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
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!