« AnteriorContinuar »
States of America.” By some chance of the books, I found on the broken, worn piece of stone the Life of Abraham Lincoln, and from its white leaves there breathed, as the glory of the fruition of a good man's prayer, louder and clearer than the relic freighted with the precious argosy of our tears, these words of encouragement to those who hope and believe in the immortality of our free institutions: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth."
And may the Almighty, who has glorified the Republic and blessed its people, in all of the days keep ever present to you of the city your faith in these almost inspired words, for it is of more permanent value to mankind than all the jewels, the gold and the silver, and the houses within your encircling waters.
SOME TENDENCIES OF THE DAY
HEN in a great city, surrounded by all of the
concomitants of the material glory of this
era, in sight of ships laden for far-off lands, jostled with hurrying crowds filled with the absorbing spirit of the age, I received the courteous note of the distinguished president of your college asking me to be here on this day, it seemed to be redolent with the spirit of the old Virginia and her sacrifices for this country's good. The splendid and self-sacrificing labors of your president for Virginia surely entitles him to call upon her sons to hold up his hands in his earnest and effective work for the re-creation of the glories of the old State. Hoping that we may be touched with the spirit of Virginia life, I am here to discuss, in my humble way, the manner in which we should meet the duties of this important era.
On occasions like this, fraught with such importance to the developing minds and energies of the young men of my country, I would wish for opportunity for that reflection which indulgence from exacting labor alone can give. Such, however, cannot be allowed by the spirit of the day. Our country is building a
majestic temple to this era, and it is only when the censers are swinging slowly and the keys of our resounding progress are touched for the moment on a minor note, that the humble workman, in the shade of lintel and architrave, even for a time, can allow plummet, trowel, and plane to fall from his busy hands.
In the life of every country, there arrive eras or epochs dominated by the spirit or tendency of the time. These eras take their course, affecting the country for good or for evil, according as their spirit is met by the people. The bad effects of an era are as plainly to be observed upon the habits and thought of a people as the murky waters of a sewer are to be seen discoloring a pellucid stream. If, however, an era is wisely met, its passing leaves a nation tingling with an exalted patriotism. If a nation fails at the crucial time to so meet the bad tendency of an era, it is left struggling with the seeds of disease. These statements are the oft-told tales, the mere truisms of political history, and I will not expend the time, which your partiality has so kindly allotted to me, in discussing other eras of our history; but, without further delay, we will call to your attention the era of to-day, with its power for good or for evil, and to your tremendous part in preserving its real spirit and glory, and in protecting our institutions from its inherent dangers.
The untold wealth garnered from our fertile land; the golden incense drifting from the tall towers of our manufactories, flooding new countries, enveloping
strange races; the quick grasping within our nervous hands of the paramount commercial interests of the earth; the changing of the seat of the world's exchange, following the sun towards its rest, glorifying in its course Ctesiphon and Byzantium and Venice and Holland and England, and resting for a while in its eternal cycle on the shores of this land closest towards the West, all plainly show that we, in our turn with the other nations, have arrived at our Era of Commercialism.
How preserve the material glory of this era within the limitations imperatively demanded by the traditions and genius of our people? How extend its legitimate power and concurrently preserve this country from a government of utilitarianism, the mere government of wealth and power, with no high ultimate ambition, but with sure culminations in the lessening of the importance and the decay of the higher virtues of the citizen? At the critical period, Rome did not differentiate between the real and higher objects of government and the mere acquisition of naked power and wealth. Hence she failed. She had no class of citizens animated with that high and exalted intelligence where the vital essence of government could be fully preserved. She did not retain the high ideals of citizenship, but fell into the control of iron force and physical power. The result was sure: a Verres in Sicily; the wide swath of proconsular ruin in Africa, in Gaul, and in the East; the ultimate decay of Rome's free institutions; and
then “the dark-skinned daughters of Isis, with drum and timbrel and wanton mien ; devotees of the Persian Mithras; emasculated Asiatics; priests of Cybele, with their wild dances and discordant cries; worshippers of the great goddess Diana ; barbarian captives with the rites of Teuton priests; Syrians, Jews, Chaldean astrologers, and Thessalian sorcerers.”
The genius of our civilization will allow to us no turning back in the tide of the world's trade, nor can we change the era of commerce at home. We can only guide the course of these great movements. How guide them is the living, throbbing question of to-day. How change the unvarying rule of history? How differentiate between the real glory and the inherent dangers of this class of epochs, which of all eras have been the most fateful to the nations of the earth? Our answer to this riddle of the ages is, that its questions can be solved and the real glory of our institutions perpetuated by jealously preserving the exalted character of American citizenship. The most important element of that character in the citizen is an intelligence which will perceive amidst the grandeur of our material triumphs the hidden dangers to our institutions, and whilst fostering the one will jealously watch the dangers of the other.
The character of an era of commerce is necessarily the most complicated because it is more widely ramified than any other, and demands the highest degree of intelligence to thoroughly comprehend it in its thousand different effects upon the life of the people.