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WEBSTER'S MASTER-PIECE

AS

A PUBLIC DINNER SPEAK ER.

THE CHARACTER OF WASHINGTON.

INTRODUCTORY NOTE.

Both in Europe and in this country, it has been long a custom to give pablic din. ners to public men of the highest standing; and, after the cloth is removed, the presiding officer of the party usually offers the first toast to the invited guest. To answer that toast becomingly, is one of the most difficult feats of oratory; and none but a trae orator can meet the demand to the satisfaction of the party, or to his own satis. faction. After all the encomiums heaped upon Mr. Webster in other departments of public speaking, it is doubtful whether he did not exhibit a marked and peculiar superiority over all his cotemporaries in this particular sort of speaking; and, though often called upon in this way, bis “Character of Washington," delivered within sight of the capitol, at the age of fifty, may be regarded, for its matter, if not for its manDer also, as his master-piece.

EULOGY ON WASHINGTON.

SPEECH IN HONOR OF HIS CENTENNIAL BIRTH-DAY, DELIVERED AT A PUB

LIC DINNER IN THE CITY OF WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 22, 1832.

I RISE, gentlemen, to propose to you the name of that great man, in commemoration of whose birth, and in honor of whose character and services, we have here assembled.

I am sure that I express a sentiment common to every one present, when I say that there is something more than ordinarily solemn and affecting in this occasion.

We are met to testify our regard for him whose name is intimately blended with whatever belongs most essentially to the prosperity, the liberty, the free institutions, and the renown of our country. That name was of power to rally a nation in the hour of thick-thronging public disasters and calamities; that name shone, amid the storm of war, a beacon light, to cheer and guide the country's friends; it flamed, too, like a meteor, to repel her foes. That name, in the days of peace, was a loadstone, attracting to itself a whole people's confidence, a whole people's love, and the whole world's

respect.

That
name,

descending with all time, spreading over the whole earth, and uttered in all the languages belonging to the tribes and races of men, will forever be pronounced with affectionate gratitude by every one in whose breast there shall arise an aspiration for human rights and human liberty.

We perform this grateful duty, gentlemen, at the expiration of a hundred years from his birth, near the place, so cherished and beloved by him, where his dust now reposes, and in the capital which bears his own immortal name.

All experience evinces that human sentiments are strongly influenced by associations. The recurrence of anniversaries, or of longer periods of time, naturally freshens the recollection, and deepens the impression, of events with which they are historically connected. Renowned places, also, have a power to awaken feeling, which all acknowledge. No American can pass by the fields of Bunker Hill, Monmouth, or Camden, as if they were ordinary spots on the earth's surface. Whoever visits them, feels the sentiment of love of country kindling anew, as if the spirit that belonged to the transactions which have ren. dered these places distinguished, still hovered round, with power to move and excite all who in future time may approach them.

But neither of these sources of emotion equals the power with which great moral examples affect the mind. When sublime virtues cease to be abstractions, when they become embodied in human character, and exemplified in human conduet, we should be false to our own nature, if we did not indulge in the spontaneous effusions of our gratitude and our admiration. A true lover of the virtue of patriotism delights to contemplate its purest models; and that love of country may be well suspected which affects to soar so high into the regions of sentiment as to be lost and absorbed in the abstract feeling, and becomes too elevated or too refined to glow with fervor in the commendation or the love of individual benefactors. All this is unnatural. It is as if one should be so enthusiastic a lover of poetry, as to care nothing for Homer or Milton; so passionately attached to eloquence as to be indifferent to Tully and Chatham ; or such a devotee to the arts, in such an ecstasy with the elements of beauty, proportion and expression, as to regard the master-pieces of Raphael and Michael Angelo with coldness or contempt. We may be assured, gentlemen, that he who really loves the thing itself, loves its finest exhibitions. A true

friend of his country loves her friends and benefactors, and thinks it no degradation to commend and commemorate them. The voluntary outpouring of the public feeling, made to-day, from the north to the south, and from the east to the west, proves this sentiment to be both just and natural. In the cities and in the villages, in the public temples and in the family circles, among all ages and sexes, gladdened voices to-day bespeak grateful hearts and a freshened recollection of the virtues of the Father of his Country. And it will be so, in all time to come, 50 long as public virtue is itself an object of regard. The ingenuous youth of America will hold up to themselves the bright model of Washington's example, and study to be what they behold; they will contemplate his character till all its virtues spread out and display themselves to their delighted vision; as the earliest astronomers, the shepherds on the plains of Babylon, gazed at the stars till they saw them form into clusters and constellations, overpowering at length the eyes of the beholders with the united blaze of a thousand lights.

Gentlemen, we are at the point of a century from the birth of Washington; and what a century it has been ! During its course, the human mind has seemed to proceed with a sort of geometric velocity, accomplishing, for human intelligence and human freedom, more than had been done in fives or tens of centuries preceding. Washington stands at the commencement of a new era, as well as at the head of the New World. A century from the birth of Washington has changed the world. The country of Washington has been the theater on which a great part of that change has been wrought; and Washington himself a principal agent by which it has been accomplished. His age and his country are equally full of wonders; and of both he is the chief.

If the prediction of the poet, uttered a few years before his birth, be true; if, indeed, it be designed by Providence that the grandest exhibition of human character and human affairs

K*

VOL. II.

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