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practical strength lay in his profound knowledge of the principles that determine right practice.
This made him conservative. While others were ready to embrace a newly presented theory or method, he felt compelled to hesitate. He must first consider whether it had not already been properly tested and rejected, and whether or not it was in accordance with those principles that he held as fundamental. Often would he reject a method of teaching which, for the time being, was popular, well knowing that it was not in accordance with the views of the wisest educators. If any new, really new, method was proposed, he always inquired, before he accepted it, whether it was in accordance with the tendency of the best practice of the world. But few men could apply this test. He had the necessary knowledge, and it gave him great strength. He was so well versed in pedagogical history that he knew what the various nations of the world had formerly done, what they were now doing, and the changes both in theory and practice through which they were going. And he judged that, if all the most enlightened nations of the world were moving in a given direction, that direction, while not necessarily absolutely right, was more likely to be right than any course that could be thought out by one single mind. How many times I have heard him say, “This practice is wrong because it is contrary to the unanimous opinion of the wisest educators.” This test he often applied with wonderful skill.
It has been said of him that he was not a great man. But what is the standard of greatness ? This is a relative
term, of course. No one talent of his overshadowed all the rest; but his mind was well rounded and evenly balanced, and one of remarkable force. His power of application was wonderful. His classmate, Rev. Dr. Spalding, says of him, “No man in college was more noted for his indefatigable industry.” And the habit thus early formed clung to him till the day of his death. His judgment of men was excellent, and his opinion of the best means to secure a desired end was rarely wrong. His view of a broad truth was clear to a degree attained by but few, and his power to apply general principles to special cases was equal to his power of insight. If greatness be judged by success, we must accord it to him in no small degree. Few men of a generation impress themselves upon the world so strongly or so widely. Probably no school man lives to-day who is so widely and so favorably known as was Dr. Philbrick at the time of his death.
Not only the esteem in which he was held by educators, but the affection they felt for him, was unusual. What is the secret? Is it not to be found partly in the fact that his highest ambition was to be of real service to mankind ? In the seclusion and sacredness of his own study, July 9, 1865, he wrote:
“I often urge as the chief end of man, self-culture, with a view to use talents and acquirements for the benefit of others. I got a glimpse of this great idea while in college, I know not how, and it grew and expanded till it came to be my guiding principle. It was this which at length determined my choice of a profession. I felt that the educational field was that in which I could best develop my own character and at the same time do the most good to mankind. I expected labor and trials, but these are necessary for culture. I have no regret on account of my choice; I only regret that I have not done more. Not but that I have worked hard enough, but I have not always worked to the best advantage. To accomplish great things one must have great power of endurance and also great wisdom to direct his efforts, so that he may always work to the best advantage.”
The desire to do the most good to mankind determined the choice of his profession! Have we not here the key to that cheerful and unruffled patience with which he continually worked, to his catholic charity toward those who delayed the accomplishment of his cherished plans, and to that sweet spirit of Christian forgiveness of his enemies that made him so lovable in the quiet retirement of his later years? How constantly he was guided by this principle those know best who knew him most. In his view education was a high and holy calling, worthy of the ambition of the noblest minds, and to this he consecrated his life.
His integrity never faltered. Honesty, both intellectual and moral, was a native element of his character. Selfish aims and ambitions found no lodgment in his heart. He preferred failure to insincerity.
Then he was generous and sympathetic. No man was quicker to detect merit in others or more ready to give credit where it was due. How many have been cheered by his kind words of sympathy and his wise counsels. He was a real friend to all who were honestly working for the good of public schools.
Able and industrious, devoted to his profession, and a student of its history and philosophy, sincere, generous, and sympathetic, patient and forgiving, his life was a grand success. Wherever public schools exist his influence is felt; wherever popular education is studied he is known. His mind was clear and strong; his character was round, and full, and sweet; and his life contributed abundantly to the good of mankind. Long may his memory live in our heart of hearts, and long may his noble example inspire us to emulate his virtues, and to consecrate ourselves, head and heart, soul and body, to the great work to which he devoted his life.