Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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for the furthering and illustration of a great subject which
all have greatly at heart.

I have been present at a forge on which the pure gold
of thought has been hammered by thinkers into the
rounded sphere of an almost perfect harmony. One and



another and another gave his hit or his touch, and when
the delightful hour was at an end, each of us carried the
golden sphere away with him. The club which I have in
mind at this moment had an unfashionable name, and
was scarcely, if at all, recognized in the general society of
Boston. It was called the Radical Club, and the really
radical feature in it was the fact that the thoughts pre-
sented at its meetings had a root, and were, in that sense,
radical. These thoughts, entertained by individuals of
very various persuasions, often brought forth strong op-
positions of opinion. Some of us used to wax warm in
the defense of our own conviction; but our wrath was
not the wrath of the peacock, enraged to see another pea-
cock unfold its brilliant tail, but the concern of sincere
thinkers that a subject worth discussing should not be
presented in a partial and one-sided manner, to which
end, each marked his point and said his say; and when
our meeting was over, we had all had the great instruc-
tion of looking into the minds of those to whom truth
was as dear as to ourselves, even if her aspect to them
was not exactly what it was to us.

Here I have heard Wendell Phillips and Oliver Wendell
Holmes ; John Weiss and James Freeman Clarke ; Athan-
ase Coquerel, the noble French Protestant preacher;
William Henry Channing, worthy nephew of his great
uncle; Colonel Higginson, Dr. Bartol, and many others.
Extravagant things were sometimes said, no doubt, and
the equilibrium of ordinary persuasion was not infre-
quently (disturbed for a time ; but the satisfaction of those
present when a sound basis of thought was vindicated and
established is indeed pleasant in remembrance.

I feel tempted to introduce here one or two magic-lan-
tern views of certain sittings of this renowned club, of
which I cherish especial remembrance. Let me say,
speaking in general terms, that, albeit the club was more
critical than devout, its criticism was rarely other than
serious and earnest. I remember that M. Coquerel's dis-
course there was upon " The Protestantism of Art," and
that in it he combatted the generally received idea that
the Church of Rome has always stood first in the patron-
age and inspiration of art. The great Dutch painters,
Holbein, Rembrandt, and their fellows, were not Roman


Catholics. Michelangelo was Protestant in spirit; so
was Dante. I cannot recall with much particularity the
details of things heard so many years ago, but I remem-
ber the presence at this meeting of Charles Sumner,
George Hillard, and Dr. Hedge. Mr. Sumner declined
to take any part in the discussion which followed M.
Coquerel's discourse. Colonel Higginson, who was often
present at these meetings, maintained his view that Prot-
estantism was simply the decline of the Christian re-
ligion. Mr. Hillard quoted St. James' definition of re-
ligion, pure and undefined, to visit the fatherless and
widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted
from the world. Dr. Hedge, who was about to with-
draw, paused for a moment to say : " The word ' re-
ligion ' is not rightly translated there; it should mean "
I forget what. The doctor's tone and manner very much
impressed a friend, who afterwards said to me : " Did he
not go away ' like one who wraps the drapery of his
couch about him'?"

Or it might be that John Weiss, he whom a lady writer
once described as " four parts spirit and one part flesh,"
gave us his paper on " Prometheus," or one on " Music,"
or propounded his theory of how the world came into
existence. Colonel Higginson would descant upon the
Greek goddesses, as representing the feminine ideals of
the Greek mythology, which he held to be superior to
the Christian ideals of womanhood dear Elizabeth Pea-
body and I meeting him in earnest opposition. David
Wasson, powerful in verse and in prose, would speak
against woman suffrage. When driven to the wall, he
confessed that he did not believe in popular suffrage at
all ; and when forced to defend this position, he would in-
stance the wicked and ill-governed city of New York as
reason enough for his views. I remember his going aw,ay
after such a discussion very abruptly, not at all in Dr.
Hedge's grand style, but rather as if he shook the dust
of our opinions from his feet; for no one of the radicals
would countenance this doctrine, and though we freely
confessed the sins of New York, we believed not a whit
the less in the elective franchise, with amendments and
extensions. [Applause.]

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, one day, if I remember



rightly, gave a very succinct and clear statement of the
early forms of Calvinistic doctrine as held in this country,
and Wendell Phillips lent his eloquent speech to this and
to other discussions.

When I think of it, I believe that I had a salon once
upon a time. I did not call it so, nor even think of it as
such ; yet within it were gathered people who represented
many and various aspects of life. They were real people,
not lay figures distinguished by names and clothes. The
earnest humanitarian interests of my husband brought
to our home a number of persons interested in reform,
education, and progress. It was my part to mix in with this
graver element as much of social grace and geniality as
I was able to gather about me. I was never afraid to
bring together persons who rarely met elsewhere than
at my house, confronting Theodore Parker with some
archpriest of the old orthodoxy, or William Lloyd Gar-
rison with a decade, perhaps, of Beacon Street dames. A
friend said, on one of these occasions : " Our hostess de-
lights in contrasts." I confess that I did ; but I think that
my greatest pleasure was in the lessons of human com-
patibility which I learned in this wise. I started, indeed,
with the conviction that thought and character are the
foremost values in society, and was not afraid nor
ashamed to offer these to my guests, with or without the
stamp of fashion and position. [Applause.] The result
amply justified my belief.

Some periods in our own history are more favorable to
such intercourse than others. The agony and enthusiasm
of the Civil War, and the long period of ferment and dis-
turbance which preceded and followed that great crisis
these social agitations penetrated the very fossils of the
body politic. People were glad to meet together, glad to
find strength and comfort among those who lived and
walked by solid convictions. We cannot go back to that
time ; we would not, if we could ; but it was a grand time
to live and to work in.

I am sorry when I see people build palaces in America.
We do not need them. Why snould we bury fortune
and life in the dead state of rooms which are not lived in?
Why should we double and triple for ourselves the dan-
gers of insufficient drainage or defective sanitation? Let


us have such houses as we need comfortable, well-aired,
well lighted, adorned with such art as we can appreciate,
enlivened by such company as we can enjoy. Similarly,
I believe that we should, individually, come much nearer
to the real purpose of a salon by restricting the number
of our guests and enlarging their variety.

If we are to have a salon, do not let us think too much
about its appearance to the outside world how it will
be reported, and extolled, and envied. Mr. Emerson
withdrew from the Boston Radical Club because news-
paper reports of its meetings were allowed. We live too
much in public to-day, and desire too much the seal of
public notice. [Applause.]

There is not room in our short human life for both
shams and realities. We can neither pursue nor possess
both. I think of this now entirely with application to the
theme under consideration. Let us not exercise sham
hospitality to sham friends. Let the heart of our house-
hold be sincere ; let our home affections expand to a wider
human brotherhood and sisterhood. Let us be willing to
take trouble to gather our friends together, and to offer
them such entertainment as we can, remembering that
the best entertainment is mutual. But do not let us of-
fend ourselves or our friends with the glare of lights, the
noise of numbers, in order that all may suffer a tedious
and joyless being together, and part as those who have
contributed to each other's ennui, all sincere and reason-
able intercourse having been wanting in the general

We should not feel bound, either, to the literal imita-
tion of any facts or features of European life which may
not fit well upon our own. In many countries the cur-
rents of human life have become so deepened and
strengthened by habit and custom as to render change
very difficult, and growth almost impossible. In our own,
on the contrary, life is fresh and fluent. Its boundaries
should be elastic, capable even of indefinite expansion.

In the older countries of which I speak, political power
and social recognition are supposed to emanate from
some autocratic source, and the effort and ambition of all
naturally look toward that source, and, knowing none


other, feel a personal interest in maintaining its ascend-
ency, the statu quo. In our own broad land, power and
light have no such inevitable abiding-place, but may
emanate from an endless variety of points and person-

The other mode of living may have much to recom-
mend it for those to whom it is native and inherited, but
it is not for us. And when we apologize for our needs
and deficiencies, it should not be on the ground of our
youth and inexperience. If the settlement of our country
is recent, we have behind us all the experience of the
human race, and are bound to represent its fuller and
riper manhood.

Our seriousness is sometimes complained of, usually by
people whose jests and pleasantries fail to amuse us.
Let us not apologize for this, nor envy any nation its
power of trifling and of persiflage. We have mighty
problems to solve; great questions to answer. The fate
of the world's future is concerned in what we shall do or
leave undone. We are a people of workers, and we love
work shame on him who is ashamed of it! When we
are found, on our own or other shores, idling our life
away, careless of vital issues, ignorant of true principles,
then may we apologize, then let us make haste to amend.

Photogravure after a photograph from life




[Lecture by Professor Thomas H. Huxley, scientist (born in Ealing,
Middlesex, England, May 4, 1825 ; died in Eastbourne, England, June
29, 1895), delivered to the workingmen of Norwich, during the meeting
of the British Association, in 1868. Mr. Leonard Huxley in his life of
his father says : " His lecture ' On a Piece of Chalk,' together with two
others delivered this year (1868), seem to me to mark the maturing of
his style into that mastery of clear expression for which he deliberately
labored, the saying exactly what he meant, neither too much nor too
little, without confusion and without obscurity. Have something to say,
and say it, was the Duke of Wellington's theory of style; Huxley's was
to say that which has to be said in such language that you can stand
cross-examination on each word. Be clear, though you may be con-
victed of error. If you are clearly wrong, you will run up against a
fact some time and get set right. If you shuffle with your subject and
study chiefly to use language which will give a loophole of escape either
way, there is no hope for you. This was the secret of his lucidity."]

If a well were sunk at our feet in the midst of the city
of Norwich, the diggers would very soon find themselves
at work in that white substance almost too soft to be
called rock, with which we are all familiar as " chalk."

Not only here, but over the whole county of Norfolk,
the well-sinker might carry his shaft down many hundred
feet without coming to the end of the chalk; and, on the
seacoast, where the waves have pared away the face of
the land which breasts them, the scarped faces of the high
cliffs are often wholly formed of the same material.


Northward, the chalk may be followed as far as York-
shire; on the south coast it appears abruptly in the pic-
turesque western bays of Dorset, and breaks into the
Needles of the Isle of Wight ; while on the shores of Kent
it supplies that long line of white cliffs to which England
owes her name of Albion.

Were the thin soil which covers it all washed away, a
curved band of white chalk, here broader, and there nar-
rower, might be followed diagonally across England from
Lulworth in Dorset, to Flamborough Head in Yorkshire
a distance of over 280 miles as the crow flies. From
this band to the North Sea, on the east, and the Channel,
on the south, the chalk is largely hidden by other de-
posits; but, except in the Weald of Kent and Sussex, it
enters into the very foundation of all the southeastern

Attaining, as it does in some places, a thickness of
more than a thousand feet, the English chalk must be ad-
mitted to be a mass of considerable magnitude. Never-
theless, it covers but an insignificant portion of the whole
area occupied by the chalk formation of the globe, much
of which has the same general characters as ours, and is
found in detached patches, some less, and others more
extensive, than the English. Chalk occurs in northwest
Ireland; it stretches over a large part of France, the
chalk which underlies Paris being, in fact, a continuation
of that of the London basin; it runs through Denmark
and Central Europe, and extends southward to North
Africa; while eastward, it appears in the Crimea and in
Syria, and may be traced as far as the shores of the Sea
of Aral, in Central Asia. If all the points at which true
chalk occurs were circumscribed, they would lie within an
irregular oval about 3,000 miles in long diameter the
area of which would be as great as that of Europe, and
would many times exceed that of the largest existing in-
land sea the Mediterranean.

Thus the chalk is no unimportant element in the ma-
sonry of the earth's crust, and it impresses a peculiar
stamp, varying with the conditions to which it is exposed,
on the scenery of the districts in which it occurs. The
undulating downs and rounded coombs, covered with
sweet-grassed turf, of our inland chalk country, have a



peacefully domestic and mutton-suggesting prettiness,
but can hardly be called either grand or beautiful. But
on our southern coasts, the wall-sided cliffs, many hun-
dred feet high, with vast needles and pinnacles standing
out in the sea, sharp and solitary enough to serve as
perches for the wary cormorant, confer a wonderful
beauty and grandeur upon the chalk headlands. And, in
the East, chalk has its share in the formation of some of
the most venerable of mountain ranges, such as the

What is this wide-spread component of the surface of
the earth ? and whence did it come ? You may think this
no very hopeful inquiry. You may not unnaturally sup-
pose that the attempt to solve such problems as these can
lead to no result, save that of entangling the inquirer in
vague speculations, incapable of refutation and of verifi-
cation. If such were really the case, I should have se-
lected some other subject than a " piece of chalk " for my
discourse. But, in truth, after much deliberation, I have
been unable to think of any topic which would so well en-
able me to lead you to see how solid is the foundation
upon which some of the most startling conclusions of
physical science rest.

A great chapter of the history of the world is written in
the chalk. Few passages in the history of man can be
supported by such an overwhelming mass of direct and
indirect evidence as that which testifies to the truth of the
fragment of the history of the globe, which I hope to en-
able you to read, with your own eyes, to-night. Let me
add, that few chapters of human history have a more
profound significance for ourselves. I weigh my words
well when I assert, that the man who should know the
true history of the bit of chalk which every carpenter car-
ries about in his breeches-pocket, though ignorant of all
other history, is likely, if he will think his knowledge out
to its ultimate results, to have a truer, and therefore a
better, conception of this wonderful universe, and of
man's relation to it, than the most learned student who is
deep-read in the records of humanity and ignorant of
those of Nature.

The language of the chalk is not hard to learn, not
nearly so hard as Latin, if you only want to get at the


broad features of the story it has to tell; and I propose
that we now set to work to spell that story out together.

We all know that if we " burn " chalk the result is
quicklime. Chalk, in fact, is a compound of carbonic
acid gas, and lime, and when you make it very hot the
carbonic acid flies away and the lime is left. By this
method of procedure we see the lime, but we do not see
the carbonic acid. If, on the other hand, you were to
powder a little chalk and drop it into a good deal of
strong vinegar, there would be a great bubbling and
fizzing, and, finally, a clear liquid, in which no sign of
chalk would appear. Here you see the carbonic acid in
,the bubbles; the lime, dissolved in the vinegar, vanishes
from sight. There are a great many other ways of
showing that chalk is essentially nothing but carbonic
acid and quicklime. Chemists enunciate the result of all
the experiments which prove this, by stating that chalk
is almost wholly composed of " carbonate of lime."

It is desirable for us to start from the knowledge of this
fact, though it may not seem to help us very far towards
what we seek. For carbonate of lime is a widely-spread
substance, and is met with under very various conditions.
All sorts of limestones are composed of more or less pure
carbonate of lime. The crust which is often deposited by
waters which have drained through limestone rocks, in
the form of what are called stalagmites and stalactites,
is carbonate of lime. Or, to take a more familiar example,
the fur on the inside of a tea-kettle is carbonate of lime;
and, for anything chemistry tells us to the contrary, the
chalk might be a kind of gigantic fur upon the bottom
of the earth-kettle, which is kept pretty hot below.

Let us try another method of making the chalk tell us
its own history. To the unassisted eye chalk looks sim-
ply like a very loose and open kind of stone. But it is
possible to grind a slice of chalk down so thin that you
can see through it until it is thin enough, in face, to
be examined with any magnifying power that may be
thought desirable. A thin slice of the fur of a kettle
might be made in the same way. If it were examined
microscopically, it would show itself to be a more or less
distinctly laminated mineral substance, and nothing more.
But the slice of chalk presents a totally different appear-


ance when placed under the microscope. The general
mass of it is made up of very minute granules ; but, em-
bedded in this matrix, are innumerable bodies, some
smaller and some larger, but, on a rough average, not
more than a hundredth of an inch in diameter, having a
well-defined shape and structure. A cubic inch of some
specimens of chalk may contain hundreds of thousands
of these bodies, compacted together with incalculable
millions of the granules.

The examination of a transparent slice gives a good
notion of the manner in which the components of the
chalk are arranged, and of their relative proportions.
But, by rubbing up some chalk with a brush in water and
then pouring off the milky fluid, so as to obtain sediments
of different degrees of fineness, the granules and the
minute rounded bodies may be pretty well separated
from one another, and submitted to microscopic ex-
amination, either as opaque or as transparent ob-
jects. By combining the views obtained in these various
methods, each of the rounded bodies may be proved
to be a beautifully-constructed calcareous fabric, made
up of a number of chambers, communicating freely
with one another. The chambered bodies are of
various forms. One of the commonest is something like
a badly-grown raspberry, being formed of a number of
nearly globular chambers of different sizes congregated
together. It is called Globigerina, and some specimens of
chalk consists of little else than Globigerina and granules.
Let us fix our attention upon the Globigerina. It is the
spoor of the game we are tracking. If we can learn what
it is and what are the conditions of its existence, we shall
see our way to the origin and past history of the chalk.

A suggestion which may naturally enough present itself
is, that these curious bodies are the result of some process
of aggregation which has taken place in the carbonate of
lime ; that, just as in winter, the rime on our windows
simulates the most delicate and elegantly arborescent
foliage proving that the mere mineral water may, under
certain conditions, assume the outward form of organic
bodies so this mineral substance, carbonate of lime, hid-
den away in the bowels of the earth, has taken the shape
of these chambered bodies. I am not raising a merely


fanciful and unreal objection. Very learned men, in for-
mer days, have even entertained the notion that all the
formed things found in rocks are of this nature ; and if no
such conception is at present held to be admissible, it is
because long and varied experience has now shown that
mineral matter never does assume the form and structure
we find in fossils. If any one were to try to persuade you
that an oyster-shell (which is also chiefly composed of
carbonate of lime) had crystallized out of sea-water, I
suppose you would laugh at the absurdity. Your laugh-
ter would be justified by the fact that all experience tends
to show that oyster-shells are formed by the agency of
oysters, and in no other way. And if there were no better
reasons, we should be justified, on like grounds, in be-
lieving that Globigerina is not the product of anything but
vital activity. Happily, however, better evidence in proof
of the organic nature of the Globigcrince than that of an-
alogy is forthcoming. It so happens that calcareous
skeletons, exactly similar to the Globigerince of the chalk,
are being formed, at the present moment, by minute liv-
ing creatures, which flourish in multitudes, literally more
numerous than the sands of the seashore, over a large
extent of that part of the earth's surface which is covered
by the ocean.

The history of the discovery of these living Globigerina,
and of the part which they play in rock building, is singu-
lar enough. It is a discovery which, like others of no
less scientific importance, has arisen, incidentally, out of
work devoted to very different and exceedingly practical
interests. When men first took to the sea, they speedily
learned to look out for shoals and rocks; and the more
the burden of their ships increased, the more impera-
tively necessary it became for sailors to ascertain with
precision the depth of the waters they traversed. Out of
this necessity grew the use of the lead and sounding-line ;
and, ultimately, marine-surveying, which is the recording
of the form of coasts and of the depth of the sea, as ascer-
tained by the sounding-lead, upon charts.

At the same time, it became desirable to ascertain and
to indicate the nature of the sea-bottom, since this cir-
cumstance greatly affects its goodness as holding ground
for anchors. Some ingenious tar, whose name deserves


a better fate than the oblivion into which it has fallen, at-
tained this object by " arming " the bottom, of the lead
with a lump of grease, to which more or less of the sand
or mud, or broken shells, as the case might be, adhered,
and was brought to the surface. But, however well
adapted such an apparatus might be for rough nautical
purposes, scientific accuracy could not be expected from
the armed lead, and to remedy its defects (especially when
applied to sounding in great depths) Lieutenant Brooke,

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 19 of 38)