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S. Teackle (Severn Teackle) Wallis.

Discourse on the life and character of George Peabody, delivered ... February 18, 1870 .. online

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i'ul)U5hf il by the i'cabottii Institute.



DISCOURSE



ON THE



LIFE AND CHARACTER



GEORGE PEABODY.



BY SEVERN TEACKLE WALLIS.



UCSB LIBRARY



DISCOURSE



ON THE



LIFE AND CHARACTER



GEORGE PEABODY,

DELIVERED IN

THE HALL OF THE PEABODY INSTITUTE,
BALTIMORE, FEBRUARY 18, 1870,

AT THE KEQUEST OF THE TRUSTEES,



BY SEVERN TEACKLE WALLIS,

A MEMBER OF THE BOARD.



nsthnle.



BALTIMORE:
PRINTED BY JOHN MURPHY & Co.

1870.



At a Meeting of the Trustees of the Peabody Institute
of the City of Baltimore, held on the 6th of November,
1869, the following Preamble and Resolutions were adop-
ted:

WHEREAS, The telegraph brought to us yesterday morning the sad
tidings that our good friend and patron, George Peabody, died the night
before at eleven o'clock on Thursday, the 4th of November, in London
where he had recently arrived from his visit to this country, the Trus-
tees of the Institute have been convened to take a record of this event,
and to direct such proceedings as shall properly express the profound
sorrow which it inspires, and render suitable honor to the memory of
the illustrious founder of the corporation that has been committed to their
charge. Therefore

Resolved, That in the death of George Peabody the civilized world has
lost one of its most generous benefactors, his country an illustrious citizen
whose active benevolence will long be remembered in the wise and noble
institutions which he has planned and founded for the good of the nations,
and his numerous friends on both sides of the Atlantic a most cherished
companion, whose life has been illustrated and adorned by the constant
practice of the most conspicuous probity, charity and good will to man-
kind.

Resolved, That this Board have received the intelligence of his death
with an emotion rendered more poignant by their experience of the
benefits they have enjoyed, in their peculiar personal relations to him,
as a friend in whose intercourse they were accustomed to find a kindly



iv



and effective co-operation in the performance of the duties assigned to
them, and the most valuable aid, both in counsel and resources, for the
advancement of the design of the Institute.

Resolved, That in token of respect for his memory the Institute be
closed until Monday, and that it be suitably draped with badges of
mourning, to be retained one month.

Resolved, That the Board make provision for a suitable eulogy on the
life and character of the deceased, to be pronounced in the Hall of the
Institute at a day hereafter to be determined, of which notice shall be
given to the public.

Resolved, That S. Teackle "Wallis, Esq. be invited to deliver the eulogy
on the life and character of Mr. Peabody provided for in the foregoing
resolution.

Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed by the Chair to
carry the above resolutions into effect, and that they be also authorized
to co-operate with any public bodies, in the city or State, who may desire
to unite with the Trustees of the Peabody Institute in paying a proper
tribute of respect to the memory of the late George Peabody.



DISCOURSE.



ON the 12th of February, thirteen years ago,
the Founder of this Institute committed to
the hands of his selected agents the noble
gift, which, under his accumulating bounty, has
since swollen to more than four times its original
amount. Upon the same day, year after year,
the Trustees whom he so honored have been wont
to render him an account of . their stewardship,
and renew to him the expression of their reverent
affection and gratitude. Some months after our
last annual address to him, we shared, with our
fellow-citizens, the pleasure of seeing him again
among us in person, full, not only of increasing
sympathy with the purposes of this Foundation,
but of abounding munificence to serve them.
Although the hand of disease was then heavy
upon him, there was, we thought, reason for the
hope that he might be spared for many years,
to see the growth of the good seed which he had
2



10

planted in so many places. We especially looked
forward to the return of our anniversary, that we
might testify, by some public and appropriate
recognition, our sense of his untiring bounty and
his cordial personal confidence and kindness.
But blessed as his work on earth was, it had
been accomplished, and a higher reward was near
him than even an old age, beloved of God and
man. We shall never look upon his kindly face
again, nor shall his lips speak charity and wisdom,
any more, to us. The thousands of little children
who were gathered round him, as about a father's
knees, when he graced the dedication of this build-
ing with his presence, will tell to their own chil-
dren how the eyes of the good man filled and his
kind voice faltered, as he uttered the last touching
and tender words of counsel, which were among
his worthiest gifts to them. But his venerable
form they must remember, now, among the plea-
sant visions of childhood, which fleeted away too
soon. He is of the past, to them as to us, and
though public sorrow and private affection may
mourn over his departure, there is surely no one
to repine at the thought, that he has passed over
the great gulf, fixed, of old time, between the
rich man and Abraham's bosom.



11

I am here, upon the invitation of my associates
in the Trust which Mr. Peabody created in Bal-
timore, to say something of his life and character.
We had selected, as an appropriate occasion, the
anniversary to which I have alluded. The change
which brings us together to-day, instead, not only
gives us the pleasure of welcoming friends and
co-laborers from a distance, who could not other-
wise have joined us in these offices, but enables
us, "with double pomp of sadness," on the birth-
day of our Founder, to lay our tribute on his
tomb. I regret, unaffectedly, that the duty which
has been assigned to me was not committed, as
I wished, to other hands, for there are those
among my brethren, far better fitted to perform
it, whose age and long and intimate acquaintance
with Mr. Peabody would have given to eulogy
the weight and the force of personal knowledge
and testimony. Except, however, as an expres-
sion of our own and the public feeling and the
doing of a duty as well as a labor of love, it
would seem almost idle for the best of us to say
a word, at this moment. The press of the civi-
lized world has already exhausted on the subject
all the acuteness of analysis and all the fulness
of appreciation and sympathy. Eloquence has



12

poured out upon it the whole wealth of pathos
and illustration. Even governments have found
heart in it for tenderness and reverence, and

"Nations swell the funeral cry."

In the annals of our race, there is no record
of funeral honors, to an uncrowned man, such
as have been rendered to George Peabody. The
story which comes nearest to what we have beheld,
is told by the grandest historian of Rome and
is lighted by the finest touches of his genius.
It follows the widow of Germanicus, across the
wintry seas, as she bore, from Antioch to Rome,
the ashes of her hero. We can almost see the
people crowding to the walls and house-tops, and
thronging the sea-coast, as with slow oars the
silent galleys came. The voice of lamentation
seems to echo round us, as it rose from all the
multitude, when Agrippina landed with her pre-
cious burden, and her sobbing children followed.
The urn is borne to the Imperial City on the
shoulders of centurions and tribunes. Crowds
hasten from afar and weep, in mourning gar-
ments, by the road-sides. Funereal altars smoke
with victims as the sad array goes by, and spices
and perfumes and costly raiment are flung into



13

the flames as offerings. The City streets now
still as death, now loud with bursting sorrow
are thronged with Rome's whole people, and
when, at last, the ashes are at rest in the Au-
gustan Mausoleum, a wail goes up, such as before
had never swept along those marble ways. The
tale which Tacitus has told us of these splendid
obsequies, comes to us, with redoubled grandeur,
through " the corridors of time," and yet its inci-
dents are almost tame to what ourselves have wit-
nessed. The stately ship which bore, across the
waves, the corpse of him we honor, is a marvel
that Rome never dreamed of the proudest con-
voy that ever guarded human ashes. The ocean
which she traversed is an empire, over which the
eagles of Germanicus knew no dominion. The
mighty engines and instruments of war, which
welcomed her, were far beyond the prophecy of
oracle or thought of Sybil. Beside the unseen
power which dragged the funeral -car and cleft the
waters, with its burden, in mastery of the winds,
the might of legions is simple insignificance, and
it seems like trifling to tell of galleys, centurions
and tribunes. Nor is there, in the mourning of
the populace of Rome over one of its broken
idols, a type even of the noble sorrow which has



14

united men of all nations and opinions in their
tribute to our lamented dead. And who shall
speak of Heathen temple or Imperial tomb, in
the same breath with the great Abbey Minster,
where he slept awhile, amid the monuments and
memories of statesmen and warriors, philosophers
and poets, philanthropists and kings where
more of the dust of what was genius and great-
ness is gathered, than ever lay under roof or
stone ? There is something which almost bewil-
ders the imagination, in the thought, that on the
day and at the hour when our own bells were
tolling his death-knell and people stopped to
listen, in the streets, the requiem of the Danvers
boy was pealing through aisle and cloister, thou-
sands of miles away, where funeral song had
rung and censers smoked, whole centuries before
men knew the Continent which was his birth-
place. It seems as if the dirge of to-day were a
reverberation from the ages And when we
reflect how simple the career was, which closed
amid all these honors : how little their subject
had to do with the things which commonly stir
men's bosoms and win the shouts of wonder and
applause, in life or after it : that he was not
great, as men judge greatness: that every badge



15

and trophy of his exceeding triumph was won
by an unconscious and an unstained hand : I
confess it seems to me that the grand, sponta-
neous tributes which have been paid to him, have
beggared the resources, while they have filled the
measure, of panegyric.

We are not required to forget, nor do we dispar-
age the living or the dead by remembering, that
something of this may be due to the peculiar
relations existing, at the moment, between the
countries which divided Mr. Peabody's bounty
and affections. A becoming spirit of manly con-
ciliation, on the one side, and an equally becoming
temper and pride of nationality, upon the other,
have no doubt had their share in these unprece-
dented demonstrations. But there is nothing, in
this, which detracts from the sincerity or impairs
the significance of the homage that either has ren-
dered. It is a new epoch in the history of gov-
ernments, when the cavils of diplomacy and the
mutterings of discord are hushed, even for an
hour, by the spell of a good man's memory, and
it were folly to dispute his place among his kind,
whose death so touched the hearts of two great
nations, that either could call unto the other to
join hands with it across his grave.



16

But while these things, as I have said, appear
to render eulogy idle, they are equally potent, in
making just appreciation difficult. Through so
much that dazzles, it is not easy to look, steadily
and calmly, at the simple life and story which
had so bright an ending. The quiet, systematic
habits, the delving industry, the thrifty shrewd-
ness and world-wisdom, the unsentimental benevo-
lence, of the plain, practical merchant and banker,
who walked among us, like others in his calling,
are hard to deal with, fairly, at this epic stage of
his renown. It seems like belittling the subject
to consider it in the mere light of its realities.
Indeed it requires an effort, at such a time, for
the coldest thinker to divest himself of that enthu-
siasm, whose natural expression is extravagance,
and nothing but a sense of the great wrong which
exaggeration would do, to a memory so far above
it, could persuade a man of ordinary impulse that
it is proper to moderate his words. NOT is it
only the contagion of the hour of homage which
it is difficult to escape. There is something
splendid and attractive in generosity, in all its
forms, and when its scope embraces the larger
needs of humanity, and its resources are almost
as ample as its scope, it carries feeling and



17

imagination away captive. We surround the
life and the memory of the " cheerful giver "
with a halo such as glitters only around conse-
crated heads. The wonder of the crowd is almost
worship, and men deem it half a sacrilege to
seek, in merely human qualities, "the conjura-
tion and the mighty magic " which seem so far
beyond humanity. And yet, to do this only, is
our duty here to-day. We have come to recog-
nize and study, in the common light, the traits
of the man and citizen, George Peabody ; to
consider and teach, if we can, the moral of his
simple, unheroic life. We are to look at him,
as he moved and had his daily being, as if his
features did not live in bronze and no minute-
gun had ever told his burial to the sea. Nay,
it is our business to take from the record of his
career all that tends to impair and falsify its
lesson, by making men despair of rising to his
level. Here, above all other places; with the
sound of his own sturdy teachings scarce dull
upon our ears ; with his simplicity and modesty
his good fellowship and plain dealing fresh in
our remembrance and affection ; with all things
round about us full of what he was and of all
he claimed or cared to be; we should insult his
3



memory, by attempting to add an inch to his
stature. And indeed there is small need of fancy,
in dealing with his story, for scarce anything
in fiction is more strange than the actual prose
of it. The child of poor parents and humble
hopes a grocer's boy at eleven, the assistant
of a country shop-keeper at sixteen he had
reached but middle-life when he was able so to
deal with the resources of the great money- centre
of the world, as to prop, with his integrity and
credit, the financial decadence of whole common-
wealths. Pausing even at that point of his career
a period to which in Maryland our gratitude
so frequently recurs is it not more wonderful
than the legend which delighted our childhood,
the tale of Whittington, citizen and mercer, thrice
Lord Mayor of London? Was it not quite as easy,
beforehand, for our stripling to imagine that he
heard, across the waters, an invitation from Bow
Bells to him, as to conceive that his statue would
be raised, in London streets, while yet he lived,
and be unveiled, with words of reverence and
honor, by the heir-apparent of that mighty empire,
surrounded by its best and noblest? Add to this
what I have before described, and it seems as if
another night had been added to the Thousand
and One.



19

But, as I have said, our business is not with
the wonders. It is with the mind, the heart, the
will, the character which wrought them. These
were the only genii of this story. They, and they
only, did what was done, and neither ring nor
lamp had any part in it. " No man," Carlyle
tells us, " becomes a saint in his sleep," and there
is no greater fallacy than the popular notion
which so often attributes success, in great things,
to luck. There are people, it is true, who stumble
into prosperity and get place and power, by what,
to mortal eye, seems chance. Reputation and the
honors and profits which follow it are now and
then wafted to a man, like thistle-down, for no
better visible reason than that he happens to be
out in the same wind with them. The crowd
attach themselves, often, and cling, with devotion,
to some singularly favored person, as burrs do to
his clothing, simply, as it would appear, because
he walks among them. But what seems does not
necessarily represent what is, and a man must be
hard to convince, if, after having used a micro-
scope once, he be not satisfied, for life, that things
exist and are comprehensible though he may
neither see nor understand them himself. What
therefore may appear to be exceptions to the
general truth, that great results do not spring



20

from insufficient causes, are commonly found to
be strictly within it. In the course of any long
life-time, the logic of cause and effect is apt to
vindicate itself. In this busy, stirring, jostling,
interested modern society of ours, where scarcely
any one occupies a pedestal or even an humbler
place but some one else goes anxiously to work
to dislodge him and get there in his stead, we
seldom find respect or deference, love or admira-
tion, long yielded to a brother, unless there be
that in him which commands them. The world
may dally with its impostors and its charlatans
its trumpery great men, sham heroes and mock
saints and sages for a little while, but they
finally go down, for the most part, into the recep-
tacle the huge Noah's Ark of its spurned and
worthless playthings. The winds of time and
contest blow away the chaff, at last, from the
great grain-floor of humanity a blessed fact, by
the by, which reconciles us to many tempests.
Hemisphere does not cry aloud to hemisphere
about common people. Nations do not mourn
over men who deserve no tears. There was then
something in George Peabody, or about him,
that called for the homage which has been ren-
dered him. What was it ?



21

Not his intellect, certainly for, neither in
capacity nor cultivation, was he above the grade
of thousands of clever men, both here and in
England, in his own and kindred callings. He
had not genius to dazzle, or invention to create.
He had made no discovery in science, or even in
finance. He knew little of art, and had contri-
buted nothing to the stock of what is denominated
"human knowledge." Statesman he was not
nay, not even politician. He had never worn
spur on battle-field : had never filled office, or
wielded power, or sought to be any man's master
but his own. There was not, I repeat, a single
element in him or circumstance in his career, of
those which enter into the common estimate of
greatness. Neither did riches win his name for
him. He was no monopolist, no miracle, of
wealth : for enormous private fortunes are now
constantly acquired, in half such a life-time as
his, and the great marts of the world have men,
far richer than he, whose accumulations have
been gathered just as honestly, just as fortu-
nately, and with quite as much sagacity as his.
Nor does he stand alone in the appropriation of
large means to the good of mankind. The num-
ber of rich men whose testaments dispense the



22

hoards of a lifetime, in works of usefulness, is
very large. The past has left us many well-
known and abiding monuments of such benefi-
cence. True, there is a smack of death-bed
repentance, as well as bounty, in these gifts ; a
confession, at best, of intentions good but reluc-
tant and long smothered by human infirmity.
We cannot help feeling that they sometimes are,
very much, in kind and motive, like the oboltts
which used to be placed between the lips of the
dead, to pay for their safe ferrying across the
infernal waters. But still, they clothe the naked,
feed the hungry, comfort the sick, educate the
poor relieve, in all sorts of ways, the necessities
and afflictions of humanity and those who dis-
pense them deserve well of their race. Though
the good works which "blossom in their dust,"
might have yielded more fragrance under the
culture of their hands, they are good works not-
withstanding, and should be remembered with
charity not less than gratitude as they com-
monly are. But the liberality of rich men is not
always posthumous, and in the mere fact of
giving and giving largely, in his life-time, Mr.
Peabody was by no means singular. The world
is full, I was going to say though that perhaps



23

is stating the case too strongly of people who
habitually give. They certainly are no rarity in
it. Most of us give freely, to those we love to
our own flesh and blood, at all events. They who
do not, belong, I think, to the class whom Burns
characterizes as "the real hardened wicked," and
it is wholesome to persuade ourselves that they
are likewise " to a few restricked." When Thack-
eray says, somewhere, that he never saw a fine
boy, but he felt like giving him a guinea, he does
not, I am sure, exaggerate the natural impulse of
every healthy and manly heart. There are many,
to whom this sort of impulse is a general, spon-
taneous and often fatal rule of life. Some indeed
and a large class, give because they cannot
help it. Giving, with them, is almost a pleasure
of sense. It is the natural expression of a feel-
ing as weeping and sighing are with others.
It is at once the voice and the tear of their
sympathy. The heart sends its quickened pulsa-
tion directly to the hand, which only fetters could
keep from the purse-strings. And this, too fre-
quently, without check of prudence, or choice of
object, or thought of to-morrow. We are apt to
admire and indeed to love these people; for, to the
common apprehension, the pleasure and advantage



24

of keeping money are so striking, that to part with
it, freely, passes for a sacrifice. And yet, obvi-
ously, they may be just as self-indulgent, in their
way, as their next-door neighbor, whose heart is
always in his burglar-proof safe and his hand
never, except to increase or count his store. It
may be their pleasure to scatter, as it is his to
save, and they may consult nothing better than
their pleasure, as he pursues nothing better than
his. Sir Thomas Browne calls their's "but moral
charity, and an act that oweth more to passion
than reason." And he adds, in the same strain,
that " He who relieves another, upon the bare
suggestion and bowels of pity, doth not this so
much for his sake, as for his own, for, by com-
passion, we make other's misery our own, and
so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also."
Happily, the common heart is not quite so inge-
nious or so analytical as this, but contents itself
with feeling, that though the bountiful and the
miser may be selfish, in their several ways, the
one selfishness is still a better thing than the
other. Indeed there is almost always something,
in -these heedless natures, which redeems the sin
of their improvidence and self-indulgence, and
although, when waste makes want, they have



often to eat husks in sorrow, and wait on those
who are to them but swine, we cannot help think-
ing, sometimes, that they belong to that class of
prodigals for whom a fatted calf will be killed,
one day, when they will eat and drink, and be
as merry as the hundreds they have fed in their
time. To this kind of givers, our experience must
add that other and familiar class, who part with
money readily, because they are incapacitated, by
nature, from feeling its value. I say feeling
because the processes of the heart are so much
quicker than those of the head, that it profits a
man very little, in these matters, only to under-
stand and know. The battle is generally lost,
in such case, before the reserves come up. But
how many people, especially women, are we
not acquainted with every one of us here,
whose whole existence is a mission of benefi-
cence; who know and feel the worth of money
and yet spend it, on others, without stint; with
whom the poor, as Beranger has it, are harves-
ters, not gleaners ; whose hands are as open as
the prodigal's and yet never waste; in whom the
love of giving is so chastened by the love of the
Great Giver, that they dispense their bounty as
His alms, and make of charity a very worship?
4



26

These however are the silent and humble Sama-
ritans of the highways and by-ways, who, for the
most part, are only followed by individual grati-
tude or personal affection. They do not amass for-
tunes, or make testaments, or have statues erected
to them. The great world knows little about them
and, as a whole, cares little, for though they are
no trifling element in its economy, they seem so, to
the thoughtless, in the broad scope of an economy
so large.

If I am right then in supposing that the secret
of Mr. Peabody's fame is not to be found in the
mere fact of his having given, and given freely,


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Online LibraryS. Teackle (Severn Teackle) WallisDiscourse on the life and character of George Peabody, delivered ... February 18, 1870 .. → online text (page 1 of 3)