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1829 =— 189^





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BORN MARCH 30, 1829
DIED APRIL 19, 1892



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-^^g^^^HEN those we love die, even after
5^\V/"^ we may have attained to resignation
i Vt rf) and risen to meet again the duties
"■"^SS^^^ and endearments that remain to us

in our visible world, there linger within our hearts
a craving and an unrepose until our eulogies
have supplied — so far as mere words can — full
definition and appraisement of our loss, and justi-
fied our love and sorrow.

Those whose values have been large in civil
affairs have sometimes been finest, best, in rela-
tions of which the civic world can say but little.
Not any one voice or semichorus from any one
direction can or should satisfy the ear of those
who mourn them most. The total dues of their
praise can issue only from the full chords of all
relationships. Such was he to whose memory

Roswell Smith

are offered these pages gathered from the tributes
of many friends and lovers.

Roswell Smith was born on the thirtieth of
March, 1829. His birthplace, the small town
of Lebanon, in southeastern Connecticut, is situ-
ated in a thickly settled region of great natural
beauty. The clear, rocky streams of the Yantic,
the Thames, and lesser waters, hurrying among
its green, stone-walled hills, slender woods and
fence-rows and flowery meadows, yield abundant
mill-power to a strong-armed, strong-minded
population habituated from long-gone genera-
tions to give their best energies, in material as
well as in intangible things, to the development
of their secondary and higher values. North-
ward and southward from it, an easy hour's drive
either way, shine by summer day and winter
night the countless factory windows of Willi-
mantic and Norwich.

In Lebanon, among other venerated homes,
stands the house of that Trumbull family so
notedly related — with Washington's "Brother
Jonathan" at its head — to so much that was
good and best in the State's and the nation's
Revolutionary and later politics and art; and in
this home, his father having acquired it, Roswell

Roswell Smith

Smith passed his boyhood. His father was a
man of strong integrity, his mother quietly faith-
ful to every virtue of her sphere. They held by
long inheritance, and even with something of
their ancestors' rigid scrupulosity and literal faith,
the Puritan habit of mind. Industry of hand
and of mind ; fidelity ; rigorous justice in all re-
lations ; prudence of purse and of word — with,
possibly, an implied mistrust of poetic impulses
and an approbation of emotional reticence; moral
courage and indignation ; a reverence for the
Bible as the only and perfect word of God ; the
common-school education of the day : these they
sought to bestow upon their son as the true and
sufficient equipment with which to take his place
in the world of human affairs.

Such was the mold on its various sides — na-
ture, society, household, and moral training — in
which his life took its early form and features.
Those whose first acquaintance with him began
after he had entered manhood have to confess it
equally difficult to think of him either as a bois-
terous, prankish boy or as a sad or soft-mannered
lad given to books and reverie. Cheerful, dig-
nified, and sententious he undoubtedly was, and
that incessant diligence of mind and purpose so

Roswell Smith

prominent in his strong, kind, adult life must
have shown itself early, and made mere play the
slender, handsome youth's least interesting and
most difficult work. Certainly such was the la-
ment of his nearest friends concerning him when
in later years a stronger capability for pure diver-
sion might have prolonged his days and his use-
fulness. Whether it came by birth, environment,
training, or all, to plan work was his true play.
He began each day with plans as spontaneously
and unlaboriously as birds begin it with songs.
He was not incapable of momentary desponden-
cies, but they were never narrowed to mere self-
concern ; he seemed scarcely to know at all the
cares of this world. But that divine thing, the
care of this world, was ever on his ardent heart;
and this care, with the redundant fertility of the
plans that were forever springing from it, gave,
or gives now, certainly, fine and ample inter-
pretation to what, in his youth, seemed to his
solicitous father first a premature restlessness, and
then a tardy vacillation, in the son's choice of a

It is but just to say that his going into com-
mercial employment when scant fourteen, serv-
ing "a brief apprenticeship with the publishers ot

Ro swell Smith

the school-books of his uncle Roswell C. Smith,
in New York," was no choice of his. This was
the only time in his life that he was ever an
employee. It was against his nature so to be.
Many a day of his early manhood this lack —
this noble deficiency, if we may so call it — cost
him dear, yet served him well ; and he who knew
so well how to be generously just and wisely
kind to employees of every rank, professional,
commercial, industrial, domestic, could fairly
boast through all his life with the amplest range
of significance, standing in the world's market-
place, " No man hath hired me." He was a
maste'' workman born, and seems to have felt
it when, at seventeen, he pleaded for a better
education, and turned back again by eager pref-
erence to studies and school, "taking up and
finishing the English course in Brown Univer-
sity." Here was no uncertainty of will, but a
swift widening of his young grasp upon life and
the world's affairs.

With a ruling impulse not only to conceive
and to carry out large designs, but to view and to
do all things largely, Roswell Smith had also
in strong degree the knowledge of how to wait
and the courage to change his course. His


Roswell Smith

waiting was observant, purposeful, diligent,
never supine ; and his turning aside from a
mistaken path was invariably prompt and with-
out a note of chagrin. His changes of direction
were not changes of purpose. From the uni-
versity in Providence he went to Hartford and
studied law. Here and thus early he began to
show the deep interest and to take the active
practical part in distinctly religious work and af-
fairs which were ever afterward a part of his life.
Here lived his uncle Roswell C. Smith, within
whose social and household circles he came
into range of some especially refining and in-
spiring influences, chief among them the com-
panionship ot his uncle's daughter, his beloved
" sister-cousin," as he always regarded her. In
the company of his uncle he was brought for
the second time into close contact with the idea
of making and publishing books, and seems to
have consciously caught somewhat of its in-

In Hartford lived also some of the distin
guished Ellsworth family, and among them, also,
he made acquaintances and one or two positive
friendships, which presently were to have a con-
trolling effect upon the current of his life. Ex-


Roswell Smith

Governor Ellsworth and his household were here,
and his brother Henry L. Ellsworth, the first
United States Commissioner of Patents, had
gone into the West, entered large tracts of
Government land in Illinois, and in Lafayette,
Indiana, had set up, after the fashion of the
times, a law- and land-office. Here his business
soon developed the need of an assistant, and
through the medium of one or two ot the kin-
dred still resident in Hartford the place was
offered to Roswell Smith.

The young law-student promptly accepted
it. To him it is altogether likely this was no
departure from an appointed course. With
all his planning he never overplanned — never
planned too elaborately nor too fast. He be-
lieved in the coming greatness of our country ;
he felt the movings of his own still unperfected
powers; and he was full of that strong common
sense which seizes unforeseen occasion as it
hurries by, and distinguishes between the false
and the real opportunity under all their dis-
guises. He could act as quickly as he could
wait patiently.

His purposes, never hard and fixed, always
had a greatness which spanned the waves ot

Roswell Smith

impatience with an even keel. His designs,
even his yearnings, — and his yearnings were not
tew, — took ever calmly into account the whole
wide current of universal interests ; the world,
to him, was never less than round, and yet never
had an unseen side. He "waited God's leisure,"
and matched it with his own alacrity. To be out
of partnership with God in time seemed to him
as idle and as evil as to be so in purpose. Time-
liness — the divine moment — was as much
to his mind as the divine direction. He will
always be remembered as a man of enterprise ;
and yet the only "when" of his profoundest
choice concerning any most cherished project
or undesired happening, was Thomas Jefferson's
solemn " When in the course of human events
it becomes necessary." Looking back on sixty
years of life, he was able, one birthday night, to
say, " I never ran away from a duty, and I
never ran after one."

If it were the purpose of these pages to lay
main stress on what Roswell Smith did or what
befell him, we might not so early begin thus to
linger by the way while the narrative waits;
but to those for whom this is written, what he
was must ever be most of all. He " never


Roswell Smith

ran after a duty." And so, with all his strength
of will, his energy of purpose, and his fertil-
ity of suggestion in every direction, he never
showed the shadow of a fanatical or oppressive
tendency. He loved to direct and govern; he
probably never got near enough to anyone, how-
ever high or low of station, to call him friend,
without planning for him ; but the directing
and governing he loved were never built on the
reduction of liberty anywhere, but always on
liberty conveyed or enlarged. Another's respon-
sibility was distinctly more to him than his own
wealth ; his very suggestions ceased wherever
their utterance could in the least degree re-
semble interference, and his ability to let those
to whom he had delegated any power or office
win successes, and even make failures costly to
him, while he looked on in silence, seemed
almost a separate talent. He never forgot that
responsibility and liberty make, together, the
vital breath of all efficient service.

It was natural that such a mind should be
deeply religious. It could not easily suppose
an unplanned and automatic universe ; nor a
revelation of its Creator's will finished in past
ages and totally committed and confined to

Roswell Smith

writing and print; nor a Providence either
unsolicitous for, or wholly undeputized to, the
children of its creation. The sacred Scriptures,
daily in his hand, were to him a treasury not so
much of promises as of eternal principles ; their
precepts were prophecy enough for him.

One day, in Indiana, traveling on horseback
in company with a stranger who, he had just
been told, was a hot-tempered skeptic, he took
pains, by quoting the Bible, to draw from him a
fierce assertion of total disbelief of the whole
book — " every word of it."

" But that is not really so," he persisted ; " you
actually do believe a great deal of it."

The stranger challenged him fiercely to repeat
anything whatever from Scripture which he, the
stranger, would admit to be true.

" Well," was the reply, "don't you believe 'a
soft answer turneth away wrath' '? "

The man, with restored good nature, said he
did, and his companion closed the discussion
with the advice, " Search the Scriptures for what
you can't deny, and keep its commandments
when you can't honestly break them."

When Roswell Smith, years afterward, visited
the same region again, a man prominent in the


Roswell Smith

church and community for piety and good
works said to him, " I am the man whom you
once reminded that the Bible is good for what
we already believe in it."

In Roswell Smith's belief — at least in the
assumption of his daily life, whether he ever so
formulated the belief or not — divine revelation
was continuous and familiar. He read, as it
seemed to him, on the ever-turning pages of
his own life's constant happenings, God's daily
will and plan concerning his very self; and
whether on the page of Scripture or on that of
daily incident, his eye was ever in search not of
God's permissions, but commissions. Baffled
in any project, his cheerful, quick interpretation
was sure to be, " The Lord did not want it done
that way."

It is somewhat strange that there should be
so little to recount of the social life of one so
full of human feeling. But we know how often
men appointed by nature to wide public use-
fulness show but a moderate zeal for private
society, or are tardy even in the domestic im-
pulses. For Roswell Smith the pleasures of
mere social acquaintanceships and activities
were not deep enough to satisfy, even in young


Roswell Smith

manhood, his kindly, strenuous temperament,
his overflowing fullness of beneficent purpose.
He was very soon too busy seeking the world's
good, to seek, at all busily, its company. And
this, especially in his earlier Indiana days, a
rather rude fraction of the world near about
him could not quite forgive.

But of home, household, and friends he was a
true and intense lover. He married before he
was twenty-three. In this alliance there is yet
another hint of that largeness with which the
lines of his opening life were being projected.
We have seen how, from boyhood, he had been
related to one of the world's most far-reaching
methods of enlightenment, and had acquired
by contact, if not by inheritance, the ruling de-
sire to measure the field of his usefulness by no
narrower bound than the whole province of the
printing-press and its marvelous adjuncts. His
uncle was the author, his father the seller, of
a group of school-books, " Smith's Grammar "
among them, which in that day were found in
the hands .of a larger number of teachers and
school-children than was any similar work save
only the world-renowned Webster's spelling-
book. His removal to Indiana brought him


RosweU Smith

under the roof, as a member of the household,
of Commissioner Ellswordi, the first head of that
great national office whose stimulating rewards
have done so much to make Americans the
most inventive nation in the world. From
this household death had removed the wife
and mother, and the daughter was absent in
the East when RosweU Smith became one of
its number. It was some months before the
daughter returned. When she did so, expecting
to be met at the station by her father, in his
stead she saw awaiting her the young stranger,
tall, slender, forceful, and exceptionally hand-
some, so well known to her by report, but
hitherto unconsidered and unseen. Realizing
that they were to be almost the sole inmates
of one small house together, the question must
have been uppermost in the mind of each, what
degree and phase of intimate relation they would
find best and most tolerable. But so looking
each on each, in the same moment, — as many
a time, in after years, they reverently confessed
to each other, — the word came to her heart,
" Yonder stands my destiny," and to his, " I am
for that maiden and she for me." They came
at once, at the family board, by the fireside,


Roswell Smith

under the summer vine or evening lamp, in
readings together, in musings side by side, daily
and hourly, into congenial companionship sur-
rounded by a state of society that could offer
very little such to either of them ; and it was
with a significance as happy as the event was
natural that in his choice of a wife his love
fixed here upon Annie, granddaughter of the
illustrious Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice of the
United States Supreme Court, the young girl
by whose hand that famous first electro-tele-
graphic message was sent, between Baltimore
and Washington, across the inventor Morse's
wire, "What hath God wrought I " In her
Roswell Smith found a spirit ever wifely, sym-
pathetic, and supremely faith-giving and loyal.
Prompt and highly trained in all the real duties
of the social world, the pleasures of her fullest
choice were yet, as his were, those gentler ones
that are found nearest the hearthstone. The fire-
side companionship with which their common
life began was still very much the largest part
of it when his death brought it to an earthly
end ; and in forty wedded years, says the one
best able to know, he never spoke an unkind
word to the partner of his life.


RosweU Smith

Their early pathway led through many sharp
vicissitudes. They trod upon the stones and
thorns of poverty. The world — fortunate if
not one's kindred, too — charges (maybe it
is best it should) a heavy entrance-fee to an
exalted spirit rich in self-reliance but poor in
material resources. The people among whom
the young pair chose, or found, their lot were
more than willing to let the husband feel, even
professionally and pecuniarily, that if they were
not of his kind it was at least partly his misfor-
tune. Neither law nor land business brought
him more than the most meager returns. When
they found it best to set up their own home, the .
total cost of the house they built was five hun-
dred dollars. Here children were born to them:
children that brought them joy for a time and
then died, only one, a daughter, surviving. The
husband's health gave way ; one lung was said
to be quite gone; the wife, too, was feeble, and,
turning all his means into a few hundred dol-
lars, he started with the mother and child for
San Antonio, Texas, the refuge of consump-
tives. At New Orleans, waiting for a promised
remittance from his father, he became absolutely
penniless. But concealing his distress from his


Roswell Smith

delicate wife, and walking in the streets the bet-
ter to keep it to himself, he chanced upon two
men whom he had slightly known in Indiana,
who were bound, as he was, for the Rio Grande,
and who, having more money on their persons
than they thought it safe to carry, without know-
ing anything of his strait, begged him to take
care of it. He told them, thereupon, his whole
case, and arranged with them to be the bor-
rower instead of custodian of their money, and
so reached his destination.

The air of San Antonio proved unfavorable ;
but when he went upon a ranch some distance
further north, and began in that wild region
to live entirely out of doors, his health and
vigor, that had seemed wholly lost, completely
returned, and he presently found his life threat-
ened not subtly, by disease, but wordily, by
men from whom he would not conceal that he
favored the abolition of slavery.

His affairs by and by called him back to La-
fayette, and he resumed business there under
new conditions that made marked changes in
his fortunes. He only partly resumed the
profession of the law, acting as counselor, but
never again pleading in court. The death of


Roswell Smith

his wife's father filled his hands with new inter-
ests both hers and his. Some of the lands still
retained turned out, or had turned out already
before falling to their inheritance, to be rich in
coal. Certain family matters required him to
revisit the East, and while there he quite ac-
cidentally became most pleasantly acquainted
with Dr. J. G. Holland and his family. Re-
turning to the West, the burden of his swiftly
growing affairs was again bearing seriously upon
him — for he had not only intricate and perplex-
ing financial problems to meet, but the active
opposition of strong and hostile wills to over-
come — when, on a visit to Cincinnati compelled
by business, he fell ill again, this time of typhoid
fever, and was soon to all appearances nearer
than ever to the brink of the grave. But just
at that brink the path of life turned sharply and
led into wider fields; for the noted physician
who attended him assured him he could not
live in the climate of the Ohio Valley, and ex-
acted from him a solemn pledge, while his re-
covery was yet in doubt, that if his life was
spared he would leave that region and settle
permanently in the East.

This promise, as soon as his strength would

4 17

Roswell Smith

allow, he set about to fulfil. He made final
surrender of the profession of law, turned his
land business over to others, and, in order to
a more complete recuperation, arranged for a
tour of Europe. This juncture of his life is re-
markable. The great work which is now his
monument lay yet in the germ. The choicest
wish of his nature, the desire to concentrate all
his powers to the dissemination of right ideas
through the medium of the printed page, was
taking the form of a definite purpose, but the
purpose was almost totally without plan; and
when in after life he looked back to this period,
he seemed to himself to have been, just here,
more passively than ever before or after, guided
by what some of us call fate, but he, Providence.
But a strong, clear purpose, always timely,
patient, and courageous, can afford to let the
turn of events shape its plans. To Roswell
Smith the turn of events was the very text
of God's commission. He tried simply to read
and obey.

He was now in his fortieth year, a man's
second majority, and was not only commis-
sioned, but equipped, accoutred. He had seen
at close view the three great sections of our


RosweU Smith

vast country, and been a sagacious and sympa-
thetic student of their diverse conditions and
interests. He had been for nearly twenty years
a lawyer, had shown himself a financier of rare
skill, had a most thorough knowledge of men,
both intuitive and acquired, was as free from
cynicism as from credulity, and with the fresh-
ness of a natural bent still retained, from the
days of his boyhood's three years' apprenticeship
in the New York publishing-house and from his
later contact with his father and uncle, a habit-
ual studious scrutiny of the field and methods
of the publisher's business. "Even when we
first sat together by my father's fireside," says
she who was then Annie Ellsworth, "constant
readers of the comparatively slender 'Harper's
Magazine ' of those times, he always read and
handled it with speculative scrutiny as to how
it was made and sent forth, and how it might
be made or sent forth better." And the daugh-
ter of their early married life says, " I cannot
remember ever having seen my father, even in
church, take up an unfamiliar book without, by
a kind of only half-conscious instinct, passing
his eye and hand over the various features of its
workmanship, first the outward, then the in-


RosweU Smith

ward, and turning last to the title-page and
publisher's imprint."

Moreover, he was now, at length, abundantly
able to put aside the Franklinian counsel given
him by his uncle when he was starting West,
and which he still quoted with approval thirty
years afterward, "Keep your own bank-account,
if you have to borrow money to do it." For he
had gathered a more than comfortable fortune.
How essential this was to the effectiveness of
a man of his peculiar sort he knew full well.
While always abounding in a fraternal spirit
that was ever ready with the word of apt and
kindly counsel, and which kept the hand of ma-
terial succor constantly outstretched to others,
his nature could never allow him to be for a
moment, in whatever manner, the younger bro-
ther of any man. Beyond doubt this quality, in
the years of his adversity, stood in the way of an
earlier but less illustrious success.

Nevertheless, Roswell Smith had in rare de-
gree tlie gift of choosing wisely all needed asso-
ciates, whether equals or subordinates. He was
a man of energetic instincts, and had a cordial
belief in them. Except a certain fierceness in

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Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableA memory of Roswell Smith → online text (page 1 of 4)