Jared Sparks.

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style as to show that he was free from eccentrici-
ty, and observant of what was passing, and yet suf-
ficiently wedded to old usages not wholly to sur-
render a regard to comfort. His manners were
cordial and delicate, with less of formality than
was commonly seen in our ancestors of the high-
est class.

An attempt has here been made to give some
account of one of our public men of the last cen-
tury. Very little has been insisted upon as consti-
tuting the prominent qualities of his character, or
the leading principles of his conduct ; but, for the
most part, the reader has been left to estimate hit
powers, motives, and general cast of mind, as he
would do those of one who, to a certain extent,

IX.— 13



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194 AMEBIOAN BIOOBAPHY.

had been broaght under his own observation. lat-^
tie has been said of him in his private relations;,
and there were points in his intellectual character
which could not be known dearly but to those
who were personally acquainted with him. A few
recollections of him are added, as he appeared in
advanced age, and which are chiefly illustrative of
a studious and contemplative mind, moved and di-
rected by religious principle.

The first thing to be observed is, that his char-
acter was not the growth of an originally well-
ordered spirit, or of inborn meekness, nor shaped
by propitious circumstances in his outward con-
dition. It bore the marks of habitual self -in-
spection and self -resistance. And, from his own
account, this discipline was not very seriously
commenced till somewhat late in life. The most
signal triumph in this warfare was over pride in
all its forms and directions. Humility was the
virtue which he seemed to prize as the most com-
prehensive and most productive. The contest was
not chiefly against thinking highly of himself in
comparison with others ; for he was not accustom-
ed to make such comparisons. His effort was
to bring every thought and desire into subjec-
tion before Ood, and to find security and motive
in a fixed sense of his deficiencies and his obli-
gations. It is not easy to giye an idea of the
infiuence of this constant study of humility. It



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WILLIAM ELLEBY. 195

was his light and strength. It cleared and simpli-
fied the purpose of human life. It gave him more
and more the command of his faculties, and the
exercise of his affections, and the power of de-
voting himself to duty. It enahled him to mod-
erate his expectations, to meet events without sur-
prise, and to value what was good to its height. It
showed him of how little worth are too many of
our favorite objects, how ignorantly we estimate
calamities, on what false principles men are com-
monly pronounced great, and how monstrous is ar-
rogance or oppression in a mortal.

This moral warfare, though strict and unremit-
ted, never threw an air of constraint or austerity
upon his intercourse with others, as is sometimes
the case with men the most conscientious, but of
weak minds or morbid dispositions, who dread the
approach of sin the moment they fall into the
natural current of their affections. His whole
manner was marked with decision, composure, and
ease. It seemed as if his spirits were kept elas-
tic by his constant guard over them, and that he
became more truly what nature had formed him
to be, by what some might call his resistance of
nature. His very kindness and gentleness had
none of the inertness of mere good temper, but
were animated by an active, cherished principle of
love, which discriminated its objects and was all
alive for the happiness ^of another. With the ut-



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196 AMEBIOAN BIOOBAPHT.

most variety in his familiar conversatioii, one never
felt, that in its transitions, its mirth, its gravity,
the tone of his mind was undergoing great changes,
and that he was putting ofE one character to assume
another. The elements were mingled and the same
spirit prevailed. In the midst of important reflec*
tions and occupations, he could amuse himself with
a certain perception of the ludicrous, or descend to
what passes for levity ; and yet the feeling of rev-
erence or seriousness was not lessened in himself or
others. Without confounding things, he made no
false rule of separating those, which he could not
find to be hostile.

As moral motives and restraints increase intd-
lectual power, we may ascribe to these in part his
activity of mind to the last day of his long life, as
well as the constant employment which he imposed
upon himself as a duty. He held himself responsi-
ble for the right application of his powers and
means for the acquisition of wisdom; taking the
word in its widest sense. He did not call one men-
tal exercise an amusement, and another a study, to
indicate that one only was useful and involved obli-
gation ; but, in the lighter and severer occupations
of his life, he sought equally to keep in mind, that
he was to do or obtain some good.

In the pursuit of truth, he seemed more anxious
for the certainty, than the amount or variety of re-
sults. It was no evidence, however, that he thought



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WILLIAM ELLERY. 197

he had attained to certainty^ because he gave over
farther study of a subject. For, though reluctant
to leave a point unsettled and own that it was be-
yond his power, yet he could believe, that, as to
himself at least, the bounds of knowledge were set,
and thus it became a duty to acquiesce even in
ignorance. He was not fond of indulging in con-
jectures, that he might fill the void where he
had in vain looked for satisfying truth; nor was
he unhappy because of the uncertainties, which
cannot be cleared up in an imperfect state of
being.

His method of investigating subjects was to fol-
low them into their minutest particulars and rela-
tions ; not at all to exercise his ingenuity or amuse
a speculative turn of mind, but because it gratified
his curiosity; and, moreover, patient examination
was necessary for him to arrive at results, which
some appear to command by instant inspection ;
or, at any rate, the strength of his convictions de-
pended upon his seeing the whole ground. He
could refine and discriminate without being vision-
ary, or undecided, or taking only partial views ; and,
if he was fond of particulars, he did not stop at
them. There was something almost characteristic
in his good judgment, his reasonable way of look-
ing at any subject, and assisting others to find out
what they should think and do in any doubtful
case. No one after consulting him would say.



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198 AMERICAN BIOGBAPHY.

How original are his opinions, how shrewd, unex-
pected, or oracular. It appeared rather as if both
parties had been deliberately passing over some fa-
miliar ground and recalling their experience, than
carefally judging of something wholly new; so
calm and well-weighed were his thoughts, and so
connected and complete the consideration he gave
to the matter.

His feelings, and wishes, and every extraneous
or accidental circumstance, were as if they did not
exist, in his sober-minded search of truth. Or
rather, the very influences, that are most apt to mis-
lead, did but sound the alarm to him to be single-
hearted ; and his power of discerning was only made
the keener, if he had the least apprehension that
his examination might be crossed by any thing
foreign to the subject before him. Thus, as an
adviser, he not only inspired confidence and threw
light upon the present question, but indirectly he
taught one the true mode of inquiry whenever
he should be in doubt He had the plainest com-
mon sense, and the most prudent judgment in com-
mon affairs; and not so much from having lived
long in the world, as from his right temper of
mind and his habit of going far into the reason of
things.

Still there was often something in his method
of pursuing truth, or defending a position, or treat-
ing the opinions of another, which, to one not



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WILLIAM ELLEBY. 199

well acquainted with him, might argue nnfairness
or unreasonableness. This was particularly the
case when he was amusing himself with the efforts
of his antagonist, or seeing how many aspects a
subject might have to different minds, especially
if disturbed by opposition. He loved, when he
found a man easily satisfied with his own views
of a subject, to state, in the most innocent manner
possible, some difficulties which he had himself
encountered, and saw no way to overcome, and
probably deemed invincible. Thus a vulgar error,
perhaps, or some established phrase or saying,
which appeared to him to have no meaning, and
yet led others to think that in using it they said
and meant a great deal, was iraexpectedly brought
into suspicion ; and topics of a far graver charac*
ter were seen to have difficulties, which had es-
•caped a careless eye, or a too easy faith. To ar-
rest another^s mind suddenly by verbal distinctions
or fatal doubts is not commonly thought to be a
very amiable mode of manifesting a love of truth ;
•but in him it was exceedingly amusing, and always
of service to others. The most vexatious point
in his character as a disputant was, that he would
not be prevailed upon to say distinctly that he was
defeated. But a man is not always convinced be*
cause he has no more to say ; and some might be
rash enough to think that a principle was over*
thrown, because its advocate had surrendered.



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200 AMEBIOAN BIOQBAPHY.

He was, no doubt, thought by many to be a
man of strong prejudices, and to take pleasure in
differing from others; both from his tenacity,
where he had once made up his mind, and from his
reluctance to receive what was current, or reprobate
what was not, till he had looked into it himself.
Many would charge him with holding opinions
because he did not condemn them, or of rejecting
them when he was only on the search. As soon
as one came to understand him and his methods
of proceeding, the utmost confidence was felt in
the faithfulness of his inquiries, and the sincerity of
his convictions. Besides, it was seen, that he did
not expect or wish others to adopt opinions as his.
On the contrary, while you admired the compla-
cency of his own assurance, you knew that it was
only to be gained for yourself by examination as
fair and thorough as his; no matter whither your
inquiry might lead you. He would not think the
worse of you for coming to a different result from
himself; and he cared nothing for a man's agree-
ing with him, unless he saw that he did so from
the work, which his own mind had done. How
was truth to be helped by the multitude of wit-
nesses repeating each other ?

This honesty or fairness of his mind was its
great distinction, and an explanation of his char-
acter. It was a proof of his moral and intellect-
ual vigor. It was the fruit of a victory in which



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WILLIAM ELLERT. 201

we could see what had been resisted. It was a
religions principle. It ran through all bis studies
.and experience, restraining him from injastice,
and compelling him to condemn injustice; open-
ing the way through ancient errors of whatever
kind, and for the admission of light from what-
ever quarter; and making it absolutely impossible
that he should be a partisan or idolater in any
thing.

He was not anxious to proclaim his sentiments.
He could enjoy them by himself. It was a great
point to be satisfied in his own mind, and this was
a duty that he and every man owed to himself.
It brought serenity, and gave motive and confi-
dence to further research. As the minds of men
were so variously constituted, the declaration of
his private judgments might be of little moment
It was of far greater importance to put others
upon doing what none can do for them ; procuring
the peace and assurance of an intelligent faith in
all things. And as his own mental habits and
state were the result of discipline, he was taught
forbearance. He knew the difficulties of truth,
and the warring principles in man ; and if himself
immovable, he yet judged not others. For a man
of decided character, he was remarkably gentle and
unreproving.

His kindness and warmth of affection may be
seen in his intercourse with his young connexions.



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202 AMEBIOAN BIOGBAPHY.

They were not sent to him to learn wisdom, nor
did he court them, and seek to increase his
honors by the number of his youthful disciples.
There was no outward fascination, and nothing
unusual in his modes of life. A plain man in
years, living in retirement, and obtruding his wish-
es and opinions upon no one, drew the young to
him as if he were their dependence; and they
felt that they owed to him, not only some of their
best- remembered seasons of pleasure, but, in no
small degree, the direction and coloring of their
thoughts.

He was connected with their minds, not as a
sage authority to be recalled to sanction an opin-
ion, or as a repository of doctrines from which
they were to draw ; for in any new train of reflec-
tions, which they could not possibly trace to him,
his image was likely to be revived, his probable
view of the subject to be suggested, his provoking
objections, his moderate approval, his pretended
misconception, and his sincere interest. He was
not their teacher, but their elder companion. He
never talked to them about himself, unless the sub-
ject or some pertinent story made it unavoidable;
and this abstemiousness on a point, where the old
are apt to be self-indulgent, was owing to his good
taste and his preference of other matter, and not
to his being for ever on his guard against the com^
mon infirmity of age.



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WILLIAM ELLEBY. 203

The desire to serve theaiy though uppermost in
his mindy had little or nothiug to do with the terms
on which they met ; and it was so with his pater-
nal love for them, which never interfered with
their coming together as equals. Not, however,
that there was a treaty or secret understanding,
that for the time there was to be no dignity on
one side and no deference on the other; but be-
cause all thought of form was lost in perfect kind-
ness of feeling, and in the satisfaction of talking
freely, and getting all the good and pleasure pos-
sible from observing the processes of youthful
minds, and listening to the experience and ma-
tured judgments of an elder one. And even here
it was observable, that, with all his experience
and maturity, his conversation was far from being
a repetition of some old lesson of life; for his
mind was freshly exercised upon the immediate
topic, and his thoughts, however ripened, had every
mark of recentness.

He had no anxiety to conceal from the young
his imperfections and mistakes, and certainly no
wish to pass for more than he was worth. This
was not the way to make them value truth, or
understand human life, or do justice to his opin-
ions or advice. He was without reserve on all
points where he thought his experience could do
them any good. If they were engaged in studies
that were little familiar to him, he would do what



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204 AM££ICAN BIOOSAPUY.

be could to keep company with them, and eu-
courage them to talk about any thing that occu-
pied them, and invite them in their turn to enter
with him into his own favorite inquiries, so that
nothing should separate them or weaken their in-
timacy.

He would read the new literary works they
praised, however uncongenial they might be with
his early and abiding preferences, and sometimes
show very little respect to the passages they ad-
mired, till it seemed to be growing a matter of
serious difference ; but it ended with amusing ex-
planations or concessions; and perhaps they had
been taught, however roughly, that such was their
own way of using those, who differed from them
on the all-important questions of taste. His own
line of active duties presented little for a letter
or conversation, and was accordingly but little
spoken of; but their engagements always offered
something for inquiry, encouragement, sympathy,
or advice; and when he saw any thing to blame,
he spoke plainly and earnestly, and suffered no
weakness of affection to conceal or impair the
force of what he thought it his duty to say. If
they n^lected his admonitions and disappointed
his expectations, his regret was unmingled with
selfishness, and his affection unabated. They might
need it the more.

The great charm of this familiar intercourse



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WILLIAM ELLERY. 205

with him may be found in the naturalness of his
character and manners. His society gave one the
feeling of home; and when separated from him,
a letter or the remembrance of him was like restor-
ing one to his home. All his experience of men,
his studies, his sufferings, his settled devotional feel-
ing, his decided tone of sentiment, his deliberate
consideration of subjects, and his weight of years,
impaired not in the least the frankness, the humor,
the simplicity of his conversation, or his power
of self-forgetfulness, and of entering heartily into
whatever belonged to the present moment.

It will not be thought strange, then, that in his
death he should have been mourned more than the
young ; and that even at this late day, in attempt-
ing to speak of him as a public man, the private,
domestic interest of former years has so clung to
me, that I have felt much more as if I were with
him at his fireside, than relating the little that is
known of his active life.



THB EKD.



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Online LibraryJared SparksAmerican biography → online text (page 12 of 12)