Imágenes de páginas

“ The first, (says he,) was an ingenious and perspicuous vindication of Sir Isaac Newton's Theory of Light from objections which Dr. Franklin had raised. The two others were also on the subject of Light; and an attempt to account for the manner in which the waste of matter in the sun and fixed stars, by the constant efflux of light from them, is repaired.

“ These Memoirs (he adds) afford conclusive evidence that Mr. Bowdoin was deeply conversant in the principles of natural philosophy; and though the latter memoir suggests a theory which may be liable to some objections, yet the novelty of it and the ingenious manner in which he has considered it, discovers an inquisitive mind, and a boldness of ideas beyond those, who, though learned in the knowledge of others, are too feeble to venture on new and unexplored paths of science.”

The correspondence between Bowdoin and Franklin on questions of science was now renewed, and it will be interesting, I am sure, to follow them once more, for a single moment, in some of the speculations of their closing years. “Our ancient corres- . pondence (says Franklin, in a letter dated 31st May, 1788,) used to have something philosophical in it. As you are now free from public cares, and I expect to be so in a few months, why may we not resume that kind of correspondence ?" And he then proceeds to suggest some fifteen or twenty questions, relating to magnetism and the theory of the earth, for their mutual consideration and discussion. Among others, he inquires, “ May not a magnetic power exist throughout our system, perhaps through all systems, so that if a man could make a voyage in the starry regions, a compass might be of use ?"

Bowdoin, in his reply of June 28, 1788, after expressing his doubt whether Franklin would even yet be spared from the public service, proceeds to say, —“ If, however, you choose to recede from politics, it will be a happy circumstance in a philosophical view, as we may expect many advantages to be derived from it to science. I have read, (says he,) and repeatedly read, your ingenious queries concerning the cause of the earth's magnetism and polarity, and those relating to the theory of the earth. By the former, you seem to suppose that a similar magnetism and polarity may take place, not only throughout the whole solar system, but all other systems, so that a compass might be useful, if a voyage in the starry regions were practicable. I thank you for this noble and highly pleasurable suggestion, and have already enjoyed it. I have pleased myself with the idea that, when we drop this heavy, earth-attracted body, we shall assume an ethereal one; and, in some vehicle proper for the purpose, perform voyages from planet to planet, with the utmost ease and expedition, and with much less uncertainty than voyages are performed on our ocean from port to port. I shall be very happy in making such excursions with you, when we shall be better qualified to investigate causes, by discerning with more clearness and precision their effects. In the mean time, my dear friend, until that happy period arrives, I hope your attention to the subject of your queries will be productive of discoveries useful and important, such as will entitle you to a higher compliment than was paid to Newton by Pope, in the character of his Superior Beings; with this difference, however, that it be paid by those Beings themselves.”

Little dreamed these veteran philosophers and friends, how soon the truth of their pleasant theories was to be tested, and how almost simultaneously they were indeed about to enter upon an excursion to the stars! On the 17th of April, 1790, Franklin died, at the advanced age of eighty-four years. On the 6th of November, of the same year, at the earlier age of sixty-four years, borne down by the pressure of severe disease, Bowdoin followed him to the grave.

The death of Bowdoin was in admirable keeping with his life.

Inspired by religion, (says the obituary of the time,) and upheld by the Father of Mercies, he endured a most painful sickness with the greatest firmness and patience, and received the stroke of death with a calmness, a resignation, and composure, that marked the truly great and good man."

He had not contented himself with a life of unstained purity and unstinted benevolence; nor had he postponed the more serious preparations for death to the scanty and precarious

*"Superior Beings, when of late they saw

A mortal man unfold all nature's law,
Admir'd such wisdom in an earthly shape,
And show'd a Newton as we show an ape.”

[ocr errors]

opportunities of a last illness. He had embraced the religion of the Gospel at an early period of his life, upon studious examination and serious conviction. If his philosophic mind ever entertained doubts, he strove, and strove successfully, to remove them. He has left it upon record, that " Butler's Analogy” was of the greatest service to him in satisfying his mind as to the truths of Christianity. “ From the time of my read. ing that book, (said he,) I have been an humble follower of the blessed Jesus;” and, as the moment of his dissolution drew nigh, he expressed his perfect satisfaction and confidence that he was “going to the full enjoyment of God and his Redeemer.”

Rarely has the end of a public man in New England been marked by evidences of a deeper or more general regret. “ Great and respectable (we are told) was the concourse which attended his funeral; every species of occupation was suspended; all ranks and orders of men, the clergy and the laity, the magistrate and the citizen, men of leisure and men of business, testified their affection and respect by joining in the solemn procession; and crowds of spectators lined the streets through which it passed, whilst an uncommon silence and order everywhere marked the deepness of their sorrow."

Such were the becoming tokens of public respect for the memory of one who had devoted no less than thirty-six years of his life to the service of his Commonwealth and his Country; who had sustained himself in the highest offices of trust and responsibility, and in the greatest emergencies of difficulty and danger, without fear and without reproach; and of whom it is not too much to say, that he had exhibited himself always the very personification of that just and resolute man of the Roman poet, whom neither the mandates of a foreign tyrant, nor the menaces of domestic rebels, could shake from his established principles.

“Justum, et tenacem propositi virum
Non civium ardor prava jubentium,
Non vultus instantis tyranni,
Mente quatit solida.”

I can find no other words for summing up his character, than the admirable sentence of Judge Lowell :

“ It may be said that our country has produced many men of as much genius; many men of as much learning and knowledge; many of as much zeal for the liberties of their country; and many of as great piety and virtue; but is it not rare indeed, to find those in whom they have all combined, and been adorned, with his other accomplishments ?

Governor Bowdoin was early married to Elizabeth Erving, a lady of most respectable family and of most estimable qualities, who, with their two children, survived him.

Of his only son, James Bowdoin, I need say nothing in this presence and on this spot. He was known elsewhere as a gentleman of liberal education and large fortune, repeatedly a member of both branches of the Legislature of Massachusetts, and who received from Mr. Jefferson the appointments successively of Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Spain, and Associate Special Minister with General Armstrong to the Court of France. He is known here by other and more enduring memorials. He died without children; but it was only to give new attestation to that quaint conceit of Lord Bacon's, — “Surely a man shall see the noblest works and foundations have proceeded from childless men; who have sought to express the images of their minds, where those of their bodies have failed: so the care of posterity is most in them that have no posterity.”

With him the name of Bowdoin, by direct descent in the male line, passed away from the annals of New England; but, even had there been no collaterals and kinsfolk worthy to wear, and proud to adopt and perpetuate it, the day, the place, the circumstances of this occasion, afford ample evidence that it has been inscribed where it will not be forgotten. When Anaxagoras of Clazomene was asked by the Senate of Lampsacus how they should commemorate his services, he replied, “ By ordaining that the day of my death be annually kept as a holiday in all the schools of Lampsacus. And, certainly, if any man may be said to have taken a bond against oblivion, it is he whose name is worthily associated with a great institution of education. Who shall undertake to assign limits to the duration of the memories of Harvard, and Yale, and Bowdoin, and the rest, as long as another, and still another generation of young men shall continue to come up to the seats of learning which they have founded, and to go forth again into the world with a grateful sense of their inestimable advantages ? The hero, the statesman, the martyr, may be forgotten ; but the name of the Founder of a College is written where it shall be remembered and repeated to the last syllable of recorded time. Semper semper honos, nomenque tuum, laudesque manebunt !

And may I not add, Mr. President and Gentlemen, in conclusion, that the name of Bowdoin is intrinsically worthy to be held in such perpetual remembrance? Do not the facts which I have thus imperfectly set before you, justify me in saying, without the fear of being reproached even with a not unnatural partiality, that there are few names in our country's history, which will better bear being held up before the young men of New England, as the distinguishing designation of their Alma Mater?

The mere money which endows a school or a college, is not the only or the highest contribution to the cause of education or improvement. It may have been acquired by dishonorable trade or accursed traffic. It may have been amassed by sordid hoardings, or wrung from oppressed dependents. It may carry with it to the minds of those for whom it provides, the pernicious idea, that a pecuniary bequest may purchase oblivion for a life of injustice and avarice, or secure for the vile and the infamous that ever fresh and fragrant renown, which belongs to the memory of the just.

The noblest contribution which any man can make for the benefit of posterity is that of a good character. The richest bequest which any man can leave to the youth of his native land, is that of a shining, spotless example.

Let not, then, the ingenuous and pure-hearted young men, who are gathered within these walls, imagine that it is only on account of the munificence of the younger Bowdoin, that I would claim for the name their respect and reverence. Let them examine the history of that name through four successive generations; let them follow it from the landing at Casco to the endowment of the College ; let them consider the religious constancy of the humble Huguenot, who sought freedom of conscience on the shores of yonder bay; let them remember the

« AnteriorContinuar »