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Full text of "Memoir of John H. Alexander, LL.D."



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MEMOIR 



JOHN H. ALEXANDER, LLD; 



BY WILLIAM PINKNEY, D.D. 

Uorrespondinr/ Member of the Maryland Historical Socicti/. 




READ BEFORE THE 



'Rarpf<m& historical' Society 

On Thursday Evening, May 2, 1867. 



PRINTED FOE THE MARYLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 
BY JOHN MURPHY, BALTIMORE, 1867. 



MEMOIR. 

No ONE could feel more painfully than I do the 
embarrassment of the position, which I am called, by 
your too indulgent kindness, to occupy to-night; or 
more sincerely regret, that the duty had not devolved 
upon another, better qualified, by habits of thought 
and literary tastes and pursuits, to discharge it in a 
manner worthy of your deceased comrade and your- 
selves. 

He was my friend, and for full forty years no 
shadow ever rested on the stream of our friendship. 
Not so much as a transient cloud crossed the horizon 
that bounded it. Fresh as the first dewy breath of 
the morning, that broke on its birth, was its peaceful 
close. 

You know how difficult it is for friendship to rise 
above the weaknesses of our nature, and wield a pen 
with the strict and stern impartiality that historic 
truth demands. To delineate any character, that is 
at all worthy of delineation, is difficult so difficult, 
that but few, who have added to the treasures of Lite- 
rature in other respects, have succeeded in this, one 
of its most attractive and important departments. 
Hundreds can paint battles, draw the picturesque in 
nature, and color them exquisitely, while but few can 
give you discriminating and faithful portraitures of 
the men, who were the controlling genius of the 
scenes described. Plutarch holds the first place 
among the painters of men, and his magnificent 
cartoons will live, as long as the world appreciates 
the grandeur and glory of the chief actors in its his- 
tory ; and it is really marvellous, how he contrived 



511693 



to rise above the force of individual and national 
prejudice, and preserve a strict impartiality in the 
parallel characters he described. Who then of us 
can fail to shrink from the attempt to tread a field 
of literary adventure, so difficult to cultivate and 
till? 

If this be true of the delineation of character gene- 
rally, how much truer is it of the delineation of such 
a character as Professor ALEXANDER'S ? The truth in 
his life is more wonderful than fable ; and the mere 
recital of the facts that made it so memorable has so 
much the air of romance, that to those who knew not 
the deceased, it may appear to be either the blind adu- 
lation of weak friendship, or the coloring of an over- 
wrought and dreamy imagination. 

Criticism has been levelled against biographers or 
sketchers of character with all the venom of its 
nature ; and while it is true, that much of what is 
called biography is a fair subject of scathing rebuke, 
on the ground of excessive eulogy, it is not. true that 
panegyric is reprehensible, or inadmissible, in the 
etching of the lights and shades of character. It is 
as often the case, that criticism itself is wanting in 
just discrimination, and as prone to accept the vaga- 
ries of its own fancy for fact, as it is, that eulogy is 
occasionally found to overstep the boundaries of truth. 
To be justly worthy of censure, the panegyric must be 
excessive. I do not profess to be above the weak- 
nesses of our common nature. But I do desire to be 
truthful. I shall not complain, if I am only judged 
by my facts, in the estimate I have formed of the 
deceased. If what I shall say in praise of him be 
true, and you find, upon reflection, that it is only 
praise merited, you will not, I am sure, condemn, but 
rather applaud me for my truth. 



To overdraw the picture would be a wrong to biog- 
raphy, a wanton sacrifice of that which constitutes its 
greatest charm, viz. : stern impartiality. But to con- 
ceal the really attractive features of the picture for 
fear of giving edge to criticism, and exposing oneself 
to the flippant charge of excess of admiration, is a not 
less grievous wrong to the character we are required 
to draw, and not less subversive of the great end that 
biography has to serve, the rescuing from oblivion 
the past, which illuminates and foreshadows the pres- 
ent. To attribute qualities to men, which they do not 
possess, is an insult to the intelligence of the living, 
and a weakness to the memory of the dead ; while to 
overlook them, or, for the sake of escaping from the 
scalpel of a ruthless critic, to permit them to pass 
unnoticed is to insult the dead, and is by far too 
costly an offering to be laid on the altar of preju- 
dice. The Scylla and Charybdis are before us ; and 
all the skill of the navigator is needed to steer us 
safely between them. It will be my duty then to see 
to it, that I give you no occasion to use the scalpel ; 
and yours, that you do not arraign me for my truth, 
or censure me for the manly assertion of all that is 
due to my facts. 

Forty odd years ago, on the banks of the Severn, 
the waters of which have become well nigh classic to 
Maryland, where still echo the tones of a lofty elo- 
quence and unsurpassed legal logic I met, in close 
companionship, a youth then in the very bud of his 
being. He was not the child of fortune. The cradle 
in which he was rocked, was made of sterner stuff ; 
and the winds that blew over it, were not summer 
zephyrs. Like most of the great men of the world, 
his wealth in the start consisted of a brave heart and 
strong will. At that early age, he was tall and slen- 



der, extremely diffident, rather awkward, and retiring ; 
and yet he possessed all the constituents, which, when 
developed, make a graceful, imposing, and finely- 
formed man. His childhood was carefully trained by 
a mother of the most remarkable beauty and strength 
of character the impersonation of all that was lovely 
and winning in mind and heart a lady of rare vigor 
of intellect, and the most refined sensibilities. She 
watched the budding of this, the youngest flower in 
the garden of her home, with more than ordinary 
vigilance ; and early impressed him with the dignity 
of the true faith, and the value of a careful husband- 
ing of his resources. I dwell upon this, because it is 
only another evidence of the great truth, that a mother 
has after all more to do with the moulding of the man 
in the boy, than all beside. 

We were advanced to the senior class at college, 
and there began our most intimate friendship he at 
thirteen, I at fifteen. From the start, the contest for 
the first honor was keen and well sustained. And 
while that class, between the members of which there 
never was so much as a jar of ill feeling, divided the 
first honor on the united judgment of the board and 
the faculty; we all of us felt, that for thoroughness of 
scholarship, he was beyond comparison the Achilles of 
the struggle. At the early age of fourteen, he took 
his degree ; and for steady industry, systematic habits, 
and striking genius, he was as remarkable as in after 
years. 

We passed out of the college halls together, and 
entered a law office. For four years, we read, and 
walked, and talked together ; and then began his care- 
ful examination of history, and the great principles of 
the Law, as expounded by its masters. Nothing 
escaped him, that a youth of his years could compre- 



hend. It is my firm conviction, that had he continued 
at the bar, he would have soon reached the first ranks 
of his profession. For although he possessed not the 
gift of oratory, and would probably not have made a 
brilliant pleader ; he had those peculiar powers, clear- 
ness of statement, skill of analysis, concentration and 
amplification, earnest gravity and wonderful fluency, 
which would have commanded the respect of courts, 
and the confidence of juries. He was rich in resources, 
adroit in argument, ready in retort, and sparkling with 
wit. No man, who ever encountered him in one of 
those off hand debates that spring up in private con- 
versation, could fail to discover, that it was necessary 
to call up his reserves, and keep the column of his 
ideas in line. He possessed singular self-control, and 
never allowed passion to obscure his reason, or excite- 
ment to throw him off his guard. His mind was emi- 
nently legal. He blended depth with pleasantry, 
philosophy with practicalness. If he had pursued the 
practice, he would have' been of that class of lawyers, 
who delighted, not in the dry letter, but the hidden 
spirit, and his illustrations would have been drawn 
from all sources. He felt the grandeur of the profes- 
sion. Weighing each step in argument and appeal, 
and possessing the most astonishing fluency, and that 
too a fluency of the most classic elegance and correct- 
ness, he could not have failed to reach the highest 
place among advocates. I have never met a man, who 
reasoned with more power and originality on any sub- 
ject, which he thought fit to discuss. But he did not 
prosecute the law ; and we are therefore estopped from 
assigning him a place in the list of advocates all that 
we can do, is to argue from the clearness and rapidity 
of his conceptions, the strength of his memory, his 
collectedness, masculine common sense, and unflagging 



8 

industry, qualities we know he possessed. We regret, 
that he abandoned the profession, and we regret it, 
because his mode of argumentation would have been so 
original, and his quiet and beautiful command of lan- 
guage would have given to the bar a style of forensic 
pleading altogether as unique as imposing as it 
would have been novel. 

Professor Alexander chose the path of science and 
literature, and he chose it with the deliberation, that 
characterized all he did ; and on that arena, he won his 
deathless fame. His first essay was the construction of 
a map of his native State ; and his explorations were 
marked with the patience and accuracy, that were 
necessary to complete success. The end was not 
secured, for though the map was finished, it was not 
printed, for want of funds, the result of the State's 
want of enterprise; and it is certainly very curious, 
that in the two great departments of science and litera- 
ture, the State faltered, when she should have ventured 
something, and thus lost the map and the history of 
her past glory, while her most gifted son of science, 
Dr. Alexander, and her most eloquent orator and one 
of her ablest writers, McMahon, were permitted to 
turn aside to other more remunerative sources of study 
and active employment. From that day to the close of 
life, our lamented brother devoted himself to scientific 
and literary pursuits; at times making a thousand 
dollar fee, for some opinion on science. 

He w r as a profound mathematician, a poet, a ripe 
and varied scholar, a laborious and successful writer, 
and a punctual man of business. He was all this, or 
I have not read his character aright. 

Perhaps his genius for Mathematics was his most 
masterful power. It would take a mathematician to 
sketch his character in this particular. If Professor 



9 

Bache, whose death he so deplored, who was himself at 
the head of this branch of learning, a man of the most 
enlarged views and the most liberal feelings, as much 
above the narrowness, that so often bounds the vision 
of the votaries of science I repeat, if Professor Bache 
were now alive, he could tell you, how profound Dr. 
Alexander was in that particular department. His 
skill and extraordinary accuracy were often tested in 
the Coast Survey ; and much of the fruit of his explo- 
rations was stored up in that treasure house of science. 
What was abstruse he mastered, and what was com- 
plex he simplified ; so that he could readily solve the 
most difficult problem, and by the beauty of his 
method, and the richness of his genius, he could and 
did devise systems of calculation, that saved hours of 
labor, and never at the sacrifice of accuracy. I doubt 
whether any man in this country possessed greater 
profundity, united to equal accuracy of detail. 

As a scholar, it is with more capability of appre- 
ciation I can speak of him. A Hebraist, deeply 
versed in Greek and Latin, as deeply skilled in mod- 
ern tongues, he was without question the first linguist 
of this hemisphere. He wrote Latin as readily as he 
wrote English, with the same beautiful command of 
words, and skill in construction. When going abroad, 
he prepared his passports in seven different languages, 
and for penmanship and attic purity, they were splen- 
did specimens, worthy of the most accomplished mas- 
ters in either. It was really wonderful to see with 
what facility he could dash off, at a sitting, Latin 
verse, as fluently, as though it were his native tongue, 
and he a poet of the fair Italian clime. He was as 
exact as he was varied in his gift of tongues. He 
understood the rules of grammar, the principles of 
construction, the philology of words; and consequently 



10 

he was never betrayed into an error of either inter- 
pretation or construction. He had studied Latin and 
Greek in the school of the ancients, and had mas- 
tered the great principles that underlie them. From 
that stand-point, he had pursued the study of the 
modern languages. There have been and now are 
in this country, men skilled in all tongues ; but I 
doubt, whether any one of them had attained his com- 
pleteness of scholarship. He was trained by a teacher 
from the Emerald Isle, in the system of grammatical 
accuracy ; and the superstructure he reared was based 
on the same deep and broad foundation. 

His Dictionary of English surnames, in twelve 
volumes, is now ready for the publishers. It is a stu- 
pendous monument of learning, is thoroughly exhaus- 
tive of the subject of which it treats, and bears the 
impress of a strong and original genius. A volume of 
it was left with a publisher in London, and passed 
under the inspection of the scholars of Oxford and 
Cambridge, and was deemed to be by them so complete 
and satisfactory, that they expressed a desire to incor- 
porate it into a work of their own. Nothing less than 
a patient and careful examination of it can give any, 
the least idea, of its magnitude and importance, and 
that I have neither the time nor the learning to make. 
When published, as I trust it will be, it will speak for 
itself more eloquently, than the tongue or the pen of 
the ablest and most discriminating of his friends could 
possibly do. His Concordance of the Prayer Book is 
also finished. The larger work, the Dictionary of that 
wonderful compilation, was unhappily left unfinished. 
The Suspiria Sanctorum, sonnets for the Holy Days, is 
ready for publication. It is illustrated by drawings, 
copied from the masters, the work of his own pencil, 
which are executed with remarkable taste and spirit. 



11 



As it stands, it is a specimen of penmanship, as beau- 
tiful as eye ever rested on, and breathes the same rich- 
ness of poetic imagery, and gracefulness of expression, 
that characterizes his lyrics. 

He turned his attention to the tongue of the Dela- 
ware tribe, which was extensively in use among the 
other tribes of this country. He began by taking up 
a word here and there, and then a sentence, and with 
something of the same sort of patient enthusiasm, that 
characterizes the anatomist, who seeks to put together 
the disarranged bones of a system not yet under- 
stood, he would articulate one sentence into another, 
until, with the aid of other helps, he reduced to 
order what was a misshapen mass, and recovered 
much, that was lost in the dialect of that extraordi- 
nary people. 

If the gift of language had been his only pursuit, it 
is scarcely possible to conceive of greater proficiency 
than he had attained. I have known him to be tested 
in the most difficult passages, and always found him as 
ready and accurate, as promptness and accuracy could 
be. It was his amusement to turn English verse into 
Latin, and vice versa ; and some really exquisite gems 
have passed under my eye, which were struck off in a 
moment, extemporized in the most appropriate words 
and musical rhythm. On a disputed passage either of 
construction or grammar, his opinion would have been 
the safest guide. For he was always backed by the 
rules of grammar, and the idiom of the language, and 
could not therefore well go amiss. 

In that versatility of genius, which marked the 
character of Professor Alexander, we find that the 
embryo lawyer, the profound mathematician, was in 
like manner the ripest of scholars, and most thorough 
of linguists. 



12 

He was also a poet. I do not say a popular poet, 
for there was too much depth and originality of 
thought and expression to secure at once the popular 
applause too much purity and beauty of language, 
and calm quiet depth of sentiment, to win its way to 
the popular heart, save by slow steps. He was how- 
ever a true poet. His Introits and Catena are both 
works of a high order. I select the latter, because it 
has just appeared in a new edition. It is curious to 
see, how he constantly sought after perfection, and ela- 
borated what he undertook to the last degree of polish. 
The revised edition of this little work exhibits this 
habit of his mind, in its most winning aspect. Words 
are substituted, and lines altered, with a richness of 
resources, that seems to know no exhaustion. It is a 
string of pearls, not inappropriately called a Catena, 
which will link his name to an immortality, in that 
serene region, where the sacred muse most delights to 
dwell, and where she weaves her freshest and most 
beautiful garlands. The opening piece, the Prelude, 
and the closing piece, the Yalete, are conceived in his 
richest vein, and marked throughout with that pathos 
and depth of feeling, which go direct to the heart. 
They are exuberant in thought, musical in rhythm, 
profound in sentiment, and full of heart-revealing. 
They are gems of their kind, " apples of silver in pic- 
tures of gold." The ideas in the second and third 
stanzas are exquisite. 

"The pictures blurred and canvass torn 
Of deeds mine own and others," 

with 

" the funeral march of figures tremulent " 

are splendid specimens of word painting. " The lumi- 
nous chain, which o'erhung, in its span, the azure 



13 

canopy" is grandly descriptive of the church's seasons, 
conceived and expressed in the happiest vein of the 
sacred muse. The lyric for Easter day, (to take the 
one nearest to us in point of time,) is a gem. The 
winter time of Christmas, and its snow white robe so 
bridal, and so sweetly typical of the coming of the 
Bridegroom, contrast beautifully with the vernal day 
of Easter, and is admirably sustained throughout. 
There is the true poetic ring in the stanza, 

" Therefore each rolling year, 

The withered leaves and sere, 
That icy Christmas scatters crisped and torn, 

Wanderers till Easter comes, 

When in their ancient homes, 
And on old forest boughs, they find themselves new-born." 

I will not cull out of the Catena the links, that 
please me most. But I confidently believe, that the 
day is not distant, when it will be conceded, that the 
whole chain is of wrought gold, gold of thought, and 
gold of feeling. 

It is a book of poetry, which, to be appreciated, must 
be studied. That which prevents the immediate popu- 
larity of a poem, may tend to secure for it a deathless 
immortality. Wordsworth " was formerly an object of 
neglect or derision ; " but now to use the language of 
Coleridge, "he wears the crown, and will continue to 
wear it, while English is English." Dr. Alexander's 
poetry is not obscure. It is % deep. But depth is clear. 
It is not however always seen through ; for there may 
be a film on the eye of the reader. It is suggestive. 
This is perhaps its principle charm. As much is 
implied, as is expressed ; and this, in poetry as in 
painting, is the perfection of art. 

It is somewhat curious to see, how variously poetry 
has been defined by different writers of acknowledged 
ability and unquestioned literary taste. I am of the 



14 



opinion of Coleridge, that Milton has come nearer to 
the true conception, than any other writer. " Simple, 
sensuous, impassioned." Coleridge's own definition is 
not without merit : " The most proper words in the 
most proper place." Ruskin has written with his 
usual brilliancy ; and so has Christopher North in 
the Noctes Ambrosianse. They substantially concur 
with Milton. Judged by this test, and no other is 
a fair criterion of excellence; the Catena is a gem, 
richly set in a frame-work of gold. It is simple, 
sensuous, impassioned. Perhaps of these three ele- 
ments, Professor Alexander was more deficient in the 
last. At least it was less strikingly developed in his 
mental organization. He lacks fire, the enthusiasm 
of inspiration, the fiery frenzy, of which Shakespeare 
speaks. 

Dr. Alexander's poetry is peculiar, of a genus alto- 
gether unique, as distinctly marked, as was his genius. 
It is original in the modes of expression and illustra- 
tions. Its chief excellence consists in rich imagery, 
felicitous language, pure taste, and moral elevation. 
It has more light than heat, though it is not wanting 
in warmth. The Church Journal, which is one of our 
most intellectual and discriminating periodicals, writ- 
ing of this volume, years ago, says, that each piece is 
possessed of rare jewels, but complains that there is 
evidence of haste and carelessness. I am satisfied, 
that what is imputed to haste or carelessness is attrib- 
utable to Dr. Alexander's peculiarity of thought, and 
modes of expression. Careless he never was. Faulty 
at times he may have been, but not careless. I am 
of the opinion that if he had, like the troubadours of 
old, recited his poems, they would have been more 
popular; for his style suited exactly his vocal pow- 
ITS. He neither talked nor wrote like other men. 



15 

As a proof of the correctness of this opinion, the new 
edition just issued has comparatively few alterations ; 
and where it is altered, it is not always improved 
as, for instance, Hesper, for twilight, in the opening- 
piece. 

The editor of the Journal affirms, that Dr. Alexan- 
der is a bold man, because he wrote on the Church's 
seasons, and followed Keble. Now, I am not so well 
satisfied that there is much of boldness in this, heret- 
ical as it may sound. Heber had walked the same 
path before Keble, and Heber was a true poet. Keble 
followed, and in his own line it would have been not 
only presumptuous but foolish to have sought to follow 
him. This Dr. Alexander did not do. Both of them 
drew from the Scripture woven into the service for 
the day ; and yet they drew from different portions of 
the Word, while neither of them have brought out the 
teachings of the seasons, as fully as they are brought 
out in prose. Keble is unapproachable in his own 
peculiar vein. He is a peculiar star, by himself, with 
no other star near him in that part of the heavens, 
which was the highest, where he now sheds the soft 
beams of his glory a fixed star of the first magni- 
tude, in the poetic constellation. But Dr. Alexander's 
was a totally different vein ; and no microscope within 
my reach is strong enough to detect the least resem- 
blance. They cannot be compared, for they are not 
alike. He must be dead to poetry, who does not 
trace with delight the footprints of either, and rejoice 
that the Church's system, is so rich and suggestive, as 
to afford a secure foothold for both. Take the Easter 
or Trinity lyrics, and compare them ; and they will 
be found to be as much unlike as two leaves, each 
resplendent in beauty, and a flowering of its own. 
To my mind, it would be about as wise to reject the 



16 



Japonica because it was not a rose, or deny the privi- 
lege of growth to two leaves, because, though totally 
unlike in form, they were both leaves, as to reject the 
lyrics of Alexander because they were the products 
of the seasons, which Keble immortalized. Keble 
walked in the footprints of Heber, and yet he sus- 
tained throughout his own peculiarity of genius ; and 
surely another may step into his, if he has only the 
power to breathe over it his own rich genius, and 
preserve his own individuality. This Dr. Alexander 
did. He was no copyist of Keble, as Keble was no 
copyist of Heber. No man loves Keble or his genius 
more than I do. But still the path is open; and of 
one* who has strowed it with the flowers of true poetry, 
as Dr. Alexander has done, I cannot breathe one word 
of censure, or think him either bold or presumptuous. 

There is nothing, on which criticism is more disposed 
to issue its flippant decrees, than poetry, music, and 
painting and yet there is nothing, which so calls for 
the exercise of its noblest powers, and keenest discrimi- 
nation. I respect criticism, and pay all deference to 
its learned decisions ; but I have no patience with that 
pretentious usurper, who is constantly seating himself 
in the seat of judgment, and in stupid ignorance of 
what in reality constitutes the subtle essence of true 
poetry, and destitution 6f the imagination, which is 
needful to its just appreciation, decries what he does 
not chance to relish. 

My learned friend, writing to me a short time before 
his death, accepts the popular standard of merit, the 
pay it returns ; and modestly waved the claim to the 
award that will undoubtedly yet crown his noble essay 
in this most difficult branch of the poetic art. But I 
do not. Fidelity to the churchly teaching, and the 
Scripture, woven into the service of the day, hampers 



17 

genius, and makes a work, like the Catena, doubly 
difficult. I have no fears of the ultimate judgment 
which will be passed upon the work. All that I 
dread is the indisposition to dig deep into the mines 
of thought the too fatal propensity to regard poetry 
solely as the vehicle of pleasure, a pleasure obtained 
without effort, and not as it is the vehicle of instruc- 
tion united to pleasure, the pleasure that flows from 
rich thoughts richly expressed, to the mind and heart, 
that spring to their work, and are patient in spirit. 

Now, is it not wonderful that a mind so wedded to 
the exact sciences, and so deeply versed in their hid- 
den mysteries, should at the same time have found a 
wing so strong to soar in the regions of poesy, and 
have been so well sustained in his flight ? A mathe- 
matician, bold, original, profound, and a poet who had 
at command the most proper word for the most proper 
place, blended in one, and so blended, that the depth 
in either was as clear as the stream that wells up from 
some huge rock, on the bosom of which there is not 
so much as a single ripple. May it not be, as Wilson 
expresses it, "that poetry and science are identical." 

To cap the climax, Professor Alexander was almost, 
if not quite, as deeply read in theology and Church 
history as he was in mathematics and general litera- 
ture. It is not common for a layman to push his 
inquiries into this region of thought; nor is it com- 
mon for him to succeed, if he does. But there was 
nothing common in the mental calibre of our deceased 
friend. He prepared and published a tabular state- 
ment of the points of doctrine, in which the several 
systems of religious belief meet and diverge ; and I 
hazard nothing in saying, that this remarkable exhi- 
bition of the powers of condensation and accurate dis- 
crimination would have been worthy of any Prelate 



18 



in Christendom. On one occasion, meeting a distin- 
guished and most learned divine of the Lutheran 
faith, who did not know him, he asked for informa- 
tion touching some point of belief, when the gentle- 
man replied, I know not where you will find an 
answer, unless it be in a sheet published by some 
Dr. Alexander, of Baltimore, which is the most won- 
derful paper that has ever met my eye. On one 
occasion, he submitted to me a sermon, which he had 
composed merely to see how he could manage it ; and 
for beauty of order, purity of language, copiousness of 
thought, and elevation of sentiment, it was a noble 
production strikingly original, and yet thoroughly 
churchly in its tone. He was, perhaps, the best can- 
onist of his day. The history of the Prayer Book 
was understood by him as perfectly as by any other 
man of his age. The Concordance is proof of this 
assertion. 

There is a popular impression, which many men of 
science have endorsed, that such limitless range of 
study engenders superficiality, which is ranging every 
where, but never sounding the depths of anything 
and perhaps this impression is in the main well 
founded. For rare genius is the rarest of all God's 
creations. But each case must stand on its own 
merits. There is no Procrustes bed, on which you 
can stretch genius, so as to make it suit your precon- 
ceived theories. Superficiality must be submitted to 
the actual test of experiment. It is not, and never can 
be, the result of theory. The diffusion of mental forces 
may weaken the vigor of some ; but it would be a 
very illogical inference to conclude, that it would be 
productive of a like result in all. Dr. Alexander 
attempted many things but the peculiarity of his 
genius consisted .in this, that he never attempted, 



19 



what he did not execute thoroughly. He united 
amplification and condensation to such a degree, that 
he could call in his forces, and concentrate them at 
will ; and the base of his operations was always so 
wisely chosen, that he could bring them to bear in a 
given point, whenever the emergency required. Those, 
who thought he unwisely extended the range of his 
inquiries, and because they were men of one idea, fan- 
cied that all men were like them, did not understand 
the man. He had a department in his brain for each 
topic he pursued, and had so systematized his plans, 
that he could either put you in possession of all that 
was profound in either, or else give you the authority, 
that was essential to its completeness. I dwell upon 
this, because it is possible, that some of the learned 
men of our day may have supposed, that want of 
thoroughness must have been the characteristic of a 
mind so boundless in its excursions. Superficiality 
was a thing he detested; and I am here to-night to 
vindicate his character in this respect. If superficial, 
show in what he was ; or else, for decency's sake, for- 
bear to immolate him on a theory, which, however it 
may hold true in ordinary cases, is utterly false as the 
measurement of extraordinary genius. 

The admirable Crichton, the great Scotchman, grad- 
uated at twelve, was master of arts at fourteen, spoke 
and wrote ten different languages, was familiar with 
science in all its departments, and died at twenty- 
three. Perhaps he was the nearest approach to our 
lamented friend, of whom there is any record made. 

Professor Alexander was skilled in the art of letter- 
writing. His penmanship was beautiful. If the letter 
was on business, it was so clear and lucid in order, 
and so rich in detail, that nothing was left to be 
desired ; and then there was always some delicate 
3 



20 



sentiment introduced to relieve it of the dulness, that 
would otherwise attach to a mere business transaction. 
If it was a letter of friendship, why then you might 
look for the rarest treat ; words chosen with the most 
beautiful appropriateness, and ideas at once the most 
original and striking, playful or grave, humorous or 
sarcastic, descriptive or argumentative, as the occasion 
required. I think some of the finest criticisms I have 
read have come to me, in the freedom of friendship, in 
the form of letters, written on the spur of the moment. 
If those letters could be gathered up, they would con- 
stitute a book of the most bewitching character. There 
was nothing artistic about them ; and yet they were 
characterized by all the best rules of art, well nigh 
perfect in their kind. They were the etchings of a 
master speaking pictures each picture in its place, 
and yet there was no evidence of constraint in the 
gallery. Here again we see that wonderful combina- 
tion. Many can write, and write beautifully, letters 
of sentiment, who cannot write letters of business. It 
was said of Addison, that his greatest difficulty was 
just here. How to express himself on business, simply 
and to the point, was the problem. Professor Alex- 
ander could do the one as well and as easily as the 
other ; and the business part over, he would insert 
some gem of sentiment that would set off the whole 
previous dry detail to the greatest advantage. 

A distinguished friend of his, with whom he was 
spending a few days, told me, that one morning he 
took up a little book of Latin hymns, and in a few 
hours wrote a translation, in verse, of the Stabat 
Mater, that was not translated, and inserted the 
leaves so beautifully, that they looked as though they 
had been bound up in the volume. Passing out with 
him for a walk, they came to a brick-yard, when this 



21 



friend drew attention to the fact, that they could not 
make bricks in Connecticut. Professor Alexander 
immediately explained the cause, and when he was 
asked, how he came to know so much about it, he said, 
that he had entered a brick-yard in Baltimore, and 
worked a month at the trade, until he had thoroughly 
acquired the art. Here we have the embryo lawyer, 
the profound mathematician, the erudite scholar, the 
accomplished theologian, the writer of works exhaus- 
tive of the subjects on which he wrote, and the poet 
a maker of bricks in the brick-yards of Baltimore, 
that he might be practically acquainted with the sub- 
ject. 

Perhaps you may say, that all this looks wondrously 
like the fables of some dreamer; and despite of my 
protestations of seeking to describe truthfully the 
character you gave me as my theme, you may be 
tempted to charge me with extravagant panegyric. 
But I ask, that the man, among you, who is incredu- 
lous, disprove my facts, or else grant with me, that 
the truth is frequently far more wonderful than fable. 
I do not hesitate, here in the presence of the most 
learned of this fraternity, to express my firm belief, 
that at the time of his death, a superior intellect was 
not embodied in this country. 

He possessed every quality of mind that constitutes 
true mental greatness judgment, memory, imagina- 
tion, quickness of comprehension, an industry that 
never flagged, and a system that nothing disturbed. 
His memory retained all it touched. To consult him 
on any question was to be satisfied without the neces- 
sity to look for authority. It was already at hand. 
He was the most rapid reader. The operations of his 
mind were almost intuitive. I was often in earlier 
years, and occasionally in later, accustomed to study 



22 



with him ; and I know by experience, how he resem- 
bled the lightning flash in conception and discrimi- 
nation, and with all this rapidity, there was not the 
slightest sacrifice of accuracy. Nor am I alone in this 
opinion. A learned Prelate of our church once said 
to me, that Dr. Alexander was the most accurately 
learned man he had ever met and he was compe- 
tent to judge. 

What is as strange, his humility was the most 
prominent characteristic of his life. He was the 
most modest learned man I ever saw. While he 
freely communicated knowledge, it was necessary to 
draw it out. He volunteered nothing. Respectful 
of, and attentive to the views of others, he main- 
tained his own with a quiet dignity and unpretend- 
ing firmness, that are above all praise. It was beau- 
tiful to see such humility; for we seem to have well 
nigh lost that cardinal grace altogether. Other ages 
may have been golden ours is brazen, and by a 
strange sort of legerdemain we have contrived to 
make the mint issue a currency of brass, that is 
rapidly taking the place of gold ; and are acting, as 
though we believed, that to assume to be, is to be. 

What shall I say of Dr. Alexander as a man? 
Faultless I will not proclaim him; for faultless 
nothing human is. But if I were asked to tell you 
his faults, I confess to you, in all candor, that I 
should find it as difficult, as I have done to deline- 
ate his intellectual character without seeming extrav- 
agance, unbecoming me and the spot, on which I 
stand. A little too fond he was of disputation ; the 
proneness, in the circle of his intimate friends, to 
argue for argument's sake, on any side of any ques- 
tion, to draw out the powers of an advocate. A 
little too undemonstrative he was. A little too much 



23 



absorbed in business. A little too speculative on 
those nice questions, which a wise man shuns as the 
secret things that belong to God. A little too distant 
and reserved. A little given to superstition, and not 
altogether free from prejudice. Where he felt, he felt 
deeply ; and on one subject, on which we differed toto 
ccelo, the only question on which we differed, he may 
have indulged a little too much of a hardness, which 
was foreign to his nature, although I never saw it in 
the closest intercourse we ever held, and the most 
unreserved discussions, in which we freely indulged. 
But this said, all is said, that can be truthfully said 
of his failings. 

I knew him in his boyhood and manhood ; from the 
day when we dreamed dreams together, and builded 
those castles in the air that were all so gorgeous in 
their bubble existence, to the day of his death. In 
all that period of time, we were placed in the closest 
possible contact with each other, with no concealment 
on any subject, and scarcely a divided sentiment. In 
boyhood and manhood, he was high toned, just, exact, 
sincere, honest and accommodating. A more moral 
boy never breathed a truer boy, or one freer from 
the taint of meanness, I never knew. This testimony, 
borne here on the spot where his manhood was devel- 
oped, is but sheer justice to his memory. 

What he was in maturer years, you knew as well 
as I did. Refined in his manners, a gentleman in the 
true sense of the word, he seemed to me to be gov- 
erned in his intercourse with others by that conside- 
rate thoughtfulness and steady adherence to principle, 
which commands the respect it pays. Systematic in 
his business engagements, and scrupulously exact, his 
word was his bond. At the council board, in the com- 
mittee room, he was punctual to the hour ; and when 



24 



there, he addressed himself to the business on hand 
with a judgment, that passion never clouded, and a 
zeal that knew no abatement. No one would go far- 
ther to serve a friend ; while no 'one more quietly dis- 
charged <the duty of charity, or disbursed alms, with 
less ostentation, or more religiously regarded the 
golden precept of not letting the left hand know, 
what the right hand did. 

To crown all, he was a devout, meek, Christian 
churchman. His piety was unusually serene. A 
firm believer in the guardianship of an especial Prov- 
idence, he was as meek in adversity, as he was modest 
in prosperity. The saddest sorrow, that ever cast its 
shadow over his heart, only served to bring out more 
distinctly the beauty of his Christian faith, and illus- 
trate the moral bravery, that sustained him, when in 
the fiery furnace. It is not for me to lift the veil, 
that curtained a domestic life, as beautiful as eye 
ever rested on, save only to say to you, that it was 
there his moral loveliness shone out most gloriously. 
As a husband, father, brother, friend, he was a model 
of excellence. It was the uniformity of his tender- 
ne,ss, that never faltered, or for a moment passed 
under eclipse, which gave it its crowning charm. The 
habits of his life were exceedingly simple and uni- 
form. Society had its attraction, but it was the society 
of the learned, moral, and refined. Cheerful, he shed 
a genial sunshine all around him. Never exuberant 
in spirit, he was never depressed. He took the most 
philosophical view of life. His great theory was, 
that no man was essential to society. He believed 
that the man for the place would never be wanting ; 
and consequently in his extraordinary humility, he 
never valued himself on account either of his attain- 
ments or native powers. I have not a doubt, that 



25 



much of his sublime composure was attributable to 
this wise theory. In one of his last letters to me, 
which breathes all a woman's tenderness, writing of 
what he thought must be a source of pleasure to me 
in the retrospect, he expressed the hope, that, notwith- 
standing the little he had accomplished, he had not 
lived altogether in vain, so far as duty to home and 
family was concerned though even in this, he took 
but little credit to himself. And yet, if ever any one 
lived for a purpose high and noble, and lived up to 
the purpose, he did. He realized that God sitteth 
above the water floods, King forever; and this filled 
him with contentment in the lot assigned him. 

His death was fully as sublime as his life. When 
I said to him, that I hoped he would be spared to 
the church, and permitted to finish the great work he 
was engaged in, he said so calmly, and with so much 
meek submission, there is a grander and vaster field 
beyond us. Though he sometimes indulged in curi- 
ous speculations, he never permitted a doubt of the 
truth of the catholic creeds to cross his mind, but laid 
his vast stores of learning at the foot of the cross, 
and saw only in that cross the perfection of truth, and 
recognized in science only the handmaid of faith. 
And now, that I stand before you to-night, his earli- 
est friend, in the light of forty years' experience of 
the heart-wealth and mental power of his well-spent 
life ; will you chide me for laying this humble gar- 
land on his honored bier ? 

I appreciate the beautiful in others. I revere the 
learning and eloquence which have marked their pil- 
grimage. I admire the flowers of faith, hope and love 
that have left the scent and freshness of their bloom 
and rich flowering behind them. I would not detract 
one iota from their claim on our gratitude and praise. 



26 

But I must be allowed to say, that so rare a combi- 
nation of wealth of mind and wealth of heart, it has 
not been my privilege to behold in another. His 
works will live after him, a monument of his indus- 
try, vast capabilities, and devotion to the progress of 
science and literature more solid and enduring than 
chiselled marble, or wrought gold, they will enshrine 
and embalm his memory. Who will take up his 
unfinished work, and complete it, as he began it ? I 
know not the man. Maryland is rich in historic 
names. Frederick and Baltimore are both justly 
distinguished your own society has stars in it, 
which will % mingle their glory with the stars that 
have faded. I am to-night in presence of those 
whom I would praise, if they were not now living 
to subdue me into silence. Eloquence is hers, such 
as I think neither Greece nor Rome have excelled. 
Legal learning, combined with legal logic, is hers, 
such as never before adorned the courts of judica- 
ture. In history, and literature, and science, she has 
achieved much, through her gifted sons, in the years 
that are past. Her name still lives, and the lustre 
of her surviving stars keeps undimmed the noble 
galaxy,, that has faded in the dawning of a brighter 
day. But she has given birth to another, who, with- 
out eloquence, or the skill of the rhetorician, or rather 
without the theatre for their display, will transmit her 
name to the ages following, one in a century, whose 
varied and diversified genius was equal to any duty 
that could have been assigned to it. 

Some of her most honored names live now but in 
the echoes of the past ; and those echoes are so mar- 
vellous, that many have deemed them but the crea- 
tions of a distempered imagination. It may be that 
much of the brilliancy of the orb that has just set, is 



27 



destined to live only in a faint reflection ; since much 
that he did not live to finish, must perish. But still 
we will swell the echo of his fame, and claim, as ours, 
; a star of the first magnitude in the firmament of 
science, literature and theology, and assign to it the 
position it merits in the constellation. Enough sur- 
vives to rescue this eulogy from the charge of extrava- 
gance, and to demonstrate that exaggerated panegyric 
is not possible where the mental and moral fruits are 
so abundant. I little thought that mine would be the 
duty of strowing a few flowers over his grave, and 
gathering up the lights and shades of a character that 
lent so much of sunshine to my own. But for your 
too indulgent kindness, the presumption of attempting 
a task so much above my ability, would never have 
been laid to my charge. I have labored to perform 
the duty truthfully and impartially, as I honestly 
believe. I am not conscious that I have, in any one 
point, drawn upon my imagination, or sacrificed his- 
toric accuracy to the weakness of private friendship. 

It would be expecting and asking too much, to 
dream for a moment, that you, whose study in his- 
tory, and habits of wise and discriminating criticism, 
compel you to regard with caution the estimate, which 
private friendship is prompted to place upon the moral 
and intellectual qualities of another, will endorse all 
that I have felt it my duty to say in honor of the 
deceased. But of this I feel confident. You will 
judge me by my facts, and not condemn the truth of 
the eulogy bestowed, as far as those facts sustain it; 
while you will acknowledge, that a most wonderful 
genius has passed from among us. " Memor et 
amans " is the motto, you will inscribe on his grave ; 
and while history and biography remain to bless the 
world with their reflected lights, you will never forget 
4 



28 



a brother, who shared your counsels and deliberations, 
and has bequeathed to you a good name, unsullied by 
a vice a name which is still fragrant with the mem- 
ories of a kindliness of heart, and truthfulness, that 
can never fade away. If he had lived to accomplish 
nothing greater, his learning sanctified by piety, his 
weaving of science around the cross, with a simplicity 
so childlike, would entitle him to your lasting grati- 
tude, and secure him a place in your most honored 
list of names. For the combination is not more beau- 
tiful, than it is rare. 

It only remains that, I say a word on his personal 
appearance, and habits of life. Tall, finely formed, 
erect, and easy in motion, he was a man to be 
observed. Exceedingly neat and precise in his 
dress, he never appeared but with the air and bear- 
ing of a gentleman. His precision may have occa- 
sionally reached the point of stiifness, and to a degree 
impaired the effect of his personal presence. He 
was scrupulously observant of the etiquette, that reg- 
ulates the intercourse of gentlemen. Free in his con- 
verse with his friends, he was never familiar. 

His library, which was remarkable both for the 
number and value of its volumes, was the embodi- 
ment of taste in arrangement, and neatness of detail ; 
while the desk, at which he wrote, was always in the 
most perfect order. Even the currency he circulated 
gave evidence of his refinement. He always kept a 
new issue by him, and never having occasion to 
demand change, he never had occasion to use the 
soiled exchange of the market. Regular in all his 
habits, he lived by rule, and never departed from 
the rule laid down. He mingled but little in gene- 
ral society, spent his evenings for the most part at 
home, and gave certain fixed hours to the loved ones 



29 



there. He sat up late. It was in those quiet hours 
of the night, that he accumulated his vast stores of 
learning. He ate moderately, but always seemed to 
relish what he ate. Never idle, he was always at 
leisure. I was never denied his presence, and never . 
felt, that my visit was an intrusion. His pen, or book 
was laid aside instantly, while he greeted me with 
the most winning gracefulness ; and then we bounded 
o'er the sea of friendship, as gaily, as though no work 
had been laid aside. Never in a hurry, he lost not a 
moment. He occasionally relaxed his overtaxed ener- 
gies by a game of chess, which he played well; and 
in earlier years he sought relief in music, in which he 
was well skilled. He drew finely, although I believe, 
he never indulged in colors. He was but fifty-four, 
when he died. His bodily frame was full of vigor 
to the last, never enfeebled by disease, and never 
abused by excesses of any sort. 

His life, though one of intense activity, was for the 
most part spent in retirement ; and to that is attribu- 
table the fact, that but comparatively few knew, who 
he was, or what he was. But to the world of science 
he was well known, and to the more prominent spates- 
men of the country. The coast surveys were sub- 
mitted to his inspection, and all disputed questions 
of geography were referred to him for settlement. 
On the questions of coinage, which have of late exer- 
cised many of the European governments, he was 
probably the best informed man in the country. I 
regret that I have not accurate information as to the 
actual service he rendered in this particular depart- 
ment of science. All that I know, is, that he went 
abroad, and was brought into close contact with the 
masters of the mint in England. The triumphs of 
his genius were signally displayed before the com- 



30 



mittee on foreign relations, on the fractional currency. 
They sent for him to explain it to them, avowing their 
ignorance of it, and their impression, that it was of 
little practical importance. Without preparation, he 
gave them an extended and lucid exposition ; and soon 
convinced them, that it was of vital concernment to 
the commercial interests of the country. He was 
consulted by the Secretary of the Treasury, on the 
finances, and was about to be placed at the head of 
the mint, in Philadelphia, when death closed his 
career. When the Hon. Wm. B. Reed was about to 
go out, as Commissioner, to China, Dr. Alexander sent 
him the most elaborate and exact explanation of the 
weights, and measures, and coinage of China, which 
that gentleman found to be of the greatest possible 
benefit, in the discharge of his duties, as commis- 
sioner. 

Had not Dr. Alexander's modesty and love of 
retirement operated to keep him for the most part 
in private life, he would have been called to fill offi- 
ces of high public trust, where his admirable talents 
and systematic industry would have produced the 
happiest results, and won for him the respect and 
confidence, which his presence at the coast survey 
and the national treasury never failed to inspire. I 
have often regretted that the public service so 
seldom enjoyed the wisdom of his counsels and the 
benefits of his systematized labors. And yet, on 
his own account, I never regretted the privacy of 
his life; because it kept him fresh and pure, 
equally free from the tricks of the politician, and 
the fawning that so often follows upon the patron- 
age of office. His purity was a jewel too precious to 
be imperilled by the pomp of power, or the pride of 
station. 



31 



In the opening of this brief and imperfect sketch, 
I said to you, in all frankness and sincerity, that no 
one could more deeply regret that this duty had not 
devolved on one of your own number ; for this society 
are not wanting in all the requisites that make up 
the skilful delineator of character, in discrimination, 
patience of investigation, and the power of expression. 
You have already placed the state and the country 
under obligation, by your contributions to literature. 
I do well, therefore, to regret that one of your own 
fraternity had not been detailed for the duty. You, 
however, willed otherwise, and I have laid on the 
altar of friendship this unpretending tribute to the 
memory of the deceased. It bears the impress of 
haste, which nothing could atone for but the honest 
plea that I had no more time, as I had not the 
ability, to make it more worthy of the occasion. In 
the words of Pliny, writing of one whose death he 
deplored, I can say, "what a friend have I lost!" 
I lament his death on my own account, even more 
than yours ; for I have " lost a witness of my life, 
a guide, a master." 




WORKS OF DOCTOR ALEXANDER. 



PUBLISHED. 

TREATISE ON MATHEMATICAL INSTRUMENTS USED IN SURVEYING, LEVEL- 
LING, AND ASTRONOMY, by F. "W. SIMMS. Edited with copious additions. 
Baltimore : 1835, 8vo. 1839, 8vo. 1848, 8vo. 

TREATISE ON LEVELLING, by F. W. SIMMS, with large additions. Baltimore: 
1838, 8vo. 

CONTRIBUTIONS TO A HISTORY OP THE METALLURGY OF IRON. Part I. Bal- 
timore: 1840, 8vo. pp. xxiv, 264. Plates. 

CONTRIBUTIONS, etc. Part II. Baltimore: 1842, 8vo. 

INTROITS; OR, ANTE-COMMUNION PSALMS FOR THE SUNDAYS AND HOLY- 
DAYS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. Philadelphia: 1844, 12mo. 

REPORT ON STANDARDS OF WEIGHTS AND MEASURES FOR THE STATE OF 
MARYLAND. 1846, 8vo. pp. iv, 213. 

UNIVERSAL DICTIONARY OF WEIGHTS AND MEASURES, ANCIENT AND MOD- 
ERN. Baltimore : 1850. Royal 8vo. pp. viii, 158. 

CATENA DOMINICA. Philadelphia: 12mo. 

REPORTS ON THE NEW MAP OF MARYLAND; ANNUAL, FROM 1838 TO 1840. 
Annapolis, Public Printer. 

VARIOUS PAPERS, to be found in the Scientific Journals of America, Eng- 
land, France and Germany. 



IN MANUSCRIPT. 

A DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH SURNAMES. 12 vols. 8vo. 
ANCIENT ROMAN SURNAMES. 1 vol. 8vo. 
GREEK ONOMATOLOGY. 1 vol. 8vo. 

A DICTIONARY OF THE LANGUAGE OF THE LENNI-LENAPE, OR DELAWARE 
INDIANS. 4to. 

A CONCORDANCE AND ANALYTIC INDEX OF THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. 
2 vols. 8vo. 

A HANDY BOOK OF PARLIAMENTARY PRACTICE. 8vo. 

THE HYMNS OF MARTIN LUTHER, TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH, with Notes. 
8vo. 

SUSPIRIA SANCTORUM. A series of Sonnets for Holy-days all through the 
year. 8vo. 

INTROITUS, SIVE PSALMI DAVIDICI. 8vo. 



* 







CALIFOfi^ 

<l fy^i f(Tt