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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Edward Everett (1794–1865)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
EDWARD EVERETT occupies an honorable place in American life. He was a scholar when exact scholars were rare, he was a man of letters when devotion to literature was not common, he was an orator when the school of Chatham was in vogue and when the finest grace of diction and the studied arts of gesture and intonation were cultivated, and he was a patriot all his life. In his day he was on the side of culture for its own sake, of order in letters as in life, and he was the model in courteous speech and unexceptionable manners. He began his life as a student, he passed nearly all of it in the public service, and in both capacities he was an ornament to his country; meeting the demands upon the citizen at home, and a competent representative of his country abroad.  1
  All that careful study and the cultivation of his good natural parts, all that industry, painstaking, and faithfulness to duty in the matter in hand could do, Everett did. The psychological student who believes that genius is only taking pains will find a profitable study in his successful career. His life is an interesting one in this point of view: namely, how much can a man of good natural parts, industry, and ambition who lacks the creative touch of genius make of himself. His career is held in grateful memory by a generation that is little curious to read his elaborate orations or his scholarly reviews, and regards his statesmanship as too conventional and timid in the national crisis in which he was an actor.  2
  Edward Everett was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, April 11th, 1794, and died in Boston, January 15th, 1865. He entered Harvard College in 1807, and graduated with the highest honors in 1811, at the age of seventeen. Two years after, he succeeded the renowned Joseph Stevens Buckminster as pastor of the Unitarian Brattle Street Church in Boston, and won an enviable reputation by his polished eloquence. A sermon delivered in the House of Representatives at Washington, in February 1820 gave him a national reputation. Immediately after his graduation he was a Latin tutor in Harvard; in 1814 he was elected to the chair of Greek, and he spent four years in Europe, two of them at the University of Göttingen, to fully qualify himself for that position. M. Cousin, whom he met in Germany at this period, spoke of him as one of the best Grecians he ever knew. On his return, his lectures on the Greek literature aroused great enthusiasm for that study,—a service to our early scholarship which ought never to be forgotten. In 1820 he took upon himself, with his other duties, the editorship of the North American Review, to which then and for many years he was a prolific contributor. His great learning and his facility made his pen always in demand. In 1822 he married Charlotte Gray, a daughter of Peter Chardon Brooks, whose biography he wrote. A man of Mr. Everett’s capacity and distinction as an orator was irresistibly attracted to politics, and in 1824 he represented Boston in Congress as a Whig, taking the side of John Quincy Adams in politics, and sat in the House of Representatives for ten years. In 1835 he was chosen governor of Massachusetts, and served for three successive terms, failing of election for the fourth by the loss of one vote in over one hundred thousand. In 1840 he again visited Europe, and while residing in London was appointed minister to the Court of St. James. His position as a man of affairs and of uncommon learning was recognized by the British universities; Oxford gave him the degree of D. C. L., and Cambridge and Dublin that of LL. D. Returning, he was President of Harvard College from 1846 to 1849, and on the death of Webster in 1852 he entered the Cabinet of President Fillmore as Secretary of State. Always a conservative in politics, he identified himself at this time with those known as Silver Gray Whigs,—men who for prudential reasons were not disposed to join the Liberal party in any sturdy opposition to the extension of slavery. He was a patriot and loved his country, but belonged to the many who fervently believed that the Union could be served by compromise. In 1853 he was elected to the United States Senate from Massachusetts; but his health was so much impaired by his zeal and fidelity in the work of that important period, which saw the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, that he was obliged to resign his seat. Yet it was in 1856 that he undertook one of the most fatiguing labors of his life, in aid of the plan for purchasing Mount Vernon by private subscription. He prepared an oration on Washington, which he delivered between 1856 and 1859 one hundred and twenty-two times, to vast audiences in all the considerable cities of the Union, and which was listened to as one of the most impressive and eloquent addresses of the century. It gained over $58,000 for the Mt. Vernon fund. This, however, was only one of his orations given for charitable purposes; others during this later period produced over $90,000 for their objects. Collections of his orations and speeches fill several octavo volumes.  3
  Mr. Everett was always active for the public good, always high-minded and pure in politics, always lending his aid to raise his countrymen in education and refinement. Conservative by nature and training, he did not join the great uprising in 1860, but permitted his name to be used by the Constitutional Union party as a candidate for Vice-President, with John Bell of Tennessee as candidate for President. Mr. Everett’s name as a scholar and as a man of great information and ability is as high as ever. That his fame as an orator has not survived at the level it stood with his contemporaries is due partly to a change in public taste, but mainly to his own lack of fervor and directness, the want of which were not compensated by the most finished art, which, when the occasion that called it forth is past, assumes the character of artificiality.  4
 
 
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