Page images
PDF
EPUB

to his growth: had no training save what he gave himself; no nurture, but only a wild and native strength. His life was his schooling, and every day of it gave to his character a new touch of development. His manhood not only, but his perception also, expanded with his life. His eyes, as they looked more and more abroad, beheld the national life, and comprehended it: and the lad who had been so rough-cut a provincial became, when grown to manhood, the one leader in all the nation who held the whole people singly in his heart:—held even the Southern people there, and would have won them back. And so we have in him what we must call the perfect development of native strength, the rounding out and nationalization of the provincial. Andrew Jackson was a type, not of the nation, but of the West. For all the tenderness there was in the stormy heart of the masterful man, and stanch and simple loyalty to all who loved him, he learned nothing in the East; kept always the flavor of the rough school in which he had been bred; was never more than a frontier soldier and gentleman. Lincoln differed from Jackson by all the length of his unmatched capacity to learn. Jackson could understand only men of his own kind; Lincoln could understand men of all sorts and from every region of the land: seemed himself, indeed, to be all men by turns, as mood succeeded mood in his strange nature. He never ceased to stand, in his bony angles, the express image of the ungainly frontiersman. His mind never lost the vein of coarseness that had marked him grossly when a youth. And yet how he grew and strengthened in the real stuff of dignity and greatness: how nobly he could bear himself without the aid of grace! He kept always the shrewd and seeing eye of the woodsman and the hunter, and the flavor of wild life never left him: and yet how easily his view widened to great affairs; how surely he perceived the value and the significance of whatever touched him and made him neighbor to itself! Lincoln's marvelous capacity to extend his comprehension to the measure of what he had in hand is the one distinguishing mark of the man: and to study the development of that capacity in him is little less than to study, where it is as it were perfectly registered, the national life itself. This boy lived his youth in Illinois when it was a frontier State. The youth of the State was coincident with his own: and man and State kept equal pace in their striding advance to maturity. The frontier population was an intensely political population. It felt to the quick the throb of the nation's life,—for the nation's life ran through it, going its eager way to the westward. The West was not separate from the East. Its communities were every day receiving fresh members from the East, and the fresh impulse of direct suggestion. Their blood flowed to them straight from the warmest veins of the older communities. More than that, elements which were separated in the East were mingled in the West: which displayed to the eye as it were a sort of epitome of the most active and permanent forces of the national life. In such communities as these Lincoln mixed daily from the first with men of every sort and from every quarter of the country. With them he discussed neighborhood politics, the politics of the State, the politics of the nation, —and his mind became traveled as he talked. How plainly amongst such neighbors, there in Illinois, must it have become evident that national questions were centering more and more in the West as the years went by: coming as it were to meet them. Lincoln went twice down the Mississippi, upon the slow rafts that carried wares to its mouth, and saw with his own eyes, so used to look directly and point-blank upon men and affairs, characteristic regions of the South. He worked his way slowly and sagaciously, with that larger sort of sagacity which so marked him all his life, into the active business of State politics; sat twice in the State legislature, and then for a term in Congress,—his sensitive and seeing mind open all the while to every turn of fortune and every touch of nature in the moving affairs he looked upon. All the while, too, he continued to canvass, piece by piece, every item of politics, as of old, with his neighbors, familiarly around the stove, or upon the corners of the street, or more formally upon the stump; and kept always in direct contact with the ordinary views of ordinary men. Meanwhile he read, as nobody else around him read, and sought to gain a complete mastery over speech, with the conscious purpose to prevail in its use; derived zest from the curious study of mathematical proof, and amusement as well as strength from the practice of clean and naked statements of truth. It was all irregularly done, but strenuously, with the same instinct throughout, and with a steady access of facility and power. There was no sudden leap for this man, any more than for other men, from crudeness to finished power, from an understanding of the people of Illinois to an understanding of the people of the United States. And thus he came at last, with infinite pains and a wonder of endurance, to his great national task with a self-trained capacity which no man could match, and made upon a scale as liberal as the life of the people. You could not then set this athlete a pace in learning or in perceiving that was too hard for him. He knew the people and their life as no other man did or could: and now stands in his place singular in all the annals of mankind, the “brave, sagacious, foreseeing, patient man” of the people, “new birth of our new soil, the first American.” We have here a national man presiding over sectional men. Lincoln understood the East better than the East understood him or the people from whom he sprung: and this is every way a very noteworthy circumstance. For my part, I read a lesson in the singular career of this great man. Is it possible the East remains sectional while the West broadens to a wider view?—

“Be strong-backed, brown-handed, upright as your pines;
By the scale of a hemisphere shape your designs,”

is an inspiring programme for the woodsman and the pioneer; but how are you to be brown-handed in a city office? What if you never see the upright pines? How are you to have so big a purpose on so small a part of the hemisphere? As it has grown old, unquestionably, the East has grown sectional. There is no suggestion of the prairie in its city streets, or of the embrowned ranchman and farmer in its well-dressed men. Its ports teem with shipping from Europe and the Indies. Its newspapers run upon the themes of an Old World. It hears of the great plains of the continent as of foreign parts, which it may never think to see except from a car window. Its life is self-centered and selfish. The West, save where special interests center (as in those pockets of silver where men's eyes catch as it were an eager gleam from the very ore itself): the West is in less danger of sectionalization. Who shall say in that wide country where one region ends and another begins, or, in that free and changing society, where one class ends and another begins? This, surely, is the moral of our history. The East has spent and been spent for the West: has given forth her energy, her young men and her substance, for the new regions that have been a-making all the century through. But has she learned as much as she has taught, or taken as much as she has given? Look what it is that has now at last taken place. The westward march has stopped, upon the final slopes of the Pacific; and now the plot thickens. Populations turn upon their old paths, fill in the spaces they passed by neglected in their first journey in search of a land of promise; settle to a life such as the East knows as well as the West,-nay, much better. With the change, the pause, the settlement, our people draw into closer groups, stand face to face, to know each other and be known: and the time has come for the East to learn in her turn; to broaden her understanding of political and economic conditions to the scale of a hemisphere, as her own poet bade. Let us be sure that we get the national temperament; send our minds abroad upon the continent, become neighbors to all the people that live upon it, and lovers of them all, as Lincoln was. Read but your history aright, and you shall not find the task too hard. Your own local history, look but deep enough, tells the tale you must take to heart. Here upon our own seaboard, as truly as ever in the West, was once a national frontier, with an elder East beyond the seas. Here, too, various peoples combined, and elements separated elsewhere effected a tolerant and wholesome mixture. Here, too, the national stream flowed full and strong, bearing a thousand things upon its currents. Let us resume and keep the vision of that time; know ourselves, our neighbors, our destiny, with lifted and open eyes; see our history truly, in its great proportions; be ourselves liberal as the great principles we profess; and so be the people who might have again the heroic adventures and do again the heroic work of the past. 'Tis thus we shall renew our youth and secure our age against decay.

ROBERT CHARLES WIN THROP

THE DEATH OF JOHN C. CALHOUN

[Address by Robert Charles Winthrop, statesman and orator (born in Boston, May 12, 1809; died there, November 17, 1894), delivered in the House of Representatives, Washington, April 1, 1850, on the announcement of Mr. Calhoun's death.]

I am not unaware, Mr. Speaker, that the voice of New England has already been heard to-day, in its most authentic and most impressive tones, in the other wing of the Capitol. But it has been suggested to me, and the suggestion has met with the promptest assent from my own heart, that here, also, that voice should not be altogether mute on this occasion.

The distinguished person, whose death has been announced to us in the resolutions of the Senate, belongs not, indeed, to us. It is not ours to pronounce his eulogy. It is not ours, certainly, to appropriate his fame. But it is ours to bear witness to his character, to do justice to his virtue, to unite in paying honor to his memory, and to offer our heartfelt sympathies, as I now do, to those who have been called to sustain so great a bereavement.

We have been told, sir, by more than one adventurous navigator, that it was worth all the privations and perils of a protracted voyage beyond the line, to obtain even a passing view of the Southern Cross,—that great constellation of the Southern hemisphere. We can imagine, then, what would be the emotions of those who have always enjoyed the light of that magnificent luminary, and who have taken their daily and their nightly direction from its refulgent rays, if it were suddenly blotted out from the sky.

12:9

« PreviousContinue »