Everett, Edward by Faye Huntington

We have many records of great men, born in poverty, and with limited educational advantages, rising from obscurity to eminence, by their own efforts. Such we style "self-made men," and in these sketches of great men we shall have occasion to speak of some of these, but our "E" is not such an one. Edward Everett was the son of a clergyman, and had in his youth the best of educational privileges. That these were not misimproved may be inferred from the fact that he was twice the "Franklin Medal Scholar" in the Boston public schools. He graduated from Harvard University when not quite eighteen years old. That was in 1811. You will observe that I have not gone far back in the history of the world for a subject. This man lived in the present century, indeed, it is only about twenty years since he died. Young as he was, he was made Professor of Greek Literature at Harvard, a very few years after his graduation. But he went abroad before taking the professor's chair, in order to prepare himself better for the duties of the position. However, this preparation was to serve him in other capacities. Not very long did he serve the University in that way; his countrymen had other work for him. He had delivered some brilliant lectures at Harvard, but an oration delivered during the last visit of Lafayette to this country, settled the question, if any doubt yet remained as to his eloquence; it was on that occasion pronounced matchless, and the people of Massachusetts determined that such powers ought and should be made to do service in the political world. At the call of the people he left the seclusion of college walls and entered public life as a Representative in Congress. Later he was recalled from Washington to be the Governor of his State. Afterwards he travelled again in Europe, and settled himself in an Italian villa, with the purpose of carrying out a fondly cherished scheme of writing history. But again he was called into public life; first as United States Minister to the Court of St. James; then when he again hoped to settle to private life he was prevailed upon to accept the Presidency of Harvard College, which he held for three years; then before he could set about his cherished scheme of labor he was chosen Secretary of State under President Fillmore. This was his last official service, though he was not permitted to retire into private life. For ten years he used his wonderful oratorical powers in the promotion of public good; now, it was a lecture in behalf of some benevolent enterprise, now, in commemoration of some historical event, or again, a eulogy upon some eminent personage. When the scheme was afoot of securing Mount Vernon to be held by an association for the people of the United States, Edward Everett devoted his time, his energies and his unequalled eloquence to the accomplishment of that purpose. He travelled over the length and breadth of the land, and spoke thousands of times to appreciative audiences upon the "Character of Washington," and as the results of that long and wearisome journeying, he contributed to the cause over sixty thousand dollars. But with the first peal that heralded the beginning of the war a theme yet more inspiring was given him. The shot fired at Sumpter reached his ear, and on the twenty-seventh of the same month he was ready with a speech that rang out from Chester Square with no uncertain sound. But before the bells rang out "peace" he had ceased to speak—his lips were mute in death. Less than a week before he died—in January, 1865—he spoke in Faneuil Hall on behalf of Freedom.

In Boston, where his death occurred, there were demonstrations of profound sorrow; the flag at Bunker Hill, as well as all the flags of the city, was hung at half-mast. The church where the funeral services were held was crowded and the streets near the church were thronged with those anxious to pay respect to the memory of the gifted man; "the minute guns at the Navy Yard and on the Common boomed slowly. The church bells solemnly tolled, and the roll of muffled drums and the long, pealing, melancholy wail of the wind instruments filled the air."

Why the mourning? And why do we call him a great man? His country had honored him by choosing him to fill positions of trust, he was a scholar, a brilliant writer and eloquent speaker. Perhaps any one of these things would have made him what men call great, but this which has been said of him is worth more than position, scholarship, or eloquence: "he will longest be remembered as one whose every word and gesture was untiringly and grandly employed in animating his hearers to the best and loftiest ends."

There have been other men gifted in speech, with power of swaying the minds of the multitudes who came to listen to their eloquence, of whom this could not be said. Men who when called by their countrymen to use their power for the country's good, have thought more of furthering their own selfish purposes than of a nation's honor and prosperity, have thought more of the applause of the admiring throng than of the uplifting of the human race. Shall we not then give honor to one who so cheerfully laid aside his own cherished plans, ever ready to serve the public, doing his work so well in varied capacities, and of whom it could be said that "the annals of the country must be searched in vain to find one who had done more to advance every public interest and patriotic cause?"