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GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS (1824–1892)
THE EASY-CHAIR PHILOSOPHER
T was in the National Republican Convention of 1884 that I George William Curtis decisively declared himself on the subject of party politics. On a proposition being made that all delegates should bind themselves to support the nominee of the Convention, Curtis rose and firmly said: “Gentlemen of the Convention : A Republican and a free man I came into this Convention; by the grace of God, a Republican and a free man will I go out of this Convention.” This ringing declaration checked the movement to bind the minds of the members, and gave rise to the independent Republican movement of that year. A graceful and often a brilliant writer, Curtis also won a high reputation as a lecturer and public speaker, and was long a favorite with American audiences.
WENDELL PHILLIPS AND HIS LIFE LABOR [Wendell Phillips, looked upon by many as an unmanageable agitator, had a highly moral “method in his madness,” as an uncompromising foe of human slavery and of the oppression of labor in any form. Chief among those who gave him credit for the utility and humanity of his life work was George William Curtis, whose eloquent oration in Tremont Temple, Boston April 18, 1884, was one of the finest tributes to the memory of the famous abolitionist. We give the most effective portion of this address.]
When the war ended, and the specific purpose of his relentless agitation was accomplished, Phillips was still in the prime of life. Had his mind recurred to the dreams of earlier years, had he desired, in the fulness of his frame and the maturity of his powers, to turn to the political career which the hopes of the friends of his youth had forecast, I do not doubt that the Massachusetts of Sumner and of Andrew, proud of his genius and owning his immense service to the triumphant cause, although a service beyond the party line, and often apparently directed against the party itself, would have gladly summoned him to duty. It would, indeed, have
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been a kind of peerage for this great Commoner. But not to repose and peaceful honor did this earnest soul incline. “Now that the field is won,” he said gaily to a friend, “do you sit by the camp-fire, but I will put out into the underbrush.” The slave, indeed, was free, but emancipation did not free the agitator from his task. The client that suddenly appeared before him on that memorable October day was not an oppressed race alone; it was wronged humanity; it was the victim of unjust systems and unequal laws; it was the poor man, the weak man, the unfortunate man, whoever and whatever he might be. This was the cause that he would still plead in the forum of public opinion. “Let it not be said,” he wrote to a meeting of his old abolition friends two months before his death, “that the old abolitionist stopped with the negro, and was never able to see that the same principles claimed his utmost effort to protect all labor, white and black, and to further the discussion of every claim of humanity.” Was this the habit of mere agitation, the restless discontent that followed great achievement? There were those who thought so. But they were critics of a temperament which did not note that with Phillips agitation was a principle, and a deliberately chosen method to definite ends. There were still vast questions springing from the same root of selfishness and injustice as the question of slavery. They must force a hearing in the same way. He would not adopt in middle life the career of politics which he had renounced in youth, however seductive that career might be, whatever its opportunities and rewards, because the purpose had grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength to form public opinion rather than to represent it, in making or executing the laws. To form public opinion upon vital public questions by public discussion, but by public discussion absolutely fearless and sincere, and conducted with honest faith in the people to whom the argument was addressed—this was the service which he had long performed, and this he would still perform, and in the familiar way. . No man, I say, can take a pre-eminent and effective part in contentions that shake nations, or in the discussion of great national policies, of foreign relations, of domestic economy and finance, without keen reproach and fierce misconception. “But death,” says Bacon, “bringeth good fame.” Then, if moral integrity remain unsoiled, the purpose pure, blameless the life, and patriotism as shining as the sun, conflicting views and differing counsels disappear, and, firmly fixed upon character and actual achievement, good fame rests secure. Eighty years ago, in this city, how unsparing was the denunciation of John Adams for betraying and ruining his party; for his dogmatism, his vanity and ambition; for his exasperating impracticability—he, the Colossus of the Revolution And
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Thomas Jefferson 2 I may truly say what the historian says of the Saracen mothers and Richard Coeur de Lion, that the mothers of Boston hushed their children with fear of the political devil incarnate of Virginia. But, when the drapery of mourning shrouded the columns and overhung the arches of Faneuil Hall, Daniel Webster did not remember that sometimes John Adams was imprudent and Thomas Jefferson sometimes unwise. He remembered only that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were two of the greatest American patriots—and their fellow-citizens of every party bowed their heads and said, Amen. I am not here to declare that the judgment of Wendell Phillips was always sound, nor his estimate of men always just, nor his policy always approved by the event. He would have scorned such praise. I am not here to eulogize the mortal, but the immortal. He, too, was a great American patriot; and no American life— no, not one—offers to future generations of his countrymen a more priceless example of inflexible fidelity to conscience and to public duty; and no American more truly than he purged the national name of its shame, and made the American flag the flag of hope for mankind.
Among her noblest children his native city will cherish him, and gratefully recall the unbending Puritan soul that dwelt in a form so gracious and urbane. The plain house in which he lived,—severely plain, because the welfare of the suffering and the slave were preferred to books and pictures and every fair device of art; the house to which the North Star led the trembling fugitive, and which the unfortunate and the friendless knew ; the radiant figure passing swiftly through these streets, plain as the house from which it came, regal with a royalty beyond that of kings; the ceaseless charity untold ; the strong sustaining heart of private friendship; the sacred domestic affections that must not here be named; the eloquence which, like the song of Orpheus, will fade from living memory into a doubtful tale; that great scene of his youth in Faneuil Hall; the surrender of ambition; the mighty agitation and the mighty triumph with which his name is forever blended; the consecration of a life hidden with God in sympathy with man—these, all these, will live among your immortal traditions, heroic even in your heroic story. But not yours alone ! As years go by, and only the large outlines of lofty American characters and careers remain, the wide republic will confess the benediction of a life like this, and gladly own that, if with perfect faith and hope assured America would still stand and “bid the distant generations hail,” the inspiration of her national life must be the sublime moral courage, the all-embracing humanity, the spotless integrity, the absolutely unselfish devotion of great powers to great public ends, which were the glory of Wendell Phillips.
JOSEPH COOK (1838-1901)
THE BOSTON MONDAY LECTURER
MONG men who seem born with the capability of handling A every subject, and treating all with a fair degree of effectiveness, may he named Joseph Cook, the famed Monday lecturer. Educated at Yale and Harvard Universities and in Germany, he gave four years to study at Andover Theological Seminary, which he left with a license to preach, and spent four years in the pulpit. He subsequently became of great repute as a lecturer, speaking to great audiences on Mondays, at Boston, for twenty years, and lecturing widely in all English-speaking countries. His Monday lectures have been published in ten volumes covering such diverse subjects as “Biology,” “Orthodoxy,” “Transcendentalism,” “Conscience,” “Heredity,” etc. As an orator Mr. Cook was fluent and facile, with fine powers of description and a warm imagination.
EFFICIENT BUT NOT SUFFICIENT
[From Mr. Cook's very numerous addresses we choose a striking extract from one of the best, a lecture delivered in New York on July 4, 1884, its subject, “Ultimate America.” In it he gave a prophetic vision of the forces upon which national greatness is based. This highly-imaginative conception is given below.]
Once in the blue midnight, in my study on Beacon Hill, in Boston, I fell into long thought as I looked out on the land and on the sea; and passing through the gate of dreams, I saw the angel having charge of America stand in the air, above the continent, and his wings shadowed either shore. Around him were gathered all who at Valley Forge and at Andersonville and the other sacred places suffered for the preservation of a virtuous Republic; and they conversed of what was and is and is to be. There was about the angel a multitude whom no man could number, of
all nations and kindreds and tribes and tongues, and their voices were as
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the sound of many waters. And I heard thunderings and saw lightnings and the majesty of his words above that of the thunders. Then came forth before the angel three spirits whose garments were as white as the light; and I saw not their faces, but I heard the ten thousand times ten thousand call them by names known on earth, Washington and Lincoln and Garfield. And behind them stood Hampden and Tell and Miltiades and Leonidas and a multitude who had scars and crowns. And they said to the angel: “We will go on earth and teach the diffusion of liberty. We will heal America by equality.” And the angel said: “Go. You will be efficient, but not sufficient.” Meanwhile, under emigrant wharves, and under the hovels of the perishing poor, and under crowded factories, and under the poisonous alleys of great cities, I heard, far in the subterranean depths, the black angels laugh. Then came forward before the angel three other spirits, whose garments were white as the light; and I saw not their faces, but I heard the ten thousand times ten thousand call them by names known on earth, Franklin and Hamilton and Irving. And behind them stood Pestalozzi and Shakespeare and Bacon and Aristotle and a multitude who had scrolls and crowns. And they said to the angel: “We will go on earth and teach the diffusion of intelligence. We will heal America by knowledge.” And the angel said: “Go. You will be efficient, but not sufficient.” Meanwhile, under the emigrant wharves and crowded factories, and under Washington, and under scheming conclaves of man acute and unscrupulous, and under many newspaper presses, and beneath Wall Street, and under the poisonous alleys of great cities, I heard the black angels laugh. Then came forward before the angel three other spirits whom I heard the ten thousand times ten thousand call by names known on earth, Adams and Jefferson and Webster. And behind them stood Chatham and Wilberforce and Howard and the Roman Gracchi and a multitude who had keys and crowns. And they said to the angel: “We will go on earth and teach diffusion of property. We will heal America by the selfrespect of ownership.” And the angel said, “Go. You will be efficient, but not sufficient.” Meanwhile, under emigrant wharves and crowded factories, and beneath Wall Street, and under the poisonous alleys of suffocated great cities, I heard yet the black angels laugh. Then came, lastly, forward before the angel three other spirits, with garments white as the light; and I saw not their faces, but I heard the ten thousand times ten thousand call them by names known on earth,