NOAH PORTER, PRESIDENT OF YALE COLLEGE.*
* Noah Porter : a Memorial by Friends. Edited by George S. Merriam. With Portraits. London : Sampson Low and Co.
THIS "memorial by friends" is not a large book, but it is a very suggestive one. It is a record of one of America's best workers, and one of her truest and most sincere thinkers in this generation. In a land of workers, President Porter was pre-eminently an enthusiast in work ; and the loving spirit in which he laboured was almost more important than the labour itself. The " friends " to whom we are in- debted for this memorial are numerous. The sobrietyof their language may, we think, be accepted as the beat possible guarantee for more than the mere verbal accuracy of the narrative; while the affection and zeal they manifest are simply beautiful. The family and friends of a millionaire could not have had such a memorial at any price; and if they could, it would probably have been the very last kind of memorial they would have desired. We see on every page of the book that the object of the writers was to represent their dead friend exactly as he was, and there cannot be a doubt that they have succeeded. Vastly more might have been said, but brevity, in a biography written by friends, will not be deemed a cardinal sin in these days of unrestrained exaggeration.
President Porter was, we read, "of the fifth generation from Robert Porter, one of the eighty proprietors who settled Farmington" [Connecticut] in 1640 "himself," it is added, "the son of a Puritan minister in England who, on account of his nonconformity had been ejected from the Established Church." This remark may possibly involve a slight error, in view of the great ejectment of August, 1662, the so-called birth-time of English Nonconformity. There had, it is true, been ejectments before Cromwell, but the one which absorbs all others was that which followed the failure of the Savoy Conference, following hard on the Restoration, and ex- pressing, thus early, the character of that bad period of history. Robert Porter in any case carried over the Atlantic strong Nonconformist principles. He had left a land in which Milton stood for perfect freedom. He entered a land in which Roger Williams had already for years been contending for, if possible, even more generous freedom. Of good farming stock, and, what is more important, of God- fearing stock, the first American ancestor of the future Presi- dent of Yale, in feudal phraseology, "founded a family," but founded it on principles remote from feudalism. Noah Porter, the subject of this volume, was born in December, 1811. He grew up a slender, delicate boy, but eager to read and learn, and equally eager to do such manual work as came to his hand. At an early age he could chop, split, saw, and pile wood, and do almost any sort of farming and gardening work, besides being an interested frequenter of the black- smith's and carpenter's shops ; in these particulars, and in others, closely resembling Dr. Whewell, and with kindred results. There is perhaps nothing in the biography of Dr. Whewell that attracts to him more affectionate regard than his craving desire, on leaving college, (he was of a family of handworkers), to handle once more the workman's tools; a desire which had effect among a body of miners in, we think, Cornwall,—of course, for scientific purposes. The same spirit existed in Noah Porter, and possibly assisted him greatly in altogether different circumstances. In his six- teenth year he entered Yale College, the smallest boy in his class, and one of the best scholars. Here, as everywhere else, he made friends who remained his friends till death. At an early period he was attracted to the poet Coleridge, and, then and later, he seems to have read whatever came in his way, Wordsworth, Byron, Kant, Schiller, Mr. Herbert Spencer, Tyndall, Emerson, and all the range of literature which these may be said to represent. From this reading he came forth so forbearing to opponents, so generous to those from whose opinions he differed, so gentle in reproof, so able, and so willing, to advise, that one reads the narrative of it all with amazement. He never, one of the writers of this book says, was in the least offended if his advice—seldom, if ever, sought in vain—was not acted upon ; a trait of character the rarest in even kind and judicious advisers.
On leaving college, he became tutor and pastor. His pas- torate at New Milford extended a little over seven years; that at Springfield, about half as long. During all this time he seems to have been in a very cauldron of religious controversy ; with the consolation, amid it all, tha1. he married an excellent wife, and won to himself some loyal and enduring friendships. There was a Quaker Secession, and Mr. Gurney, the English philanthropist, visited the town and held meetings. The young pastor invited the Friends to his church, and joined in their worship. An Episcopal Church was established, and here also, as soon as possible, he held out to these new opponents the hand of fellowship. One of his students, speaking of the then President, said :— " I loved him better than, any one but my wife and children. He was like a father to me. I was drawn to the Episcopal Church. I told President Porter, and he encouraged me in going there. After six months I wanted to be confirmed. When the day came, he shortened the service in the chapel, went down to St. Paul's, and took his place in the chancel with Bishop Williams. I never was more touched than by his doing that." This is an abridgment of a, longer passage. Yet this generous man was not termed a Liberal but a Conservative in faith. Another instance, from many, illustrating the same. Conservatism of faith may be recorded. In 1844, Dr. Porter reviewed a book by Theodore Parker, differing from the views, but referring in a kindly and generous spirit to the author. At this time the renowned " heretic " had enemies on every side, and few friends. He asked the editor of the paper for the name of the reviewer. The name was sent to him, and a• friendship between the eminently conservative scholar and the daring defier of old faiths began, and ended only with the death of the latter. About fifteen years later, Mr. Parker's last letter, "feebly written in pencil," ended with these lines : —" I must not write more, save to thank you for the universal fairness of your treatment of me. Remember me kindly to your wife. I wish her health was better. And think as charitably as you can of yours thankfully and sincerely, Theodore Parker." This seems to us a very fine incident.
In 1843, Mr. Porter, then thirty-two years of age (there is a discrepancy of dates here), was appointed Clark Professor of Moral Philosophy, &c., in Yale College. The chair was a new one, created for himself, and he held it, with something like an affectionate regard, to the end of his life. In 1871, at the ago of sixty, he was elected President of Yale, which he held for about fifteen years, during which the character, the revenues, and the usefulness of the College were raised immensely. This is shown by some very clear and instructive figures. He retired from the presidency in the summer of 1886, "a.
very tired man." He was then seventy-five years of age. He died in March, 1892, rich in the affection of an altogether unusual number of friends and in the reverence, we think, of all true Americans to whom he was known. We are tempted to give one verse from a little poem which was written imme- diately after his death. The writer says
" No gift of comeliness had he, scant grace Of bearing, little pride of mien—
He had the rugged old-time Roundhead face, Severe and yet serene.
But through those keen and steadfast eyes of blue The soul shone, fearless, modest, strong, and true."
President Porter would perhaps, on the occasions of his visits to England and Scotland, in the fullness of his fame, see more clearly than we can, that to go from the Puritanism which he, in a sense, represented, to that of his ancestor in 1640, would be like going from the Copernican system to the Ptolemaic. The "old-time Roundhead" was now represented by the accomplished scholar of whom his country was so justly proud. The old thoroughness was still there, but under new conditions. What President Porter did, was done with his might. If he had a letter to write to a newspaper, he appears to have done it carefully,—as carefully, perhaps, as if it had been intended for his College class, or for some learned society. Many of his contributions to science, literature, and theology were made in letters to the local newspapers. In other respects, positive and negative—in supporting good or opposing evil—he was equally thorough, without in the least fancying that there was anything heroic in the performance of the common duties of life. He once, as a boy, shot a bird ; and we read that "the sight of the pretty creature killed by him was enough. He never again sought his pleasure in the death of a living thing." He was offered, by President Hayes, the high and responsible appointment of American Minister in London. He refused the offer, and, so far as he was con- cerned, nobody ever would have known that the offer had been made. The fact was revealed by President Hayes himself. President Porter did what he thought was his duty, and then was silent. Who among us who can admire and reverence high culture united with simple modesty and unbounded kindliness of feeling, can fail to welcome a memorial to such a man? We will only make one further remark. The value of the book would be greatly enhanced by an index. The writers will perhaps consider this in view of a future edition.