An address delivered before the literary societies of Wittenberg college, Speech

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The few moments which we have been able to save from domestic duties, the paroxysms of the ague, and the arduous labors of an extensive ministerial charge, have been devoted to the preparation of this essay—hoping that it may prove gratifying to all our former associates, as well as the public in general.

The love of glory is the most ardent of all human affections. It glows alike in the bosom of the peasant and the king. For this the poet sings, the orator pleads, and the warrior bleeds. According to the bias which it receives from early education, it produces the greatest good or the greatest evil. Directed into a proper channel, it dispenses the blessings of peace, prosperity, and plenty, like a river. Assuming a different direction, it creates confusion, conflict, and carnage. However much men may be dazzled by the meteor glare of pageantry, pomp, and parade, true glory is nothing else but the shadow of virtue. If virtue depart, glory will certainly disappear. Where there is no substance, there can be no shadow. The path of duty and usefulness will ever be found to lead to glory and happiness. But as many and almost insurmountable obstacles present themselves in the way of rectitude, it may be proper to contemplate their influence on the life and character of men. And, therefore, we announce as our theme, on the present occasion:— DIFFICULTIES ARE NO SERIOUS OBSTACLE IN THE WAY OF GENIUS, BUT RATHER INCENTIVES TO ITS , HIGHEST EFFORTS.

ADDRESS.

Young Gentlemen:

The few moments which we have been able to save from domestic duties, the paroxysms of the ague, and the arduous labors of an extensive ministerial charge, have been devoted to the preparation of this essay—hoping that it may prove gratifying to all our former associates, as well as the public in general.

The love of glory is the most ardent of all human affections. It glows alike in the bosom of the peasant and the king. For this the poet sings, the orator pleads, and the warrior bleeds. According to the bias which it receives from early education, it produces the greatest good or the greatest evil. Directed into a proper channel, it dispenses the blessings of peace, prosperity, and plenty, like a river. Assuming a different direction, it creates confusion, conflict, and carnage. However much men may be dazzled by the meteor glare of pageantry, pomp, and parade, true glory is nothing else but the shadow of virtue. If virtue depart, glory will certainly disappear. Where there is no substance, there can be no shadow. The path of duty and usefulness will ever be found to lead to glory and happiness. But as many and almost insurmountable obstacles present themselves in the way of rectitude, it may be proper to contemplate their influence on the life and character of men. And, therefore, we announce as our theme, on the present occasion:— DIFFICULTIES ARE NO SERIOUS OBSTACLE IN THE WAY OF GENIUS, BUT RATHER INCENTIVES TO ITS , HIGHEST EFFORTS.

History furnishes us with almost innumerable illustrations of this truth. The question is not, where shall we find examples ? but which shall we choose out of the great abundance? Our own thoughts have been directed to the discussion of this subject, by rising from a perusal of the “Memoir of the Rev. Samuel Haynes, by Dr. Cooley.” The eminent success which crowned the efforts of this pious man of God, in opposition to what would be regarded by men of ordinary minds as utter impossibilities, excites our astonishment and admiration to their utmost tension. Born of unnatural parents, of whom, the father was of unmingled African extraction, and the mother of respectable ancestry in New England, he was discarded by them from the day of his birth; and although he inherited the name of neither, yet shared the shame and disgrace of both. His was the only hope of the poor orphan. “ When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” At the age of five years he was bound out as a common servant to a farmer of singular piety, under whose exemplary conduct and teaching, he was pointed “ to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” After having passed the dangers incident to childhood, he was sent to a district school, and shewed an uncommon aptness in acquiring the rudiments of an education. If it were asked at what institution young Haynes received his instruction, it might be answered, in the chimney-corner of Deacon Rose ; and what were his text books, the reply would be, the Bible, Young’s Night Thoughts, and Watts’s Psalms and Hymns. Being a good reader, he was frequently employed by his master in reading aloud every Saturday evening, the sermons of Watts, Whitefield, Dodridge, and ; Davies. The idea once occurred to him, to prepare a sermon of his own, and read it before the family. At the close of the exercise, the unsuspecting old deacon, whose eyes, like those of Jacob, had become dim with age, inquired— Whose sermon have you been reading? Is it Davies, or Watts, or Whitefield’s? Haynes blushed and hesitated, and at last replied, “It is Lemuel’s sermon.” After a critical examination of this sermon, composed without studying the Evidences of Christianity, Archaeology, Biblical Criticism, Rhetoric, or Homiletics, we may safely assume, that it is a better production than those of half the young men, who are ordained by our Western Synods. In after life he became a flaming witness of the truth, and was exceedingly useful, and sought after in revivals of religion. He also received the degree of A. M. from one of the most respectable colleges in New England. One of his master efforts seems to have been displayed in his contest with Hosea Ballou, the apostle of Universalism, whom he triumphantly vanquished in a sermon delivered impromptu, from the text, “Ye shall not surely die.” It may be proper to state here, that this sermon is one of the most popular arguments, which has ever been published against that loose and corrupting system of doctrine, and has been printed and reprinted both in England and America, until no one pretends to mention the number of editions. Summing up all his virtues in the couplet of Shakspeare, we may say,

“ He was a man, take him for all in all;

We ne’er shall see his like again.”

We give this illustration on account of its appropriateness to the peculiar situation of most young men connected with our literary institutions. They have difficulties of no ordinary character to surmount in the acquisition of a thorough education. And yet we venture the assertion, that no young man ever became less useful in after life by being pressed with trials and discouragements while a student. Opposition is absolutely necessary to arouse the dormant powers of the immortal mind, and fully to develop all its resources. An eminent statesman remarks, “ Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” With equal propriety we might say, Eternal effort is the price of eminent usefulness. If the sentiment of Aristotle be true, that a statue lies hid in every block of marble, and that the art of the I statuary only clears away the rubbish, we ought not to shrink from the rude touches of the chisel and the hammer in the form of obstacles. It may be the only way of removing superfluities and developing the whole man. What is an education but overcoming the obstacles of nature and circumstances? Nature gives us the material in its rude state, art polishes and improves. Addison beautifully observes : “ What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul. The philosopher, the saint, or the hero, the wise, the good, or the great man, very often lie hid and concealed in a plebian, which a proper education might have disinterred, and have brought to light.” The art of a Phidias or a Praxiteles consisted not in creating a statue, but in bringing it out from its hiding place.

Napoleon Bonaparte commenced his wild and mad carreer of military glory, surrounded by almost insurmountable difficulties. After he had conceived the stupendous plan of crossing the Alps, he one day called his chief engineer into his presence, and revealed his mighty project. The engineer almost stunned by the magnitude of the enterprise, hesitated and demurred. Without waiting for any of his objections, the emperor inquired, “Is the route practicable?” “ It is barely possible to pass,” was the reply. The next step is the command to the advance column of the army : “ Press forward ! ” And then, amid incredible labors, wild enthusiasm, Alpine storms, lofty mountain peaks of perpetual snow, the everlasting glaciers, and deep mountain gorges, he presses onward and upward until the last summit is scaled. The descent is as easy as the ascent is difficult. The sunny climes and fair fields of Italy open upon his ravished eye, and victory crowns the valor of his arms. Hannibal, in his invasion of Italy, in the days of the ancient Romans, had doubtless performed the same feat, but the place and manner are matters of mere conjecture. The undaunted McDonald passed the Splugen in the midst of winter, and in the face of terrible and mighty avalanches, which overwhelmed and precipitated two hundred of his brave soldiers down an awful chasm three thousand feet in depth. And the brave Suwarrow, pursued by an enemy, led his mighty army over the Schachenthal breast-deep in snow. But the passage of Napoleon over Mt. St. Bernard is generally acknowledged as the most stupendous achievement of the kind ever presented to the gaze of an astonished and admiring world. This achievement is another illustration of the aphorism, “ What man has done, man may do.” And the student, as he journeys up the giddy height of high Parnassus, need only inquire, “ Is the route practicable ? ” And having ascertained that the difficulties which beset his pathway, can be surmounted, let him not shrink from a fair trial, and though mountain uppn mountain, and alp upon alp, arise to obstruct his progress, mountains will dwindle into hills, and hills will melt I into plains.

Kossuth, on account of a political offence against the suspicions and tyrannical government of Austria, was shut up in a dungeon without being allowed a single political work. Clearly foreseeing the advantages which might possibly be derived from the acquisition of the English language, he obtains an English grammar, Walker’s dictionary, and a copy of Shakspeare, and applies himself with such close and minute attention as to spend at first whole days in reading a single page, but, step by step, he at last overcomes all the difficulties of a foreign language without a living teacher; yea, more, is enabled to speak it with such fluency and ease as to surpass some of the best orators in their native tongue. If this great patriot had not been persecuted and thrown into prison by his enemies, his fertile genius would never have been exercised to its fullest extent. He never would have acquired so intimate a knowledge of our language, or have been able so effectually to expose the policy of tyrants and the wrongs of his oppressed country. And he never would have enlisted, to the same extent, the strong sympathies and material aid of a nation of freemen. Men of doubtful minds may, however, insinuate that circumstances, over which we have no control make great men. Admitting this, we would also add, that great men make circumstances. The whole sentence then would read thus : Circumstances make great men, and great men make Circumstances . “ Man is born a hero, and it is only by darkness that heroism gains its greatest and best developments and illustration—then it kindles the black cloud into a blaze of glory, and storm bears it more rapidly to its destiny.”

Almost every young man, who has ever entered classic halls, is doubtless acquainted with the almost supernatural efforts of Demosthenes. Ill-favored both by nature and circumstances, he overcame the most inveterate habits by his unconquerable will. To prevent stammering he spoke with pebbles in his mouth. To remove the distortion of his countenance, he watched the movement of his muscles in a mirror. To remedy the unnatural shrugging of his left shoulder, he suspended above it a naked sword. To strengthen his lungs, he ran frequently up hill. To accustom himself to the noise and tumult of a popular assembly, he declaimed aloud before the dashing waves of the sea-shore. And that he might study without interruption, he passed whole months in a cave, and there wrote and re-wrote the history of Thucydides ten times, in order that he might form his style after so pure a model. We need not advert to the brilliant success of his indefatigable labor. All history teems with his glory. His enemies in subsequent life ridiculed his productions, sneeringly remarking that they “smelt of the lamp.” This should be regarded rather as a compliment than as a reproach. Surely no scholar will deny Cicero’s great natural talent, and yet in. his rules for the formation of a public speaker, he insists upon the student toiling with the pen. His own words are, “ Stilus optimus et praestantissimus dicendi effector ae magister.” The pen is the best, the most excellent former and director of the tongue. He thus intimates the necesstiy of severe application.

As this address is intended chiefly for the encouragement of students, let us advert to the case of the Rev. David Brainard, the great apostle of the Indians. While a student at Yale College, he incautiously made an unguarded remark in private in reference to one of the teachers: “ He has no more grace, than this chair.” Such a remark, even though uncharitable, ought to have been overlooked in so young a man, especially when made in private; or, he should have been affectionately rebuked. But, nevertheless, he was expelled from the College. When we reflect upon the odium which attaches to a young man under the ban of expulsion, the great wonder is that he did not yield to the force of circumstances, and give up in despair. A sense of his wrongs, however, seemed only to arouse his dormant energies, and make him the instrument, under God, of the j greatest revivals which have ever occurred among those rude children of the forest. Had he never been expelled, perhaps he never would have been the same holy man. But no thanks are due, on this account, to the resentment of his teacher. The fame of Whittlesey has perished. Who knows anything about Whittlesey, save that he was a teacher in Yale College? But the name of Brainard is familiar to every intelligent Christian, and will be lisped by future and unborn generations, as the man whom God delighted to honor.

Tradition says, although we have never seen it in print, that when the Hon. Daniel Webster was refused a diploma, and, perhaps, justly too, stung with shame at his failure, he told the faculty they should hear from him again. They did hear from him, and, if alive, hear from him every day.

We do not wish to be understood as making these remarks to encourage students in idleness or insubordination. No ! We have long since learned the truth of the poetic sentiment: “ Order is heaven’s first law,” and that to govern well, we must first learn to be governed. Our design is rather to show what men have done and can do, when, by some unexpected event, the latent energies of their minds are brought into action. Time would fail to tell of a Luther, who, when a student, sang his “ Panem propter Deum,” from door to door, to satisfy the demands of hunger. His genius only kindled in proportion as the Pope and the Devil, and all the combined powers of a proud, pampered, and persecuting hierarchy arose in dreadful array before his vision. Of a Franklin, whose father was an humble tallow chandler, and who, himself, walked Market street, Philadelphia, with a roll of bread under each arm, a poor printer’s boy; but subsequently became an ambassador to the most distinguished courts of Europe, and has been honored with the name of the great American Philosopher. Of the Rev. Robert Hall, who, on account of his timidity, actually failed twice in succession in his endeavors to preach, but finally overcame this defect, and became the model preacher of his age. Of our own beloved and lamented Keller, who once wended his way from his father’s residence to Pennsylvania College, with ragged shoes on his feet, and barely one quarter of a dollar in his pocket, and who, with his own hands, assisted in piling the bricks which reared this consecrated temple.

Source:

Harris, J. G. Rev. 1852. An Address Delivered Before The Literary Societies Of Wittenberg College, Springfield, Ohio, On The Evening Of The Fourteenth Of July, A. D. 1852, By Rev. J. G. Harris, A. M., Of Hyattsville, Ohio, Formerly Professor In The College. Springfield: J. Mayne, Printer. https://www.loc.gov/item/31019842/

Cite this page:

Harris, J. G. Rev.. 1852. "An address delivered before the literary societies of Wittenberg college, Speech." History of Higher Education. https://higheredhistory.gmu.edu/primary-sources/an-address-delivered-before-the-literary-societies-of-wittenberg-college-speech/