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Descended from an ancient and honorable stock, whose memorials are abundant in Old England and in New England, - the son of a worthy Massachusetts clergyman, — he enjoyed, in his boyhood, the unspeakable advantages of a good school education and of a religious home. But his tastes were not for literary pursuits, and he never entered on a collegiate course. Nature had plainly endowed him with qualities peculiarly adapted to a practical, business life, and he was not slow in finding it out. He was a man of quick and keen perception ; reaching results by a sort of intuition or instinct, which others would have attained by long processes of thought and study. He was a man of prompt and firm decision ; relying upon his own impressions, obedient to his own convictions, not troubled with many doubts on any subject, and rarely leaning upon the counsels of others. He was a man of marvellous despatch and energy in the execution of his plans and purposes; impatient of delay in accomplishing whatever his judgment had once approved as right and best under the circumstances before him. Whatever his hands found to do, he literally " did it with all his might.”
Entering early upon mercantile pursuits with these natural adaptations, and refusing to yield to a condition of physical infirmity which would have forced so many others into retirement before they had reached their maturity, he persevered in his chosen calling, with unabated activity, until within a short period of his death at the advanced age of seventy-five years. From first to last, the most signal success attended him in almost all his business transactions. He amassed a great fortune, and he was by no means indifferent to its increase. He never disguised the satisfaction with which he saw it grow and roll up under his careful and skilful management.
But happily for him, and happily for the community in which he lived, his acknowledged love of wealth, and his unsurpassed sagacity in acquiring it, not only never obtained the mastery over his higher and nobler attributes, but served rather to secure a wider scope for their development and exercise. He ever cherished and cultivated, — not out of any mere philanthropic or sentimental impulse, and still less out of any unworthy ostentation, but as a matter of Christian principle and conscientious obligation, -- a spirit and a habit of the largest liberality and beneficence. It seemed as if bis capacity for acquisition could only be surpassed by his readiness to give and his gladness to distribute.
The public institutions which have been the subject of his bounty are known to us all. We may see them on all sides of us. The noble structures which he erected, the excellent establishments which he endowed, are his best monuments; and the blessings of those to whose temporal or spiritual comfort they were consecrated are his just and all-sufficient eulogy. Yet, if I mistake not, these public endowments would make up but a small part of the history of his life-long beneficence. The private charities which he has dispensed, year by year and day by day, when his left hand was hardly permitted to know what his right hand was doing, --could they ever be recounted in full, would occupy even a larger and a brighter page. And if they are never recounted on earth, we know they will have secured for themselves, and will have secured for him, a record on high, compared with which all earthly celebrity is but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
Mr. President, the character and career of our departed friend may be regarded in many different aspects. As a merchant of eminent sagacity and unsullied integrity; as a public man who has rendered valuable and patriotic services to his country, both in his early relations to the Bank of the United States, and in his more recent connection with the National Legislature; as a fellow-citizen and friend, faithful to every private duty, given to hospitality and good neighborhood, and never withholding his time, his counsel, or his purse from the exigencies of others; as a benevolent and munificent patron of so many of our noble institutions of religion, education, and philanthropy,— in all these respects alike, he has been distinguished among the most distinguished, and in some of them he has hardly left his peer.
Yet I hazard nothing in saying, that he would himself have desired to be remembered, above all, as a humble, sincere, devoted Christian; not bigoted, not boastful; of the largest toleration and most comprehensive charity, rather; but adhering with open and unswerving allegiance to the precepts and doctrines of
the Gospel as he understood them, and to that faith in Christ, which he told me, as he pressed my hand for the last time a few days since, was the sure and steadfast anchor of his soul. That faith had sustained him in life, under a succession of domestic afflictions such as had fallen to the lot of few other men, and it could not and did not fail him in the hour of death. That was the very hour of its richest consolations and its most assured triumphs.
Sir, the merchants of Boston, and not the merchants only, but our whole community, may well be saddened, as one after another of our most eminent and excellent men are taken away from us. Their loss would have been deeply felt at any time, but we miss them especially in this hour of our country's agony, when we have so much need of the wisest counsels and the best men. Our Perkinses, and Lawrences, and Appletons, our Lyman, and Eliot, and Josiah Bradlee, and good Moses Grant, — I cannot recall them all, - but how much of the proudest and worthiest part of our local history is associated with names like these!
Let us have no fear, however, that the race of our publicspirited men is yet exhausted. Let us not even linger around the honored remains which we are about to follow to the grave, as if it were possible that the succession of public benefactors, with which we have so long been blessed, were coming to an end. Uno avulso, non deficit aureus alter. Such examples can never be lost on the generations which are rising up to occupy the vacant places. Nor can Boston ever be without sons who will uphold her ancient renown for liberality and munificence.
Yet at this hour, perhaps, we may not be quite able to repress a doubt, whether in the long centuries of prosperity which we trust may still be in reserve for our beloved city, there will be found, among those who shall successively inhabit it, a name which will be associated with greater purity and greater beneficence, or one around which will be clustered more precious memories, — precious for time and precious for eternity,— than that of the lamented friend to whom we have assembled to pay this farewell tribute of respect and gratitude.
It only remains for me to second the resolutions, which I do with all my heart.
TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT FELTON.
REMARKS MADE AT THE MEETING OF THE MASSACHUSETTS HISTORICAL SOCIETY,
MARCH 13, 1862.
It may not, perhaps, have been forgotten, gentlemen, that at our January meeting, in reporting the nominations of two Resident Members, the acceptance of one of whom has just been announced, it was remarked from the Chair, that their election would complete the number to which our Society is limited by its charter, and that, for the first time since our original incorporation, there would then be a hundred living names upon our roll. But it is for man to propose, and for God to dispose.
On the morning of the very day on which the election was to take place, and when our roll was to be thus auspiciously completed, the tidings reached us, that one of our number had already fallen a victim to the privations and exposures of the camp, while devotedly employed in the medical service of the army of the United States. A few days only intervened, before it was announced that another of our honored associates, in our immediate neighborhood, had passed away from these earthly scenes. And now, within a week or two past, a third name has been added to the list of those whom we may never again be permitted to welcome within these walls.
The death of Dr. Luther V. Bell was briefly noticed at our last meeting; and if the tributes which were paid to his memory, on the impulse of the moment, were somewhat less formal and less finished than they would have been if the tidings had reached us at an earlier day, they had the freshness and fervor of an immediate sorrow, and were by no means wanting in appropriate manifestations of respect for his character and regret for his loss. After many years of varied and most valuable service to the.community, his declining health had compelled him to seek retirement from the active labors of his vocation; but, when the Government of the country was heard calling upon the people to take up arms in defence of the Capital and of the Union, he forgot all physical infirmities of his own, and volunteered at once to discharge such duties in the field as belonged to the profession of which he was an honored member. Having already passed through the grades of regimental and brigade surgeon, and having rendered conspicuous services in the most memorable conflict of the war, he was just proposing to seek the relief which he required, and to which he was so richly entitled, in a post of even greater responsibility, but of less immediate exposure and fatigue. His desire was fulfilled in a way which he thought not of. The rest which he was about to claim at the hands of the Government, he received at the hands of God. A brief and sudden illness soon prostrated his enfeebled frame; and he died in the camp which had been the scene of his humane and unremitted labors for the lives of others. We shall remember him proudly, as the first, and we trust we may be permitted to say, when peace and concord shall again be restored to our land, as the only one, of our members who has fallen in the military service of our country.
It would hardly be quite just, however, to the memory of another lamented associate, – the Hon. William Appleton, whose death we are next called on to notice this evening, were we to forget that his immediate decline was undoubtedly accelerated by the labors and cares with which his strength had been overtasked in the civil service of the Union. As a member of the House of Representatives of the United States, he remained faithfully at his post, during the anxious and agitating session of the last summer, long after his health had become so seriously impaired as to excite the just apprehensions of his friends. His commercial information and financial experience were indispensable to the committee of which he was a member, and his colleagues on that committee were unwilling to spare him from their councils. He returned home at last, debilitated and exhausted; and resigned his seat only in season to make final preparations for the change which so soon awaited him.