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Full text of "The inaugural address of Prof. E. L. Patton: delivered by request of the Board of Trustees of Erskine College, August 7th, 1855"

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AUGUST 7th, 1855. 





Erskine College, August 8ih, 1855. 
Mb. E. L. Patton.— Dear Sir : — We are authorized by the 
Board of Trustees of Erskine College, at a meeting held a .ti- 
noon, to tender you the thanks of the Boaid for the pnue i.i.u 
able Inaugural Address delivered by you at their request, in Lindsay 
Hall last night, and to request a copy for publication, 

Yours respectfully, 


J. C. CHALMERS. \ Committee - 

Erse::te College, August 9th. 1855. 
Gentlemen: — Your note of yesterday, requesting for publication 
a copy of the Address which I had the honor to deliver on the 
evering of the 7th inst., has been received. Being prepared at the 
request of the Board, it is now, in deference to the same authority, 
placed at the disposal cf their Committee. 

Accept my thanks for the flattering notice which you are pleased 
to take of my humble effort. 

I am, with high regard, your obedient servant. 


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My Feiends: — I appear before you in obedience 
to a request of the Board of Trustees of Ers- 
kine College. With this request I have cheerfully 
complied, first, because the source from which it pro- 
ceeded, entitled it to respect, or rather, gave it the 
authority of a command ; and secondly, I was not 
willing to depart from a custom so generally ob- 
served, and one in itself both proper and becoming. — 
At the same time, it may not be improper to observe 
that want of experience in public speaking, and other 
causes, which it is unnecessary to mention, have awa- 
kened in my mind no little solicitude as to the result 
of the present undertaking. 

The Board having kindly left to myself the choice 
of a subject, I have thought that a consideration of 
the claims of the Languages would not be inappropri- 
ate to the occasion. It is not expected of me to de- 
liver an elaborate argument, but to offer some sugges- 
tions, very general in their character, illustrating the 
importance of the languages, principally as a means 
of intellectual discipline. 

I am aware that the subject is not recommended by 
its novelty. It has often been discussed, at home and 
abroad, by scholars of the first reputation. Not many 
years since, it was argued with uncommon learning, 
eloquence and ability, by two distinguished citizens of 

(3 j\Ai\;ri:AL address. 

our own State — one of them educated in early life in 
this District ; a scholar of whom we were justly proud, 
and whose untimely death was so widely and deeply 
deplored. It is hardly necessary to say that we refer 
to Hugh Swusfton Legaee, the orator, the advocate, 
the statesman ; an ornament of letters and the pride 
of the State ! 

The other was a " foeman worthy of his steel " — 
hardly less distinguished for his classical attainments, 
"but, strange to say, differing very widely in his views 
on this subj ect. It w r ould not have been surprising, had 
one, who was an utter stranger to the merits of the 
classics, been found in the herd of fierce and vulgar 
assailants. But Mr. Gbdike did not belong to this 
class. He was intimately acquainted, not only with 
the literature and languages of antiquity, but with the 
literature and languages of Modern Europe. It might 
have been expected that he would have been frequent 
and warm in his praises of the classics ; that, being 
so largely indebted to them himself, he would earnest- 
ly have recommended them to others; that, in reference 
to them, he would, on all occasions, have been ready 
to adopt the language of Dajste to Viegil : 

Tu se' lo mio maestro e'l mio autore : 

Tu se' solo colui da cui io tolsi 

Lo bello stile che m'ha fatto onore. — Inferno. Canto I. * 

On the contrary, he entertained the opinion, public- 
ly and deliberately expressed, that they were princi- 

My master thou, and guide ! 

Thou he from whom alone I have derivd 
That style, which for its beauty into fame 
Exalts me. Carey's Trani. 


pally valuable as models of style ; that in all impor- 
tant respects, they were greatly inferior to their modern 
rivals; and, consequently, that the time, so laboriously 
spent in acquiring a knowledge of them, was a great deal 
worse that wasted. His arguments are enforced with 
great learning and eloquence ; but, fortunately, the 
poison contains the antidote. His language is redo- 
lent of the fragrance of the classics, and reminds the 
reader of those gales of Paradise so beautifully descri- 
bed by the poet, which " whispered whence they stole 
their balmy spoils." Peace to his ashes ! He was a 
scholar, and a ripe and good one. Like his illustrious 
rival, he was prematurely struck from his pride of place 
by the inexorable hand of death. Over the common 
grave, the State, the common parent, may well take 
up the beautiful and touching lament of the Hebrew 
Minstrel : " they were swifter than eagles, they were 
stronger than lions ; they were lovely and pleasant in 
their lives, and in death they were not far divided." 
We return from this digression, into which we were 
betrayed by the wish to pay a tribute, however fee- 
ble, to the memory of the illustrious dead. 

Since this memorable discussion, the subject has 
not attracted much attention. The conviction appears 
to be general, that these studies, if not indispensable, 
are yet of great importance ; and that, if in all cases 
it is not necessary to pursue them, in many others 
they cannot be safely neglected. Such being the fact 7 
the following remarks may be regarded as ex ahundan* 
U. The truth, however, suffers nothing from repeti- 
tion ; and we avail ourselves with pleasure of this op- 
portunity to contribute our mite to the defence of 


Classical Learning. Much of the opposition to the 
classics is owing to a misapprehension. What is the 
end of education ? This question properly answered, 
the controversy is at an end. 

It is a common but erroneous impression, that the 
end of education is knowledge, and, consequently, that 
a college is a place where every thing may or ought 
to be taught. It is taken for granted that there is 
nothing within the compass of the human faculties; 
which ought not to be familiar to the possessor of that 
mysterious scroll, known, in common language, as the 
diploma. This bit of parchment is supposed to pos- 
sess magical properties — a charm more potent than 
the open sesame of Arabian story. It is true that it 
has lost a portion of that reverence, with which it was 
formerly regarded, experience having demonstrated 
that it is not always an infallible indication of superior 

It is obvious, on a moment's reflection, that the 
period devoted to study in our Colleges, is utterly in- 
sufficient to the accomplishment of these magnificent 
results. Is it to be expected that a space of four or 
at most six years, is adequate to the task of universal 
knowledge 1 The idea is preposterous ! AH that can 
be accomplished within the time prescribed, is to make 
the student acquainted with those general principles* 
which lie at the foundation of all knowledge ; to lead 
him to the threshold of the temple of learning ; to di- 
rect his attention to its magnificent proportions ; to 
inspire him with the hope of being one day .admitted 
into the penetralia, where the Goddess "sits enthroned 
in the full blaze of her beams." 


If tlie end of education were the acquisition of a 
thorough knowledge of any one department of science, 
the period of instruction should be g reatly extended. 
Instead of five or six, it should be increased to ten, 
fifteen, or even twenty years. The mastery of any 
science is the result of severe and protracted labor, 
when the judgment is matured by experience, and all 
the higher powers of the mind are in full vigor. 

Many students, under the impression that their pro- 
ficiency is to be measured by the extent of their 
knowledge, in other words, by the ground traveled 
over, plunge at once in medias res. They are impa- 
tient of the laborious discipline of the languages, and 
mathematics. They have found a royal road to learn- 
ing. From their imaginary superiority, they look 
down with self-complacency, with a feeling of pity, 
perhaps of contempt, on the plodders, as they are 
tauntingly called. They advance boldly, in the face 
of all opposition, even at the risk of sustaining as 
signal an overthrow as the Knight of La Mancha in 
his encounter with the wind mills. Sometimes they 
make very rapid progress, leaving their competitors 
far behind them, perhaps losing sight of them alto- 
gether. Their success resembles the rapid conquests 
of the Eastern Kings ; but, unfortunately, the parallel 
holds good in another respect — it is just as transient 
and fruitless. 

Knowledge, of itself, is a result of comparatively 
little importance. It is true, the pursuit of knowledge 
is natural to the human mind, and the possession of it 
affords the highest gratification. But the discipline 
of the mind is of infinitely greater importance. The 


mind is immortal ; and those habits which are the re- 
sult of early training, are as lasting as the living prin- 
ciple itself. The present life is but the beginning? 
merely the dawn of a brighter and more glorious ex- 
istence. The knowledge of the present will be swal- 
lowed up and lost in the revelations of the future, as 
the light of the stars fades away in the superior efful- 
gence of the king of day, when he goeth forth from 
his chambers in the East, and rejoiceth as a strong 
man to run his race ! Compared with the clearer and 
sublimer wisdom, of the skies, all terrestial knowledge 
shall " vanish away." But the mind, the thinking 
being, with its godlike powers, its habits formed in 
the dawn of existence, still survives, fresh in immortal 
youth, perpetually adding to its original stock of knowl- 
edge, and advancing in the career of improvement 
with accelerated velocity. 

Hence, we perceive the infinite importance of early 
culture. When we consider the nature of habit, we 
are startled at the magnitude of the responsibility as- 
sumed by the teacher. We are taught that after 
death the moral character is unalterably fixed. Those 
habits which were insensibly formed by " repeated 
acts" have become inveterate. Their victim is like 
the unfortunate lady in the play, under the spell of 
the wizard Comus — " bound in icy fetters, fixed and 
motionless" — but alas ! no 

» r od revers'd 

And backward mutter of dissev'ring power" 

will ever release him from their fearful and abhorred 

thraldom. " He that is unjust, let him be unjust still." 

Why may not this be equally true of intellectual 


habits ? Both classes are formed in the same way, 
that is, in the language of Butler, already quoted, by 
< c repeated acts." Both are conditions of the same 
spiritual being, for the mind is one. It is not impro- 
bable, therefore, that with reference to intellectual 
habits, the present is a state of probation. 

From this vantage ground, we perceive the immense 
importance of intellectual discipline. " A habit of 
thinking," says Dr. Thornwell, "is worth a thousand 
thoughts." What would it profit a man if he were 
possessed of the most various knowledge, without a 
corresponding discipline of the intellectual powers ? 
He would be in reality, what Garrick or Walpole 
described Goldsmith — "an inspired idiot." Minds 
possessed of knowledge, without discipline, may be 
compared to reservoirs, which are ^soon exhausted; 
while those which possess the advantage of thorough 
discipline, may be likened to fountains, fresh, exuber- 
ant, inexhaustible. 

These remarks are intimately connected with the 
subject under consideration. If the end of education 
be as stated, it will follow that "the selection of stud- 
ies," in the language of an eminent authority, * " must 
be made, not with reference to the comparative im- 
portance of their matter, or the practical value of the 
knowledge, but with reference to their influence in 
unfolding and strengthening the powers of the mind 
— as the end is the improvement of the mind, fitness for 
the end is the prime consideration." The most enthu- 
siastic admirer of the classics will not for a moment 

* Dr. Thornwell. 


contend that they are intrinsically more important 
than many other studies. He will readily admit, that, 
if reference be had exclusively to their matter, there 
are other studies of vastly greater importance. The 
admission does not, in the least, affect the point inborn 
troversy. To borrow a familiar illustration — there 
can be no doubt that the exercises of the Gymnasium, 
so familiar to the Greeks and Romans, were highly 
beneficial, in developing the powers of the body, in 
imparting vigor, grace and elasticity to the movements; 
but surely the labors of sowing and reaping were much 
superior in practical importance. Does it therefore 
follow that the latter should have taken the place of 
the former, as affording the best exercise for the body? 
So it is with the languages. In the active pursuits of 
life the student may forget his Latin and Greek — he 
may not be able to construe the plainest sentence in 
those authors with which he was once so familiar. It 
is true, he may and ought to retain his knowledge of 
them. He may, by giving a little attention to them 
from time to time, not only maintain his present 
ground, but make still further attainments in these 
delightful studies. But admitting, for the sake of the ar- 
gument, that after a few years, he retains " little Latin 
and less Greek," as Jonson said of Shakspeare — are 
we to draw any discouraging inference ? By no means. 
His mind has been elevated by communion with the 
great and the gifted of other days, and his whole in- 
tellectual being permeated, so to speak, by the influ- 
ence of his earlier studies. 

So, we remark incidentally, with the mathematics. 
The student, after crossing the threshold of college for 

;::aucu:ral addbess. 

tlie last time, (and it is well if it does not happen 
sooner) may discard his old masters — may "let Euclid 
rest and Archimedes pause." This may, and generally 
does, happen. But the results of the process through 
which he has passed, are permanent. He has acquired 
a habit of close and patient investigation, which will 
follow him through life and beyond life. 

It is a truth confirmed by long experience, that the 
languages (and mathematics) are eminently adapted to 
the proper end of education, viz : the improvement 
of the mind. All the most celebrated seats of learn- 
ing ; Oxford and Cambridge, in England ; the Conti- 
nental Universities ; Yale and Harvard in our own 
country ; and many others of less note, bear witness 
to their superiority as a means of discipline, and with 
one voice exclaim against that rash and shallow spirit 
of innovation which would abate the tithe of a hair 
from their just fame. By such means have been fash- 
ioned those immortal minds — those "demigods of 
fame " — who have controlled the destinies of nations 
and left an indelible impress on all succeeding time. 

Indeed, the importance of the languages, as a means 
of intellectual discipline, (and we take no other 
ground,) is readily apparent. The mind is possessed 
of different powers or principles, or by whatever name 
distinguished, whose development is subject to the 
same law. " Powers," says Sir William Hamilton, 
" are developed only as they are exercised." "Habits 
of the mind," says Butlee, with special reference to 
mora] habits, "are formed by the exertion of inward 
practical principles." "Going over the theory of 
virtue in one's thoughts, talking well of it, and draw- 


ing fine pictures of it, is so far from certainly, or nee* 
essariiy, conducing to form a habit of it in him who 
so employs himself, that it may harden the mind in a 
contrary course, and gradually render it more insensi- 
ble." Nor will even a sincere and unaffected admira- 
tion of virtue produce a habit of it in the subject of 
that emotion. It is impossible for any rational being, 
however degraded, not to see and acknowledge her 
divine lineaments. Hence, Milton, with singular pro- 
priety, makes the enemy of all good pay involuntary 
homage to Virtue, and forces the reluctant acknowl- 
edgement — " how lovely !" This is one of those ele- 
ments in the character of the fallen Archangel, that 
make him majestic even in ruins, and irresistibly call 
to remembrance the original brightness and glory of 
the Son of the Morning. 

Intellectual habits are subject to the same law. — 
They are formed by constant and long continued exer- 
cise. He who should expect to develope his intellect- 
ual powers without reference to this fundamental law 
of his being, would be guilty of a gross absurdity. 

Keeping in view this law of our nature, the wisdom 
of the established system of instruction, in which the 
languages hold so important a place, becomes immedi- 
ately apparent. It is generally admitted that as in- 
struments of discipline they are unrivaled, and such 
is the concurrent testimony of all ages and countries. 
On this part of the subject, therefore, it is unnecessary 

to dwell. 

Our leading proposition was, that the end of educa- 
tion is the improvement of the mind; and, secondly, 
we attempted to show, that the languages are, of all 


other studies, the best adapted to this end, because they 
furnish the best exercise for the mind. If these pro- 
positions are admitted, the inference is obvious. It 
will also follow by way of corollary, that the objec- 
tions commonly urged against the languages are 
irrelevant. For example ; it is asked, why not use 
translations, and thus save a great deal of time and 
labor? We answer; it is for that very reason that 
we discard translations, because they obviate the ne- 
cessity of labor. 

Apart, however, from this consideration, who, that 
possesses the most superficial acquaintance with the 
original, would have recourse to a translation?— 
" Works of taste," says Legaee, "it is impossible to 
translate ; and we do not believe that there is any such 
thing in the world as a faithful version that approaches 
the excellence of the original. They are casts in 
plaster of Paris of the Apollo or the Venus, and, in- 
deed, not near so good, inasmuch as eloquence and 
poetry are far less simple and more difficult of imita- 
tion than the forms of sculpture and statuary. There 
remains nothing but the body, and even that, not un- 
frequently, so altered in its very lineaments, that its 
author would scarcely recognize it— while 'all the vital 
grace is wanting ; the native sweetness is gone, and the 
color of primeval beauty faded and decayed.' " 

Thus far our remarks have been confined to an ex- 
hibition of the benefits which flow indirectly from a 
study of the languages. It would not be difficult to 
show that the direct results are of a most beneficial 
character. We offer but one or two considerations. 

It will not be denied that a knowledge of the ver- 


nacular is an object of great importance. The English 
language is one of the noblest ever spoken or written 
by civilized man. It is the language of eloquence, 
of poetry, and philosophy. It is the language of 


Bunyan, and of that incomparable version of the 
Bible, known as King James' Translation. It is the 
language of the Constitution of the United States, the 
wisest political instrument ever devised by the 
wit of man. It is spoken throughout the civilized 
world, and even in the barbarous East. An accurate 
acquaintance with such a language is certainly a 
valuable accomplishment. 

"We do not say that a very competent knowledge 
of English may not be acquired without a previous 
acquaintance with the Greek and Latin languages ; but 
the difficulties in the way of the student will, in such 
a case, be much more numerous and formidable. 

" As for the modern languages," says an experienced 
teacher, a a good classical scholar can learn, so far as 
the reading of books is concerned, any modern lan- 
guage in a few months, sometimes in a few weeks 
sometimes in a few days. Languages like the Spa nish, 
Portuguese, Italian, and French, he can read with a 
grammar and dictionary almost at sight." 

In the present state of society, such an attainment 
is not to be despised. One of the most striking and 
interesting phenomena of the times, is the spirit of 
immigration, which has lead to results which the most 
sagacious have failed to anticipate. Our own country 
is the theatre on which these results are most striking- 
ly displayed. Here are represented all the civilized 


nations of the globe,. From tlie East and from the 
West,a current of immigration is setting in with'irresisti- 
ble force. What will be the result of this mingling of 
the nations, it is impossible to predict. One thing, 
however, is certain — it becomes us to study the char- 
acter and designs of our neighbors — and in order to 
do this, some acquaintance with their languages is 
necessary, or, at least, useful. 

Again, an acquaintance with the great models of 
Greek and Roman genius, cultivates the taste — in a 
word, all those finer feelings of our nature, which min- 
ister so much to our enjoyment. To the man of culti- 
vated taste, all nature becomes beauty to the eye or 
music to the ear. He holds communion with her vis- 
ible forms — with whatever of awful or of fair she pre- 
sents to his pleased or astonished vision. He experi- 
ences a pleasure that he would not exchange for the 
most exquisite gratifications of the voluptuary — 

" A sacred and home-felt delight, 

A sober certainty of waking bliss." 

In concluding these very imperfect and desultory re- 
marks, which are to be regarded rather as a collection of 
hints, than as forming a connected discourse, we would? 
again, urge the necessity and importance of classical 
studies. "We would remind the youthful aspirant that 
they constitute, if not the speediest, certainly the surest 
road to usefulness and distinction. Let him, then, 
with untiring zeal, devote himself to these elegant 
pursuits, consoled and animated with the hope of being 
"let into that great communion of scholars of all ages 
and all nations — like that more awful communion of 
saints in the Holy Church Universal— and feel a sym" 


f)athy with departed genius, and with the enlightened 
and gifted minds of other countries — as they appear 
before him in the transports of a sort of Beatific vi- 
sion, bowing down at the same shrines and glowing 
with the same holy 'love of whatever is most pure ? 
and exalted, and heavenly, and divine in human na- 

Gentlemen of the Board of Trustees: — But a 
few years have elapsed since the College, whose inter- 
ests have been committed to your care, commenced its 
existence. To-morrow we expect to celebrate the 
13 th anniversary. The occasion is full of interest and 
encouragement. The crisis in the history of the Col- 
lege is past. The difficulties which embarrassed the 
commencement of its career, have mostly disappeared. 
One of the first aud most serious, was the want of 
suitable buildings. The corner-stone of the building 
opposite, was laid in 1842, and the work completed 
before the end of the ensuing year. Within a recent 
period, has been added the beautiful temple of letters 
in which we are at present assembled, a monument to 
the liberality of the public, and the taste of its pro- 
Another difficulty was the want of the necessary funds, 
Hence originated the Plan of Endowment — an enter- 
prise which has succeeded beyond expectation. Its 
success was due to a variety of causes, not the least 
of which was the zeal of the indefatigable agent. 

Such is a brief statement of the history and present 
condition of the College. To its friends, one and all, 
its success must be highly gratifying ; but peculiarly 
so to him whose honored name it bears, the present 


chairman of your Board— the founder, benefactor, 
and first President of Erskine College. 

Not many years since, the young men of this State 
were sent abroad to be educated— to the Universities 
of Oxford and Cambridge, England— a necessity at- 
tended with great expense and other inconveniences.. 
Now, there are within our borders, not fewer than six 
Colleges, besides numerous academies of a high order. 
We hail this increase as a most auspicious omen. Let 
us see that we fall not out by the way. There is work 
enough for all. All have a common mission— the 
diffusion of knowledge— and all sustain a common re- 
lation to the State, the common parent. It is true, as 
other parents sometimes do, she manifests an over- 
weening fondness for one of the number ; but of this, 
at present, we are not disposed to complain. At the 
same time, candor compels us to declare that our 
hearts would be much encouraged by a few drops 
of that golden shower which annually falls within the 
favored meridian of Columbia. 

Gentlemen:— The task imposed by your kindness 
has been performed. Permit me, in conclusion, to 
thank you for the honor conferred in my election to 
the Professorship of Latin in Erskine College— an 
honor conferred without solicitation on my part, and 
accepted with many misgivings. It is but due to say 
that the difficulties of my position have been dimin- 
ished by the co-operation of the Faculty— the Presi- 
dent, upon whose shoulders the mantle of his predeces- 
sor has so worthily fallen, and his associates, whose 
learning and various worth would do honor to any in- 


I avail myself of this opportunity to bear testimony 
to the kindness and courtesy, which I have uniformly 
experienced from the Students. 

I conclude with expressing a wish' for the continued 
and increasing prosperity of Erskine College.