Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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and discourage those who have both pride and faith in
republican institutions; of political scandals, and com-
mercial dishonors ; of demagogism in public life ; of reck-
less financial speculations ; of a lessening sense of the
sacredness of marriage ; of defalcations, malfeasance, sin-
ister legislation, bought and paid for by those whom it
benefits ; of a false ideal of life which puts material inter-
est above the spiritual, and makes riches the supreme ob-
ject of human endeavor and an absorbing passion for
paltry emulations." Of all these he reads in your papers
and magazines, and of the warning of your wisest writers,
that "popular government is no better than any other
except the wisdom and virtue of the people make it so,"
and that " Democracy has weakness as well as strength."
Clearly all these questions demand most solemn care. As
the same voice has said, "when men undertake to do
their own kingship they enter on the dangers and re-
sponsibilities as well as on the privileges of the func-
tion." Times of long peace, times of growing pros-
perity are times of serious peril. "About the river
of human life there is a wintry wind but a heav-
enly sunshine ; the iris colors its agitation, the frost fixes
on its repose." You have freedom, but freedom demands
an eternal vigilance. Franklin warned you a hundred
years ago of the peril of being divided by little, partial,
local interests. There can be no liberty without honesty
and justice. "You may build your Capitol of granite,"
said Wendell Phillips, "and pile it high as the Rocky
Mountains ; if it is founded on or mixed up with iniquity,


the pulse of a girl will in time beat it down." Public
spirit, watchfulness, the participation of all in the burden
and heat of the day, are requisite if America would work
out her own salvation, and therewith almost the salvation
of the race.

X. But not for one moment would your most pessi-
mistic citizen despair. To despair of America would be
to despair of humanity ; for it would show that men, after
all, have no capacity for governing themselves : that they
have, after all, no nobler destiny than to be the footstool
of the few.

And there are two reasons why not even the most
cynical pessimist need despair of America the one be-
cause your government is a government of manhood, the
other, because you have succeeded in training men. It is
a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
The multitude may sometimes be careless and supine; it
may fail to understand the responsibilities which attach
to liberty. But sooner or later it awakens in all its
strength and treads wicked laws and base combinations
under its feet. The rousing of a magnificent people when
it " views its mighty youth, and shakes its invincible
locks," is as when

" The lion shakes the dew-drop from its mane."

Nay, even these metaphors of Shakespeare and Milton
are too weak to image forth the outburst of volcanic
wrath which sometimes, almost in a moment, transforms
a peaceful and careless commonwealth into terrific and
irresistible agitation, as vast subterranean forces in one
moment transform into bellowing eruption the moun-
tain which but yesterday had snow in its long-slumbering
crater, and gardens and vineyards upon its sunny slopes.

I ask, then, with President Lincoln in his first Inau-
gural Address : " Why should there not be a patient con-
fidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any
better or equal hope in the world? "

Shakespeare in his day complained that

" Not a man, for being simply man,
Hath any honor, but honor for those honors
That are without him as place, riches, favor,
Prizes of accident as oft as merit."


It has not been so with you. You have felt the sacredness
of manhood, the dignity of manhood, the illimitable hori-
zon of its hopes, the immeasurable capability of its pow-
ers. Your very Declaration of Independence lays it down
as a self-evident truth, " that all men are created equal ;
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain in-
alienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness." If often upon a small scale in
local communities, and upon a large scale in your na-
tional history, you have witnessed the irresistible revolt
of the national conscience against the growth of intoler-
able wrongs, the cause of this latent force is because you
have honored men simply as men.

From the street and from the store, from the forest
and from the prairie, you have taken ragged, bright-eyed
boys, with little or no regular education even, but en-
riched by the lessons of experience and crowned and
mitred by the hands of invisible consecration, and not
asking who they were but only what they have proved
themselves capable to be because of their homely wis-
dom, because of their native strength, because of their
undaunted righteousness you have fearlessly set them
to command a million of your soldiers, to rule over fifty
millions of their fellow-men. Such a man was James
Garfield ; such a man was Ulysses Grant ; such a man was
Abraham Lincoln. Were manlier words ever spoken than
those with which he ended his New York speech in 1860:
" Let us have faith that right makes might ; and in that
faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we under-
stand it." A man, in one aspect, may be but a shadow
and a vapor; in another, he is immortal, immeasurable,
infinite, and he is never so great as when he is uplifted by
the aspirations of a great land. " Governments, religion,
property, books," said Humboldt, "are nothing but the
scaffolding to build a man. Earth holds up to her Master
no fruit but the finished man." " Mankind," said Kos-
suth, "has but one single object mankind itself; and
that object has but one single instrument mankind
again." " Men," said Pericles, " are a city, and not walls."
The prayef of every great community should ever be, O
God, give us men,



" What constitutes a State ? " asks Sir William Jones in
his ode in imitation of Alcaeus.

" Not high-raised battlement or labored mound,
Thick walls or moated gate ;

Not cities proud, with spires and turrets crowned;
Not bays and broad-armed ports,
Where, laughing at the storm, rich navies ride ;
Not starred and spangled courts.
No ! Men high-minded men ;
Men who their duties know,

And know their rights, and, knowing, dare maintain ;
Prevent the long-aimed blow,
And crush the tyrant, while they rend the chain
These constitute a state :

And sovereign Law that, with collected will,
On crowns and globes elate
Sits empress, crowning good, repressing ill."

XI, But am I wrong in saying if I am you will for-
give me, for it is only the impression to which I have
been led by studying the minds of some of your greatest
thinkers am I wrong in saying that at this moment in
her history America needs nothing more imperatively
than a new and concentrated enthusiasm? If Prophets
be needed to stir up the monotony of wealth, and re-
awaken the people to the great ideals which are con-
stantly fading out of their minds " to trouble the waters
that there may be health in their flow" in what direc-
tions could such Prophets point which should give any
grander aims than the achievement of the old eternal
ideals? "That motionless shaft," said Daniel Webster,
pointing to the pillar on Bunker Hill, "will be the most
powerful of speakers. Its speech will be of civil and re-
ligious liberty. It will speak of patriotism and of cour-
age. It will speak of the moral improvement and eleva-
tion of mankind. Decrepit age leaning against its base,
and ingenuous youth gathering round it, will speak to
each other of the glorious events with which it is con-
nected, and exclaim, ' Thank God ! I also am an Ameri-
can.' ' But that depends. The boast of ancestral excel-
lence is worse than unavailing if it be used by the lips of
degenerate descendants. Vast is the work before Amer-


ica, and if in her the nations of the world are to be
blessed, that work will need all her seriousness and all
her energy.

I have endeavored to emphasize the thought on which
all your own greatest and best men have insisted, that the
hand of God is preeminently manifest in your history;
and the correlative thought, that there rests upon the
American nation an immense burden of heaven-imposed

What is that responsibility?

It is to combine the old with the new the experience
of the East with the daring of the West " the long past
of Europe with the long future of America."

It is to guard the idea of Freedom as the fabled dragon
guarded of old the very garden of the Hesperides tak-
ing good heed that liberty be not confounded with license ;
nor republican government with the shout of popular
anarchy ; nor freedom with the freedom to do wrong un-
punished; nor manly independence with lawless self-
assertion. It is to keep the equilibrium between stability
and advance, between liberty and law. " As for me," said
Patrick Henry, in 1775, "give me liberty or give me

It is to work out the conception of Progress ; to recog-
nize that it is your duty not only to preserve but to im-
prove ; to bear in mind that the living sap of to-day out-
grows the dead rind of yesterday. You and your churches
will have to decide whether, in the words of Castelar, you
will confound yourselves with Asia, " placing upon the
land old altars, and upon the altars old idols, and upon
the idols immovable theocracies, and upon the theocra-
cies despotic empires ; or whether by labor and by liberty
you will advance the grand work of universal civiliza-
tion." Despots, whether priestly or secular, may they
"stand still!" But

" God to the human soul,

And all the spheres that roll
Wrapped by her spirit in their robes of light,

Hath said, ' The primal plan

Of all the world and man
Is Forward ! Progress is your law, your right ! ' "


It is to work out a manly and intelligent correlation of
religious tradition with the advancing knowledge of man-
kind. The churches must show to the world the rare ex-
ample of religious tolerance ; of many folds existing hap-
pily side by side in the one flock. The laity must teach
their churches not to supersede but to supplement each
other. They must beware of stagnant doctrines and stere-
otyped formulae. They must learn the spirit of those
grand words in which John Robinson addressed the Pil-
grim Fathers when they sailed from the shores of Eu-
rope : " I am persuaded that the Lord hath more truth
yet to come for us; yet to break forth out of His Holy
Word. Neither Luther nor Calvin has penetrated into
the counsel of God."

" New occasions teach new duties,

Time makes ancient good uncouth ;
They must upwards still, and onwards,
Who would keep abreast with Truth."

Judge Sewall set a noble example when, in 1696, he
stood up in his pew in the Old South Church to confess
his contrition for his share in the witchcraft delusion of

That preacher of Georgia spoke wise words who,
taunted with a change of opinion about slavery, said in a
Thanksgiving sermon, " I have got new light. I now be-
lieve many things which I did not believe twenty years
ago. ... If I live till 1900 I expect to believe
some things which I now reject and to reject some things
which I now believe ; and I shall not be alone."

It is, above all, to show the nations the true ideal of
national righteousness. Two centuries and a half have
passed since Peter Bulkley addressed to his little congre-
gation of exiles the memorable words: 'There is no
people but will strive to excel in something. What can
we excel in if not in holiness? If we look to numbers we
are the fewest ; if to strength we are the weakest ; if to
wealth and riches we are the poorest of all the people of
God throughout the world. We cannot excel nor so
much as equal other people in these things, and if we
come short in grace and holiness we are the most despic-



able people under heaven. Strive we therefore to excel,
and suffer not this crown to be taken from us."

How has all this been reversed ! In numbers you are
now, or soon inevitably must be, the greatest ; in strength
the most overwhelming ; in wealth the most affluent of all
the Christian nations throughout the world. In these
things you not only equal other people but excel them.
Why? Mainly, I believe, because your fathers feared
God. Shall America then dare to kick down that ladder,
to spurn the low degrees by which she did ascend, and,
despising the holiness which was once her single excel-
lence, now in the days of her boundless prosperity to
make in the common life of her citizens a league with
death and a covenant with hell? I do not for a moment
believe it. I believe that she will be preserved from all
such perils by the memories of the dead and the virtues
of the living. I believe that she will cherish the pure
homes which have never lost their ancient English dower
of inward happiness. I believe that she will not suffer
the wise voices of the holy and thoughtful few to be
drowned in noisier and baser sounds. I believe that her
aspirations will dilate and conspire with the breezes from
the sea which sweep the vast horizons of your territory.
I believe that she will listen to the three great Angels of
History, of Conscience, of Experience, which, as the
great teachers of mankind, ever repeat to us the eternal
accents of the Moral Law. I believe that she will help to
disenchant the nations of the horrible seductions of war,
and of a peace crushed and encumbered under warlike
armaments. I believe that she is linked, that she will
ever desire to be linked, with us of the old home, in the
golden yoke of amity, and that by the blessing of God's
peculiar grace, you with us and we with you, shall be
enabled to " make all things new " for the glory and hap-
piness of mankind. Then shall hoary-headed selfishness
receive its death-blow, and the vilest evils which have
afflicted the corporate life of man

" Shall live but in the memory of Time,
Which like a penitent libertine shall start,
Look back, and shudder at his former years."



[Lecture by James T. Fields, publisher, editor, author (born in Ports-
mouth, N. H., December 31, 1816; died in Boston, April 24, 1881), deliv-
ered in Boston, Chicago, and New York in the autumn and winter of
1872-73, preceding his popular courses on subjects connected with
Modern English Literature.]

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I am to speak to you this
evening, without any pretense, but in all earnestness, if I
may do so, a few thoughts on a subject which I shall call
" The Masters of the Situation," and as example is always
better than precept, and as it is much better to go and do
a thing than to say how it ought to be done, I shall hope
to interest you with now and then a short story, illustra-
tive of my theme, rather than by a long sermon, had I
the ability to preach one.

A great mastery, like that of Wellington, or Bismarck,
is not so common in the world as to excite no surprise
when it occurs. It is not, and never can be an every-day
matter. You will oftentimes see dullness striving to re-
venge itself upon genius, but you will never see the for-
mer rising to be victor of the situation. True mastery is
compact of supreme qualities. It is heroism ; it is culture ;
it is enthusiasm ; it is faith ; it is intelligence ; it is en-
durance ; it is unconquerable will ! There are men of con-
victions whose very faces will light up an era, and there
are noble women in whose eyes you may almost read the
whole plan of salvation.

Eleven years ago, a vast crowd of eager and excited
men and women assembled just outside of Washington to
witness a review of the grand army then under com-
mand of General McClellan. It was a scene of great and
absorbing interest, for it was a revelation to thousands
upon thousands of spectators gathered there, of what


could be done for the preservation of American liberty
and law, and how instantaneously a force could be mus-
tered to guard them. It was a brilliant answer to the
doubting heart, and a strengthening influence to the quail-
ing spirit. The review that was then about to be held was
to precede a series of magnificent victories, and the war
was to end in sixty days. As if American uniforms were
not various enough to gild the splendor of that day, for-
eign decorations must be added to the glittering show.
The French Prince of the House of Orleans, the son and
grandsons of Louis Philippe, rode to and fro among the
General's staff, and recalled by their brilliant appearance
other days of this Republic. Bugles sounded, squadrons
wheeled into line, cannons reverberated, and martial mu-
sic rose from innumerable battalions. The prominent
figure of that day was indeed a marked man. All eyes
searched the field for McClellan, and followed him from
point to point. As the young commander galloped up
and down the line, thundering cheers from more than a
hundred thousand troops and spectators rolled after him.
" How well he rides ! " whispered the Prince de Joinville.
" The finest horseman I ever saw ! " responded the Count
de Paris, and the Duke de Chartres indorsed his praises.
" Never was anything so elegant ! " chorused the General's
fair countrywomen. But as he rode past a group of spec-
tators, among whom I happened to be standing, I heard
these fatal words from the lips of an old soldier : " He is
not master of the situation." Soon afterward, when tid-
ings of defeat and mortification came rolling back upon
us, I remembered these ghastly words and trembled for
the issue.

^ A few days ago I stood for the first time in the great
city of Chicago, amazed at the spectacle before me. I had
read, as we all had, how just one year ago that noble
metropolis of the West had been mown down as by a
scythe of fire, and all of us had shuddered at the tale of
horror, as related by eye-witnesses on the spot. I re-
membered how the usual band of croakers came forward
with the usual shake of the head and prophesied that her
glory had departed forever, and that Chicago would never
be rebuilt. Three square miles of its area, seventy-three
magnificent streets, 18,000 buildings, many of them the


finest in the city forty beautiful churches, were trans-
formed in two days into one vast waste a heap of hideous
ruin ! Two hundred millions of property became ashes in
forty-eight hours.

Only one year had elapsed and I dreaded to look on
such a desolated scene of a catastrophe unparalleled in the
history of modern cities. But when I walked through
those very streets, the scene of all that terrible havoc of
' fire, I saw such an illustration of the subject I am now
discussing with you that all the other incidents I shall cite
are dwarfed and rendered insignificant by comparison.
Instead of ruin I found such a grandeur of restoration and
strength of enterprise, such an overwhelming result of
indomitable will, unfailing industry and courage, that I
almost doubted the evidence of my senses, and could
scarcely believe that any such conflagration as we had
heard of, and read of, had occurred at all! Colossal
structures, miles upon miles of palatial business arid do-
mestic edifices, richly ornamented with statues, and in-
taglios unequaled for beauty of design in any other of
our great cities, are up already, and your eyes are bewil-
dered by magnificence, instead of being blasted by de-
formity. Surely this is the mastery of a tremendous situ-
ation, over which we in common with our kin of the
West, may well be exultant; and for one I rejoice that
1 belong to the same race with those stout-hearted sons
and daughters of Chicago who are now teaching a lesson
of patient endurance and well-directed enterprise to the
world, such as was never witnessed before in the whole
broad history of civilization. [Applause.]

There was once a noble ship full of eager passengers,
freighted with a rich cargo, steaming at full speed from
England to America. Two-thirds of a prosperous voyage
this far were over, and in our mess we were beginning to
talk of home. Fore and aft the songs of good cheer and
hearty merriment rose from deck to cabin.

" As if the beauteous ship enjoyed the beauty of the sea,
She lifteth up her stately head, and saileth joyfully,
A lovely path before her lies, a lovely path behind ;
She sails amid the loveliness like a thing of heart and mind."

Suddenly, a dense fog came, shrouding the horizon, but


as this was a common occurrence in the latitude we were
sailing, it was hardly mentioned in our talk that after-
noon. There are always croakers on board ship, if the
weather changes however slightly, but the " Britannia "
was free, that voyage, of such unwelcome passengers.
A happier company never sailed upon an autumn sea!
The story-tellers are busy with their yarns to audiences
of delighted listeners in sheltered places ; the ladies are
lying about on couches, and shawls, reading or singing;
children in merry companies are taking hands and racing
up and down the decks, when a quick cry from the look-
out, a rush of officers and men, and we are grinding on a
ledge of rocks off Cape Race ! One of those strong cur-
rents, always mysterious, and sometimes impossible to
foresee, had set us into shore out of our course, and the
ship was blindly beating on a dreary coast of sharp and
craggy rocks.

I heard the order given, " Every one on deck ! " and
knew what that meant the masts were in danger of fall-
ing. Looking over the side, we saw bits of the keel, great
pieces of plank, floating out into the deep water. A hun-
dred pallid faces were huddled together near the stern of
the ship where we were told to go and wait. I remember
somebody said that a little child, the playfellow of pas-
sengers and crew, could not be found, and that some of
us started to find him ; and that when we returned him to
his mother she spake never a word, but seemed dumb
with terror at the prospect of separation and shipwreck,
and that other spectre so ghastly when encountered at

Suddenly we heard a voice up in the fog in the direc-
tion of the wheel-house, ringing like a clarion above the
roar of the waves, and the clashing sounds on shipboard,
and it had in it an assuring, not a fearful tone. As the
orders came distinctly and deliberately through the cap-
tain's trumpet, to " shift the cargo," to " back her," to
" keep her steady," we felt somehow that the commander
up there in the thick mist on the wheel-house knew what
he was about, and that through his skill and courage, by
the blessing of Heaven, we should all be rescued. The
man who saved us so far as human aid ever saves drown-
ing mortals, was one fully competent to command a ship ;


and when, after weary days of anxious suspense, the ves-
sel leaking badly, and the fires in danger of being put out,
we arrived safely in Halifax, old Mr. Cunard, agent of
the line, on hearing from the mail officer that the steamer
had struck on the rocks and had been saved only by the
captain's presence of mind and courage, simply replied:
" Just what might have been expected in such a disaster ;
Captain Harrison is always master of the situation."
[Loud applause.]

Now, no man ever became master of the situation by
accident or indolence. I believe with Shelley, that the
Almighty has given men and women arms long enough
to reach the stars if they will only put them out ! It was
an admirable saying of the Duke of Wellington, " that no
general ever blundered into a great victory." St. Hilaire
said, " I ignore the existence of a blind chance, accident,
and haphazard results." " He happened to succeed," is a
foolish, unmeaning phrase. No man happens to succeed.
" What do you mix your paints with ? " asked a visitor of
Opie, the painter. "With brains, sir," was the artist's

Indolence never sent a man to the front. It is one of
God's laws that nothing in His universe shall be station-
ary. The fixed stars, as they are called, are now known
to be undoubtedly moving on. The deep things of this
world are not engineered by sluggards. It is the traves-
ties of Christianity that abound among the indolent who
take everything for granted. Masters of the truly relig-
ious situations, like Frederick Robertson, Ward Beecher,

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 3 of 38)