Speeches of Carl Schurz
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: Two things that fell from the lips of the first two speakers struck me as remarkably pertinent to our present situation. One was the proverb quoted by our worthy chairman, that “stuffed bodies see not secret things,” and, great orator that he is, he did not fail to accompany the same with the illustration of example. [Laughter.] The other was the remark which formed the text of the eloquent speech of Mr. Spencer, that too great continuity and intensity of work will necessarily destroy your physical constitution; and I am very sorry to see that in this respect he himself appears more like an American than an Englishman. [“Hear! hear.”] And I hope that when he returns to his country his incessant labors for the benefit of humanity will sometimes by interrupted by pure relaxation. Mr. Spencer never said a wiser word than this: — that the ultimate result of all our efforts to protect men against the consequences of their folly is to people the world with — I will not say what he said, “fools” — but I will say with dyspeptic philosophers. I, for my part, have resolved to belong to that class.
Leaving the discussion of profound scientific and philosophical problems to others who are more reckless of their physical well-being, I prefer to call up some pleasant personal memories which this distinguished occasion brings to my mind. Some nineteen years ago, shortly after the battle of Missionary Ridge, I was camped with my command in winter quarters not far from Chattanooga, where we had so little food for our horses that many of them died, and so little salt that we could scarcely make our beef and hard-tack palatable, but I found in my effects a copy of Herbert Spencer's “Social Statics,” and during those long winter nights in my tent I studied them by the light of a tallow candle, and for that delightful luxury I shall never cease to be grateful to our distinguished guests. [Applause.] I became convinced that if the Southern people had read and thoroughly digested that excellent work, there would never have been any war for the dissolution of the Union. [Applause.] I essayed to hammer the fundamental principles of the “Social Statics” into the heads of the soldiers; namely, that “every man is entitled to the freedom of doing what he wills, provided he interfere not with the same freedom of any other man.” [Applause.]
I am supposed to respond to a sentiment touching the effect that the progress of science has upon the harmony of nations. Looking at it from a common-sense point of view, I am moved to think that the effect of that progress upon different nations is very much as it may be upon different portions of one people or upon different individuals. Given a certain number of subjects of discussion between different Nations or different individuals, if the progress of science increases the number of things upon which they agree, it will in the same measure and at the same time diminish the number of things upon which they disagree [laughter], and thus lead them to a good understanding and National harmony; and, going on further, if the progress of science increases the number of subjects of discussion between men and at the same time teaches them how to dispose of those subjects by amicable and peaceful reasoning, the less occasion there will be for them to come to blows.
I take it that science and philosophy do not accomplish their ends merely by enlightening the minds of men, but that they must also influence their conduct, and not only the conduct of a chosen few but the conduct of the many; and in order to influence the conduct of the many they must be understood by the many. There was a time when the investigations of science and their results were carefully kept as a private possession by certain social orders or select circles, treating them as a mystery which could not be exposed to the gaze and the understanding of the multitude without profanation. That time is happily behind us, but I suppose some of us have seen the day when science and philosophy, at least by a good many of its representatives, were clothed in such darkness of formidable terminology, and of obscure forms of speech, that they were entirely inaccessible to the multitude; in fact, by many it was considered that the man of science might be accused of superficiality if he had discussed those problems of philosophic and scientific research in a language intelligible to the rest of mankind.
In the distinguished man who this evening honors us we greet one of the foremost representatives of that great development of thought which has burst the bonds of the closet; we greet in him the great apostle of the doctrine of Evolution; we greet him as a hero of thought who has devoted his life to the sublime task of vindicating the divine right of science as against the intolerant authority of traditional belief. [Applause.]
Speeches of Carl Schurz