Edward Dwight Eaton's Inagural Address
November 4, 1886
WHEN he who has given meaning and worth to the title of President of Beloit College by the manner of his wearing it these thirty-six years, and who will always be PRESIDENT CHAPIN in name and in reality to the sons and the friends of Beloit -- when he was pronouncing the discourse at his own inauguration, the matter of the address was largely preparatory and prophetic with relation to a college yet to be. There was then no history of Beloit College.
But to-day it is becoming that we look backward as well as forward. The work of a generation is on record, and may be read by all. It is a record of far-reaching plans, of high purposes, of struggle, sacrifice, patience, steadfast toiling toward noble ends. We may not dwell upon the story to-night; but it may be well for us to ask, "What is the Beloit College which has been developed in these years? What has it done? What does its name stand for?"
There can be no doubt that Beloit College has represented the methods and results of thorough scholarship. Its founders, clear-sighted New Englanders, knew exactly what they were aiming at. They meant that this region between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi, just opened up to immigration from the East, and evidently to have a great future, should have a college planned and built on the New England model, and doing work worthy of that mother of colleges. On that basis they laid their foundation. They called as their first two professors, young men whom Yale had selected for her Faculty, and presently chose a Yale man for the President. That intent of the founders has been steadfastly adhered to. It has been, of no use to look for easy courses here; and while the college has suffered in numbers by not yielding to the desire of many to get an education quickly and easily, it has won for itself a good degree throughout the land as a genuine college, making no parade, but doing all of its work faithfully and thoroughly, and according to high standards of scholarship and culture.
No other justification of this method is needed than a glance at the standing and work of the alumni of the college. As merchants, as editors, as physicians, as lawyers, as judges, as ministers and missionaries, as school principals, as college professors and presidents, as theological instructors in foreign lands, they have manifested the results of the training here received, and have won good opinions for their college wherever they have gone.
Not less distinctly is the College known as a Christian institution. No personal ambitions were provided for in the plans of the founders. No sectional jealousies were manifested. With admirable unanimity of feeling, because with but one purpose, they chose, deliberately and prayerfully, the site for a college which should do the work of Christian education in this new region, making it, to use their own words, "an altar of witness between two States, to remind them of their common duty to this land, which Providence seemed to have reserved to become the New England of the Northwest." Around this altar they knelt in prayer to the God of their fathers, the God of their children. On this altar they laid gifts that were large in self-sacrifice, and beautiful in the gladness with which they were offered. They did it for the sake of Christian education, that old Puritan idea which has borne such fruitage of good to our land. The incense from this altar has been a constant fragrance in the Christian world. Hundreds of Christian workers have here gotten inspiration and equipment. Thousands of years of Christian work have been rendered by the children of this College. All around the world they are now carrying the Puritan idea, the Beloit idea, the Christian idea, for the healing of the nations.
The work of Beloit College has been, in marked degree, a practical education. It may have seemed otherwise to hasty observers, for no trades or mechanical arts have been taught here. But no thoughtful eye has failed to note of what practical value this College has been from its foundation, when practical men and patriots judged that this region could not be developed without it. Herbert Spencer has forcibly remarked: "There seems to be no getting people to accept the truth, which is yet conspicuous enough, that the welfare of a society and the justice of its arrangements are at bottom dependent upon the character of its members; and that improvement in neither can take place without improvement in character."
A College, then, that has developed and disciplined character; a College whose instructors have been original and vigorous thinkers; (and who are more truly practical men than thinkers, whose work is like that of the electric current, setting a thousand lamps a-shining, and lighting the way for unnumbered industries?) a College whose graduates have set themselves to improving the character of men right about us, promoting justice and equity, liberty and order, prosperity and peace; showing how to make good Indians without making dead Indians; lending a helping hand to the prostrate brother in black; opening the gateways of the dawn in China, Japan, Turkey; assisting Mexico to become in truth a sister Republic; everywhere showing themselves men of action, fertile in expedient and steadfast in faith; -- what is this but as splendid practical service as could be rendered the nation and the world? An alumnus of the College, a lawyer in Chicago of widening reputation, says in a letter just received: "The longer I live in business, the more firmly am I convinced that a Christian school and a thoroughly Christian education are one of the most important elements in successful life." More and more has this practical value of the Beloit training come to be recognized by this practical age.
A college, like any historical personage or nation, has its own individuality, -- its character, aim and destiny. This individuality must be respected and this character conserved -- the future must be rooted in the past. The right of revolution, in colleges as in nations, exists only as a last resort in desperate ills. How much more, then, where the past life of a college has proved itself full of the issues of life, is the future bound to nourish such beginnings into their appropriate developments.
I conceive, then, that I am charged with a sacred trust to do what may lie in my power to keep Beloit College true to the purpose and promise and achievement of her past history. Gladly do I accept this limitation to my efforts. I feel it no constraint, but rather a law of liberty, a power of life. Whatever enlargement the future may bring, by the blessing of God and the favor of man, may all be built upon the old foundation here so deeply and broadly laid!
I believe Beloit College is to stand in the future, as in the past, for a scholarship that shall be patient, accurate, broad and well balanced. She is not going to provide short cuts to graduation, believing that time is a factor no less important in the growth of minds than in that of oaks or eagles. She is not going to arrange her courses of study so that an immature mind may devote itself to the mere accumulation of information along one or two lines, perhaps choosing the things that shall give it the least possible discipline of strenuous exertion. She aims to train the mind to grapple any subject, however difficult or distasteful. A cord of wood is an excellent possession, but an axe, well tempered and sharpened, has vastly higher possibilities of usefulness; so a disciplined mind is more valuable than any amount of knowledge. At the same time the College recognizes that She is training men; and as they grow into manhood, as their course progresses, she proposes to respect that growth, and accord them in their latter years a generous choice of studies, glad to have them exercise their more disciplined powers in directions of their own selection, that they may have the satisfaction of pushing their investigations further in some directions than others, not merely sipping at many springs of learning, but also drinking deeply of some chosen fount. If the roots and trunk of a thorough education are kept immovable, the upper branches may better be left free to sway here and there, as the sunlight attracts and the breath of heaven deflects them. Along this line we think lies the true solution of the question of elective studies in college.
The education which Beloit College purposes giving, is to be a distinctly Christian education. We believe that man is more than an instrument for thinking; that convictions are essential to the integrity of manhood; that principles are higher than knowledge; that enlightened faith is the condition of national greatness and stability; that the ultimate kingdom is Christ's kingdom.
This Christian education is not adequately given in forms of dogmatic assertion. The growing mind is sensitive and suspicious of mere authority. It dreads wearing a chain. If it submit itself for a time to the constraint of maturer minds, the reaction will be all the more pronounced when it emerges into the world of unbelief that is waiting to claim it. There is sometimes even an exalted feeling, as in the performance of high duty, when one abandons inherited convictions that seem to him invalidated by growth. As the soldier turns his back upon home and counts it honorable to stifle his yearnings toward it, so many an eager soul goes out into the camp-life of the soldier of truth, and leaving behind him the tender encirclings of his parental faith, feels himself heroic in the very desolateness and deprivation of his new position. How great a thing it is, then, to save such souls from the tragic fate of becoming gallant leaders in a great rebellion; to keep them from fighting against God. The hope of accomplishing this lies in cherishing a spirit of fearless investigation, teachers and taught seeking the truth in the love of truth; not paddling in the still water of tradition, but pushing out into the rapids of present thought. Let the student feel the surge and quiver of the torrent, then he knows what stability is when he touches the Rock of Ages.
But this work must be done under the guidance of men not of doubtful minds, nor holding their convictions in solution. They need to be men who have set their sciences into higher relations, to whom every truth is a ray converging upward. Such instructors will impart their spirit to their pupils. In the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky the guide, by holding his torch at a certain angle, can make the roof of the cavern appear to be a stellar heaven. The Christian teacher will not leave his students content with a godless scholarship, a Mammoth Cave affair with a subterranean imitation of an overarching firmament. He will lead them forth where they can look up to the true heavens, whence shine the stars of the wisdom and love of God.
Such instruction must be reinforced by the influence of faithful Christian lives. If Beloit is to do a work in the future that will at all match the past, every member of its Faculty must be a man who has given himself to Christian service, and who can spend and be spent for Christ. However changed the conditions may become, we must have the old spirit of consecration, energizing and purifying all the work. And we must have the old spirit of responsibility for souls as well as minds, in which no teacher feels that his work is done when he has given a faithful drill in his science or in his art. It is useless to mask the perils that beset student life. Leaving home for a course of study is a crisis in one's history. The character may re-crystallize into unexpected and bitterly disappointing shapes. The soul is newly stirred. There are
"The song and the silence in the heart,
Which in part are prophesies, and in part
Are longings wild and vain."
That song may pass into a frenzied bacchanal; that silence may become the dumbness of no hope in God or man; or the song may rise to notes of faith and joy; the silence may be as the silence in heaven, precursive of great events in the history of the kingdom of God. What prayerfulness, then, should pervade a faculty, what sympathy, what ready helpfulness in spiritual needs.
With such a spirit in them and in their Christian students, the experiment of college life becomes a most hopeful one for all. In such environment grow not only a disciplined intellect, but also a right heart; a will steadily holding the various powers and passions in the leash of recitude; a manly obedience to the law of God; a soul that feels the touch of God throughout its fibres as the harp, responds to the sweep of the master's hand; a soul that needs God, knows God, loves God, can even be intimate with God. And do we not here catch sight of really developed manhood? Do we not begin to measure up toward the results God must have bad in mind when He fitted up this earth to be the school of humanity?
The education which Beloit College gives, must be, as heretofore, a practical education; that is, it must be fitted to the needs of the present generation; it must fit its students to serve the present age.
HAMERTON, the artist-author, has pointed out the fact that education tends to self-indulgence. Undeniably such a tendency exists but the remedy does not lie in encouraging a rugged ignorance; it is rather to be sought in a method of educating which shall contain a counteracting principle.
It is important that luxurious habits, expensive modes of life, should not creep into the College, making it a place where the high liver looks down upon the high thinker. The fashions should be set by the young men without means, but with pluck and purpose, who through self-denial and self-help are laying foundations of strong and useful lives. Still more essential is it that the student be helped to feel that culture, though a worthy means, is not the worthy end of life. He must feel that he is being equipped for service, even a military service. His attention must be turned to the social problems of the day. The temperance question, the questions connected with the criminal and dependent populations, the application of genuinely Christian Ethics to the mutual relations of social classes, -- these must more and more engage his thoughts as his training progresses. It is well for him to face the tempests threatening society -- it is well that he watch the circling storm-birds of anarchy; then let him realize that he is set to find a covert from the wind and rain, -- not a covert for himself, but for human kind; that he is to be a leader, a helper, a friend.
It is an especial advantage enjoyed by Beloit College that so large a proportion of its alumni, following many callings in many lands, are actuated by this practical spirit of helpfulness to the world. They encompass the College with the instruction and stimulus of their example. Tidings of their work comes back here from all directions, so that the College becomes a telegraphic centre registering widely extended activities, or a main ganglion of purpose and action. Such a practical Christian education is an unmixed blessing to all the world.
These I believe to be the lines of work already providentially laid, down for the future of Beloit College. Along these lines shall move my efforts and my prayers, in unity of purpose with the honored men who are the fathers of the College, and my fathers, and with their younger associates upon the Faculty.
As regards my relation to the students, it is my desire and hope that it may be not so much that of a magistrate as that of an older brother, who has been over the same course a little before them, who knows something of their problems, and is always ready with sympathy and suggestion and help so far as they desire it; and I also bespeak their sympathy and their help in the work to which I am called.
With respect to the Alumni of the College, the relation of brother is the only one I could, or could desire to occupy. I am not set over them, but set apart by them and for them, to discharge a special filial service as representative of them all. They are a brotherhood to which one may well be proud to belong. Upon them I shall lean for encouragement, for counsel, for help. A College in its first generation depends upon its founders, but in the second generation it must rely upon its sons. I know Beloit will not look to them in vain.
As to what enlargement the future has in store for Beloit College I will not attempt to prophesy. Within the generation past this region has seen marvelous development. When Chicago, through her representative, helped select a site for the College, she had a population of scarce ten thousand; how she has leaped upward toward a million inhabitants, has been one of the wonders of the world. Milwaukee has multiplied her population ten-fold since she gave President Chapin to Beloit College. The people of Wisconsin are five times as many now as then. What the inaugural address Of 1850 called the "thriving settlements on these verdant plains," are now the enterprising cities of Rockford, Janesville, Elgin, Freeport, and others beyond, encircling us with their strength and beauty. Amid this teeming life Beloit College has done its work without observation, laying foundations in wisdom and devotion, demonstrating its right to be, and its practical value to this interior and to the world. Where a generation ago all were struggling in the exigencies of a new country, large fortunes have been amassed, in many cases by men of enlightened minds, who are asking where they can most, wisely place their means for the welfare of the people, of the State, of the Kingdom of God. Will not such men, and others who, though not rich, are gifted with large views of the situation, see to it that Beloit College is provided with means for keeping step with the enlargement manifest in every department of the life of our region. Chicago and Milwaukee need Beloit College a great deal more than they did thirty-six years ago, that she may take their youth out of the dust and din of the mart for a while, and set them pondering the things unseen and eternal of both science and faith, giving them converse with the mighty past, broadening their outlook, disciplining their faculties, deepening their insight, strengthening their convictions, that when they are swept back, into the stress and fever of city life they may endure as seeing things invisible, and even be able to do all things through One who strengthens them.
But if Chicago and Milwaukee and all this region need Beloit College, they need it well furnished for a great and growing work. They need to have its library enlarged, its apparatus increased, its house room extended to cover its students, its endowments made large enough to furnish daily bread for its teachers. It has achieved marked success in its classical department; meanwhile it has been hospitable to growing sciences, and made provision for them even beyond what its limited resources warranted. Is it too much to hope that we may soon see developed here a Christian scientific school equipped for superior work? Is not the Christian atmosphere, are not Christian teachers, just as important for the young scientist, the future chemist, engineer, naturalist, physician, as for the classical student? Where else can so noble and symmetrical a scientist be developed as in a Christian institution? How else can the conflict between science and religion be emptied of its meaning and of its danger?
Beloit College belongs to this great interior, to be used for great ends. May this generation take it up with great heart, and make it minister to great results.