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An address before the Salem Athenaeum at the formal opening of Plummer Hall, October 2, 1907

THE SALEM ATHENAEUM

MR. PRESIDENT:

I am accustomed to say that Essex County is the most blessed spot on the earth's surface, for ordinary human life. If I am pressed for some explanation, I own that possibly filial affection enters into my judgment, but that it seems to me that material comfort is more widely distributed here than elsewhere through the whole population, and especially that it is the best place to bring up a boy in. It is not the wealthiest of communities; it is not the most intellectual; it is the home neither of art nor manners. In these respects

New York, Paris and Italy surpass it. It is not the most beautiful in scenery nor the most suave in atmosphere. I should hesitate to say that it is the most civilized. The marks of civilization are hard to name. Commonly each nation or era points to its own characteristic achievement as the mark of civilization: Tyre to its wealth, Athens to letters and the arts, Rome and England to government. But wealth has flourished in all civilizations, whether as flocks and herds, hoards of jewels and coins, trade privilege, stock-certificates, without much changing its character in any age or environment; letters and arts appear and disappear like the cities they illuminate and adorn; spiritual lives have been lived in the midst of revolting conditions of blood, brutality and ignorance in many lands and times, capital inventions were made ages ago in China, and the most

vaunted of modern inventions hardly equals in dignity and power that old invention of the alphabet. It is truly hard to say in what civilization consists, if one looks at the long career of men justly. Yet, obeying the universal influence which guides men's thoughts on this matter along the lines of their own efforts, in this epoch of democracy it has seemed to me that one mark of advancing civilization now is the degree to which we succeed in obviating the natural or artificial inequalities in the condition of men at large; or, in a word, one measure of our own civilization is our power to approach social justice. It is no part of my own dream to divide equally the material goods of men; but, a free career being left to personal initiative and its rewards, it does seem to me that such a portion of material wealth in the community should be set aside as to secure to all citizens equal ownership in and benefit from the great fruits of civilization, which should be national and not personal possessions. I mean, for example, a public right to the benefits of science, as instanced in medicine or engineering and illustrated by public hospitals and water-supply; or to the benefits of elementary or higher knowledge as illustrated in public schools and colleges; or to the benefits of art as illustrated in museums, parks, monuments, and all that adorns a city and softens the life of its people. That is a fortunate city in which the universal human wants are rationally met or alleviated by public means, so that its citizens feel an equal ownership, not in the material accumulation of wealth, but in the accumulation of civilizing power in the community to better the condition of men — to secure health, intelligence, enjoyment, relief, opportunity, within the limits of what life allows. Such a community

puts in the breast of every man born into it the most precious of all human possessions-hope. I wish that the mark of citizenship were less exclusively thought of as the right to vote, and thereby share in government, which (as we all know) is often a very illusory thing; but rather as the right to share in the common good, secured by public wealth- the good of education, health, recreation, the many forms of public property and expenditure, of which the fruition is diffused through every home like daily dividends. There is little need to expand upon a theme which, more or less clearly understood, is the ideal of all of us, and one that we inherit; but I desire to make plain why it is that I merely hesitated to describe our county as, in the line of our efforts, an uncommonly civilized spot. Surely there are few places on the earth's surface so democratically peopled, in the best sense; few, where under the operation of rightful taxation and private beneficence the public wealth has brought the goods of modern life, the fruits of progress, so within reach of whosoever will to take them and home to every door; few where the accumulated civilizing power of the community is a possession held in common. This city is excellently supplied by its public institutions and otherwise with the means of storing and communicating this wealth; and it is especially distinguished by the little group of institutions of the scientific and literary life, seldom found so happily united - the Athenæum, the Essex Institute, the East India Marine Society, and the Peabody Academy, which have grown up together, and, as it were, in the same shell. They are the crown of the city, and stand to it in the place of a University, and one of the best kind, one not founded, but native to the city, growing out of its own past, body of its body,

and soul of its own soul. It is a remarkable and instructive phenomenon in American culture.

What is most useful to observe is that our democracy, our socialism, our use of the public wealth for the common good as a matter of just right, is not a brand-new thing, something theoretic and reformatory; but is our tradition from the past; it is home-sprung and home-bred. These various societies are rooted in old days. To inquire into their history is like excavating ancient cities; under each we find a predecessor, sometimes more than one. You are familiar with the origins of the Athenæum, and I shall only touch upon them to illustrate other matters. It is proper to recall the great name of Franklin, whose luminous genius was the ruling star of the second age of the colonies, when, in the growth of its secular and commercial life, the lines of the nation began to be molded. Various as were his works, and marvelous as was his forecasting wisdom, it is doubtful, in view of the results, whether any of his minor plans gathered such increase of power, as it grew, as did his founding of the subscription Social Library in Philadelphia, which may fairly be looked on as the father of the public libraries of the United States. The principle of associated effort was dear to him, and in this case it was put to great uses. The Salem Social Library was founded in 1760, and was the third in the country. It is true that this was a full generation after Franklin, but things moved slowly in those days. The point of interest is that here was the first place in Massachusetts where Franklin's idea germinated. A still greater distinction, as it seems to me, belongs to the second of the two libraries that underlay the Athenæum, that called the Philosophical Library, which was at that time, I suppose,

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