The spirit in which Lowell approached his entrance into practical life was expressed in his Valedictory Oration on ‘The Reverence due from Old Men to Young’; a subject peculiarly illustrative of his earnestness and originality, and not likely to appear unmeaning to the reader of this book.
When a young man is burning to do the world great service, it is a falsehood to tell him that faithful labor is the best gift the world expects from him. If young men bring mankind nothing but their strength and their spirit, the world may well spare them; but they do bring it something better,—they bring it a gift which they alone can bestow; they bring it their fresher and purer ideals. . . . . It is not true that good comes often of evil; good comes only of good, and of evil comes only evil. . . . . Each generation stands in a new position, it gets new views of past faults and failures, with new glimpses of future possibilities. . . . . This is not all, however. While mankind is constantly rising to higher ideals, there is always danger that the man may sink to lower ones. Labor has been blessed as the Lethe of the past and the present; it may well be cursed as the Lethe of the highest future. . . . . Therefore the old men, the men of the last generation, can not teach us of the present what should be, for that we know as well as they, or better; they should not teach us what can be, for the world always advances by impossibilities achieved; and if life has taught them what can not be, such knowledge in the world's march is only impedimenta; in short, though men are never too old to learn, they are often too young to be taught. If beauty, then, which has been called the promise of function, causes youth to be loved, the function, which already brings the world its life and its growth, should cause it to be reverenced. A nation that feels this reverence has its golden age before it; it cannot be wholly undone by unprincipled governments or evil institutions. Where this is not felt, though the course may seem rapid and prosperous, a swift undercurrent is sweeping it surely to destruction. . . . . Mere action is no proof of progress; we make it our boast how much we do, and thus grow blind to what we do. Action here is the Minotaur which claims and devours our youths. Athens bewailed the seven who yearly left her shore; with us scarce seven remain, and we urge the victims to their fate. Apollonius of Tyana tells us in his Travels that he saw “a youth, one of the blackest of the Indians, who had between his ”