
in the breaking up of old beliefs. In science, in litera-
ture, in education, in family life, in ideals of character,
the changes of half a century have been so swift that
only at a later time can they be rightly measured.

This man stood amid the full play of these various
forces, sensitive to them all, acting and reacting with
them aU, chronicling their movement, forwarding that
movement, and receiving its impress. He was not one
of the great creative minds, but he caught and trans-
mitted the spirit of the time, and with every year he
Kved he grew more sensitive to the finer elements in the
social atmosphere, and more effective in diffusing them.
His most distinctive and conspicuous service to the
national life was his persistent effort toward superseding
party spirit by patriotism. He was as distinctly the
apostle of political independence as Garrison of anti-
slavery. The whole system of party government is a
very imperfect instrument for the ordinary exigencies of
society. It rests on the assumption that a fundamental
difference of beliefs and purposes divides the community
into two opposing classes — an assumption which is true
only in exceptional periods of strife ; while the organiza-


tions and passions whicli are bom and transmitted during
such periods are as unsuited to the normal conditions of
the community as the methods and temper of a military-
society are unfit for an industrial society. While the
party system continues — as continue it must until some
better method ripens — the only safeguard and corrective
to it is the action of men brave enough to stand outside
of party lines, intelligent enough to work together for
common ends without a rigid organization, and numer-
ous enough to turn the scale, as occasion may require,
between the two parties. The significance of the presi-
dential election of 1884, beyond the temporary victory
of one party over the other, was the appearance of the
Independents for the first time as a decisive factor in a
national election. It is not too much to say that no man
in the country did more to develop the Independents
into a political power than Samuel Bowles. It was due
more to him than to any other man among the living or
the dead that Massachusetts stood side by side with
New York in the moral leadership of the campaign of
1884. The education of an intelligent independence —
by constant precept, by constant example, at constant
cost, for a quarter of a century —was the greatest single
service which he did for his country.

But his relation to politics measures only one side of
his work for the community. His distinctive greatness
was as a journalist. "What he accomplished in that capac-
ity this book has tried to set forth. In the summing-up
it is to be considered what he contributed to the ideal of
his profession. He represented, first, the extension of its
functions into every field of human activity. In his own
words: "Our idea of a public journal covers all life —
life in its deepest and highest significance, as well as
the superficialities of food and raiment, business and


government." In this, too, he was in the line of the
unmistakable tendency of the time, — his distinction was
to be on the front wave of the tide. But his best service
may be measured at the point where lies the greatest
danger to the chai-acter of the press. The new sovereign
is under the temptation of every popular ruler — to
achieve power by appealing to the lower grades of con-
stituencies. The moral danger of the newspaper is lest
it become a mere instrument of money-making. The
American press shows to-day a mixture of the most
opposite tendencies. In many quarters there is a marked
advance in fairness, dignity, decency, and in other quar-
ters there is just as notable a decay of these virtues.
The most lamentable spectacle in journalism is presented
by those newspapers which win commercial success either
by prostitution to gross partisanship or by catering to
the coarsest tastes.

If the powers of Samuel Bowles had been devoted
solely to money-making, he might well have been a mill-
ionaire long before he died ; he might have lengthened
and enjoyed in luxurious ease the years which he cut
short by toU. But he bent his best energies to making
a paper which should speak the truth and should educate
its constituency. He gave his readers better food than
they asked for. He gave them what men are wont to
expect from the library and the pulpit, and dressed
the solidest dish with an appetizing sauce. He made
his paper the vehicle of literature, of philosophy, of
poetry, of religion. Yet he was not an idealist pure and
simple. He had a Yankee eye to the main chance. He
made the earning of money one object, though not the
supreme object. The example he furnished was less
heroic than that of the man who for the truth gives up
life or livelihood, but it was an example more widely


applicable. He showed that a man can be truthful with-
out starving, and that a newspaper can be independent
without ending in bankruptcy.

His genius was the power to see and his virtue was the
courage to speak. His best service as a journalist was
to exemplify the quality most necessary for a public
teacher — absolute truthfulness. With him the sum and
substance of independent journalism — and he recognized
no other journalism as of the highest class — was to tell
the truth without fear or favor. It is in this respect
that his ideal will be longest in finding a general fulfill-
ment. Truth-speaking, as an obligation paramount to
partisanship, friendship, and aU. personal ends, is not
an ingenious invention, which when once discovered is
speedily adopted by every one. It implies a quality in
character, such as in a high degree is not often found,
and toward which mankind rises with extreme slowness.
For almost two thousand years religion has laid its chief
ethical stress upon belief and benevolence. Truthful-
ness, in its double sense of seeking the truth and speak-
ing it, has hardly yet got beyond its Bethlehem.

He worked in a field little favorable to independence.
He conquered his environment largely by virtue of a
dominant and masterful quality which ran in his blood.
Nature framed him for a rebel against despotism. He
had that mixture of reverence for law and impatience of
arbitrary power which marks the line of great leaders
who have broadened English and American freedom.
His love of mastery worked hand in hand with his love
of truth and his instinct as a journalist, to keep his
paper independent of party, of church, of all authority
save his own convictions. He did not escape the " limita-
tions of his own qualities." Emerson says that when
Nature would accomplish an important object, she loads
some man with an overcharge of the necessary quality.


In molding Samuel Bowles, she tempered the material
with a slight excess of the rebel's ^-irtue — audacity and
self-assertion. That overcharge won for society a vital
gain at a ^"ital point. It exemplified the quality most
essential to the foremost profession of the time. Against
a pressure subtle and weighty as the atmosphere, it estab-
lished a newspaper subject to no law save its own belief.

The full test of a man's worth is to measure the contri-
bution he makes to society, and then ask what he was
outside of that work. This man, reaching in his special
task the height of manly achievement, lived a personal
life of singular richness in the tenderness and generosity
of its affections. " The friendliest of men" would be the
verdict of those who knew him best. He was more than
a journalist, a statesman, a genius, — he was a lover.
The air about him was warm with kindness. He was
most faithful to every old attachment, most receptive of
every new one. His regard expressed itself in service.
His thought toward his friends was, " What can I do for
them f " Not only men and women, but the broad and
the near community, the neighborhood, every familiar
scene, every old association, every fresh aspect of nature's
face, found a place in his heart. It was the frequent
necessity of his position to fight ; it was the constant
and growing necessity of his nature to love and to be

He was the child of his age, and shared its strength
and its weakness. In his unresting activity he was its
very epitome. He illustrated the master passion of its
intellect — the desire to learn something new. One of its
chief characteristics is the growth of mutual communi-
cation between men. The agencies of that communica-
tion are invention, commerce, travel, and journalism.
Its ultimate result is the overthrow of prejudice, the
increase of mutual respect and trust, the recognition of


a common interest, tlie spread at last of peace and
brotherhood. That spirit of mutual inter-communication
ran in his every vein. He learned something from each
man he met, and in turn taught something to each man
he met. His instinct and habit were to seek and find
fellowship with every one. In this he was a type of the
age — its wars are its passing accidents, and its essential
movement is toward peace.

He shared to the full the characteristic misfortune of
the time — an overactivity which reacts in weakness and
suffering. To this was due the strand of torture which
was interwoven with the later half of his life. He felt
too the want of assured religious faith which is in the air
of this transition time. The poor Catholic who lay dying
near him had something which he lacked. But for him,
as for many men of our age, the want of spiritual faith
was not chieily due to intellectual perplexities, — it was
due rather to the walls which his unresting action built
up, shutting off the soul from free communion with the
eternal. " Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our
heart is unquiet until it rests in Thee." That rest cannot
be fully felt except as the soul learns passivity and self-

Online LibraryGeorge Spring MerriamThe life and times of Samuel Bowles → online text (page 37 of 48)