What worldwide benefactors these “imprudent” men are! How prudently most men creep into nameless graves; while now and then one or two forget themselves into immortality.
—Speech on Lovejoy
May the good Lord ever keep me from wishing to say the last word; and also from assigning ranks or awarding prizes to great men gone. However, it is a joy to get acquainted with a noble, splendid personality, and then introduce him to you, or at least draw the arras, so you can see him as he lived and worked or nobly failed.
And if you and I understand this man it is because we are much akin to him. The only relationship, after all, is the spiritual relationship. Your brother after the flesh may not be your brother at all; you may live in different worlds and call to each other in strange tongues across wide seas of misunderstandings. “Who is my mother and who are my brethren?”
As you understand a man, just in that degree are you related to him. There is a great joy in discovering kinship–for in that moment you discover yourself, and life consists in getting acquainted with yourself. We see ourselves mirrored in the soul of another–that is what love is, or pretty nearly so.
If you like what I write, it is because I express for you the things you already know; we are akin, our heads are in the same stratum–we are breathing the same atmosphere. To the degree that you comprehend the character of Wendell Phillips you are akin to him. I once thought great men were all ten feet high, but since I have met a few, both in astral form and in the flesh, I have found out differently.
What kind of a man was Wendell Phillips?
Very much like you and me, Blessed, very much like you and me.
I think well of great people, I think well of myself, and I think well of you. We are all God’s children–all parts of the Whole–akin to Divinity.
Phillips never thought he was doing much–never took any great pride in past performances. When what you have done in the past looks large to you, you have not done much today. His hopes were so high that there crept into his life a tinge of disappointment–some have called it bitterness, but that is not the word–just a touch of sadness because he was unable to do more. This was a matter of temperament, perhaps, but it reveals the humanity as well as the divinity of the man. There is nothing worse than self-complacency–smugosity is sin.
Phillips was not supremely great–if he were, how could we comprehend him?
And now if you will open those folding doors–there! that will do–thank you.
* * * * *
When was he born? Ah, I’ll tell you–it was in his twenty-fifth year–about three in the afternoon, by the clock, October Twenty-first, Eighteen Hundred Thirty-five. The day was Indian summer, warm and balmy. He sat there reading in the window of his office on Court Street, Boston, a spick-span new law-office, with four shelves of law-books bound in sheep, a green-covered table in the center, three armchairs, and on the wall a steel engraving of “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”
He was a handsome fellow, was this Wendell Phillips–it would a’ been worth your while just to run up the stairs and put your head in the door to look at him. “Can I do anything for you?” he would have asked.
“No, we just wanted to see you, that’s all,” we would have replied.
He sat there at the window, his long legs crossed, a copy of “Coke on Littleton” in his hands. His dress was what it should be–that of a gentleman–his face cleanly shaven, hair long, cut square and falling to his black stock. He was the only son of Boston’s first Mayor, both to the manor and to the manner born, rich in his own right; proud, handsome, strong, gentle, refined, educated–a Christian gentleman, heir to the best that Boston had to give–a graduate of the Boston Latin School, of Harvard College, of the Harvard Law School–living with his widowed mother in a mansion on Beacon Hill, overlooking Boston’s forty-three acres of Common!