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In the Revue Pédagogique, a monthly educational magazine published in Paris, there appeared, March, 1886, the following appreciative article upon the character and work of Dr. Philbrick. It was written by M. Buisson, a man better qualified than any other in France to estimate Mr. Philbrick's work at its true value, and to do ample justice to his private character. M. Buisson had not only visited the Boston schools, while under Dr. Philbrick's charge, but had often met him at international exhi. bitions, and had received him into his own home in Paris as a guest, for months during the year of the Paris Exposition. It is no small honor to have won such an opinion from so eminent a scholar and school man as M. Buisson.
JOIN D. PHILBRICK.
(May 27, 1818 - Feb. 2, 1886.)
We cannot let the sad news, brought to us by the Journal of Education, of Boston, pass without giving a word of respectful sympathy and homage to the memory of a worthy man, whose loss the United States mourns to-day.
The reputations of teachers and school superintendents rarely cross the ocean from the New World to the Old, or from the Old to the New The name of Mr. Philbrick has proved one of the first exceptions to this mutual ignorance and indifference. For twenty years his name has been the best known in Europe of all the American educators. And this was only just.
No man has worked more, nor more happily succeeded in making known, in school matters, America to Europeans, or Europe to Americans. He was by his work, his travels, his missions to the great Expositions of Vienna and Paris, his reports, his official publications, the bond of union between two worlds; he was among the first to understand and prove the incomparable advantages of these international relations.
Such a tribute of gratitude as has been rendered to the memory of Mr. Philbrick by his fellow citizens in the United States, is a beautiful end to a man's life. The number of the Journal of Education which is consecrated to him forms one of the most touching memorials which could be given to a man to merit. There are in it a series of tender testimonials, all coming from men who have seen him at his work, all full of facts, and of an American directness, without other eloquence than that of personal feeling and sincerity.
One cannot read these pages without seeing how much they honor both the man and the country. A people must be great, free, profoundly republican, and must feel more deeply than trite phrases can express, what educa. tion is in the destiny of a country, to give, outside of official recognition, this outpouring of public sympathy, this diversity of admiration, of gratitude, and respect for a man who has been all his life nothing but a school man. A man must be of rare moral worth to have acquired, by such a work, such a popularity. But whoever has known Mr. Philbrick can understand the secret of his power and of his success. He was a spirit upright, guileless, and frank, one of those souls who continue young because they remain sincere. He had found his vocation and he never left it, even in a country and in a time in which men of his ability could find in political life so many more brilliant openings. He never thought of change. He was of those who love teaching, – let us say, rather, let us say as the Americans say, education. He had the happiness to conceive this most beautiful dream and to live it.
When quite young he had heard Horace Mann, and that powerful voice had stirred him even to his inmost soul; he remembered still, in his last years, some admirable fragments of the lectures of this great patriot, and recited them to us with an emotion that made it impossible not to share in his feeling. Those dying words of Horace Mann had been the motto of his whole life, had sunk into his heart, “Be ashamed to die without having accomplished some victory for humanity.”
Through Horace Mann came to him a sort of vision of what a life wholly consecrated to the work of popular education might be. Mr. Philbrick was at that time a simple professor in a small college. He did not dream that for him was reserved the overwhelming task of succeeding Horace Mann, and of being for more than twenty years superintendent of the schools of Boston.
He was still in that position in 1876, at the time of the visit of the French delegates sent to the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia.
This is not the place to repeat what the delegates said in their joint collective report upon Boston and her schools, the finest, perhaps, in the world. Let us remember that their organization, commenced by Horace Mann, was mostly carried out by the personal work of Mr. Philbrick.
His mind was clear and just, he was always open to ideas of progress.
He read or saw all that could in.
struct him, and he borrowed freely from Germany, England, and France all the details of school organization, all the methods of teaching which seemed to him worthy of imitation. But under all the borrowing, there was always something which was his own, and which gave unity to his plans, force to his actions, and originality to his system; he had an aim and he never lost sight of it, either in the whole scheme or in the details. This aim was to make free citizens for a free country; it was to give them education, not from without, but from within ; it was to reach the life of the soul, and to make education the apprenticeship of self-government.
How many times in our conversations in Boston, during our visit, and in Paris during his stay at the Exposition of 1878, have we noticed with what wonderful clearness he threw light upon the most delicate and most complex school questions, by raising himself with a single bound above secondary interests, to judge and decide summarily, categorically, in the American fashion, according to the single criterion, “Is such a practice, such a method, fit to form freemen ?" Or again, “If it is adopted, will our pupils be improved in mind or in character ? Yes, then it is good. If not, no.
We design at this time neither to undertake the biography of Mr. Philbrick, nor a deep study of his school work. But it may be allowed here to reproduce some lines of his, which will picture him better than any eulogy. They are at the end of one of his last reports to the school committee of Boston ; he is going to resign his office, and he cannot help reverting to himself at the moment of bidding a last adieu to his fellow citizens :
“For upwards of thirty years, - all but four in this city, — I have occupied, without the intermission of a day, various positions of service in connection with public schools. Here my professional career has been run. It was the career of my choice, and my highest ambition. My heart has been in it. It has afforded me the desired opportunity for making my humble contribution to the general welfare. I am thankful for it. I shall never cease to be grateful to all who have co-operated with me in my efforts to make the Boston Public Schools the best in the world. And I will venture to say that I ask no ill thing for the cause, when, on parting from this place, I pray that whomsoever you choose to succeed me, he may resemble me in uprightness of intentions and surpass me in abilities.”