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‘ [95] To be sure, you have not the torrens dicendi, and that is a very fortunate thing.’

Sumner competed successfully for a Bowdoin prize offered to resident graduates for the best dissertation on the theme, ‘Are the most important Changes in Society effected Gradually or by Violent Revolutions?’ His manuscript bore a motto from the ‘Agricola’ of Tacitus: ‘Per intervalla ac spiramenta temporum.’ It was written in a fortnight, without interfering with his regular studies, and covered fifty pages. Some of its quotations may be traced in his orations. The early part is elaborate, but the latter hurriedly written. Much space is taken with a review of the condition of Europe in the ‘Dark Ages,’ and of the agencies which promoted modern civilization,—a line of thought probably suggested by his recent reading of Hallam's ‘Middle Ages.’ This progressive development, he maintained, shows that the improvement of society is effected by gradual reforms, often unobserved, rather than by revolutions. The former are always to be encouraged; the latter become necessary when society has outgrown its institutions, and peaceful changes are resisted by the governing power. The dissertation bears the marks of haste in composition, and is marred by digressions and wanting in compactness.1 He did not then apply the labor of assiduous and repeated revision, which was afterwards habitual with him. While not falling below the similar efforts of clever young men, it is not prophetic of future distinction. One passage is interesting, when read in the light of his subsequent career:–

Times like these (when revolutions become necessary) call for the exertions of the truly brave man. The good citizen may revolt at violence and outrage, and all the calamities which thicken upon a people divided with itself; but if he be true to his country, he will incur the risk for the prize in store. “ For surely, to every good and peaceable citizen,” said Milton,2 himself an actor in scenes like these to which I am referring, “ it must in nature needs be a hateful thing to be the displeaser and molester of thousands. But when God commands to take the trumpet and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in man's will what he shall say or what he shall conceal.” The question is one upon which hangs the prosperity and happiness of his country for years to come. A great battle is to be fought; but the fruits of the victory are not to him alone. The honor and garland are his; but the benefit goes

1 President Quincy wrote him a note, requesting an interview in relation to the dissertation,—with what particular purpose it is not now definitely known, but perhaps with reference to some digressions which are still noted with pencil-marks, made at the time.

2 ‘Reason of Church Government urged against Prelatry.’

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