previous next
‘ [20] I remember the very words. He said, “It was an amazingly splendid affair. I never heard it surpassed; I don't know that I ever heard it equalled.” Now, Charley, you may well be proud of having drawn forth from those stony lips such human tones of speech.’ Whittier wrote, November 3: I thank thee from my heart for thy P. B. K. oration; it is a noble word for the right. God give thee strength and nerve and patience for the practical acting out of that word!

Of the classics Sumner thus spoke:—

The classics possess a peculiar charm as models, I might say masters, of composition and form. In the contemplation of these august teachers we are filled with conflicting emotions. They are the early voice of the world, better remembered and ignore cherished than any intermediate voice,—as the language of childhood still haunts us, when the utterances of later years are effaced from the mind. But they show the rudeness of the world's childhood before passion yielded to the sway of reason and the affections; they want purity, righteousness, and that highest charm which is found in love to God and man. Not in the frigid philosophy of the Porch and the Academy are we to seek these; not in the marvellous teachings of Socrates, as they come mended by the mellifluous words of Plato; not in the resounding line of Homer, on whose inspiring tale of blood Alexander pillowed his head, not in the animated strain of Pindar, where virtue is pictured in the successful strife of an athlete at the Olympian games; not in the torrent of Demosthenes, dark with self-love and the spirit of vengeance; not in the fitful philosophy and boastful eloquence of Tully; not in the genial libertinism of Horace, or the stately atheism of Lucretius. To these we give admiration; but they cannot be our highest teachers. In none of these is the way of life. For eighteen hundred years the spirit of these classics has been in constant contention with the Sermon on the Mount, and with those two sublime commandments on which “hang all the law and the prophets.” The strife is still pending, and who shall say when it will end? Heathenism, which possessed itself of such Siren forms, is not yet exorcised. Even now it exerts a powerfull sway, imbuing youth, coloring the thought of manhood, and haunting the meditation of age; widening still in sphere, it embraces nations as well as individuals, until it seems to sit supreme.

Our own productions, though yielding to the ancient in arrangement, method, beauty of form, and freshness of illustration, are superior in truth, delicacy, and elevation of sentiment,—above all, in the recognition of that peculiar revelation, the Brotherhood of Man. Vain are eloquence and poetry, compared with this heaven-descended truth. Put in one scale that simple utterance, and in the other all the lore of antiquity, with its accumulating glosses land commentaries, and the latter will be light in the balance. Greek poetry has been likened to the song of the nightingale, as she sits in the rich, symmetrical crown of the palm-tree, trilling her thick-warbled notes; but these notes will not compare in sweetness with those teachings of charity which belong to our Christian inheritance.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
John G. Whittier (1)
Tully (1)
Socrates (1)
Plato (1)
Pindar (1)
Lucretius (1)
Demosthenes (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
November 3rd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: