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Professorship In Brown University And Editorship Of The Providence Journal

( Originally Published 1911 )



I WAS twenty-four years of age when I entered on the duties of my professorship. I was the youngest member of the Faculty. Most of the professors had been my teachers. Professor Robinson P. Dunn, who had recently been called to the Chair of Rhetoric and English Literature, was only a few years my senior. He became at once my intimate companion and a most congenial associate in my studies. I was well aware that my preparation for my special work was less adequate than I could have de-sired. I purposed to return to Europe for further study as soon as I had liquidated the debt I had incurred in my sojourn in Europe. I was particularly desirous of studying the Italian language and literature. I had become deeply interested in tracing the influence of the leading European literatures on each other. I soon wrote articles for the North American Review, under the encouragement of its scholarly editor, Dr. Andrew P. Peabody, pointing out to some extent the interaction of the French, German, and English literatures. I cherished the hope that on a visit to Europe I might write a book of some worth on the reciprocal influence of the chief literatures on each other. Like many another dream of early years that has remained only a dream. But, in my teaching, which was necessarily elementary, since most of my students began the study of the modern languages with me, I strove and not without fair success, I hope, to imbue them with some enthusiasm for the study of the great authors to whom I introduced them.

It was an interesting period in the history of the University when I entered upon my official connection with it. President Wayland, who was a pioneer in the reform of our traditional collegiate system, had induced the Corporation to make important innovations. As early as 1842 he had published a small book entitled "Thoughts on the Present Collegiate System in the United States," in which he had pointed out what he regarded as some of the defects in that system. He maintained that the colleges were not furnishing the education which was needed to meet our wants, especially that they were not training men in science and its applications to life. The book attracted some attention, but not so much as it deserved.

Further observation and reflection confirmed him in the opinion that a change in the organization of our colleges ought to be attempted. In a report to the Trustees of Brown University in 1850 he so impressed them with his views that they raised a fund, large for those days, for the reorganization of the work of their institution in accordance with his ideas. He provided for more generous work in the sciences and in modern languages and in engineering and large liberty in the election of studies. He really opened the way for that broadening and liberalizing of collegiate study which in a few years prevailed to a considerable extent in every American college of standing. He was the pioneer who broke away from the old traditional path, which our colleges had followed from the seventeenth century, and pointed them to the road which they are now all following. The credit which is his due for this service he has not always received. The immediate consequence of the adoption of what was called the "new system" had been a large increase in the attendance, and a certain enthusiasm among the students about this new departure. This was favourable to the work in my department. Extension lectures, which have since been introduced by some universities in this country and in England in order to bring university instruction to the masses, were given by Professor Chase to the jewellers and by Professor Caswell to the mechanics in Providence. The college which had not been in close touch with the people of the State was brought nearer to them by lyceum lectures given by members of the Faculty. I went out frequently to lecture on "Life in Europe" and on education. But in spite of the enthusiasm with which Dr. Wayland and some of his friends gave a new impulse to the college, serious difficulties were en-countered in carrying into effect his cherished plans. Some of the Professors had not much sympathy with his ideas of reform. The funds raised to carry the "new system" into operation, though regarded as adequate when they were raised, proved insufficient. The President finally became discouraged and resigned his place in 1855. Ile was succeeded by Dr. Sears, who was friendly to the traditional ideas of college work rather than to Dr. Wayland's. Therefore from the time of his accession to office the spirit of collegiate reform visibly languished. But the impulse which had been given to the college was not wholly lost. In the classes which I had the pleasure of teaching, were not a few whose subsequent careers reflected much honour on themsleves and on the University. Most conspicuous among them are Richard Olney of the class of 1856, and John Hay, of the class of 1858. Both gave marked promise. Mr. Olney, afterwards Attorney-general and then Secretary of State of the United States, showed the traits of mind which characterize the profound lawyer. For Mr. Hay one would have predicted a brilliant literary future. I have often said that he was the most felicitous translator I ever met in my classes. He wrote verses of unusual merit for an undergraduate. He was modest even to diffidence, often blushing to the roots of his hair when he rose to recite. In the years of his middle life, and especially after the production of his books on Spanish life, written in so picturesque a style, I used in common with many of his friends to regret that circumstances had diverted him from a purely literary career. But we all rejoice now that Providence placed him in the chair of Secretary of State, at a time when he could be of such transcendent service to us and to the Eastern world. As I happened to be on the steamer with him when he was returning from the Embassy at London, I know from my conversation with him on the voyage that he entered on the duties of that high office with hesitancy and misgiving. He said to me, "I accepted it because it is an office that one can hardly refuse."

When I entered on the duties of the professorship, the curricula were so arranged that my students could carry the work in the modern languages and literatures to a somewhat advanced stage, and to my great satisfaction. But later changes were made which restricted my classes to one year's work in each of the languages. This elementary teaching soon became rather uninspiring to me. I used to say it did not seem to stretch the flexor muscles of the mind.

Partly owing to this fact, by an arrangement with Governor Anthony, editor and chief proprietor of the Providence Journal, while I was holding the chair in college, I wrote regularly leading articles, chiefly on foreign affairs. When he was elected to the United States Senate in 1858, I assumed responsibility, for 1859, of all the leading articles, while James S. Ham acted as managing editor. This attempt to carry both my college work and my editorial work did not prove satisfactory to me. During the year, Senator Anthony proposed that I should resign my position at the college and take the editorial charge of the newspaper. The college salary was very small and there seemed to be no prospect of an increase. The Journal held a very commanding position. The great questions which the North and South were soon to submit to the dread arbitrament of war were already under discussion. The field for earnest and patriotic editorial work was very inviting. I decided to exchange the professor's chair for the editor's.

I was called on at various times to give lectures in and near Providence. I first wrote out some lectures and read them. I soon found that this was not the most effective mode of lecturing and moreover that it made too great a draught on my throat. So I decided to throw away manuscript. I thus acquired the habit of speaking with-out notes, which I have followed through my life with few exceptions and then against my wishes. Many of my speeches I have after delivery reduced to writing in order to preserve them; but the pleasure and effectiveness of speaking without reading can never be equalled by reading a manuscript.

It was during the period of my official connection with Brown University on November 26, 1855, that I was married to Sarah Swoope Caswell, only daughter of Rev. Alexis Caswell, D.D., for many years Professor in the University and afterwards its President. This was the most fortunate event in my life. She was eminently fitted to be my helpmeet in all the various experiences of our lives. If I have achieved any degree of success, I owe it largely to her.

The spirit in which Mr. Anthony had always conducted the Journal was that of courtesy towards opponents and of optimism concerning the country. Three things he insisted on: first, the Journal should be a clean paper, even in its advertisements; second, the English should be pure; third, whatever the Journal could do for the honour, the prosperity, the glory of Rhode Island should be done at any sacrifice. For us who were left in his absence to carry on the work it was the tradition and the law to let his spirit prevail, so far as we could attain to it, in all departments of the paper. Accordingly at the end of the academic year, 1859-60, I resigned my chair in the college and accepted the invitation to take the editorship, subject of course to the control of the Senator. That position I held from the summer of 1860 to the summer of 1866. A more interesting and important period for the responsible post of con-ducting such a newspaper has not been presented in our history. Few of the news-papers in the country have so won the confidence and so controlled the opinions of their constituency as the Providence Journal under the editorship of Henry B. Anthony. Its opponents used to say that its readers considered it their political bible, and opened it in the morning to know what they ought to think. The opportunity, the privilege, the duty of such a journal at such an epoch, no one comprehended more thoroughly than Senator Anthony. Never was there a more indulgent chief. He left us in the offices the utmost liberty compatible with the general policy of the paper. Though with my limited experience I must have made mistakes, I do not remember that he ever complained to me or ever criticized me, except as criticisms may sometimes have been gently implied in suggestions.

Those who now enter the spacious offices of the Journal and see its large mechanical outfit and its force of writers, reporters, and clerks, will have difficulty in understanding on how modest a scale it was then conducted. The efficient clerk at the desk in the counting room was the only accountant. I not only wrote as a rule all the editorial articles, but read all the exchanges and made the clippings and supervised and edited all communications. We had no regular re-porter except the marine reporter who was a compositor and set up all the news he gathered. When I wished a reporter I sent out and found one. Two or three college students held themselves subject to my call when I could find them. After the war came on I engaged some young officer in each Rhode Island regiment and battery, generally one of my college pupils, to send correspondence from the front. Not in-frequently, after I had gone home at a late hour, the foreman of the printing office receiving some important war news, brought it to my house and I crept out of bed and in very slender attire wrote an article for him to take back.

In respect to the questions which engaged public attention in the months preceding the war, I, like most young men, shared the views of the more radical wing of the Re-publican party in Rhode Island. But the business relations of our cotton brokers and manufacturers in that State with the South had been so close that a large portion, perhaps a majority, of the party were very conservative, and ready to concede much to the South to avoid a conflict. Some of the elderly citizens of wealth and influence from time to time laboured earnestly with me to convince me of my errors and to persuade me to commit the paper to a less dangerous policy.

The election of a governor of the State was the occasion of a rupture in the party. A worthy grocer, Mr. Seth Padelford, by active canvassing secured the gubernatorial nomination at the Republican State Convention, and in accordance with usage the Journal supported him as the regular nominee. His nomination was distasteful to a large number of the prominent Re-publicans in Providence. They persuaded William Sprague, a wealthy young manufacturer, to accept a nomination against him. One of the principal arguments which they adduced for opposing Padelford was that he had at some time given a hundred dollars to circulate a volume written by Hinton Rowan Helper of North Carolina, to show that on economic grounds slavery was injurious to the South. This was loudly proclaimed as a proof that Mr. Padelford was an abolitionist and so unfriendly to the South. I believe Mr. Padelford had in fact never read the book. Of course it fell to me to make as good a fight for him against many of the old friends of the Journal as I could. The strong bank account of the Spragues was heavily drawn upon, and Mr. Padelford who spent his money freely was defeated.

During the campaign two or three gentlemen, who were managing the Sprague campaign, waited on me and asked if the Journal could be bought. (They had no newspaper then.) I replied that I did not own it, but that I presumed that like other property it could be bought if enough was offered for it. They talked on for some time rather vaguely, until at last it appeared that they did not care to buy it unless I was bought with it. When I discovered this I replied, holding up my quill pen, "As I have said, I presume you can buy the Journal, but the Spragues have not money enough to buy this quill." Whereupon they withdrew.

Another interesting incident occurred in the campaign. We invited Abraham Lincoln to make a speech in Providence. He had come to New York to give his Address, now so famous, which shows that the Fathers of the Republic lived in the hope of the ultimate extinction of slavery. He was an entire stranger in Providence; and when he appeared on the stage with his long, lank figure, his loose frock coat, his hair just cut rather close, his homely face, we were rather disappointed. But as he proceeded with his speech our solicitude disappeared. It so happened that I sat by the side of the editor of the Democratic paper, Welcome B. Sayles. At the close of the address he said to me, "That is the finest constitutional argument for a popular audience that I ever heard." And certainly I agreed with him.

It was not long before the speaker was nominated for the Presidency. Rhode Island like other Eastern states had hoped for the nomination of Seward. And when the news of Lincoln's nomination came, we recalled that awkward figure which we had seen in Railroad Hall, and heard the commendations of him as a rail-splitter, and we wondered whether he was to prove the leader we needed for the trying days we were expecting. So keen was the disappointment in the State that clearly an effort was needed to secure him earnest support.

I bethought myself of one source of help. I remembered that John Hay, my old pupil, was a student of law in Lincoln's office. I wrote to him, explaining the situation and asking him to write a few letters about Lincoln, which would help me in awakening enthusiasm. He complied with my request, but he was so accustomed to look at Lincoln with western eyes that he dwelt unduly for my purpose on the qualities which had made him so popular in Illinois. I "edited" his writing severely and published it. What would I not give now for the original manuscript which went to the waste basket with other copy !

During the war the labour of editing was very severe but intensely interesting. The breach in the Republican party was healed, and finally Mr. Padelford was elected Governor, largely by the aid of the supporters of Sprague. I found the annoyance of editorial life much less than I had anticipated. The office was the gathering place for all the prominent men in the state. My practice was to write in the outer room surrounded by these men. I was thus able to feel the public pulse every day and to get many excellent suggestions from the conversation.

I used jocosely to say to some of these bright men that "I milked every cow that came into my enclosure."

I recall with interest visits to the office of many prominent men, among them Charles Sumner, Schuyler Colfax, Henry J. Raymond, Editor of the New York Times, Horace Greeley, and Governor Andrew. Of all these the most stimulating to the young editor was Governor Andrew, with his lofty enthusiasms and great good sense. Mr. Greeley having once asked for a place where he could write, I offered him my table, which was of the usual height. "You don't write at such a table as that, do you?" said he. "Let me have some books to pile on it." I piled up on it the bound volumes of the Congressional Record, until when he was seated they reached to his chin, and on top he spread his paper and wrote.

After George W. Danielson in 1863 became connected with the Journal, the super-vision of the business, of the printing, of the local reporting, and of the evening edition, called the Bulletin, was assumed by him. Perhaps I may properly say now that he and I conceived the idea of purchasing, if practicable, the Journal and publishing it as a non-partisan independent newspaper. But Senator Anthony was unwilling to sell.

In 1866 the severity of the work in which I had really been engaged for eight years, with only a week's vacation in each year, was beginning to affect my health. An urgent call to return to academic life led me to accept the presidency of the University of Vermont in August of that year. But my experience of newspaper life has been of great service to me in all my subsequent career. Editorial work trains one to both readiness and accuracy in writing. One learns to say on the first trial exactly what one means to say, and to avoid diffuseness. One who has a responsible charge in the conduct of a newspaper has large opportunities to understand men and to test his own courage in standing for what is right and conducive to the public good, especially when in his opinions he differs from some of his friends. It was not with-out much reluctance that I decided to abandon editorial life and return to academic work.



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