Edward Ashton Rollins by Prof. E. D. Sanborn

The early settlers of New Hampshire were of pure English origin. They possessed that "large, roundabout common sense" which John Locke ascribes to the English people. A few leading families planted the first colonies, founded the state, and ruled it for more than a century. The Rollins family held a prominent place among the settlers of southern New Hampshire. James Rollins, the ancestor of most of the men who have borne that name in the state, came to this country as early as 1632, and finally settled in Dover.

The name Rollins, or Rawlings, is very ancient and honorable in England. Its origin is variously explained by antiquarians, but it can very naturally be traced to Rollo, who conquered Normandy and made it a kingdom, A. D. 912. William the Conqueror was the seventh in descent from the brave hero of Scandinavia. The descendants of Rollo followed in the train of the Conqueror, and were afterwards found in all parts of the United Kingdom. All the different families had nearly the same coat of arms, each indicative of their martial origin. The escutcheon is a shield with three swords in the center, and above it a human arm holding a fourth. The history of the race reveals their heroism, energy, and perseverance. The name we have chosen to illustrate represents a genuine scion of the old tree which for nine hundred years has drawn its vitality from the Scandinavian stock. Having said enough to show that Rollins is composed of the Northman name "Rollo," and the Saxon "ing," meaning child or descendant, we will speak briefly of the early life of the subject of this sketch.

Edward Ashton Rollins was born in Wakefield, December 8, 1828. At the age of seven, his father, Hon. Daniel G. Rollins, removed to Great Falls, a village of Somersworth, and during much of his life was in public office. He was repeatedly elected to the legislature of New Hampshire, was for many years judge of probate for Strafford county, till he reached the age of seventy years, which, by law, terminated that office; he was also, for many years, president of the Great Falls & Conway Railroad Company. In all his official relations he acquitted himself with unsullied integrity. His son, Edward Ashton, was, therefore, trained to know the relations and duties of a business man. His father's example was his pole star. With his eye fixed on that, and with the inherited virtues of industry, energy, and prudence, he could scarcely go astray. He studied both books and men. The common school promoted his native love of learning, and occupied his youthful days. For a higher class of studies, he attended the academies of Rochester and Gilmanton. In 1847, at the age of nineteen, he entered Dartmouth College. He immediately received the place for which he was fitted by nature and culture. His character for sobriety, earnestness, and devotion to duty was already formed, and, as the poet hath it, "character is destiny." The best men in the class sought him as a companion. His teachers saw and aided his love of learning. None made greater progress; none were more highly esteemed; none ranked above him. Those kindred virtues, industry, economy, integrity, and devotion, always attract watchful eyes and win loving hearts. The path of duty and honor often lies hid even to the wise and prudent. Cromwell said, in the height of his fame, "No man often advanceth higher than he who knoweth not whither he goeth." The threads that run through the web of our life are carried by shuttles driven by an invisible but unerring hand. A little incident in the college life of Mr. Rollins illustrates this assertion. Walking one day with some college friends, he was met by President Lord, who, beckoning him to him, desired him to call at his study at a particular hour. This was the good doctor's usual method in summoning delinquents for discipline. The companions of Mr. Rollins rallied him upon his approaching interview; but hear the result. With no little anxiety, he met the president at the hour named, who said to him: "I have received a request from a distinguished gentleman in Baltimore, desiring me to send to him a young gentleman of the first rank in scholarship and character to be the private tutor of his sons. I have concluded to offer the place to you." After consultation with father and mother, at home, he decided to go. He found a delightful home, and formed friendships which have lasted till this day, and essentially modified his whole public life and determined his occupations. In his friendships, he follows Shakespeare's advice:—

"The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel."

Classmates, teachers, preachers, and neighbors are remembered and reverenced according to their worth. They not only enjoy his hospitality, but, if overtaken by want or misfortune, share his purse. Old and faithful servants, too, are not forgotten.

Mr. Rollins enjoys society; and in every social circle he gives more than he takes. He is the life of company; conversation never flags when he is present. His humor plays like sunshine over the surface of society. If any one fails to make his contribution to the wants of the occasion, he is roused to duty by a merry sally of humor from Mr. Rollins; and he is more likely to make himself than his neighbors the subject of his wit or satire. Like Charles Lamb, he holds the wires while others draw the sparks, which always move but never shock their feelings. Nobody is wounded, but all are animated. He can deliver an appropriate speech at any meeting in church or state, after dinner or after a session. The young and the old seek his company. Some of his warmest friends have been very aged men. The venerable Horace Binney lived to be ninety-six years of age, and he corresponded with Mr. Rollins till the last days of his long and useful life. Some of his letters deserve to be written in letters of gold, to be read and enjoyed by all lovers of truth, virtue, and religion. Rev. Dr. Barnes, also, kept up a neighborly intercourse with Mr. Rollins, by calls and letters, as long as he lived. Mr. Rollins's religious life was nourished by the notes and discourses of Albert Barnes, whom he loved as a spiritual father. Every Christmas was sure to bring to the good doctor a reminder of this relation.

To perpetuate home affections and keep alive a love of New England institutions, in the winter of 1881, Mr. Rollins, with a few friends, formed a New England society in Philadelphia. Their first meeting was a distinguished success. The proceedings were published in pamphlet form and were widely read. The speeches were wise and witty; that of Mr. Rollins, the first president, was full of pertinent allusions and patriotic sentiments. It was received with enthusiastic applause. His remarks, in the introduction of other orators, were beautifully adapted to the men and the occasion.

The extent and variety of Mr. Rollins's business relations make it impossible to characterize them with brevity. Integrity and fair dealing have marked his whole career as lawyer, commissioner, banker, and railroad manager. His motto is, "Live and let live." The pecuniary interests of friend, neighbor, client, trader, relative, or stranger are never prejudiced by partisan opinions. An opponent and friend stand, in business relations, on the same foundations. His large experience in money matters creates the impression that he is a safe adviser in the purchase of stocks; he is, therefore, often importuned to decide for others questions of investment. Where men are known to be honest and faithful in handling money, even strangers ask no other security for their property.

Such is the law of association that binds together honest and honorable business men. Large pecuniary enterprises prosper in their hands, because they fear God and love justice and truth. Of every such man it is said, "Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." So God ordains.

This title, "in office," covers nearly the whole professional life of Mr. Rollins. After six years of successful practice of the law, he was elected to the legislature of New Hampshire from Somersworth. He held this relation for three years; during the last two, 1861 and 1862, he was chosen speaker of the house. It was a period of great excitement, the very outbreak of the civil war. Though young and inexperienced, he acquitted himself with the highest credit to himself and honor to the state. At the close of this responsible and difficult work, he was appointed, by President Lincoln, cashier of the bureau of internal revenue; and the next year, deputy commissioner of the same department. In 1865 he was made commissioner of internal revenue, one of the most responsible positions that any citizen of our country has ever been called to fill. The office was new, important, and burdensome. No finite mind could comprehend and control at once its multitudinous relations. Its net-work covered the whole territory of the United States. The property of the entire country was subject to its inspection and taxation. More than a million of dollars, every day, were received into the treasury from six thousand agents, for whose official integrity the head of the department was responsible. In new cases, the commissioner was often obliged to act as law-maker, judge, and executive. The cases admitted of no delay. The safety of the state required prompt decisions. These sprung up as intuitions. In his official report, made to congress in November, 1865, the commissioner says: "When it is recollected that the present generation only know by tradition or obsolete statutes that taxes have ever been imposed in this country on articles of their own manufacture, and the objects of internal traffic, or upon the various crafts and professions in which they were employed; and when, too, it is considered that the revenue collected for a single year ending June 30, 1865, amounts to a sum nearly or quite equal to all the receipts of this government, from whatever sources, from its organization to the year 1812; and when it is further considered that this amount was contributed at a time when the commercial marine of the country had been nearly destroyed and more than a million of men had been withdrawn from the productive pursuits of life,—we may not only be justly proud that the material strength of the country has been fully equal to the burden, but that it has been borne so quietly and so willingly." This office was administered wisely and well, by Mr. Rollins, till March 8, 1869, when President Grant assumed the reins of government. Failing health then admonished him to retire from the distracting cares of the office of commissioner. At the time of its resignation, as many of his subordinate officials as could come together adopted resolutions of respect and confidence in honor of their head. The first resolution expresses the opinions of the whole country, including cabinet officers and senators, as well as their own. It is thus written:—

"Resolved, that the integrity, fidelity, ability, and untiring devotion to the duties of his office which Mr. Rollins has exhibited, have inspired in us feelings of profound respect for his sterling qualities as a man and an officer; and that we especially admire the genial disposition which he has uniformly manifested toward us, amid all the cares and perplexities of a difficult and a burdensome office, held, much of the time, under peculiarly trying circumstances."

The remaining resolutions are cumulative of these expressions of confidence and esteem. No testimony could be more honorable to a well spent official life.

The religious life of Mr. Rollins, from boyhood to age, has been as strongly marked as his official career. He believes in doing, not in seeming; in practice, not in profession. He can speak as well as work for the truth. When the pastor needs help, he addresses the people. When the poor of the church or congregation need aid, he heads and carries the subscription paper. He has never lived in a place where he has not taught a Bible class; and worthy young men who have learned in his classes have often received promotion in business through his influence. He is always present at the stated meetings of the church. "Punctuality," says the old maxim, "is the essence of virtue." Mr. Rollins believed in the importance of punctuality; therefore he was never missed from the place of duty. In college he was never absent or unprepared; in office, in the bank, in public assemblies, the hours of business are promptly observed. In church, too, the times and places of worship are conscientiously observed, and if a delinquent neighbor, who has failed to be present when church affairs, temporal or spiritual, were discussed, meets him on a subsequent day, he is carefully questioned with regard to his health!

The family is the unit of the state. Good families make good communities, good cities, and good nations. A single good family is a light shining in a dark place. The history of the world is the united histories of illustrious families. The history of the church is the history of holy men. The Scriptures record the deeds and words of the best men our earth has known. Eliminate from the Bible the actions and opinions of kings, prophets, and apostles, and the records of our race become unintelligible. When we find a faultless and worthy Christian household, we do well to present it to the public for contemplation and imitation. One such household we venture to describe. Mr. Rollins's house is beautiful of situation, at the corner of Spruce and Fortieth streets, in West Philadelphia. Its liberal grounds, numerous trees, shrubs, and flowers make it very attractive to the eye of the stranger. When once introduced to the interior, every guest who has any music in his soul would be delighted to sing "Home, sweet Home" from early morn to dewy eve. Every room invites you to repose; every picture that looks upon you from the walls bids you welcome. It is impossible for one who has enjoyed the hospitality of the house to describe it fully without encroaching upon the sacred privacy of domestic life. This house was long the home of the now sainted mother, who only a few months ago was bidden to go up higher, and left the husband and children desolate. The house seems like the shrine of a departed divinity. The furniture was of her selection, the walls and mantels were adorned by her handiwork; and when changes or additions are now made to the internal conveniences of the home, the first question asked is, "What would mother choose if she could speak to us?" Her spirit seems still to hover over them.

Sidney Smith said, "There can be no handsomer furniture than books." Every room, every nook and corner of the house, is furnished with new books. The room specially devoted to library uses has a selection of books in every department of reading, sufficient for the instruction and pleasure of any man of refined taste and culture. Amid the thousands of volumes gathered, the most precious of them all to the family and their friends are two volumes written by Mrs. Rollins not long before her decease, entitled "New England Bygones" and "Old-Time Child Life." To one born in New England seventy years ago, the pictures of New England scenes are inimitable; they stir the blood of age like a trumpet. These books are the creations of true genius, and will live when all the contemporaries of this gifted woman are dead.

Enough has been said to reveal the attractions of this delightful home. Every word has been dictated by a life-long friendship. The sterling qualities of the subject of this sketch constrained me to portray them, and the half has not been said. When the elders of the Jews were sent to Jesus by the Roman centurion to intercede for his sick servant, the highest commendation they could name was this: "For he loveth our nation, and hath built us a synagogue." He was patriotic and religious; he feared God and loved his neighbor. No higher test of moral worth can be named. Let all public men be judged by this standard; and among them our good friend whom we have sketched, we doubt not, will hold a high rank. And if at any time the President of the United States should be seeking for a man for financial secretary who is honest, capable, and experienced, a multitude of voters would cry out,—Edward Ashton Rollins is the man!