Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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of failure, but still kept plowing across the Atlantic, fly-
ing from city to city, soliciting capital, holding meetings
and forcing down this most colossal discouragement. At
last day dawned again, and another cable was paid out
this time from the deck of the " Great Eastern." Twelve
hundred miles of it were laid down, and the ship was just
lifting her head to a stiff breeze then springing up, when,
without a moment's warning, the cable suddenly snapped
short off, and plunged into the sea. Says the published
account of this great disaster : " Mr. Field came from the
companion-way into the saloon, and observed with admir-
able composure, though his lip quivered and his cheek was
white, ' The cable has parted and has gone from the reel
* overboard ! ' ' Nine days and nights they dragged the
bottom of the sea for this lost treasure, and though they
grappled it three times, they could not bring it to the
surface. In that most eloquent speech made by Mr. Field
at the Chamber of Commerce banquet in New York, one
of the most touching recitals on record, he said : " We
returned to England defeated but full of resolution to
begin the battle anew." And this time his energy was
greater even than before. In five months another cable
was shipped on board the " Great Eastern," and this time,
by the blessing of Heaven, the wires were stretched un-
harmed, from continent to continent. Then came that


never-to-be-forgotten search, in four ships, for the lost
cable. In the bows of one of these vessels stood Cyrus
Field, day and night, in storm and fog, squall and calm,
intensely watching the quiver of the grapnel that was
dragging two miles down on the bottom of the deep.

At length on the last night of August, a little before
midnight, the spirit of this brave man was rewarded. I
shall here quote his own words, as none others could pos-
sibly convey so well the thrilling, interest of that hour. He
says : " All felt as if life and death hung on the issue. It
was only when the cable was brought over the bow and
onto the deck that men dared to breathe. Even then they
hardly believed their eyes. Some crept toward it to feel
of it to be sure it was there. Then we carried it along to
the electricians' room, to see if our long-sought treasure
was alive or dead. A few minutes of suspense and a flash
told of the lightning current again set free. Then the
feeling long pent up burst forth. Some turned away their
heads and wept. Others broke into cheers, and the cry
ran from man to man, and was heard down in the engine-
rooms, deck below deck, and from the boats on the water,
and the other ships, while rockets lighted up the darkness
of the sea. Then, with thankful hearts, we turned our
faces again to the West. But soon the wind rose, and for
thirty-six hours we were exposed to all the dangers of a
storm on the Atlantic. Yet, in the very height and fury
of the gale, as I sat in the electricians' room, a flash of
light came up from the deep which, having crossed to
Ireland, came back to me in mid-ocean, telling me that
those so dear to me, whom I had left on the banks of the
Hudson, were well, and following us with their wishes
and their prayers. This was like a whisper of God from
the sea, bidding me keep heart and hope."

And now, after all those thirteen years of almost super-
human struggle and that one moment of almost super-
human victory, I think we may safely include Cyrus Field
among the masters of the situation. [Loud applause.]

Let us never omit, then, to render due homage to those
masters of the situation still living with us, and those who
have not yet passed into that fame which is hallowed by
death. All honor to Henry Bergh, among other benefac-
tors of our time, the firm and unselfish advocate for that


part of creation which cannot ask kind treatment for it-
self ; the man who has spoken so effectually for those poor
dumb mouths that have so long pleaded silently for pro-
tection from injury at the hands of man. Is it not a
brave thing to have stood so many years between the op-
pressor and his quivering victim and to have borne so
long the contumely and ridicule of those who cannot un-
derstand why a horse should not be overloaded, or his
sensitive flesh be tortured if he sinks beneath his burden?
It is a sacred mission to which this man has been called,
and among the world's benefactors he has proved himself
a noble master of a difficult situation. [Applause.]

It was said by one who ought to know that the normal
Englishman is always happy when he is killing something.
It would be a prouder distinction if we shall ever be able
to claim for the normal American that he is never happier
than when he is saving the life or in some way ameliorat-
ing the condition of any being however humble in the
scale of existence, and that one of the best lessons he has
learned to practice is that enforced so feelingly by
Wordsworth :

" Never to blend our pleasure or our pride,
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels."

We seem to have lost something, I may say a great
deal, of that commendable, ardent enthusiasm which for-
merly existed for great talent and inspiring virtue, and
mild and affectionate indifference has taken its place. Dr.
Lyman Beecher told the Andover student that he had
very little hope of a Christian inquirer who needed a mus-
tard-plaster on to make him feel. [Laughter and ap-
plause.] Observe the difference in men. One man will
bring forward a bill in Congress, and its failure to be put
through may be prophesied from the moment he proposes
it. Another member will present a resolve, embodying
the same principles in a bill not so well drawn as the first,
and its success is assured instantly. In the first case it is
a languid bill because it is languidly presented, and the
hounds of destruction fall to at once and tear it to pieces,
simply because the mover is a timid, trembling creature.
The master of the situation, whose bill is carried trium-
phantly, is courageous and enthusiastic from the start, and



quells all opposition in advance by the very sound of his

Promptness is a grand leader, while Procrastination
limps behind. To-day is master of the situation ; To-mor-
row is an impostor, who is almost sure to bring failure
with him. Masters of the situation never do things by
halves. There are minds that seem always to be in a
state of disintegration, and working slowly to no end
whatever. There are jumping men who always hit the top
bar with their heels and never quite clear it. There are
women whose stitches always come out, and the buttons
they sew on fly off on the mildest provocation. And there
are other women who will use the same needle and thread,
and you may tug away at their work on your coat or
your waistcoat, and you can't start a button in a genera-
tion ! There are poets who never get beyond the first
verse ; orators who forget the next sentence, and sit down
[laughter] ; gold-diggers who buy a pickaxe and stop
there. There are painters whose studios are full of un-
painted pictures. And if sluggards ever took good advice,
what long processions we should constantly meet, slowly
traveling on their way to the ant. [Laughter.]

There are men in legislative assemblies who speak
often, but are never masters of any situation. They have
great powers of utterance, but nothing to say. The orator
whose burning sentences become the very proverbs of
freedom is not he who consumes the most time and em-
ploys the selectest paragraphs. I have seen men in Con-
gress often on their legs and buzzing about like able-
bodied darning-needles but they never managed, even by
accident, to sting anybody into attention.

I wish there were time for the presentation of examples
of mastery of the situation by self-denying, enthusiastic,
valorous women. Past and present days are full of their
noble records. I hear of a book called " The Twelve
Women of the War," and the title sounds feeble and inad-
equate. Instead of twelve, there are thousands and tens
of thousands ; and the war has not ended their grand
endeavors to benefit those who are less favored by Provi-
dence than themselves. All over this land there are living
and working to-day, women like Amy Bradlee, in Wil-
mington, North Carolina, who went down from her home
in Maine to teach that portion of almost hopeless hu-


manity called " the poor whites." God bless such mas-
teries of the situation, and give us as many female General
Armstrongs as the country so sorely needs. [Applause.]

Let us not forget that there are successes which are
worse than failures, and that there are victories which are
irremediable ruin. Two of the fastest equipages in France
and America were driven for a short time by Louis Na-
poleon and James Fisk. I have lived to see both these
men followed and applauded by crowds on the Champs
Elysees and the Central Park. Their flashing liveries
dazzled the world of stupid starers with the loud huzzas. '
One of these poor creatures fell by the hand of an assas-
sin, who in his wicked turn is soon to meet his righteous
doom. The other is reported to be gnawing his own
heart and slowly dying in bitter exile. And yet how re-
cently both of these men seemed to be masters of a great
situation. A year or two ago their names every morning
vulgarized the columns of your newspapers, and their
daily doings were chronicled as those of good men never
are. But that inexorable hand which, sooner or later,
arrests the robber and the coward, smote them from their
high places. I couple them together in one sentence, for
both were frauds and disgraces to humanity. [Ap-

I think no criminal American ever lived whose example
while he moved among us was more fatal to the ardent
business young man of this country than that of James
Fisk. His apparent success debauched the minds and
hearts of the most ingenuous and unsuspecting. God
grant that he may be the last of his tribe who can so
poison a generation. The old, old motto, " Principia non
homines" is imperishable. When that poor hunted
harassed body was stretched on the Charlestown gallows
in Virginia, was Governor Wise master of the situation
there? No! No! for the soul of the murdered victim
still goes marching on, while that of the man who doomed
him, and was standing by and consenting unto his death,
had no advancing music in him which this world would
listen and keep step to for an instant ! It was Henry A.
Wise who was defeated and buried on that fatal day,
while John Brown lying cold in his coffin, will be the
master of that situation forever. [Applause.]

Photogravure aftrr a photograph front life



[Lecture by James A. Froude, English historian (born in Dartington,
Devonshire, England, April 23, 1818; died in Salcombe, Devonshire,
October 20, 1894), delivered first before the Royal Institution of Lon-
don, February 5, 1864. This was held to be one of Mr. Froude's most
important lectures, since in it he elaborated his particular views of his-
tory and of historical composition.]

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN : I have undertaken to speak
this evening on what is called the Science of History. I
fear it is a dry subject; and there seems, indeed, some-
thing incongruous in the very connection of such words
as Science and History. It is as if we were to talk of the
color of sound, or the longitude of the Rule-of-Three.
Where it is so difficult to make out the truth on the com-
monest disputed fact in matters passing under our very
eyes, how can we talk of a science in things long past,
which come to us only through books? It often seems to
me as if History was like a child's box of letters, with
which we can spell any word we please. We have only to
pick out such letters as we want, arrange them as we like,
and say nothing about those which do not suit our

I will try to make the thing intelligible, and I will try
not to weary you ; but I am doubtful of my success either
way. First, however, I wish to say a word or two about
the eminent person whose name is connected with this
way of looking at History, and whose premature death
struck us all with such a sudden sorrow. Many of you,
perhaps, recollect Mr. Buckle as he stood not so long ago
in this place. He spoke more than an hour without a
note never repeating himself, never wasting words ; lay-


ing out his matter as easily and as pleasantly as if he had
been talking to us at his own fireside. We might think
what we pleased of Mr. Buckle's views, but it was plain
enough that he was a man of uncommon power; and he
had qualities also qualities to which he, perhaps, himself
attached little value as rare as they were admirable.

Most of us, when we have hit on something which we
are pleased to think important and original, feel as if we
should burst with it. We come out into the book-market
with our wares in hand, and ask for thanks and recogni-
tion. Mr. Buckle, at an early age, conceived the thought
which made him famous, but he took the measure of his
abilities. He knew that whenever he pleased he could
command personal distinction, but he cared more for his
subject than for himself. He was contented to work with
patient reticence, unknown and unheard of, for twenty
years ; and then, at middle life, he produced a work which
was translated at once into French and German, and, of
all places in the world, fluttered the dovecotes of the Im-
perial Academy of St. Petersburg.

Goethe says somewhere that, as soon as a man has
done anything remarkable, there seems to be a general
conspiracy to prevent him from doing it again. He is
feasted, feted, caressed; his time is stolen from him by
breakfasts, dinners, societies, idle businesses of a thousand
kinds. Mr. Buckle had his share of all this ; but there are
also more dangerous enemies that wait upon success like
his. He had scarcely won for himself the place which he
deserved, than his health was found shattered by his
labors. He had but time to show us how large a man he
was, time just to sketch the outlines of his philosophy,
and he passed away as suddenly as he appeared. He went
abroad to recover strength for his work, but his work was
done with and over. He died of a fever at Damascus,
vexed only that he was compelled to leave it uncompleted.
Almost his last conscious words were, " My book, my
book ! I shall never finish my book ! " He went away as
he had lived, nobly careless of himself, and thinking only
of the thing which he had undertaken to do.

But his labor had not been thrown away. Disagree with
him as we might, the effect which he had already pro-
duced was unmistakable, and it is not likely to pass away.


What he said was not essentially new. Some such inter-
pretation of human things is as early as the beginning of
thought. But Mr. Buckle, on the one hand, had the art
which belongs to men of genius: he could present his
opinions with peculiar distinctness; and, on the other
hand, there is much in the mode of speculation at present
current among us for which those opinions have an un-
usual fascination. They do not please us, but they excite
.and irritate us. We are angry with them; and we betray,
j in being so, an uneasy misgiving that there may be more
r truth in those opinions than we like to allow.

Mr. Buckle's general theory was something of this
kind : When human creatures began first to look about
them in the world they lived in, there seemed to be no
order in anything. Days and nights were not the same
length. The air was sometimes hot and sometimes cold.
Some of the stars rose and set like the sun; some were
almost motionless in the sky; some described circles
round a central star above the north horizon. The planets
went on principles of their own ; and in the elements there
seemed nothing but caprice. Sun and moon would at
times go out in eclipse. Sometimes the earth itself would
shake under men's feet ; and they could only suppose that
earth and air and sky and water were inhabited and man-
aged by creatures as wayward as themselves.

Time went on, and the disorder began to arrange itself.
Certain influences seemed beneficent to men, others ma-
lignant and destructive ; and the world was supposed to
be animated by good spirits and evil spirits, who were
continually fighting against each other, in outward nature
and in human creatures themselves. Finally, as men ob-
served more and imagined less, these interpretations gave
way also. Phenomena the most opposite in effect were
seen to be the result of the same natural law. The fire
did not burn the house down if the owners of it were care-
ful, but remained on the hearth and boiled the pot; nor
did it seem more inclined to burn a bad man's house down
than a good man's, provided the badness did not take the
form of negligence. The phenomena of nature were found
for the most part to proceed in an orderly, regular way,
and their variations to be such as could be counted upon.
From observing the order of things, the step was easy to


cause and effect. An eclipse, instead of being a sign of
the anger of Heaven, was found to be the necessary and
innocent result of the relative position of sun, moon, and
earth. The comets became bodies in space, unrelated to
the beings who had imagined that all creation was watch-
ing them and their doings. By degrees caprice, volition,
all symptoms of arbitrary action, disappeared out of the
universe; and almost every phenomenon in earth or
heaven was found attributable to some law, either under-
stood or perceived to exist. Thus nature was reclaimed
from the imagination. The first fantastic conception of
things gave way before the moral ; the moral in turn gave
way before the natural ; and at last there was left but one
small tract of jungle where the theory of law had failed to
penetrate, the doings and characters of human creatures

There, and only there, amidst the conflicts of reason
and emotion, conscience and desire, spiritual forces were
still conceived to exist. Cause and effect were not trace-
able when there was a free volition to disturb the connec-
tion. In all other things, from a given set of conditions
the consequences necessarily followed. With man, the
word " law " changed its meaning, and instead of a fixed
order, which he could not choose but follow, it became a
moral precept, which he might disobey if he dared.

This it was which Mr. Buckle disbelieved. The economy
which prevailed throughout nature, he thought it very un-
likely should admit of this exception. He considered that
human beings acted necessarily from the impulse of out-
ward circumstances upon their mental and bodily condi-
tion at any given moment. Every man, he said, acted
from a motive; and his conduct was determined by the
motive which affected him most powerfully. Every man
naturally desires what he supposes to be good for him;
but, to do well, he must know well. He will eat poison, so
long as he does not know that it is poison. Let him see
that it will kill him, and he will not touch it. The ques-
tion was not of moral right and wrong. Once let him be
thoroughly made to feel that the thing is destructive, and
he will leave it alone by the law of his nature. His vir-
tues are the result of knowledge ; his faults, the necessary
consequence of the want of it. A boy desires to draw.



He knows nothing about it: he draws men like trees or
houses, with their centre of gravity anywhere. He makes
mistakes, because he knows no better. We do not blame
him. Till he is better taught, he cannot help it. But his
instruction begins. He arrives at straight lines ; then at
solids; then at curves. He learns perspective, and light
and shade. He observes more accurately the forms which
he wishes to represent. He perceives effects, and he per-
ceives the means by which they are produced. He has
learned what to do ; and, in part, he has learned how to do
it. His after progress will depend on the amount of force
which his nature possesses; but all this is as natural as
the growth of an acorn. You do not preach to the acorn
that it is its duty to become a large tree; you do not
preach to the art-pupil that it is his duty to become a
Holbein. You plant your acorn in favorable soil, where
it can have light and air, and be sheltered from the wind,
you remove the superfluous branches, you train the
strength into the leading shoots. The acorn will then
become as fine a tree as it has vital force to become. The
difference between men and other things is only in the
largeness and variety of man's capacities ; and in this
special capacity, that he alone has the power of observing
the circumstances favorable to his own growth, and can
apply them for himself, yet, again, with this condition,
that he is not, as is commonly supposed, free to choose
whether he will make use of these appliances or not.
When he knows what is good for him, he will choose it ;
and he will judge what is good for him by the circum-
stances which have made him what he is.

And what he would do, Mr. Buckle supposed that he
always had done. His history had been a natural growth
as much as the growth of the acorn. His improvement
had followed the progress of his knowledge ; and, by a
comparison of his outward circumstances with the condi-
tion of his mind, his whole proceedings on this planet, his
creeds and constitutions, his good deeds and his bad, his
arts and his sciences, his empires and his revolutions,
would be found all to arrange themselves into clear rela-
tions of cause and effect.

If, when Mr. Buckle pressed his conclusions, we ob-
jected the difficulty of finding what the truth about past


times really was, he would admit it candidly as far as con-
cerned individuals ; but there was not the same difficulty,
he said, with masses of men. We might disagree about
the character of Julius or Tiberius Caesar, but we could
know well enough the Romans of the Empire. We had
their literature to tell us how they thought ; we had their
laws to tell us how they governed ; we had the broad face
of the world, the huge mountainous outline of their gen-
eral doings upon it, to tell us how they acted. He be-
lieved it was all reducible to laws, and could be made as
intelligible as the growth of the chalk cliffs or the coal

And thus consistently Mr. Buckle cared little for indi-
viduals. He did not believe (as some one has said) that
the history of mankind is the history of its great men.
Great men with him were but larger atoms, obeying the
same impulses with the rest, only perhaps a trifle more
erratic. With them or without them, the course of things
would have been much the same.

As an illustration of the truth of his view, he would
point to the new science of Political Economy. Here al-
ready was a large area of human activity in which natural
laws were found to act unerringly. Men had gone on for
centuries trying to regulate trade on moral principles.
They would fix wages according to some imaginary rule
of fairness ; they would fix prices by what they considered
things ought to cost; they encouraged one trade or dis-
couraged another, for moral reasons. They might as well
have tried to work a steam-engine on moral reasons. The
great statesmen whose names were connected with these
enterprises might have as well legislated that water should
run up hill. There were natural laws, fixed in the condi-
tion of things ; and to contend against them was the old
battle of the Titans against the gods.

As it was with political economy, so it was with all other
forms of human activity ; and, as the true laws of political
economy explained the troubles which people fell into in
old times because they were ignorant of them, so the true
laws of human nature, as soon as we knew them, would
Explain their mistakes in more serious matters, and enable
us to manage better for the future. Geographical posi-
tion, climate, air, soil, and the like, had their several influ-



ences. The northern nations are hardy and industrious,
because they must till the earth if they would eat the fruits
of it, and because the temperature is too low to make an
idle life enjoyable. In the south, the soil is more produc-
tive, while less food is wanted and fewer clothes ; and, in
the exquisite air, exertion is not needed to make the sense

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