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The Scholar in a Republic.1

Address at the Centennial Anniversary of the
Phi Beta Kappa of Harvard College.

June 30, 1881.

["Wendell Phillips received an invitation to deliver the Centennial Phi Beta Kappa oration in the summer of 1881.

When I knew that Wendell Phillips was to give the Phi Beta Kappa oration at Cambridge, I was very curious to know what course he 5 would take. I said, 'He has two opportunities, neither of which he has ever had before. He has always spoken to the people. Now he is invited to address scholars. He has an opportunity to show, that, when he chooses to do it, he can be the peer of Everett or Sumner on their own platform of high culture. He can leave behind personalities, forget 10 for the hour his hatreds and enmities, and meet all his old opponents peacefully, in the still air of delightful studies. This is an opportunity he has never had before, and probably will never have again.'

'But there is another and different opportunity now offered him. Now, for the first and only time, he will have face to face before him 15 the representatives of that Cambridge culture which has had little sympathy with his past labors. He can tell them how backward they were in the old Anti-Slavery contest, and how reluctant to take part in any later reforms. If he has been bitter before, he can be ten times as bitter now. He can make this the day of judgment for the sins of half 20 a century. This opportunity, also, is unique. It will never come again. Can he resist this temptation, or not?'

'It never occurred to me that he would accept and use both opportunities, but he did so. He gave an oration of great power and beauty, full of strong thoughts and happy illustrations, not unworthy of any uni25 versity platform or academic scholar. It was nearly, though not wholly, free from personalities; but it was also one long rebuke for the recreant scholarship of Cambridge. Rev. J. F. Clarke. Quoted pp. 342-343 of G. L. Austin's Life of Wendell Phillips.

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1 Reprinted by permission of Lee & Shepard from Speeches, Lectures and Letters, Wendell Phillips. Second Series, pp. 331–363.

"He had never seemed more at his ease, more colloquial, more thoroughly extemporaneous, than in his address in later life before the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Cambridge; yet it had all been sent to the Boston daily papers in advance and appeared with scarcely a word's variation, except where he had been compelled to omit some passages 5 for want of time. That was, in some respects, the most remarkable effort of his life; it was a tardy recognition of him by his own college and his own literary society; and he held an unwilling audience spellbound, while bating absolutely nothing of his radicalism. Many a respectable lawyer or divine felt his blood run cold, the next day, when 10 he found that the fascinating orator whom he had applauded to the echo had really made the assassination of an emperor seem as trivial as the doom of a mosquito." Contemporaries, T. W. Higginson, p. 270.]

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MR. PRESIDENT AND BROTHERS OF THE P. B. K.: A hundred years ago our society was planted—a slip from the 15 older root in Virginia. The parent seed, tradition says, was French, part of that conspiracy for free speech whose leaders prated democracy in the salons, while they carefully held on to the flesh-pots of society by crouching low to kings and their mistresses, and whose final object of assault was 20 Christianity itself. Voltaire gave the watchword,

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No matter how much or how little truth there may be in the tradition: no matter what was the origin or what was the 25 object of our society, if it had any special one, both are long since forgotten. We stand now simply a representative of free, brave, American scholarship. I emphasize American scholarship.

In one of those glowing, and as yet unequalled pictures 30 which Everett drew for us, here and elsewhere, of Revolutionary scenes, I remember his saying, that the independence we then won, if taken in its literal and narrow sense, was of no interest and little value; but, construed in the fulness of its real meaning, it bound us to a distinctive American char- 35 acter and purpose, to a keen sense of large responsibility, and to a generous self-devotion. It is under the shadow of


such unquestioned authority that I used the term "American scholarship. "

Our society was, no doubt, to some extent, a protest against the sombre theology of New England, where, a hundred years ago, the atmosphere was black with sermons, and where religious speculation beat uselessly against the narrowest limits.

The first generation of Puritans-though Lowell does let Cromwell call them "a small colony of pinched fanatics"— Io included some men, indeed not a few, worthy to walk close to

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Roger Williams and Sir Harry Vane, the two men deepest in thought and bravest in speech of all who spoke English in their day, and equal to any in practical statesmanship. Sir Harry Vane in my judgment the noblest human being who 15 ever walked the streets of yonder city — I do not forget Franklin or Sam Adams, Washington or Fayette, Garrison or John Brown. But Vane dwells an arrow's flight above them all, and his touch consecrated the continent to measureless toleration of opinion and entire equality of rights. We are told we 20 can find in Plato "all the intellectual life of Europe for two thousand years: so you can find in Vane the pure gold of two hundred and fifty years of American civilization, with no particle of its dross. Plato would have welcomed him to the Academy, and Fénelon kneeled with him at the altar. He 25 made Somers and John Marshall possible; like Carnot, he organized victory; and Milton pales before him in the stainlessness of his record. He stands among English statesmen pre-eminently the representative, in practice and in theory, of serene faith in the safety of trusting truth wholly to her own 30 defence. For other men we walk backward, and throw over their memories the mantle of charity and excuse, saying reverently, "Remember the temptation and the age." But Vane's ermine has no stain; no act of his needs explanation or apology; and in thought he stands abreast of our age, 35 like pure intellect, belongs to all time.

Carlyle said, in years when his words were worth heeding,


"Young men, close your Byron, and open your Goethe." my counsel had weight in these halls, I should say, "Young men, close your John Winthrop and Washington, your Jefferson and Webster, and open Sir Harry Vane." The generation that knew Vane gave to our Alma Mater for a seal the 5 simple pledge, - Veritas.

But the narrowness and poverty of colonial life soon starved out this element. Harvard was re-dedicated Christo et Ecclesiæ; and, up to the middle of the last century, free thought in religion meant Charles Chauncy and the Brattle- 10 street Church protest, while free thought hardly existed anywhere else. But a single generation changed all this. A hundred years ago there were pulpits that led the popular movement; while outside of religion and of what called itself literature, industry and a jealous sense of personal free- 15 dom obeyed, in their rapid growth, the law of their natures. English common sense and those municipal institutions born of the common law, and which had saved and sheltered it, grew inevitably too large for the eggshell of English dependence, and allowed it to drop off as naturally as the chick 20 does when she is ready. There was no change of law, nothing that could properly be called revolution, —only noiseless growth, the seed bursting into flower, infancy becoming manhood. It was life, in its omnipotence, rending whatever dead matter confined it. So have I seen the tiny weeds of 25 a luxuriant Italian spring upheave the colossal foundations of the Cæsars' palace, and leave it a mass of ruins.

But when the veil was withdrawn, what stood revealed astonished the world. It showed the undreamt power, the serene strength, of simple manhood, free from the burden 30 and restraint of absurd institutions in church and state. The grandeur of this new Western constellation gave courage to Europe, resulting in the French Revolution, the greatest, the most unmixed, the most unstained and wholly perfect blessing Europe has had in modern times, unless we may possi- 35 bly except the Reformation, and the invention of Printing.

What precise effect that giant wave had when it struck our shore we can only guess. History is, for the most part, an idle amusement, the day-dream of pedants and triflers. The details of events, the actors' motives, and their relation to 5 each other, are buried with them. How impossible to learn the exact truth of what took place yesterday under your next neighbor's roof! Yet we complacently argue and speculate about matters a thousand miles off, and a thousand years ago, as if we knew them. When I was a student here, my 10 favorite study was history. The world and affairs have shown me that one-half of history is loose conjecture, and much of the rest is the writer's opinion. But most men see facts, not with their eyes, but with their prejudices. Any one familiar with courts will testify how rare it is for an 15 honest man to give a perfectly correct account of a transaction. We are tempted to see facts as we think they ought to be, or wish they were. And yet journals are the favorite original sources of history. Tremble, my good friend, if your sixpenny neighbor keeps a journal. "It adds a new terror 20 to death." You shall go down to your children not in your fair lineaments and proportions, but with the smirks, elbows, and angles he sees you with. Journals are excellent to record the depth of the last snow and the date when the Mayflower opens; but when you come to men's motives and 25 characters, journals are the magnets that get near the chronometer of history and make all its records worthless. You can count on the fingers of your two hands all the robust minds that ever kept journals. Only milksops and fribbles indulge in that amusement, except now and then a respecta30 ble mediocrity. One such journal nightmares New-England annals, emptied into history by respectable middle-aged gentlemen, who fancy that narrowness and spleen, like poor wine, mellow into truth when they get to be a century old. But you might as well cite "The Daily Advertiser " of 1850 35 as authority on one of Garrison's actions.

And, after all, of what value are these minutia? Whether

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