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HEMAN LINCOLN WAYLAND
THE FORCE OF IDEAS
(Speech of Rev. Dr. Heman L. Wayland at the fourth annual dinner of the New England Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, December 22, 1884. Dr. Wayland, as President of the Society, occupied the chair, and delivered the following address in welcoming the guests.)
Fellow New ENGLANDERS–Or, in view of our habitual modesty and self-depreciation, I ought, perhaps, rather to say, Fellow Pharisees (laughter]—I congratulate you that we are able to show our guests a little real New England weather—weather that recalls the sleigh-rides, and crossing the bridges, and the singing-school. You are reminded of the observation of the British tar, who, after a long cruise in the Mediterranean, as he came into the eternal fog which surrounds the “ tight little island,” exclaimed, “This is weather as is weather; none of your blasted blue sky for me!” (Laughter.]
Let me also apologize to our guests for the extreme plainness and frugality of the entertainment. They will kindly make allowance, when they remember that this is washing-day. (Laughter.]
I am aware that the occasion is so large as to dwarf all merely personal considerations; but I cannot omit to return you my thanks for the unmerited kindness which has placed me in the position I occupy. I must add that the position is at once the more honorable and the more onerous, because I am called to follow a gentleman whose administration of the office has been so superlatively successful.
In making this allusion to my honored predecessor, I am reminded of an event in which we all feel a common pride. On the 25th of last June, amid the hills which overshadow Dartmouth College, our then president laid the corner-stone of “Rollins Chapel” for Christian worship, while on the same day, at the same place, on the grounds traversed in earlier years by Webster and Choate, another son of New England laid the corner-stone of the “Wilson Library Building.” Thus does intelligent industry, large-hearted benevolence, and filial piety, plant upon the granite hills of New England the olive-groves of Academus and the palms of Judea. [Applause.]
But perhaps there may be here some intelligent stranger who asks me to define an expression which is now and then heard on these occasions: “What is this New England of which you speak so seldom and so reluctantly? Is it a place?” Yes, it is a place; not indeed only a place, but it is a place; and he cannot know New England who has not traversed it from Watch Hill to Mount Washington, from Champlain to Passamaquoddy. In no other wise can one realize how the sterile soil and the bleak winds and the short summer have been the rugged parents of that thrift, that industry, that economy, that regard for the small savings, which have made New England the banker of America. As the population grew beyond the capacity of the soil, her sons from her myriad harbors swarmed out upon the sea, an army of occupation, and annexed the Grand Banks, making them national banks before the days of Secretary Chase. [Laughter.] When the limits of agriculture were reached, they enslaved the streams, and clothed the continent. They gathered hides from Iowa and Texas, and sold them, in the shape of boots, in Dubuque and Galveston. Sterile New England underlaid the imperial Northwest with mortgages, and overlaid it with insurance. I chanced to be in Chicago two or three days after the great fire of 1871. As I walked among the smoking ruins, if I saw a man with a cheerful air, I knew that he was a resident of Chicago; if I saw a man with a long face, I knew that he represented a Hartford insurance company. [Laughter.] Really, the cheerful resignation with which the Chicago people endured the losses of New England did honor to human nature. [Laughter.]
Perhaps it is well that New England is not yet more sterile, for it would have owned the whole of the country, and would have monopolized all the wealth, as it has confessedly got a corner on all the virtues.
And while the narrow limit of the season, called by courtesy summer," has enforced promptness and rapidity of action, the long winters have given pause for reflection, have fostered the red school-house, have engendered reading and discussion, have made her sons and her daughters thoughtful beings.
The other day, in reading the life of a New England woman,* I met with a letter written when she was seventeen years old: “I have begun reading Dugald Stewart. How are my sources of enjoyment multiplied. By bringing into view the various systems of philosophers concerning the origin of our knowledge, he enlarges the mind, and extends the range of our ideas,
while clearly distinguishing between proper objects of inquiry and those that must forever remain inexplicable to man in the present state of his faculties. Reasonings from induction are delightful.” [Laughter.]
I think you will agree with me that only where there was a long winter, and long winter evenings, would such a letter be written by a girl in her teens.
The question has often been asked why there are so many poets in New England. A traveller passing through Concord inquired, “How do all these people support themselves?” The answer was, “ They all live by writing poems for 'The Atlantic Monthly.'” (Laughter.]
Now, any one who thinks of it must see that it is the weather which makes all these poets, or rather the weathers, for there are so many. As Mr. Choate said: “Cold to-day, hot to-morrow; mercury at eighty in the morning, with wind at southeast; and in three hours more a sea-turn, wind at east, a thick fog from the bottom of the ocean, and a fall of forty degrees; now, so dry as to kill all the beans in New Hampshire; then, a flood, carrying off the bridges on the Penobscot; snow in Portsmouth in July, and the next day a man and a yoke of oxen killed by lightning down in Rhode Island.” [Laughter.]
The commonplace question: "How is the weather going to be?” gives a boundless play to the imagination, and makes a man a poet before he knows it. And then a poet must have grand subjects in nature. And what does a poet want that he does not find in New England? Wooded glens, mysterious ravines, inaccessible summits, hurrying rivers; the White Hills, keeping up, as Starr King said, “a perpetual peak against the sky"; the Old Man of the Mountains looking down the valley of the Pemigewasset, and hearing from afar the Ammonoosuc as it breaks into a hundred cataracts; Katahdin, Kearsarge, setting its back up higher than ever since that little affair off Cherbourg; the everlasting ocean inviting to adventure, inspiring to its own wild freedom, and making a harbor in every front yard, so that the hardy mariner can have his smack at his own doorstep. [Laughter.] (Need I say I mean his fishing-smack?) What more can a poet desire?
* Mrs. Ripley.
And then life in New England, especially New England of the olden time, has been an epic poem. It was a struggle against obstacles and enemies, and a triumph over nature in behalf of human welfare.
What would a poet sing about, I wonder, who lived on the Kankakee Flats? Of course, the epic poet must have a hero, and an enemy, and a war. The great enemy in those parts is shakes; so, as Virgil began, “I sing of arms and the man," the Kankakee poet would open:
“I sing the glories of cinchona and the man
Yes, if the Pilgrims had landed upon the fat Western prairies or the Southern savannas, they would never have made America; they would never have won a glory beyond that of Columbus, who only discovered America, whereas these men created it. (Applause.]
But not a place alone. New England is also a race; the race that plants colonies and makes nations; the race that carries everywhere a free press, a free pulpit, an open Bible, and that has almost learned to spell and parse its own language; the race which began the battle for civil and religious liberty in the time of Elizabeth, which fought the good fight at Edgehill, which, beside Concord Bridge, “fired the shot heard round the world," which made a continent secure for liberty at Appomattox. [Applause.)
And New England is not alone a place and a race; it is as well an idea, or a congeries of ideas, so closely joined as properly to be called but one; and this idea is not the idea of force, but the force of ideas.
But, gentlemen, I am in danger of forgetting that a marked characteristic of New Englanders is an unwillingness to talk, and especially to talk about themselves. And I know that you are eager to listen to the illustrious men whom we have the honor to gather about our humble board this evening.
CAUSES OF UNPOPULARITY
(Speech of Rev. Dr. Heman L. Wayland at the eighty-fourth annual dinner of the New England Society in the City of New York, December 23, 1889. The President, Cornelius N. Bliss, proposed the query for Dr. Wayland, “Why are New Englanders Unpopular?” enforcing it with the following quotations: “Do you question me as an honest man should do for my simple true judgment?” (Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Sc. 1), and “Merit less solid less despite has bred: the man that makes a character makes foes” [Edward Young). Turning to Dr. Wayland, Mr. Bliss said: “Our sister, the New England Society of Philadelphia, to-night sends us greeting in the person of her honored President, whom I have the pleasure of presenting to you.” The eloquence of Dr. Wayland was loudly applauded; and Chauncey M. Depew declared that he had heard one of the best speeches to which he had ever listened at a New England dinner.)
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN:That I am here this evening is as complete a mystery to me as to you. I do not know why your Society, at whose annual meetings orators are as the sand upon the seashore for multitude, should call upon Philadelphia, a city in which the acme of eloquence is attained by a Friends' Yearly Meeting, “ sitting under the canopy of silence.” I can only suppose that you designed to relieve the insufferable brilliancy of your annual festival, that you wished to dilute the highly-flavored, richly-colored, full-bodied streams of the Croton with the pure, limpid, colorless (or, at any rate, only drab-colored) waters of the Schuylkill. [Laughter.]
My first and wiser impulse was to decline the invitation with which you honored me, or rather the Society of which