Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Example of George Peabody
By Robert Charles Winthrop (18091894)
[Eulogy at the Funeral of George Peabody, delivered at Peabody, Mass., 8 February, 1870.Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions. 185286.]
I HAVE spoken of the exhibition of this example, as having been the cherished aim of his later years; but I am not without authority for saying that it was among the fondest wishes of his whole mature life. I cannot forget that, in one of those confidential consultations with which he honored me some years since, after unfolding his plans, and telling me substantially all that he designed to do,for almost everything he did was of his own original designing,and when I was filled with admiration and amazement at the magnitude and sublimity of his purposes, he said to me, with that guileless simplicity which characterized so much of his social intercourse and conversation, Why, Mr. Winthrop, this is no new idea to me. From the earliest years of my manhood, I have contemplated some such disposition of my property; and I have prayed my Heavenly Father, day by day, that I might be enabled, before I died, to show my gratitude for the blessings which He has bestowed upon me, by doing some great good to my fellow-men.
That prayer, certainly, has been heard and answered. That noble aspiration has been more than fulfilled. The judgment of the future will confirm the opinion of the hour; and History, instead of contenting herself with merely enrolling his name in chronological or alphabetical order, as one among the many benefactors of mankind, will assign himunless I greatly mistake her verdicta place by himself, far above all competition or comparison, first without a second, as having done the greatest good for the greatest number of his fellow-men,so far, at least, as pecuniary means could accomplish such a result,of which there has thus far been any authentic record in merely human annals.
It would afford a most inadequate measure of his munificence, were I to sum up the dollars or the pounds he has distributed; or the number of persons whom his perennial provisions, for dwellings or for schools, will have included, in years to come, on one side of the Atlantic or the other. Tried even by this narrow test, his beneficence has neither precedent nor parallel. But it is, as having attracted and compelled the attention of mankind to the beauty, the nobleness, the true glory of living and doing for others; it is, as having raised the standard of munificence to a degree which has almost made it a new thing in the world; it is, as having exhibited a wisdom and a discrimination in selecting the objects, and in arranging the machinery, of his bounty, which almost entitle him to the credit of an inventor; it is, as having, in the words of the brilliant Gladstone, taught us how a man may be the master of his fortune, and not its slave; it is, as having discarded all considerations of caste, creed, condition, nationality, in his world-wide philanthropy, regarding nothing human as alien to him; it is, as having deliberately stripped himself in his lifetime of the property he had so laboriously acquired; delighting as much in devising modes of bestowing his wealth, as he had ever done in contriving plans for its increase and accumulation; literally throwing out his bags like some adventurous aeronaut, who would mount higher and higher to the skies, and really exulting as he calculated, from time to time, how little of all his laborious earnings he had at last left for himself; it is, as having furnished this new and living and magnetic example, which can never be lost to history, never be lost to the interests of humanity, never fail to attract, inspire, and stimulate the lovers of their fellow-men, as long as human wants and human wealth shall coexist upon the earth,it is in this way, that our lamented friend has attained a preëminence among the benefactors of his age and race, like that of Washington among patriots, or that of Shakespeare or Milton among poets.
It would be doing grievous injustice to our lamented friend, were we to deny or conceal that there were elements in his character which made his own warfare, in this respect, a stern one. He was no stranger to the love of accumulation. He was no stranger to the passion for gaining and saving and hoarding. There were in his nature the germs, and more than the germs, of economy and even of parsimony; and sometimes they would sprout, and spring up, in spite of himself. Nothing less strong than his own will, nothing less indomitable than his own courage, could have enabled him, by the grace of God, to strive successfully against that greedy, grudging, avaricious spirit which so often besets the talent for acquisition. In a thousand little ways, you might perceive, to the last, how much within him he had contended against, how much within him he had overcome and vanquished. All the more glorious and signal was the victory! All the more deserved and appropriate are these trappings of triumph with which his remains have been restored to us! You rob him of his richest laurel, you refuse him his brightest crown, when you attempt to cover up or disguise any of those innate tendencies, any of those acquired habits, any of those besetting temptations, against which he struggled so bravely and so triumphantly. Recount, if you please, every penurious or mercenary act of his earlier or his later life, which friends have ever witnessed,if they have ever witnessed any,or which malice has ever whispered or hinted at,and malice, we know, has not spared him in more ways than one,and you have only added to his titles to be received and remembered as a hero and a conqueror.
As such a conqueror, then, you have received him from that majestic turreted Iron-clad which the gracious Monarch of our motherland has deputed as her own messenger to bear him back to his home. As such a conqueror, you have canopied his funeral car with the flag of his Country;aye, with the flags of both his countries, between whom I pray God that his memory may ever be a pledge of mutual forbearance and affectionate regard! As such a conqueror, you mark the day and the hour of his burial by minute-guns, and fire a farewell shot, it may be, as the clods of his native soil are heaped upon his breast.
We do not forget, however, amidst all this martial pomp, how eminently he was a man of peace; or how earnestly he desired, or how much he had done, to inculcate a spirit of peace, national and international. I may not attempt to enter here, to-day, into any consideration of the influence of his specific endowments, at home or abroad, American or English; but I may say, in a single word, that I think history will be searched in vain for the record of any merely human acts, recent or remote, which have been more in harmony with that angelic chorus, which, just as the fleet, with this sad freight, had entered on its funeral voyage across the Atlantic, the whole Christian World was uniting to ring back again to the skies from which it first was heard,any merely human acts, which while, as I have said, they have waked a fresh and more fervent echo of Glory to God in the highest, have done more to promote Peace on earth and good-will towards men.