« PreviousContinue »
JOHN D. PHILBRICK.
We honor and esteem the development of human character above all other products of this world. We do not value possessions so much as being. Character is not the indifferent foundation of the soul which is capable of becoming either good or bad, but it is the positive structure that is erected on that foundation. Hence, we speak of a good man as a man of character, and of a bad man we say that he has no character.
Again, it is evident that character is never the product of external circumstances; it is formed only by the reaction of the human will against these circumstances. It is always the product of the self-activity of the man himself. He reacts upon the world around him, and moulds it by his will. In proportion as he attains power to real. ize what is rational in this world he attains character. Looking upon each individual as a possibility of this precious outcome, we must value most highly any instrumentalities which tend to favor its growth and development. All doings and havings which do not appertain to the growth of human character fail in an essential par
ticular. They do not have any part or lot in what is eternal. Only the going forth of the soul in the image of its Maker is of prime importance in the affairs of this world, and all deeds and events take rank according to their near or remote relation to this essential purpose.
In view of this principle, we assemble to recount the evidences of character in our great men after they have gone from us.
What they have done for us, what they have done for their fellow-men, is the test of this substantial growth in themselves. For, strangely enough in human life, it is true that one finds his deepest self in the recognition that he receives from society. He works for it by working for others. It is the Christian doctrine that he who wishes to save his life in an immediate and selfish manner shall lose it; and he who loses his life for the sake of others, he alone gains it; he obtains a hold on his true being, - he realizes character.
It is thus with the noble educator whom we celebrate on this occasion. Early in life, as we have heard from those who were most intimate with him, he consecrated himself to the work which promised the most direct field of usefulness to his fellow-men. There opened before him many careers of honor and success, -careers, indeed, that promised honor and wealth at a far less outlay of endeavor. But he perceived that easily won honors are not enduring ones; he perceived that, in the long run, it is only character that is honored, and character builds itself by heroic self-sacrifice for the good of humanity. The missionary spirit, the zeal of St. Francis of Assisi, the zeal of St. Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, the zeal
of the noble army of Christian missionaries, is the type of this highest unfolding of the human soul, for it is the nearest approach to the Divine Model as revealed to us in Christ.
Looking at human welfare in its broadest sense, we shall agree, I think, in this: The highest service to men is that which brings to bear upon them the influence that will fill them with the spirit of self-sacrifice for the good. Character is that which develops character in others. Next after the heroes who preach the gospel of the highest religion to men come the teachers who open the windows of the intellect and let the light of science into the soul.
In a world full of sin and evil, full of poverty and suffering, full, likewise, of discontent and mutiny against established order, what is the first and best gift that one can offer to his day and generation ? Certainly, we shall say, next after the teachers who teach religion come the secular teachers who teach science and enlighten the intellect, while they train the will into moral habits.
Take the evils of society, poverty, vice, disease, and crime, and consider their suppression and cure. The administration of justice, the dispensing of charity, do much to punish or cure, but very little to prevent. It is the opinion of many wise and thoughtful people that charity is often so managed that it aggravates evil by increasing its producing causes. To the social economist, however, one way is clear, — school education is a powerful preventive. It increases the productive power of the individual by increasing his directive intelligence and by