Mr. President and Gracious Friends:
I am not one of your appointed speakers. I am one of your relics. I had the honor some time ago of giving the "sermon" at the re-dedication of your historic old church here : and I dare say your Committee of Arrangements thought that was enough of my preaching for one generation. But now, called up by your courtesy to speak, even amidst these great men whose words are eagerly heard far and wide over the land and beyond the seas, some ancient blood in me gives the boldness to offer what I may among the testimonies of the day.
Carlyle has said, in that epigrammatic style by which one aspect of truth is put for the truth itself, "The hands of forgotten brave men have made it a world for us." In one way, this is true, and it bears no blame to us. We cannot store in our treasuries of remembrance all the good deeds, nor write on enduring tablets or even hold in mind at once, the names of all those who have done brave work for man. It would be like trying to keep a list of all the great-grand-fathers we have had. A century or two of that reckoning would break down our understanding.
But this truism is not perfect truth. We do not forget the service, nor the men and women, that have had part in making our life and lot. We cannot keep a list of all their names, but only of those whom circumstances, favorable or adverse, have made conspicuous, not necessarily for that, the most deserving. But the story of their deeds we cherish, and the transmitted power of their spirits we feel, as part of the great life to which we belong. The impressive ceremonial of this day, this assemblage of strength and beauty all attuned to one high harmony of honoring remembrance, shows the great laws on a mightier side. Today you both accept and discriminate the truth in that epigram of the forgotten. Indeed, to have uttered it is to remember the forgotten. And today you prove that you remember those men and women gone from sight, even those without a recorded name, the relics of whose brave work remain in picturesque and venerated form, and whose well-doing still lives, absorbed into our lives.
Perhaps it is a peculiarity of human life that it is a continuity. A specific difference this, from other earthly lives. With us, too, all things change and pass, but their effects are transmitted and multiply, even though often transmuted into unrecognizable identities. None of us lives to self, nor wholly dies. Man's work is largely of inheritance. It is something more than evolution, it is by a spiritual selection that is different from natural selection. "Survival of the fittest," indeed, but what or who shall be called the fittest? Not, surely, the strongest of body only, nor chiefly, but the spiritually strongest. And who shall analyze this, in its powers and offices?
We are interested in the things of ancient use. Their quaintness of form and simplicity of arrangement please us, if they sometimes amuse us. We are glad somebody has dug up the stumps and got the stones out of the fields, and smoothed the way to our ease and comfort. But such things as these are not what we most truly respect. It is the spirit that bravely faced these difficulties, the courage and fortitude which overcame the obstacles of nature and the assaults of enemies, savage or civilized. We look even with reverence at that life which prepared the way for ours. I do not say, for better things,for we are not sure that life is better now, looking at its essential truth and character, its manhood and womanhood. It is the strong charadlers which we honor, and are proud to claim as our predecessors. What if they are not, in a mere physical way, our ancestors? We are the inheritors of those whose powers and virtues we honor and love. They are in truth our progenitors, those whose spirit has been received into our own. Through liking we take on likeness.
Those whose names we honor today, and the many whose names have been transcribed to unseen rolls, we recognize in the continuity of life, the inheritance of example, the persistence of vitalizing ideas and principles, as our forebearers, if not what the Scotch call "forebears,"
The persons who came here in the early times were strenuous characters. They were robust in body, mind, and will. They were independent, individualistic, making all the stronger substance when their differences are interfused, harmonized, polarized, like chemical combinations, the result better perhaps for use than either of the simple elements by itself. The court records of this old county show some original notions of individual rights, some peculiar adjustments of the moral code adapted to unprecedented circumstances and untrammeled ideas of liberty. The courts appear to have had quite a conventional code. The kinds of crimes and misdemeanors were curious; "Theeing and thouing of people." - "speaking discornfully of the Massachusetts Court"; "refusing to pay assessments for the support of Harvard College," and things like that, miniatures of the the minor Mosaic laws!
You citizens bear in mind that I absolved you from being all necessarily blood-relatives of these worthies of the court records,indeed, the character of some of the disorders implies that Cumberland was in the old time part of York. We don't know all our relatives. But anyway the people who have lived here have marked charadlers of strength. If there is anything conducive to this in environment, surely it must be abundant here, in a region so rich of earth and strong of sea, so healthful of atmosphere, so beautiful of aspect, so favorable for life in its various experiences and demonstrations, as this old battle ground and garden of the heroic times.
We recognize with admiring respect these representative citizens here who bear the same names or heart's blood as those who so long ago repudiated the mastery of anybody or anything earthly over them. But others, too, who came in later, and we who are deemed worthy to come in today to share this service of honor, we desire to offer our tribute of remembrance for the strong and brave who here took the initiative in making this a world for us, for we, too, claim to have part in this inheritance of brave beginnings.