The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 50
On the eve of a battle that is historic, the leader of the side that came out of the fray victorious stirred his faltering troops to daring deeds on the occasion, by a sturdy appeal to their self-reliance and manhood in the memorable words—Be strong and quit yourselves like men. In like manner the weird appeal of Napoleon to his halting troops in Egypt in view of the Pyramids, inspired to deeds of victory: Men, soldiers of France, forty centuries look down upon you from the summits of those Pyramids and will make record of the deeds of this day! * You, my young friends, are upon the eve of a life-battle with foes more formidable than Mamelukes or Philistines; but it is our trust that you are panoplied page break in the armor of truth, which is more impervious than steel to the scimitar and spear. That you may be strong and quite yourselves like men and become victors in life's battle, I wish to commend to you two faiths, each worthless and impotent apart from the other.
The one is faith in human nature—in its endowments and capabilities. This is faith in yourselves and in your fellow men Self-reliance is the undergirding of character. Presumption, arrogance and conceit are its counterfeits. He is the most pitiable of all victims who imposes on himself. The qualities of modesty and diffidence are not incompatible with the highest endowments and attainments, nor is it, as the case of Moses handsomely evidences, in violation of these charming and retiring traits, to consent to be leaders when clearly called, nor even to insist on leading, it just occasion arise and you be fitted for so doing.
It is partly to this very work that you are this day commissioned. Win your crowns and they will be awarded to you. There is a monumental incident out of which twenty two centuries are looking down upon the significance of this public spectacle and transaction. In the name and by the authority of the state of Missouri these baccalaureate chaplets or crowns have been awarded to you severally. In the same year, that of 322 before our era, the greatest orator and the greatest philosopher in the world's history—Demosthenes and Aristotle, died. When Demosthenes was at the zenith of his career, it was proposed in the general assembly of Athens that he should be granted a golden wreath or crown in recognition of his services to the State. The speech of' Demosthenes, made at the subsequent trial, in defence of his own character and claims, is by common consent esteemed the world's masterpiece of eloquence. The speech of æschines, his determined and powerful opponent, in support of his accusasions, is ranked only second to it. Both of these speeches are preserved to us, and are not an unusual study in the under-graduate Greek course. In æschines prosecution he "warns the Athenians that, in granting crowns, they judge themselves and are forming the character of their children." The following passage, in translation from æeschines' oration, is worthy of our notice in this connection:
Most of all, fellow citizens, if your sons ask you whose example page break they shall imitate, what will you say? For you know well that it is not music, nor the gymnasium, nor the schools that mould young men; it is much more the public proclamations, the public example. If you take one whose life has no high purpose, one who mocks at morals, and crown him in the theatre, every boy who sees it is corrupted. When a man suffers his deserts, the people learn; on the contrary, when a man votes against what is noble and just, and then comes home to teach his son, the boy will very properly say, 'Your lesson is impertinent and a bore.' Beware, therefore, Athenians, remembering that posterity will rejudge your judgment, and that the character of a city is determined by the character of the men it crowns.
This is most wholesome counsel, and forceful indeed must have been the merit of Demosthenes' claim to sucessfully pass such an ordeal—he received more than four-fifths of the vote of "probably not less than five hundred"—or most base must have been the court of award. † Yes, in firm reliance upon yourselves in the pursuit of truth and duty, win your crowns and they will be awarded to you, in spite of your accusers against whom even self-defence may become just and dutiful when needful in repelling the wrong and in maintaining the right.
The distrustful, suspicious, snarling misanthrope who, without faith in his fellow men, moves through society like a fretted porcupine, unmans himself and mars the lives of others. But faith in our fellows is equally removed from weak credulity and unguarded trust in the artful and plausible pretences and practices of designing persons. There is in circulation, however, a genuine coin,—all is not counterfeit. The true, the beautiful and the good are realties. It is the jaundiced eye that discolors all objects and the thoroughly base drag all others down to their own low level. Such a view of life and of living people is not strong and manly, it cannot yield fruit in personal happiness and highest usefulness. You page break will not misunderstand the setting and poise of this suggestion.
The other faith is faith in God. This is a rock foundation. Without it individuals and nations are weak. Atheism is everywhere and ever has been a sure mark of national degradation. All nations have had faith in their gods in the days of their strength. It was in her degeneracy and growing feebleness that Rome deified her Emperors and a mere man became her god. Hero worship, however polytheistic, is unmanning and unmanly. The true and only foundation of the genuine worship of the soul is in the living Personal Being who stands as the adequate rational ground and ultimate explanation of the world and its order, the cosmos, and as the omnipotent, omniscient, good, just and true governor of the same, whose attributes shine in and through nature, but who is no more to be contounded with nature than our souls with our bodies. He is as distinct from his work and revelations as our spirits from theirs. Happy is that people, I will say, whose God is this Lord.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition;
By that sin fell the angels; how can man then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by't?
Love thyself last; * *
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
* * * Be just and fear not:
Let all the ends thou aimest at, be thy country's,
Thy God's and truth's; then, if thou fallest, O Cromwell,
Thou fallest a blessed martyr.
Each of you may be sately assured that his or her highest and best possibilities in this life and in that to come, are attainable only through God who strengthened you.
Life is earnest, life is real,
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
The paradox which contains the profoundest and purest philosophy of life, as in an axiom, is just this-and with its utterance my lips will forever close to you as pupils: Let your self-reliance be as though you can do everything; but let your trust in God be as though, without him, you can do nothing.
May God bless you through life! Good bye!