[blocks in formation]

Life of Horace Mann. By his Wife. Boston: Walker, Fuller, & Co. 1865. pp. 602. Wal

Ame Di

To a thoroughly successful biography, one of two quite opposite conditions is indispensable, the biographer must either have been in intimate personal relations with the subject of his biography, or have known him solely through the medium of other minds.

The advantage of the first condition is in the ability it affords to present and interpret the external life and acts by a private knowledge of the internal life and character; thus often harmonizing apparent contradictions, and explaining many circumstances and transactions otherwise inexplicable. A biography constructed under the second condition, while it will lack this valuable element, and be wanting in the warmth and lifelikeness of its portraiture, is likely to be free from prejudice and personal bias, and to be more judicial in its summings-up of character or performance.

The result under the first condition is similar to the effect of a carefully modulated light on a picture: it brings out all the evident beauties, and suggests others not so evident; it diminishes faults, not by concealing them, but by making them foils to excellences. The second condition is as if the same picture were placed out of doors in the full glare of the unsparing sunlight: not only are its defects and beauties brought out with equal distinctness, but it is robbed of its perspective, and made to betray by the evident marks of the brush, that it is only a picture after all. Any third condition of partial acquaintance, eked out by the record of others, will most likely combine in its results the infelicities, and not the advantages, of the other two: as if, to continue the figure, the painting were badly hung,-losing, on the one hand, the advantages of a modulated light; and, on the other, that of perfect illumination.

The life of Horace Mann was one especially requiring the former style of treatment. A man of strong nature, quick perceptions, decided convictions, indomitable will, tenacity of purpose; a man impatient of half-measures, scorning all compromise with expediency, so identifying his opponent with what he believed to be the errors espoused by him, as to give to every controversy the complexion and tone of a personal contest, it was particularly needful that we should be carried below the surface of fact into the current of motive and principle, of general habit and private thought, that prejudice might be dispelled, and justice done.

[ocr errors]

That the biographer has felt this is apparent from such passages as the following:

"When his is called a rugged nature,' because he could not temporize, and because he made great requisitions of men upon whom were laid great duties, I see only his demand for perfection in others as well as in himself; and no man ever made greater requisitions of self. He could forget his own interests when he worked for great causes; and he sometimes wished others, who had not his moral strength, to do likewise. But the very requisition often evolved selfrespect to such a degree as to bring forth the power to do the duty, as many a man who has come under his influence can testify; and what greater honor can we do to our fellow-man than to expect of him the very highest of which he is capable? It is true of him, that he had not much charity for those who sinned against the light; but it is equally true, that his tenderness for the ignorant and the oppressed was never found wanting, and that the first motion of repentance in the erring melted his heart at once. Love of man was so essentially the impelling power in him, that it cost him no effort to exercise it; but he had no self-appreciation which made him feel that he could do what others could not, if they would."

Mr. Mann's active life divides itself into three distinct periods. As Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Educa tion, as Representative in Congress, and as President of Antioch College, he was called to the discharge of duties more diverse and onerous than often fall to the lot of one man; and these duties were discharged with a painstaking fidelity and self-sacrifice, an almost reckless indifference to

present reputation or personal comfort, an intelligence, sagacity, and ripeness of wisdom which entitle him to the gratitude and admiration of posterity.

Those familiar with the common-school system of Massachusetts in its existing condition only, will be amazed, not alone at its low estate when Mr. Mann commenced his labors in this field, but yet more at the state of public opinion thereon. When, in November, 1837, the Secretary, in his lecturing tour, reached Salem,

[ocr errors]

"A friend who was present at this convention says it was remarkable to see the apathy with which it opened. One gentleman, who made one of the first speeches, questioned the expediency of endeavoring to get the educated classes to patronize public schools.


"Another gentleman said he thought, that, preliminary to all things else, the Secretary should go round the State, and pass a day in every public school in it, and then make a report of their condition.

"After several sapient speeches like this had been made, Mr. Mann rose, and said, that, if the gentleman who made the last proposition would take the trouble to do a short sum in arithmetic, he would find that it would take sixteen years for the Secretary to do this work, if he never intermitted one day. A general stir in the assembly intimated, that suddenly the immensity of the work to be done struck their minds for the first time."

It would be easy to fill pages with similar extracts from Mr. Mann's Journal or letters, showing either the deadening torpor on the subject of education with which the Secretary had to contend, or the active and often virulent partisan or theological opposition to his plans, and indeed to the whole conception and theory of the Board of Education as constituted.

In the Journal, under date of Sept. 15, 1840, we find:

"Wellfleet! a miserable, contemptible, deplorable convention. This morning, on arriving, I found that not the slightest thing had been done by way of arrangement; absolutely nothing. To-morrow I will shake the dust from off my feet in regard to this place. Thus far I have found things in a deplorable condition in this county. How will it be ten years hence? Such a state of things was not to be an

ticipated anywhere in Massachusetts. But I see every day how much is to be done. On Wednesday, the 16th, I came, through Eastham, Orleans, and Brewster, to Dennis. Visited several schools and schoolhouses, and found both schools and schoolhouses very miserable."

Again, the locality being Pittsfield :

"Oct. 2. The day of shame is over. At ten o'clock, the time appointed for the convention, not an individual had come into the place. At half-past eleven, eight or ten made their appearance from other towns, who, with about a dozen on the spot, constituted the convention. This afternoon, I lectured to about a dozen women and some hundred men; and, immediately after I got through, the company dispersed like a flock of birds that have been shot into."

Five years later, Mr. Mann had appointed a Teachers' Institute at the same place.

"When he arrived in Pittsfield, and entered the schoolroom assigned for the purpose (all the common schools were in vacation), at seven in the morning, to make arrangements, he found the room had been left unswept, and had not been put in order for his reception. A hundred pupils, the teachers of schools, were expected at nine o'clock. Governor Briggs, then actual Executive of the State, who felt great interest in Mr. Mann's plans, and had accompanied him to the schoolhouse, borrowed brooms in a neighboring house; and the two gentlemen swept and dusted the room, and had all things in order at the appointed hour."

The Journal from which these extracts are made was persevered in many years. It is a record of facts of inestimable value, not only as illustrating Mr. Mann's life, but as shedding much light upon our general educational and national affairs, during the whole period which it covers. It is of yet greater importance as illustrating the interior structure of Mr. Mann's mind and heart, the motives which actuated him, the hopes and fears, the incentives and discouragements which in turn had dominion over him. No more triumphant vindication can be made or is needed of the sincerity and disinterestedness of his labors, or of his essential humanity, kindness of heart, affectionateness, and consideration for the rights and opinions of others. Mr. Mann has been accused of hardness, of bitter

ness and rancor, of an unscrupulous and remorseless temper in pursuing his opponents. It has been said, that he so identified abstract right with his conception of the right in specific cases, as to regard opposition to his views as hostility to established and immutable principles; and resisted such opposition accordingly. That he had all the ardor of an intense nature, and a highly sensitive, nervous organization, is doubtless true. That, plunging into whatever enterprise for the time engaged him, with an enthusiasm and devotion which knew no limits of effort, either in attaining information or working out results, short of utter exhaustion of the subject or of himself, or both, he was impatient of the shallow criticisms which questioned his conclusions, or impugned his motives, or resisted his innovations, and used his remarkable powers of satire and personal denunciation in defence of what he believed right and true, is beyond question. But no candid person can read this Diary and private correspondence, revealing as it does the inner workings of his mind, betraying his underlying motives, reasons, plans, and desires, and displaying all the minutiae of fact, circumstance, condition, and obstacles, impossible to be known at the time by others than himself, but which so manifestly colored and controlled all his actions, without a constantly increasing respect and admiration.

On the 1st of May, 1843, Mr. Mann sailed for Europe to visit European schools. The educational results of this tour were wrought into his Seventh Annual Report. As he remarks in a letter to Mr. George Combe,

"My Report caused a great stir among the Boston teachers: I mean those of the grammar schools. The very things in the Report which made it acceptable to others made it hateful to them. The general reader was delighted with the idea of intelligent, gentlemanly teachers; of a mind-expanding education; of children governed by moral means. The leading men among the Boston grammar-school masters saw their own condemnation in this description of their European contemporaries, and resolved, as a matter of self-preservation, to keep out the infection of so fatal an example as was afforded by the Prussian schools. The better members dissuaded, remon



« VorigeDoorgaan »