With the Compliments of the President.
Union University comprises Union College and its preparatory School at Schenectady, and the Medical College, Law School and Dudley Observatory at Albany. You are cordially invited to visit these Institutions, and to attend the Commencement of Union College, held annually on the fourth Wednesday in June.
UNION COLLEGE, AND OF THE GOVERNORS OF
NOS. 8 AND 9 FIRST STREET, TROY, N. Y.
FIFTY years ago, there stood forth upon the stage of Union College, Schenectady, a youthful student just entering upon his Senior year, and privileged to celebrate his elevation to the crowning dignity of the undergraduate in a Junior oration. A year later, he re-appeared upon the same stage, appointed, along with a goodly company of associates, to do his little best in a Senior oration. And then, having received the usual testimonials, and having spoken many a parting word, the time came to take leave of his fair Mother, and of those pleasant scenes, so tenderly associated with four years of eager study and reading and bright social enjoyment--years which he now looks back upon as among the happiest and most profitable of his life.
Fifty years fly quickly past, and the youthful student returns quam mutatus!--returns an old man, bearing about him sad traces--many without, far more within--of half a century of labour and care. He returns to look upon the graves of children and of their tender, devoted mother. Changed himself, changed in all things, save in his affections, in his attachment to friends, in his love of books and good learning, in his tender, reverent regard for the dear old College; changed himself, he beholds change everywhere around him; and here, in this [3/4] assembly, he gazes, now upon the living before him, some known, many unknown; and now, with a kind of second sight, upon forms revered, beloved, disclosed only to the vision of age.
As in Westminster Abbey, in time of Divine Service, the stranger, if he chance to lift his eye to glance around him, beholds an impressive scene, a kind of realization of the communion of the living and the departed; the living worshippers on their knees around him, while on many a monument within his view is seen a recumbent form, with hands uplifted and clasped as if in prayer, so here, I seem dimly to see well-known forms, distinguishable by characteristic bearing and action, moving across the stage, or gravely seated here in the place of authority, as if still full of interest in these scenes, still caring for the fair Mother, her servants and her children. Foremost among them all, the "old man eloquent," the real founder of this noble seat of learning, and for more than half a century its consummate ruler, the guide, philosopher, and friend of a long succession of many hundreds of ardent, enthusiastic young men, since dispersed over all the Union, devoted admirers of his wisdom, eloquence, goodness. How distinctly I see him as he appeared on Commencement day; "the observed of all observers," passing uncovered, in flowing robe, between two lines of students and distinguished strangers, up the walk toward the Church, and having on either hand a high State official, or an honoured guest! The whole brilliant ceremonial, here within, with what grace and dignity he presided over it! Who, that was a student here fifty years ago, can have forgotten the ancient, mysterious, three-cornered hat, which it was such a privilege [4/5] and honour merely to look upon, because, only once a year it came forth from its academic sanctum, on occasion of the great annual literary festival?
Or, to turn your thoughts toward yonder classic eminence, who that had the happiness of being a student there half a century ago, can have forgotten the glow of admiration and sympathy with which we used to listen to those discourses, always impressive, sometimes thrilling, on a Sunday afternoon, toward evening, in the College Chapel, where many that came to enjoy an intellectual treat, or to criticise, went away to think deeply, perchance to pray! Or again, re-entering, on a week-day afternoon, one part of that rude College Chapel, devoted then to recitations and lectures, where we used to listen to the wondrous talks of that master thinker, talks on matters of taste, literature, philosophy, morals, religion, practical wisdom, all things, great and small, that could enlarge the mind, refine the feelings, improve the heart, a boundless store, worthy to be incorporated into a manual of life; with what refreshed, elevated spirits we came forth, day after day, from that pure intellectual feast!
And then, in government, in discipline, what a master! How he swayed the hearts of young men! In his whole bearing, what a matchless union of dignified gentleness, tenderness, patience, firmness! How well he knew the power of that chiefest attribute of the Almighty Father,--Love, Mercy. And in the might of that sublimest of gifts, what miracles he wrought, sometimes suddenly, in perverse, wayward hearts! Often in his own study, often in the private room of the unhappy student, was there a scene over which angels rejoice, and over which fathers and mothers, had they known the [5/6] whole truth, would have wept in silent wonder and thankfulness. A wilful youth, in peril of ruin, smarting under a sense of his own neglect, wrong-doing, humiliation, angry with himself, with everything and everybody about him, stiffly bent upon rebellious, insulting courses toward the chief authority, looking for nothing from him but harsh words, severe measures; he suddenly finds himself in a presence of inexpressible dignity, but full of kindness, sweetness, gentleness, and listening to words of sympathy and encouragement. He is touched when he is least expecting it, with time finger of love! Oh! for the overcharged bosom it is too much! Pride breaks down; anger vanishes; noble feelings rise up and take their place; and that youth, when once more he finds himself alone, shows by his kindling eye, his loftier mien, that he is possessed by a new spirit, is arming himself for worthier deeds henceforth; and, let it be added, in many cases, the subsequent life, in College and after College, fulfilled the profuse of that happy hour. Blessed ministry, where there is the heart, and the wisdom to exercise it! That old heathenish system of public ignominious expulsions, how at the very mention of it his whole nature revolted. He would have nothing to do with it. By wise precautions he laboured to exclude evil; by timely intervention he sought to repress it, or to transmute it into good. His supreme aim was to save and to bless. But when all efforts with the wayward failed, a thing rarely known, he proceeded by delicate, private methods, intimating to parents or friends that the unhealthy member must be quietly withdrawn.
All honour to his memory! The College is his sufficient monument. May it flourish and grow, and may the [6/7] able, energetic inheritor of his dignity and of his responsibilities, who, aided by munificent friends, has given such a fresh, vigourous impulse to the life of the Institution, prove in all things worthy of the grandfather who made the place which he fills to be truly a place of honour; may he be not altogether unworthy of the father, the memory of whose labours, and of whose eloquent lessons, is yet fresh in the beloved College, as it is yet fresh in the field of his latest labours and final resting-place!
GENTLEMEN: To detain you with many words, in the midst of these interesting ceremonies, would be highly unbecoming. Yet very probably these may be the last words that I shall ever give utterance to under the sanction of my Alma Mater, or from a position so dignified as that which I now occupy. I have asked myself the serious question: "If you were pronouncing your valedictory, your farewell address, not as parting words to college and friends at the close of the four years of undergraduate life, but as suited to the near termination of the earthly life itself, what would you wish to say? what, especially, speaking from the place where you now stand?" And I reply, that in these last academic utterances, my parting thoughts are much taken up with two great interests: the honour and influence for good of this and similar institutions, and the true welfare, dignity and happiness of my country. Great themes these, gentlemen, which might well employ hours, while I can give to them only a very few vanishing moments. And what you are to look for from me, at this time, is not an oration, not a laboured dissertation, but a few words expressive of the latest feelings of an old man, touching some views of education.
 To speak of the true development and right working of this University as being likely to have any appreciable influence on the well-being, dignity, and happiness of this vast country, may be thought too extravagant, too fanciful, implying a wild conceit of the importance of the institution, and an utterly inadequate conception of the greatness and intelligence of the nation. Well, gentlemen, I do not think that we Americans are any of us likely to undervalue our own magnificent country! We are all proud of it. We all love it. We are all jealous of its honour, and of the esteem due to it from other nations. But a nation may be pre-eminent for material power and resources, for a certain kind of quick popular intelligence; in scientific research and discovery, in useful invention, in individual cases of high culture and scholarship, in poetry and oratory and history; in painting and sculpture, in high military achievement; it may have done well, very well indeed; while yet, if we set ourselves to consider thoughtfully the prevailing tone and texture of much of the national life, especially of the great middle class, we may possibly find reason to doubt whether in certain moral and reflective qualities, in certain tastes and capacities for rational enjoyment, this great people, this tremendous aggregate of human capabilities, mind, heart, manner of life, whether it be quite all that we could wish it to be. Certainly, in this broad land of ours, we have enough, and more than enough, of that kind of education, and of those exciting influences (unavoidable, perhaps, in a great country which is drawing in foreign peoples, which is rapidly developing its power, and rapidly changing its aspects)--I say we have enough, and more than enough, to [8/9] make the national mind impulsive, restless, adventurous, quick-witted, eager about external and material things, not to say rash and headlong in schemes for the family, and for worldly profiting.
Can anything be done that will tend to make the common mind of the nation, of the great middle class, more sober and sedate, more contemplative?--anything to imbue it with a serener, deeper wisdom, with more of a spirit of contentment; more in love with moderate, cheerful enjoyments, and more disposed to look for happiness in the sweet calm of home affections, and well-directed, virtuous employments? Can our educated classes do anything to shed over the plain, common people of the country a brighter light of fancy and feeling? Where shall we find the wise, thoughtful poet to sing for them, as Goethe said, "the Song of the Potato," i. e., to spiritualize, to invest with thought, sentiment, high associations, the dull, material things of the daily life? From whence are we to summon the men of education who will know how to pour into our common schools and academies an influence which, without superseding arithmetic and geography, will do something to refine and ennoble the spirit of the girl and boy; something to fill the opening mind with beautiful images, with far-reaching thoughts, with grand conceptions; things to make one more bright, cheerful, wise; and so fixed in the memory that, through all the life, whatever may be its trials and losses, they will remain to shed around, within the soul and without it, a blessed light, only inferior to that which comes down upon the "pure in heart" from heaven?
It is said of an ancient Greek philosopher, that being in captivity, and being entrusted by his master with the [9/10] education of his children, he made selections of wise and beautiful things from the finest of the poets, and caused them to be committed to memory by his pupils. I doubt whether any of the innumerable educational conventions in these modern days have ever contrived an exercise better fitted to enrich the young mind and make it beautiful. I have sometimes referred to this story in my addresses at the closing ceremonies of a young ladies' school, and intimated that, were I charged with the control of such a work of female education, I should be inclined to employ, as a part of my system, the method of the Greek philosopher. Having made selections of beautiful arid suggestive things from the finest of the poets, and caused them to be printed in short portions, and in large type so as to be easily read from a distance, I would have them hung, one set at a time, around on the walls, to remain there for days, until most thoroughly committed to memory. And then, calling the attention of the pupils to a striking passage, I would ask them to tell me what there was in it that was beautiful or noble, and why it was so. And so of other similar passages. And when everything worthy of note in the one set had been drawn out and appreciated, I would take them down and replace them with another set, to be treated in the same way; and all this without interfering with what is thought to be the main business of the school, giving what is called "solid instruction," but rather helping it on by bringing in brighter influences. Would it do any harm to the child, or to the national tone, to infuse into the plain families and common schools of the country a little more of the poetic element, a little more of the grand heroic? These elements may be very simple, and yet of a nature to stimulate [10/11] to elevated thought and feeling, to enlarge the conceptions, to kindle the imagination. May we not provide for all needful instruction of the young, without confining them forever to what is hard, dry, mechanical? Oh! the ploughboy in the field, the milkmaid at her work, the rural housewife in her cares and toils, in her hours with her husband and children--shall the spirit be sometimes lighted up with song and story? or shall all be prosaic, monotonous, a weary grinding day by day, in a narrow prison-house, something that belittles and wastes the life? What a difference between the two systems, if we look for a cheerful, refining influence to quicken the common mind of the country, and to help save it from sinking down into what is gross and debasing. Now a great literary institution will aim at helping to confer such benefits upon the nation. it will not limit its views to a, narrow estimate of mere personal advantage to the individual under its charge, but while it will always consult the interests of the youth committed to its care, and labour to promote them, it will uphold those great principles of education and of life which are diffusive in their nature, tending to influence beneficially the common mind, the great middle class, hardly less than the circles of superior intellectual power and training.
And here allow me to express the hope that no word of mine will be regarded by any one as intended to reflect at all upon the course of study adopted in this University. I know of no occasion for criticism; but I believe there is abundant occasion for approval and congratulation. My observations are altogether general and abstract, prompted only by the feeling that if I speak here at all, I ought [11/12] to bear my testimony, however imperfectly, on a great question, and let it go forth for what it may be worth.
To return then to the more popular relations of the College or University. One Professor, at least, there was in Union College, thirty or forty years ago, who gave to popular education no little time and thought, and who was as widely and favourably known for his zealous efforts to extend and improve the education of the people, as for his unwearied labours, his animating influence in the College. But I confess I am thinking of something quite different. I refer to that kind of influence of the College or University upon the common mind of the country, which may flow out over the land through the high culture, the tone of thought and feeling which it imparts to its educated men. In this respect, as in many others, England is a marvellous country, a wonderful little world! And toward that home of the English language we are apt to turn our eyes whenever we are considering, in a large way, fundamental questions of education, or what is meant by high intellectual culture. High intellectual culture, of course, we have at home; but there are some advantages in looking to an old social system, to a world far removed from our own. Striking facts, great examples, may very well be put in the place of abstruse reasoning, at least at first, or at all events be used as a help to enable us to comprehend and appreciate theoretic statements. No doubt England is in large measure what she is in national spirit and tone, in virtue of elements of character, complex influences derived from her blended and in some respects illustrious ancestry; from her twelve hundred years of heroic, picturesque history; from her old feudal institutions--institutions [12/13] now softened and refined into habits more consonant to equal rights and a better civilization.
One needs only to glance at the curious observances that attend upon the coronation of an English sovereign to see how the whole gorgeous pageant is made up of ideas and ceremonies drawn from long past ages of the nation's history. It is a splendid piece of tapestry, in which you recognize the brilliant colouring, the grand symbolical figures characteristic of times long since past away. So it is with the national character and feeling. As the English language is intermingled with rich lights, with expressive forms derived from ancient literature, as well as from later tongues, so do the English character and tone bear the impress of a grand and peculiar history. Of course it must be added, that in the present social condition of England, much is due to her enormous wealth--wealth partly inherited, partly collected year by year by her adventurous sons in every part of the world, and brought home to be lavished upon that rich, that exquisite little island. But all these causes put together, potential as they are, will not explain the present character and condition of England. All that is brightest and best about her intellectually, all that makes her most worthy of the admiration of the world, so far as mere human influences go, is derived from her great schools and from her grand old Universities.
One of the very first things which strikes an educated man when he sets foot upon English soil and enters English society, is the classical tone prevailing everywhere among educated people; and the second thing is the very large proportion of persons in society who are so educated. Not only in its great towns, but in out-of-the-way [13/14] way nooks and corners of the land, you constantly meet with persons of high culture, University men, living in retirement, gentle and courteous in their manners, and day by day shedding around them, without knowing it, a refining, enlightening, purifying influence. What must be the aggregate of all such influences on the national tone, on the respectable middle classes, scattered as they are thickly all over the land? But so far as high literary culture is concerned, these influences come almost wholly from the Universities of England. And in the Universities of England, it must be confessed that that high culture is drawn originally, in very large measure, from classical sources, from the study of the literature of Greece and Rome. Of course, very many of those who hear me are familiar with the measure of classical attainment commonly met with in England. But there may be many others present who would prefer to have some definite facts to make palpable the habits, the tastes, the degree of attainment which come from such studies there. [* If it seem strange that, in speaking before a University, on its great literary festival, I should choose to devote many words to so old and well-worn a subject as the importance of classical studies, I must plead as my excuse that I seem to myself to see signs in many quarters in this country, that such studies are in danger of being too much disparaged and too often neglected.]
Well, then. In the Universities, and sometimes elsewhere, you may hear Latin spoken (when there is real occasion for it,) with considerable fluency and elegance. Very sweetly and trippingly on time tongue it comes from the modest Fellow or Professor, when there is need. Of course the same timing is often found on the Continent, and sometimes in this country, though we are less accustomed to the use. Again, Greek and Latin authors are [14/15] read by not a few with nearly the same facility with which they would read English. Many would probably be found able to do what the younger Pitt was said to have been daily in the habit of practising with his college tutor at the University--read directly from the Greek, at first sight, into English. And the consequence of this mastery of the ancient languages and literature is that they hold a high and commanding position through all the after life. They continue to be read with delight. There is a strong public opinion in all educated circles which enforces respect for them. Much oftener than with us, the gems and fine gold from the ancient poets, orators, philosophers, historians, sparkle in English speech and writing, and even in common discourse. The condensed wisdom, the felicitous phrase, the pathetic truth, comes out, with all its high associations, as if unbidden, because nothing else will so well express the intended meaning.
The treasures of ancient literature hold so foremost a place in the thoughts of all educated persons, that a reference to them seems never inappropriate. They present themselves on common occasions, in the intervals of duty and in times of amusement. In a quiet nook in a rural district in England, you may find a clergyman, in a moment of leisure, expounding to his curate a remote allusion or peculiar turn of expression in a Greek tragedy, or in Plato, a work no doubt read and re-read before, but which, on a re-perusal and a closer scrutiny, suggested a question as to form or meaning. Once when in England, returning from a stroll through the fields with the Vicar of the parish, we met, at the door of the vicarage, the young Curate, an Oxford man, some time out of the [15/16] University, who had walked over to ask the help of the Vicar in such a passage as I have just referred to. It was beautiful to see the quiet Vicar, as modest as he was able and eminent, take the Greek tragedy in hand, and proceed, without helps and in a half humourous way, to expound the context and open out the dark passage.
At another time, you may find the Rector, and perhaps the squire of the parish, or a retired judge, or a member of Parliament, deep in some obscure passage of a curious, out-of-the-way Greek fragment. Or, you may meet a company of young men at table, full of life and spirit as of refinement, and you may be amused at the way in which, after running through some common topics, and through many a walk of English literature, they will, without premeditation, become involved in a hot debate touching certain fine lines in Homer or Virgil, or some other classic author. The conflicting but good-humoured criticism waxes warmer and warmer, until at length. all rising from table and the books being brought, they cluster around the reader, and careless of lexicons or commentators, question the force of words, the use of different authors, collate parallel passages, setting reason against reason, till the majority, or time admitted superior, comes to a decided conclusion, and the whole ends in a burst of youthful merriment.
Or, three or four young clergymen, laborious when at home, and destined to rise to eminence, take their few weeks of summer vacation on the Continent, and in some rather rough excursion, amuse themselves in a joint production of Latin verse, celebrating their adventures, and hitting off each other's ludicrous appearance. Or, two aged men, of seventy-five and eighty years, veterans, the [16/17] one in theology, the other in law, both in classical literature; close friends and correspondents for fifty years, ever since their university days, revered through all England--why should I not name them? the Reverend John Keble, the poet, the scholar and the saint, and the Right Honourable Sir John Taylor Coleridge, [* While these pages are passing through the press, we receive news that a good man has gone to his rest. The words of an English journalist (Feb. 16,) will find sympathy in many hearts in this country: "Sir John Coleridge died last Friday at his home in Devonshire, leaving a name distinguished both in literature and in the judicial annals of his country, and dear to all who remember--and who that ever knew him does not?--how good he was, how unaffectedly kind, how charming in talk and in his family, how simple and pure in character. Surely if an example had to be sought of an admirable life, an honoured, useful and serene old age, and a peaceful end, here is one not often to be matched, and which we ought to be the better for thinking of."] they see the end drawing near, and by letter, as usual, they hold solemn and most touching communion respecting the soul, and life and death, and the better life to come. But even in these supreme moments the love of letters continues; the cheerful resource found in scholarly habits remains; and the veteran judge consults the veteran poet and divine respecting a curious passage in a later Latin author. But enough, and more than enough, has been said to bring clearly into view time classical tastes and habits to be found everywhere among highly educated people in England. They are thoroughly impregnated with, and largely take their tone from the literature of Greece and Rome.
No doubt many of the same things may be said of a more limited circle of scholars in this country. There is no need to make comparisons. I have preferred to set forth an old country as an example, and to show what for ages have been her views of education, and her ideas of the highest intellectual culture.
And now what of the fruits of that early study? Lord [17/18] Bacon, speaking of the ingenious sports and mischief of children, as exercising and developing their faculties for the more serious work of the after life, says, a little quaintly, that "the same strategy, which is early employed in robbing an orchard, is afterwards put in practice in taking a town." And that early discipline in ancient languages in the great schools and in the universities of England, that hot debate among young men in a social hour over the doubtful passage in Latin or Greek, just now referred to, or that practice of young Pitt of reading at first sight directly out of the Latin and Greek into English--to what use in after life were they applied?
What enabled young Pitt to step directly out of the University into the House of Commons, and to become a consummate orator and debater at twenty-two or twenty-three, and Prime Minister before he was twenty-five? What enabled him at that age to stand up, single-handed, against all the great orators and statesmen of England--Fox, Sheridan, Burke, Lord North and others--and beginning, as he did, with a minority, to vanquish and triumph over them all, converting his minority into a majority, and keeping it for fifteen or twenty years? What kind of training was it that enabled him to rise on the instant when suddenly and unexpectedly assailed, and speak with such luminous order of thought, and in sentences so perfectly formed, that it came to be commonly said of him, that he could "speak a king's speech off-hand?" I am not so simple as to ascribe all this to Greek and Latin. No doubt Mr. Pitt was a transcendent genius; no doubt the splendid career and still more splendid eloquence of his great father (Lord Chatham) early directed his attention to all [18/19] those exercises of the explicit reason, to all the arms and ammunition likely to be called for in Parliamentary warfare, and in Parliamentary eloquence. But I am apt to think that his mastery in the ancient languages, and his fluent practice in them, had something to do with it.[ * He said so himself, when asked by an intimate friend, how he came to be gifted with such perfect fluency, such ready command of the choicest language; and he observed that his father had early enjoined upon him the constant practice of reading directly out of some foreign language--Latin or Greek especially--into English, taking care to pause, if necessary, until he found precisely the right word.] On one occasion, when Mr. Pitt was at his house in the country, two friends, both of them University men, called to pay their respects. A few minutes elapsed before the great man came down to them. In the meantime, one of the visitors, finding a classical author [Thucycidides] on the table, takes it up and begins to read. He meets with a passage which puzzles him. The other visitor is applied to, and he too is puzzled. In a moment, Mr. Pitt appearing, his assistance is invoked. He glances at the passage for an instant--this statesman who for years has been oppressed with the business of a great country, and daily obliged to encounter some of the most consummate orators the world ever saw; he who, if anybody, might have been excused for becoming a little dim-eyed in the deep things of Greece and Rome--he reads the passage for them at first sight.
Did high classical culture, did years and years devoted largely to Greek and Latin, make Mr. Pitt unpractical? For that is the sort of imputation which we sometimes hear. Unpractical! The great financier, the Prime Minister of England, time consummate master of men and of human affairs! Or Mr. Gladstone, who would have [19/20] been so welcome here to-day, whose presence (itself a splendid argument in favour of all high culture,) would have been such a boon to me, and to you! Has Mr. Gladstone been made unpractical by his thorough classical culture? I believe he was what is called a "double first" at Oxford--this great Minister, whose financial measures prospered, and who left everything in perfect order behind him; as an orator in Parliament, confessed by all to be facile princeps--in the closet, you will find him busy with curious studies on Homer, or touching with marvellous knowledge and power some great theme, some "burning question" of the hour. Or Sir Robert Peel, one of the ablest business men that England has seen for an hundred years--he also, I think, was a "double first" at Oxford; first in ancient languages and first in mathematics, and in all that mathematics stand for as the language and instrument of the physical sciences--who ever heard that he was the worse, less practical, or less eloquent, or less sagacious and well-balanced in his judgment of men and things, for having loved, for continuing to love Homer and Thucydides, Tacitus and Cicero. Cicero! One of the greatest preachers of France in her day of great preachers, was said to have been in the habit of reading over the chief works of Cicero every year.
But these histories are too seductive to an old man, and there would be no end to them. One further observation, however, in this line, is, I think, worth making. The Prime Ministers to whom I have referred, are certainly eminent examples of men of superior classical culture in the highest offices of the kingdom. But they are not exceptional cases. They are only brilliant representatives [20/21] of a class of scholarly men [* It has been remarked that when Sir Roundell Palmer (now Lord Selborne, and late Lord Chancellor) took office under Mr. Gladstone, he was the eighth member of the Cabinet who was a man of high classical culture.] who have filled foremost places in successive administrations in England for a long series of years. The late Lord Derby, a brilliant orator and statesman, certainly not an unpractical man, winds up his long life, mainly political, with a new translation of Homer! Now whatever view we may take of this kind of study and knowledge; whether we regard it as a sharpener of the critical and logical powers of the mind, (and certainly distinguishing nicely the precise import of words, and making out a consistent meaning in a sentence, is a natural, and at the same time a fine exercise of the reasoning faculties;) or whether we look upon it as a purifier and refiner of the taste, or as a means of incorporating into our being the quintessence of all ancient wisdom and beauty of thought; (and he who does not know how transcendent the Greek was in the perception of the beautiful, and in the power of creating it, knows little of that marvellous people;) or again, whether we regard this kind of study and knowledge as a source of daily enjoyment, or as giving us a complete mastery over all the apparatus of learning, over all the avenues to literary research and investigation--whatever view we may take, we must admit, that thoroughness of attainment, familiarity and mastery of knowledge, such as have just been shadowed forth, are indispensable to our reaping in full the advantages of such studies. Yet I by no means deny--I fully believe--that a very inferior acquaintance with the Greek and Latin languages is of great use, from their perfect structure, from the clear way [21/22] in which they lay open to the eye all modifications in the order and relations of thought, thus giving us a distinct view of the general principles of grammar, which we cannot obtain from our own, nor, so far as I know, from any other modern tongue. Gentlemen, shall we refuse a little, because we cannot have much. To visit the ancient portions of the city of Rome, or of the city of Jerusalem, for only a few days, is to engrave upon the memory a pathetic and suggestive image, which, so long as the faculties survive, can never fade away, can never be lost. It is a picture, which remains through life in the chambers of imagery, to extend the range of our thoughts, to impart lessons of wisdom, to add dignity to our inner being. And so, too, the youthful student may penetrate but a little way into the realms of ancient Greece and Rome, through a limited reading of their languages and literature; he may be able to glance around him in only a hurried and superficial way; and yet I believe he can scarcely fail to catch a glimpse of those old worlds, those strange forms of life and thought, those grand old colossal figures, which will do much to enlarge his conceptions, to make him a very different being from what he would have been without such imperfect knowledge. Therefore, though thorough attainments are what we all prize above all price, yet in ancient languages I am not so very much afraid of that dangerous thing, a little knowledge, if in a given case it be the best that we can get.
What a strange thing it was for our great sage--he was wise in the things capable of being brought within the range of his intellectual vision--what a strange thing that he should venture to erect himself into a judge of the value of classical studies! "To seek after two words [22/23] to express the same thing, when one word will do as well, is to lose our labour!" The truth is, one word will not do as well. If a really great man reason in a way so very narrow and superficial, it need not surprise us that educational conventions sometimes succeed in proving themselves not infallible. What is the use of Greek and Latin? is often asked. Well, gentlemen, you are no doubt ready with your answer--We don't like to be cut off from the treasures of genius and wisdom of the ancient world, which cannot be adequately conveyed to us in translations. We don't like to be put off with a system of education which leaves us forever blind to much of the history, and to more than half of the beauties of our own language, a system of education which inspires no taste, imparts no qualifications for companionship with our great poets, orators, writers, the real masters of our language--for who does not know that to read Milton and many like authors, without classical knowledge, is to be absolutely incapable of perceiving the richest lights, the most exquisite allusions, the most pregnant hints; it is to read at such conscious disadvantage, with such imperfect insight into those mysteries of glory and wisdom, that the reading is apt to weary, and to be given over; and so it comes about that our greatest masters of thought, our greatest refiners and invigorators of the mind, so often lie sleeping on our shelves, covered with dust, and in utter neglect. Gentlemen: We all accept that profound classical dictum, "Birds of a feather flock together." When we go of an evening into a very mixed company, we are apt to seek out those with whom we can converse most easily and pleasantly, persons of nearly our own intellectual measure. If we are only equal to personal gossip [23/24] and daily news, we shall find our equals. Or, if we attempt to soar higher, and to converse with a superior intelligence, we may incur the hazard of making ourselves a nuisance, or at the best find ourselves embarrassed, uncomfortable; or, if interested, still our gains from the conversation can only be in proportion to what we bring, to what we are, ourselves, intellectually. Conversation, as you know, is a kind of commerce; we may profit a little, but there will still be a proportion between what we carry and what we receive. So it is in that great "world-society" of books. If we have the taste and the intelligence for it, we may collect around us in our library all the great masters of thought and knowledge, ancient and modern, and pass a large part of all our days and nights in that glorious companionship. We may walk up to Bacon and say: "Come impart to me some of your wisdom, some of that 'wisdom of the ancients,' which you have loved so well." Or to Milton: "Come bear me up on your glorious wings to where the seraphs sing." Or, if we are of the earth, earthy; if our minds have been left in a dwarfed and darkened state by our neglect, or by lack of opportunity, we may drag through all the precious days and nights of this mortal life, feeding on husks, belittling our immortal souls with tittletattle, with sensual indulgences, with the low ambitions, the vanities and bickerings of a wasted and worthless life.
And once more; to the question what is the use of Greek and Latin in a system of education, we answer, (I think I hear you reply,) that we do not want a diploma, which is too poor to secure for us admission into the great republic of letters; which will not make us free to commune with that noble brotherhood of scholars found everywhere throughout Christendom, with many varying local tongues, yet all speaking, as it were, one language, all nourished in the same great schools of thought, all sympathizing, whatever their minor differences may be, with the same ideas of intellectual culture, the same zeal for intellectual progress. To have no part in classical learning, no sympathy with it, is to have no place in the great republic of letters. There may be a great deal of knowledge, a great deal of science, of a most valuable kind, but it does not by itself produce that sort of culture, that impregnation with the higher literature and ideas of the lettered world, which alone serves as a passport to the great communion and fellowship of scholars.
And finally, in reply to that oft-repeated question as to the use of classical learning, we say, in brief and in sum, that no system of education can ever be accepted as a satisfactory system, which bars the way to the highest culture of the human mind, which refuses to employ those means for developing and disciplining the intellectual faculties, which the experience of ages, which the judgment of nearly the whole learned world, which the very constitution of the mind declares to be, not indeed the only means, but the most effectual, the most necessary means to so great an end. Other means there are, and they too are indispensable. Let me not be misunderstood. I have no partial views. In the midst of the universal demand for the new knowledge (a demand which ought to be met and satisfied in every great institution of learning) I have only wished to throw out a few words, in a familiar way, not as to the value of this or that kind of instruction, but as to the true nature of education in its highest sense.
To presume at this time, and in this place to attempt [25/26] another full, formal argument in favour of the thorough study of the languages and literature of Greece and Rome, as a thing indispensable in the nature of things to the highest culture, would be attempting to "gild refined gold." It would be the height of presumption in a College, where the Greek chair has been long filled by such a master, such an enemy of shams, such a wise, independent teacher of truth, as is Tayler Lewis. Long may he be spared to the admiration and love of his friends; the pride of this University; the noble exemplar of American scholarship! If another laboured plea for the ancient learning might come gracefully enough from the professed student, from the man of letters, yet it would ill befit one who has chosen to devote his days and nights to laborious duties in another sphere of action, who is burdened with great cares, who spends much of his time in the open air, travelling from place to place on a sacred mission, collecting another kind of dust than the Olympic. Yet perhaps I may be allowed, in such a final address as this, to put upon record my deliberate testimony. As I have said on another occasion--having early entered upon the duties of life in a professorship of the mathematical and physical sciences, and having been an enthusiastic lover of them, I can have no possible prejudice against such studies. Indeed every intelligent advocate of the ancient literature as a necessary instrument of all high culture not only acknowledges but strongly maintains, that the exclusive study of the ancient learning, without the balancing co-operative discipline derived from the exact sciences, from mathematics including physics, logic--logic in its larger sense--would leave the development and training of the intellectual faculties in a [26/27] very partial, unsafe, unsatisfactory state. And then, of course, it is always to be understood that, whatever we may say of ancient literature, we fully recognize the propriety, we insist upon the indispensable necessity, in every college or university claiming to be thoroughly furnished, of an ample provision for instruction in all the new branches of knowledge, all those branches which are the fruit of modern discovery and invention, and which immediately concern the interests, material, intellectual, moral, of all future ages. Indeed, to say nothing of the disciplinary effects of the study of exact sciences, no one pretending to be a scholar, to be at home with scholars, no one aspiring to enlarged intelligence, can afford in these days to be ignorant of those magnificent worlds which modern science opens to our contemplation. Verily, to remain ignorant of that part of the material universe which is round about us and within our ken would be at least quite as ignominious as to be ignorant of the ancient world of letters. No! let the sciences be taught, and taught thoroughly. Let there be ample endowments for them. Let there be schools of natural and applied science, wherever they are needed, in connection with colleges and universities, and when necessary in separate institutions. In this vast country we can hardly do too much in that way, provided everything be well done. Let there be no controversy between the ancient learning and modern science. Let there be no shortsighted, fallacious plea of utility to excuse time disparaging and stinting of the one in order to deal more largely with the other. But be it remembered, whenever we are thinking, not merely of instruction in this or that kind of "useful" knowledge, paying knowledge, but thinking [27/28] of education in its true sense, of the means of attaining to the highest development, and the highest culture of the human faculties; then let us remember that we have no choice. As between ancient languages and exact sciences we are obliged to say, "The one must be done, and the other must not be left undone." They must both be included, as for centuries they always have been included, in every true system of education.
Among the mixed things of this short, hurried life, where, at every step, we have questions presented to us, and have to choose our way, what a comfort and help it is to us, what a safeguard, that we have not every moment to rely absolutely on our own unassisted private judgment, as if we were the first thinkers in the world, and as if nothing had been settled before we came into it. What a happiness and what an advantage it is to us that as soon as we open our eyes upon the world, and have to deal with certain serious matters, we find to our relief, that though many subordinate and collateral questions connected with them are debateable, yet that a vast number of fundamental and most vital things are already absolutely determined for us, and were so determined before we were born; in law, in medicine, in morals, in science, (the constitution of the solar system), in religion. Of course, not every alleged truth or fact which any particular class of persons may proclaim to be fixed and certain is so necessarily. But, as we all know, a great many momentous things are certified to us, made ready to our hand for use, placed beyond question. Now as to the greatly debated, and much abused subject of education, we know that there are infinite details about which questions may be properly raised; there are means [28/29] and methods, subordinate and collateral matters, where there is room for indefinite improvement. But at the same time here, too, in this matter of education, as in law, as in science, there are great fundamental facts, principles, which in the view of those most competent to judge were long ago accepted, ascertained and settled as certain and immutable; as for example, the great truth already dwelt upon and so well understood here and elsewhere; that the complete developing, training, furnishing of the intellectual man, the completest intellectual culture can only be through the old, well-known, threefold instrumentality--in the large old sense--languages, mathematics, logic. To raise questions about this is like raising the question whether the law of gravitation be not an antiquated fallacy. And therefore, when educational conventions in this country, or in any other, debate such a question, and pass doubtful resolutions, (not often done, yet sometimes,) I am always sorry, and a little ashamed. Gentlemen, let us make an impossible supposition. Suppose that three-quarters of all the educators in this country were to unite in adopting a resolution disparaging the study of the ancient languages and literature, as they are pursued in the best of our Colleges and Universities in this country, and in the institutions abroad. They would merely be smiled at by the wiser of their professional brethren here, and by all men of real learning in Europe. They would discredit themselves, and do some discredit to their country, without producing the slightest impression upon the established judgments and habits of the learned world, either at home or abroad. Of course, there are sometimes "self-made men," so called, brilliant, able, useful men, who [29/30] have known nothing of the ancient learning, or of any other very systematic and thorough study. They deserve all credit, all respect, for what they are. But they are exceptions and prove nothing. And not unfrequently they betray their imperfect education by their partial and erroneous judgments. And again, in some one branch of science, or of applied science, there may be superlative and most valuable instruction; there may be great attainments; there may be a power created of achieving brilliant and useful triumphs in the one field. We regard the individual with respect, with admiration. He may make a name which will command time homage of the intellectual world for ages. No one will venture, no one will wish, to detract from his great merits. But, if his intellectual powers have been trained and informed only in that one department, then we may say of him that he has genius, that he is learned, that he is able in his one line, or profession; but say of him that he is a man of high culture, that he is a thoroughly educated man, that we cannot say.
Mr. President, gentlemen of the Trustees, friends of this institution, and of all good learning: we salute our fair mother! We close with an "all hail" to the University. Esto perpetua! May she live and flourish a thousand years. May her endowments and her children be multiplied an hundred fold. May thousands and tens of thousands, under her wise, tender care, and under the care of other similar institutions in this land, be trained up in true learning and wisdom, trained to the love of all that is manly and pure, humane and generous. May they be moved to an earnest, faithful use of their faculties and their great opportunities. May they be taught [30/31] to take large, comprehensive, charitable views of men and things, and be so guided as to have a right judgment in all things. And when they shall have been thoroughly furnished with all good knowledge, and good principles, and prepared for their great work, whatever it is to be, may they be found in every part of this land, dwelling among the people for their good, so shedding around them by their counsels, and by their example a beneficent, all-pervading influence, that this great family may become a wise and understanding nation!
I may be pardoned for referring to a great example. Mr. Hallam, speaking of Milton in his blindness, which came over him just as he was turning to the composition of Paradise Lost, says:
"Then the remembrance of early reading came over his dark and lonely path like the moon emerging from the clouds. Then it was that the muse was truly his; not only as she poured her creative inspiration into his mind, but as the daughter of Memory, coming with fragments of ancient melodies, the voice of Euripides, and Homer, and Tasso: sounds that he had loved in youth, and treasured up for the solace of his age. They who, though not enduring the calamity of Milton, have known what it is, when afar from books, in solitude, or in travelling, or in the intervals of worldly care, to feed on poetical recollections, to murmur over the beautiful lines whose cadence has long delighted their ear, to recall the sentiments and images which retain by association the charm that early years once gave them--they will feel the inestimable value of committing to the memory, in the prime of its power, what it will easily receive and indelibly retain. I know not, indeed, whether an education that deals much with poetry, such as is still usual in England, has any more solid argument among many in its favour, than that it lays the foundation of intellectual pleasures at the other extreme of life."--Literature of Europe.
I have not been able to resist the temptation to reproduce this beautiful and instructive passage, though it has already been quoted by me, in an address on the Uses of the Imagination, delivered more than thirty years ago, in Trinity College