Life of Horace Mann

By his Wife. Boston : Walker, Fuller & Co.
THE American readers of Mr. Spencer’s “ Social Statics ” have raised their eyes in wholesome wonderment at the condemnation which is there found of all systems of national education. It is unfortunate that a writer who has given effective presentation to many truths should have failed to scrutinize his inductions by the light of certain ascertainable facts. The presumed requirements of a system caused him to prejudge what should have been investigated ; and hence, upon the great theme of state education his rare illuminating powers shed a few side - lights of suggestion, and nothing more. The rough common sense of our humblest citizen disperses the philosopher’s subtilties of logic with some such decisive sentence as that with which Dr. Johnson cut the meshes of the Fateargument, or President Lincoln carried the pious defences of man-stealing. “ We know we ’re free, and there’s an end on’t.” “ If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” If the state has no right to educate, it has no right to protect itself from the assaults of ignorance, and consequently no right to exist at all. This, to be sure, is dogmatism ; but with loyal Americans to-day it comes so near being a moral instinct that it may be provisionally assumed and tested at leisure by the experience to which it has conducted us. In the crisis through which the nation has just passed, education as a state expediency has received its fullest vindication. The people whom the state educated up to an appreciation of the republican idea arose to be its saviours. No magnetism of personal leadership was given them. It was the instructed sense of the community which overcame the perils of faction and the incompetence of chiefs. And now, while we gratefully recognize those who at the critical moment fell or suffered or wrought for the Republic, let us not forget the unapplauded heroism which in time past laboriously accumulated the force lately revealed in many manly acts. The Trent Catechism declares that a final judgment is necessary, in order that the bad may be punished for the evil which in future time results from their mortal acts. If it may be held, conversely, that the conduct of the good is entitled to ever-increasing honor, we think it well that the biography of Horace Mann, educator and statesman, has been withheld to this day. It is nobly prophetic of the perfected faith in popular government and universal liberty which fills our hearts. It is in deep accordance with the psalm of victory which rises from loyal lips.
The present volume supplies materials for filling up the admirable outline of Mr. Mann’s life which appeared in Livingston’s “ Law Journal,” and was copied in other publications. For it must necessarily be materials for the study of a majestic character, rather than any critical dicta concerning it, that Mrs. Mann can offer us. And this is not to be regretted. The judgments of an impartial biographer would have been dearly purchased at the sacrifice of that sweetest testimony of household reverence which only the most intimate relation can supply. The little glimpses of Horace Mann, with his children about him, are worth many discriminating estimates of services and judicial investigations into the merits of forgotten controversies. We are made fully acquainted with the noble spirit in which he labored, and this is a better bequest to the American people than even the noble results it brought to pass. Poor enough seems any halting, sentimental interest in human well-being in the presence of that sturdy life, throbbing with executive energy, and dignified by thorough disinterestedness.
Horace Mann was born into the narrow circumstances of a small New England farm. His father died when he was still a boy. The educational opportunities offered by the poorest district of the little town of Franklin, Massachusetts, were meagre enough. Knowledge in the husk was thrown before the pupils, who were allowed the privilege of picking out what they might. The training which stimulates memory had not given place to that which encourages thought. In spite of all obstructions, Horace displayed an irrepressible love of learning, and obtained that sort of education which was probably the best possible for the work he had to do. For it was from vividly realizing the hindrances which he had the strength partially to surmount that he was able to adjust the means for their removal. His youth was far from being a happy one. The poverty of his parents subjected him to continual privation, and the remorseless logic of the current theology weighed upon his sensitive spirit. Having obtained the consent of his guardian to prepare for college, he entered Brown University in 1816. His graduating oration was upon the progressive character of the human race,—a subject prophetic of his subsequent mission. A tutorship of the Latin and Greek languages gave the opportunity to perfect himself in classical culture. Afterwards he studied law, and in 1823 was admitted to the Norfolk bar. From this time his life was devoted to the welfare of the ignorant and unfortunate. As a leading member of the State Legislature, both in the House and afterwards as President of the Senate, Mr. Mann took an active part in forwarding measures relating to public charities and education. The establishment of the State Insane Hospital at Worcester was wholly due to his vigorous advocacy. In 1837 he retired from the distinguished professional and political career that was opening before him, and devoted his rare abilities to the service of common schools. As Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, he effected a thorough reform in the school system of the State. Of the unexampled labor and self-denial of eleven successive years his Annual Reports and the “Common School Journal” are noble, though inadequate memorials. In 1848 Mr. Mann was sent to Congress as successor to John Quincy Adams. Here his powers were at once concentrated in resisting the usurpations of Slavery. Two years later came his memorable collision with Mr. Webster. In opposing the doctrines of the famous 7th of March speech, and in his subsequent criticism of its author, Mr. Mann well knew the bitter judgments he would provoke and the social position he must sacrifice. He counted the cost and accepted the duty. Insight lent him the fire with which foresight kindled the prophets. He saw in the slave system those inner depths of cruelty and baseness which Andersonville and Port Hudson have lately revealed. At the ensuing election in November, Mr. Mann’s renomination was defeated in the Whig Convention. Appealing to the people as an independent candidate, he was reelected to Congress, and there served until he was offered the Presidency of Antioch College in 1852. The toil, the perseverance, the self-renunciation which associate Mr. Mann with Antioch are too great for conventional phrases of eulogy. Whether judged by the mighty things he accomplished, or by the harmonious development of the moral, intellectual, and affectional nature which he displayed, there are few human records which show an appreciation of duty so exhaustive united to a performance so heroic.
The life of Horace Mann was full of severe work. Few men have had the grace to return so uncompromising an answer to the question whether their service was to be rendered to God or Mammon. He had the gift of separating religion from its accidental trappings, and of recognizing in the simplest intuition of accountability for our neighbor’s welfare the best working hypothesis. Like Theodore Parker, he excelled the common citizen, not in reach of skepticism, but in might of faith. His was never that gentlemanly sort of virtue which devotes unoccupied corners of the being, as it were in decorative fashion, to the interests of humanity. He would toil patiently at the humblest crank-work, content to move puppets who received whatever public credit was to be had. Mr. Mann abandoned a political career that was calculated to satisfy a generous ambition, to take the newly created office of Secretary of the Board of Education, unassociated with dignity or emolument. “ If the position is not honorable now,” he replied to the remonstrances of a friend, “ then it is clearly for me to elevate it; and I would rather be creditor than debtor to the title.” He combined in a rare degree the working powers of the enthusiast with the balance of the philosopher. He wrought at high-pressure, yet looked to no immediate or showy success. “If no seed were ever sown save that which would promise the requital of a full harvest, how soon would mankind revert to barbarism ! ” The exclamation was with him no disregarded truism.
Mr. Mann’s views of the true ends to be sought in our systems of education receive daily confirmation. Burying the mind under a heap of ready-made generalizations maygive a conceit of knowledge, amusing or dangerous as the case may be, but never gives the “power” promised in the aphorism. When Montaigne said that he would rather forge his mind than furnish it, he suggested the true principle of education. The problem is not to fill the mind from without, but to give the most efficient aid to its efforts to form itself from within. The energies that Mr. Mann put forth for the direction and government of Antioch College, his noble sacrifices far exceeding the requirements that could justly be demanded at his hands, not only show his lofty and resolute nature, but clearly exhibit the substantial animus of the scheme of instruction he had at heart. While fully recognizing the intimate connection between physical organization and mental phenomena, he never doubted our inherent ability to subdue the animal nature, and considered that a recognizable effort so to do should be an essential condition of intellectual culture. The great features of the institution for which he sacrificed his life were, an unsectarian basis, and instruction to woman as well as man. The touching narrative shows howbroad and firm was the foundation upon which he built. The glory of Horace Mann the educator culminates in this: he proved that without dogma or formulary the tone of a large body of students might be unusually religious and their conduct unusually moral ; and also, that the properly guarded intercourse of young men and young women engaged in the pursuit of knowledge might be elevating and beneficial to both.
The present volume furnishes a just conception of Mr. Mann’s remarkable character. We see a human life consistently governed by the highest human instincts. Yet if shortcomings there were, they may be found, or inferred, by those who will look for them. Mr. S. J. May thinks it not judicious to publish certain letters that Mr. Mann addressed to him, lest they should injure their author’s fame with some good men. But the controlling sincerity of the biographer will not permit her to withhold them. In the never-ending battle between the theoretically right and what to mortal vision seems the practically expedient, Horace Mann for a moment inclines to the latter. He fears that Mr. May will peril his usefulness as Principal of the Lexington Normal School by an open connection with the Abolitionists. He urges the duty of considering the consequences of our acts : as if we could weigh, or in any manner estimate, the eternal consequences of the least of them ; as if all history did not show us that the temporary loss of influence, of usefulness, the sacrifice of life itself, was necessary to the incorporation of a higher truth with the existing intelligence of men, and the means of its final triumph in the world. But Mr. Mann’s own brave career was never deflected by the sophistries of the timid. He never doubted that he best influenced the whole by fulfilling the highest law of his individual life. What other faith could sustain him, when his exhausting labors were not rewarded by a recognized success in anyway commensurate with their desert ? Yet no one ever saw him when the luminous quality of his spiritual nature was clouded, or the special stimulus to use his powers to the utmost was withdrawn.
Few recipes for comfortable living arc to be gathered from such a story. Vainly we ask for a little repose upon our pilgrimage along those sublime heights of holy exertion whither that example leads us. We examine the chronicle of labor and privation, if haply we may find some paragraph wherein the philanthropist dines out or goes to the theatre. But the solemn claims of humanity are always in his keeping, and we must get inured as we may to his rigorous stewardship. And it is by the grace of such exceptional men that our country is to become less the paradise of charlatanry, and better to deserve the title of Model Republic. They draw the poison from that current philosophy which maintains that the intellect of man has always led the way in social advancement, his moral nature being subordinate thereto. Not as the sum of past forces, but by his own inherent moral life, does Horace Mann fill these pages. It is a sterling biography, which no educated American can afford not to read. It is only partial praise to call the book deeply interesting. It vivifies and inspires.