Addresses in Memory of Carl Schurz/ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT CHARLES W. ELIOT

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Addresses in Memory of Carl Schurz
New York Committee of the Carl Schurz Memorial

CARL SCHURZ'S temperament was buoyant, ardent, and hopeful. He was an enthusiast; but his enthusiastic faith carried him straight into fitting deeds. He was a philosopher; but he seized every opportunity to apply his philosophy in action. This noble temperament characterized his whole life, from youth to age. His formal or systematic education was short, but effective. He was only seventeen years old when he entered the University of Bonn to study philosophy and history — two subjects which, according to present educational views, require a good deal of mental maturity. At twenty he was an adjutant in a considerable body of revolutionary troops. At twenty-one he had rescued his friend and teacher Kinkel from the prison of Spandau and brought him safely to England — an achievement which required courage, ingenuity, patience, and good judgment. He was already possessed of two means of winning an independent livelihood — good proof of his capacity and of the effectiveness of his education. One was giving music lessons, and the other was writing letters from abroad for German newspapers. While he was earning $36 a month as a newspaper correspondent in Paris he learned to write and speak French with ease and delicacy, thus giving a striking illustration of his remarkable powers in language. At twenty-three he came with his wife of eighteen to the United States, seeking freedom in a land where political freedom had been a natural growth. Switzerland had been his first refuge, England his second, and republican France — soon to become imperial France — his third; America was henceforth his country, and what led him thither was the passion for liberty. Neither he nor his wife could understand spoken English when they landed in New York. He immediately began to read newspapers and novels, historical and political essays, and Blackstone's Commentaries, using the dictionary incessantly, but making little use of an English grammar. He also followed a method strikingly like that which Benjamin Franklin devised for acquiring a thorough knowledge of a language — even of the mother tongue. He translated many of the Letters of Junius into German and back again into English, and compared this retranslation with the English original. He wrote diligently in English, always reading over and revising what he had written. In less than six months he could talk easily in English and write a good letter. This achievement was the more remarkable because he and his wife associated chiefly with recently immigrated Germans. He was also studying industriously the political history and institutions of the country and its social conditions. His contemporary observations on American conditions of life show remarkable insight and sagacity. He saw clearly that political freedom means freedom to be feeble, foolish, and sinful in public affairs, as well as freedom to be strong, wise, and good. He saw that the object of political freedom is to develop character in millions of free men through the suffering which follows mistakes and crimes, and through the satisfaction and improvement which follows on public wisdom and righteousness. He saw clearly the productiveness of freedom through the spontaneous coöperation of private citizens. He saw how freedom to do something awakens the desire and develops the capacity to do it. In short, this sanguine young foreigner, who had no experience whatever of democracy at work, saw clearly that a republic is not an ideal state, but a state in which good contends with evil, and the people themselves, and not a few masters of the people do the fighting, and so get instruction both from defeats through folly and vice and from victories through good sense and virtue. He saw that the actual political, industrial, and social conditions in a republic might, like the actual issue of a single individual's struggles, often be far below ideal conditions, and yet freedom to do wrong or to do right would remain the best possible atmosphere, indeed the only atmosphere, for national as for individual growth in virtue. He also perceived that democratic government could be various and elastic, and that it had indefinite recuperative power after disaster. The whole of his subsequent career as a public man was based on these convictions of his youth. Thirty-five years later appeared his “Life of Henry Clay,” his largest piece of literary work. It is much more than a life of Clay, being also a powerful delineation in rapid outlines of the political history of fifty pregnant years. Its style is simple, clear, and fluent, its judgment of men and public acts temperate and impartial, and its moral teaching always both lofty and attractive. No biography of an American public man has been written with greater discernment, candor, and fairness. That it was written by a German who came to this country at twenty-three years of age, after practical experience of the crude and visionary revolutionism of Europe in 1848, and then entered on the study of the English language and of American political principles, is an intellectual and moral marvel. It demonstrates the consistency and continuity of Carl Schurz's own principles of political action from youth to age.

Schurz at once attached himself to the liberal or progressive side in American politics, and in the first instance to the anti-slavery cause. What gave him power to serve greatly the cause of freedom was his gift of genuine oratory, both in English and in German. His command of English for purposes of public speech was extraordinary. I have listened to many scholars and lecturers of foreign birth speaking in English after years of familiar use of the English tongue, but I have never heard one who approached Carl Schurz in the accuracy, variety, and idiomatic quality of his English speech. In his essays and speeches one may find occasionally a word which a native would hardly use in the sense in which he uses it, but the most attentive critic will fail to find ungrammatical phrases or misused idioms. Now and then a sentence will recall by its length the German style; but its order, inflection, and rhythm will be English. His oratory was never florid or rhetorical as distinguished from logical. On the contrary, it was compact, simple, and eminently moderate in form and rational in substance. He could be severe, but he was never vituperative; bold, but never reckless; he was always firm, with a strength based on full inquiry and knowledge. On every subject which he treated before the public he took the utmost pains to be well informed, to acquaint himself with his adversaries' opinions and feelings, and to be prepared alike for direct advocacy and for rebuttal.

At twenty-seven years of age he was already making political speeches in German — speeches which contributed to carrying Wisconsin for Fremont. He was not thirty years old when he made his first political speech in English. He contributed to the first election of Lincoln by many speeches in German and in English — a service which brought him at thirty-two years of age the appointment as Minister to Spain. After his three years service in the army during the civil war he returned for a time to the calling of his youth — writing for the daily press, both in German and English, an occupation in which his gifts had full play. A new theatre for his oratorical powers was opened to him when he took his seat in the Senate of the United States in March, 1869, as Senator from Missouri. Here he proved his readiness as a debater as well as his power as an orator. Debate often brings out a fine quality which the oratorical monologue does not develop — namely, fairness combined with aggressiveness. The most persuasive debater is always the fairest debater, because the listener who is not already a partisan is only too apt to be unreasonably repelled from the side which manifests unfairness, and to be sympathetically attracted toward the other side. The ordinary defects of American speaking — bombast, excess in simile and metaphor, exaggeration, and playing to the gallery — Carl Schurz invariably shunned. His oratory was always high-minded and dignified, although it ranged through all human moods, and could be either forcible or gentle, plain and calm, or dramatic and passionate.

Schurz was always a leader of the people, because he was an independent thinker and a student, and because he himself faithfully followed ideals which had not yet become the ideals of the masses. In how true a sense he was a pioneer we shall realize if we recall the dates of some of his great speeches. In a speech on civil service reform, delivered in the Senate in January, 1871, he laid down in the clearest and most impressive manner all the fundamental principles and objects of the reform — principles which have not yet been fully incorporated in public law — and to the close of his life he was a devoted servant of this great reform. Three years later he made two memorable speeches in the Senate on banking and against inflation of the currency, his admirable teaching being inspired not so much by his belief in the material or industrial advantages of a sound currency as by his conviction that an unsound currency caused both public and private dishonesty. The country has not yet put in practice the whole of Schurz's doctrine on honest banking and honest money. When he was Secretary of the Interior for four years he proved that he was a pioneer not only in the theory of reform, but in the practice also. The solidity of Carl Schurz's information, his independence, and his quality as a leader of thought are well illustrated by his early dealings with the subject of forestry. When he was Secretary of the Interior it was part of his business to make himself acquainted with the American forests and with the rapacious commercial organizations which were rapidly destroying them. He came into actual conflict with some of these organizations, and during his tenure of the Secretaryship he set on foot the resistance to this wanton destruction which has since gathered force and is beginning to be effective. In an admirable address delivered before the American Forestry Association in October, 1889, Carl Schurz expounded clearly and completely the true doctrine of forest protection and preservation, anticipating public opinion by many years, at a time when an advocate of such views had nothing to expect but ridicule and abuse.

The nature of the other public causes in which he labored testifies to the same virtue in him of leadership based on idealism. In his later years he became an ardent advocate of arbitration in international disputes, and hence an expounder of the atrocities of war, of its demoralizing subsequent effects, and of its frequent futility in settling disputes. In his latest years he lent the whole force of his reputation and his eloquence to the feeble minority which opposed the extension of the sovereignty of the United States over conquered peoples. Again he was true to his ideals and to the ideals of Washington and Lincoln. Like Washington he urged his adopted country to “observe good faith and justice toward all nations.” Like Lincoln he believed that “our defence is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men in all lands.”

Carl Schurz was a thinker, a writer, an orator, and a doer — all four; and he loved liberty. St. James describes him perfectly in his General Epistle: “Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” This freeman, truly blessed in his deeds throughout a long and busy life, is the greatest American citizen of German birth.

The Liederkranz Chorus, which had volunteered its services, then sang, under the direction of Mr. Arthur Claasen, its leader, Engelsberg's Meine Muttersprache.

The Chairman:

This occasion does not belong to New York, or to America, alone; Germany is entitled to, and claims, her fair share in it, and in token of that, I have the great honor of presenting to you Professor Eugene Kühnemann, of the University of Breslau, now happily a visiting professor at Harvard, who will address you in his own and Carl Schurz's native tongue: