Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

‘Brethren, if any of you think you can preach, come up here and try it. I'm done! We feel a strong inclination to follow the deacon's example.”

Dr. Smyth was what might be called a spicy editor. A vein of humor ran through nearly everything he wrote, and pleasantry was a marked feature of his public addresses as well as his private conversation. In his management of the journal, he aimed to make it more readable and entertaining as well as instructive. But the key-note of the song was heart-training and character. He wrote and published in the journal a series of characteristic “Letters to the Children of Ohio," which were received with marked attention. For several years after his editorial connection with the journal ceased, his contributed articles appeared in it frequently, and were always read with interest. His “Up North Letters" and his “Yours Truly” letters, written from Cleveland, will be remembered by many who are still active in educational work. His last contribution was written in January, 1887, a little more than three months before his own death. It was a tribute to the memory of his friend Prof. Edward Olney, of Michigan University, who had just died. One passage in it was almost prophetic of his own departure: "Olney," he wrote, “adds one more to the list of prominent instructors in the public schools of Ohio, who have finished their work and have gone to their reward.

. . Sooner or later, those of us who have known them and loved them so well, must go. And may it be a welcome voice to us all when the Great Teacher shall call us home.”

His contributions to the religious press are also worthy of note. In his later years his pen was kept busy writing articles for the New York Evangelist, the Herald and Presbyter, and other religious papers. His articles were always genial, sparkling, and readable, and he was much prized as a contributor.

Having been elected State Commissioner of Common Schools, Mr. Smyth resigned the editorial chair in January, 1857, but resumed it again in 1860. About this time the name of the journal was changed to the Ohio EDUCATIONAL MONTHLY. During the years 1861 and 1862, Dr. Smyth and Dr. E. E. White were associated as equal partners in the publication of the MONTHLY, but early in 1863, Dr. White took entire charge, Dr. Smyth permanently retiring.

Dr. Smyth held the office of State School Commissioner for two full terms, or six years (1856-62), succeeding H. H. Barney, who was the first incumbent of the office after its creation by the law of 1853. In his two terms, he visited every county in the State, delivering public addresses and advising with teachers and school officers, with whom

four years.

he probably had a wider acquaintance than any other man in the State. The school library law was then in force, and much of his time and attention was devoted to the selection, purchase, and distribution of books, a task at once delicate and arduous, requiring honesty, rare good judgment and fine literary taste. He expended the large sums of money involved with absolute integrity, and executed the great trust with the utmost fidelity. He received and deserved high commendation for his untiring efforts to supply the youth of the State with good readable books.

Soon after retiring from the office of Commissioner, he was elected to the superintendency of the Cleveland schools, a position he held for

He was elected for the fifth time, but declined because of harassing obstacles thrown in his way by some who were opposed to his administration. It was about the middle of his first year in Cleveland that he called the writer of this sketch to the principalship of the Brownell street school. This relation of superintendent and principal, which continued through the remainder of Mr. Smyth's superintendency, was always a pleasant one; and it is an unmixed pleasure to have this opportunity of bearing testimony to his high qualities of mind and heart.

His strength as a superintendent did not lie in great familiarity with the details of school management and methods of instruction, so much as in his moral and social qualities, his knowledge of human nature and his abounding common sense. He was a man of clear and broad views on the general subject of education, a good general organizer, and an indefatigable worker. His supervision of schools and teachers was not such as to dwarf the teachers and narrow the teaching. He put a high value upon force of character and good sense in the teacher, and when he found these qualities he was disposed to give full scope for their exercise. Perhaps his strongest point as a manager of schools was his good judgment in the choice of teachers. He seemed to have a kind of intuition in that matter, and made very few mistakes in his selections. Cleveland is indebted to Dr. Smyth for her magnificent Public Library. He drafted the law under which it was established and secured its passage.

Dr. Smyth's last years were full of trial. Through unfortunate business relations, he lost his property and suffered great financial embarrassment. But he bore it all and continued faithful, doing what he could to the end. It is not improbable that he now looks upon the chastening and refining of these later years as among the choicest blessings of his earthly life.

Mr. Smyth was married Dec. 22, 1849, to Miss Caroline A. Fitch,

of New Haven, daughter of John Fitch, President of the Mechanics Bank, and niece of Prof. E. T. Fitch, of Yale Theological Seminary. Of their five children, three are living. The eldest, Sarah L., is the wife of Samuel M. Eddy, of Cleveland. Geo. F. is rector of St. Andrews church, Elyria, O. Mrs. Smyth and her youngest son, William F., reside in Cleveland.

Dr. Smyth's death occurred at the family residence in Cleveland, May 2, 1887, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. Though suffering some months from ill health, he continued active religious work until within a few weeks of his death, having preached every Sabbath in January preceding, to the inmates of the Cleveland work-house. A very large concourse of people followed his remains to their last resting place, clergymen of five different denominations serving as bearers.

It is unnecessary to multiply words concerning the life and labors of this good man.

He was a man of like passions with ourselves. He was painfully conscious of his own imperfections and frailties; but love to God and his fellow-men was the guiding and controlling principle of his life. It will not be deemed a breach of propriety to quote his own estimate of his life-work, a record of which he made a few years before his death. “I have had,” he says, "a busy life, and have experienced many hardships and trials; but I have enjoyed thousands of undeserved blessings. I believe I have accomplished some good in the world, especially in the educational field; still, the review of my life-work does not afford me much satisfaction. I think that my intentions have ever been to serve God and do good to my fellow-men; still my errors of judgment, and my want of the Spirit of the Master have rendered my life very far less useful than it might have been. In view of what I have been and now am, I feel that the most appropriate prayer for me to offer is, 'God be merciful to me a sinner'.”

Dr. Smyth was remarkable for his great store of general information. He had a good memory and could store and retain facts with great ease. When a young man, he bought and read Hume's England, and always remembered the most of its contents. Subsequently, he read Dean Stanley's histories of the Jewish and Eastern churches, and seemed almost to know them by heart. He could name the United States Senators from any State, and most of its members of the lower house. There was scarcely a clergyman of any note in the whole country whom he could not locate and give some account of.

He was always an anti-slavery man, but he was not an extremist, He did not always sanction the excesses of the early Abolitionists. Always a good law-abiding citizen, he was loyal to his government when traitors sought to destroy it. He hated wrong and loved right, and was fearless and outspoken in his denunciation of the former and in his defense of the latter. The poor, the oppressed and downtrodden always found in him a compassionate and sympathizing friend and helper.

As a fitting close of this sketch I quote from two letters recently received

One who knew Dr. Smyth intimately bears this testimony: "He was my friend, a good friend too. In all my dealings with him, I found him eminently frank and unselfish-ready to help by word and deed. I always regarded him as almost an ideal Christian gentleman -conscientious but not bigoted in his religious belief-willing that others should enjoy their religious life in their own way, even if it did not accord with his. I have met but few who seemed to possess as wide a charity for others as he. He could associate with any one without indicating by any audible or visible sign that he was conscious of any difference that should separate them in social or religious life. I have met but few such men, and, perhaps, for that reason I entertain for him feelings of peculiar respect.”

Another who was brought into close relations with him for a considerable time, writes: “Dr. Smyth was my true and generous friend. Taken all in all, he was a very noble, excellent and useful Christian man. He served his generation well."

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Read at County Examiners' Meeting, Lansing, Mich. [The office of Secretary in the counties of Michigan is nearly equivalent to that

of County Superintendent in some other States.-Ev.] In considering the question of providing a system of grading for the country schools we do not go far before we meet with some stubborn facts. Those of us who have had experience in graded school work will find almost a new problem confronting us when we attempt to put into practice rules that worked so favorably under the conditions that usually surround graded work. The elements that enter into the problem of grading the country schools are very different, or rather so many more enter into it that the problem becomes very difficult of solution. In fact, it becomes a new problem and one that thus far has not been solved. In attempting to solve it we can copy after few, if any, who have found the same difficulties surrounding them and discovered a way out. It is true we may make use of certain well established principles and theories, but we are sure to discover sooner or later that theories that grow and flourish in one kind of soil will not bear transplanting to another. Often these theories will take root, flourish and produce fruit if the new soil has been carefully prepared for them, All the elements of success may be present, but, unhappily, the one that attempts to put established theories into practice may not understand or he may fail to appreciate the fact that elements of failure are present almost in equal force, and that the latter must be eliminated, or at least carefully guarded against, before he can reasonably look for encouraging or permanent results.

It is unreasonable and characteristic of poor judgment to formulate a minute system for carrying out some great undertaking and then deliberately neglect to study carefully all conditions favorable and unfavorable to the successful working of such a system. A general plans a campaign in conformity to well defined principles of military tactics. Without such preparation he might better remain in camp, or let chance decide his battles for him. To lay out a definite plan of action to the minutest details and then stick to these details when the conditions and surroundings are completely changed, would be, manifestly, an equal piece of folly. A commander who would deliberately plan a battle all from theory and without acquainting himself with every condition that might possibly confront him in executing his plans would be an object for pity and contempt. A people who would formulate a government for themselves without regard to their peculiar civilization, desires and necessities, would not yield obedience to their own laws. The form of government might be a model one in every respect, under which another people might be living in the greatest prosperity and happiness, but it would not be adapted to the requirements of this particular people.

All this, you will observe, is preliminary to what I am about to say concerning the subject in hand. For a long time, those who have given attention to the condition of the country schools have one and all been compelled to conclude that these schools have not been, and are not now doing the work they are called upon to do, or that they are able to do. The question why they are not doing this work, and why they do not improve as they should has not, as yet, been satisfactorily answered, although some fatter themselves they have solved the riddle.

« PreviousContinue »