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- STORY OF WELLESLEY - 4/33 -
Pauline Cazenove Durant, who lived less than two months. On June 21, 1862, we find the Boston Evening Courier saying of the prominent lawyer: "What the future has in store for Mr. Durant can of course be only predicted, but his past is secure, and if he never rises higher, he can rest in the consciousness that no man ever rose more rapidly at the Suffolk Bar than he has." And within a year he had put it all behind him,--a sinful and unworthy life,--and had set out to be a new man. That there was sin and unworthiness in the old life we, who look into our own hearts, need not doubt; but how much of sin, how much of unworthiness, happily we need not determine. Mr. Durant was probably his own severest critic.
Miss Conant's characterization of Mr. Durant, in his own words describing James Otis, is particularly illuminating in its revelation of his temperament. In February, 1860, he said of James Otis, in an address delivered in the Boston Mercantile Library Lecture course:
"One cannot study his writings and history and escape the conviction that there were two natures in this great man. There was the trained lawyer, man of action, prompt and brave in every emergency. But there was in him another nature higher than this. In all times men have entertained angels unawares, ministering spirits, whose missions are not wholly known to themselves even, men living beyond and in advance of their age.
"We call them prophets, inspired seers,--in the widest and largest sense poets, for they come to create new empires of thought, new realms in the history of the mind. . . . But more ample traditions remain of his powers as an orator and of the astonishing effects of his eloquence. He was eminently an orator of action in its finest sense; his contemporaries speak of him as a flame of fire and repeat the phrase as if it were the only one which could express the intense passion of his eloquence, the electric flames which his genius kindled, the magical power which swayed the great assemblies with the irresistible sweep of the whirlwind."
Mr. Durant's attitude toward education is also elucidated for us by Miss Conant in her apt quotations from his address on the American Scholar, delivered at Bowdoin College, August, 1862:
"The cause of God's poor is the sublime gospel of American freedom. It is our faith that national greatness has its only enduring foundation in the intelligence and integrity of the whole people. It is our faith that our institutions approach perfection only when every child can be educated and elevated to the station of a free and intelligent citizen, and we mourn for each one who goes astray as a loss to the country that cannot be repaired. . . . From this fundamental truth that the end of our Republic is to educate and elevate all our people, you can deduce the future of the American scholar.
"The great dangers in the future of America which we have to fear are from our own neglect of our duty. Foes from within are the most deadly enemies, and suicide is the great danger of our Republic. With the increase of wealth and commerce comes the growing power of gold, and it is a fearful truth for states as well as for individual men that 'gold rusts deeper than iron.' Wealth breeds sensuality, degradation, ignorance, and crime.
"The first object and duty of the true patriot should be to elevate and educate the poor. Ignorance is the modern devil, and the inkstand that Martin Luther hurled at his head in the Castle of Wartburg is the true weapon to fight him with."
This helps us to understand his desire that Wellesley should welcome poor girls and should give them every opportunity for study. Despite his aristocratic tastes he was a true son of democracy; the following, from an address on "The Influences of Rural Life", delivered by him before the Norfolk Agricultural Society, in September, 1859, might have been written in the twentieth century, so modern is its animus:
"The age of iron is passed and the age of gold is passing away; the age of labor is coming. Already we speak of the dignity of labor, and that phrase is anything but an idle and unmeaning one. It is a true gospel to the man who takes its full meaning; the nation that understands it is free and independent and great.
"The dignity of labor is but another name for liberty. The chivalry of labor is now the battle cry of the old world and the new. Ask your cornfields to what mysterious power they do homage and pay tribute, and they will answer--to labor. In a thousand forms nature repeats the truth, that the laborer alone is what is called respectable, is alone worthy of praise and honor and reward."
In a letter accompanying his will, in 1867, Mr. Durant wrote: "The great object we both have in view is the appropriation and consecration of our country place and other property to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, by erecting a seminary on the plan (modified by circumstances) of South Hadley, and by having an Orphan Asylum, not only for orphans, but for those who are more forlorn than orphans in having wicked parents. Did our property suffice I would prefer both, as the care (Christian and charitable) of the children would be blessed work for the pupils of the seminary." The orphanage was, indeed, their first idea, and was, obviously, the more natural and conventional memorial for a little eight-year-old lad, but the idea of the seminary gradually superseded it as Mr. and Mrs. Durant came to take a greater and greater interest in educational problems as distinguished from mere philanthropy. Miss Conant wisely reminds us that, "Just at this time new conditions confronted the common schools of the country. The effects of the Civil War were felt in education as in everything else. During the war the business of teaching had fallen into women's hands, and the close of the war found a great multitude of new and often very incompetent women teachers filling positions previously held by men. The opportunities for the higher education of women were entirely inadequate. Mt. Holyoke was turning away hundreds of girls every year, and there were few or no other advanced schools for girls of limited means."
In 1867 Mr. Durant was elected a trustee of Mt. Holyoke. In 1868 Mrs. Durant gave to Mt. Holyoke ten thousand dollars, which enabled the seminary to build its first library building. We are told that Mr. and Mrs. Durant used to say that there could not be too many Mt. Holyokes. And in 1870, on March 17, the charter of Wellesley Female Seminary was signed by Governor William Claflin.
On April 16, 1870, the first meeting of the Board of Trustees was held, at Mr. Durant's Marlborough Street house in Boston, and the Reverend Edward N. Kirk, pastor of the Mt. Vernon Church in Boston, was elected president of the board. Mr. Durant arranged that both men and women should constitute the Board of Trustees, but that women should constitute the faculty; and by his choice the first and second presidents of the college were women. The continuance of this tradition by the trustees has in every respect justified the ideal and the vision of the founder. The trustees were to be members of Evangelical churches, but no denomination was to have a majority upon the board. On March 7, 1873, the name of the institution was changed by legislative act to Wellesley College. Possibly visits to Vassar had had something to do with the change, for Mr. and Mrs. Durant studied Vassar when they were making their own plans.
And meanwhile, since the summer of 1871, the great house on the hill above Lake Waban had been rising, story on story.
Miss Martha Hale Shackford, Wellesley, 1896, in her valuable little pamphlet, "College Hall", written immediately after the fire, to preserve for future generations of Wellesley women the traditions of the vanished building, tells us with what intentness Mr. Durant studied other colleges, and how, working with the architect, Mr. Hammatt Billings of Boston, "details of line and contour were determined before ground was broken, and the symmetry of the huge building was assured from the beginning."
"Reminiscences of those days are given by residents of Wellesley, who recall the intense interest of the whole countryside in this experiment. From Natick came many high-school girls, on Saturday afternoons, to watch the work and to make plans for attending the college. As the brick-work advanced and the scaffolding rose higher and higher, the building assumed gigantic proportions, impressive in the extreme. The bricks were brought from Cambridge in small cars, which ran as far as the north lodge and were then drawn, on a roughly laid switch track, to the side of the building by a team of eight mules. Other building materials were unloaded in the meadow and then transferred by cars. As eighteen loads of bricks arrived daily the pre-academic aspect of the campus was one of noise and excitement. At certain periods during the finishing of the interior, there were almost three hundred workmen." A pretty story has come down to us of one of these workmen who fell ill, and when he found that he could not complete his work, begged that he might lay one more brick before he was taken away, and was lifted up by his comrades that he might set the brick in its place.
Mr. Durant's eye was upon every detail. He was at hand every day and sometimes all day, for he often took his lunch up to the campus with him, and ate it with the workmen in their noon hour. In 1874 he writes: "The work is very hard and I get very tired. I do feel thankful for the privilege of trying to do something in the cause of Christ. I feel daily that I am not worthy of such a privilege, and I do wish to be a faithful servant to my Master. Yet this does not prevent me from being very weary and sorely discouraged at times. To-night I am so tired I can hardly sit up to write."
And from one who, as a young girl, was visiting at his country house when the house was building, we have this vivid reminiscence: "My first impression of Mr. Durant was, 'Here is the quickest thinker'--my next--'and the keenest wit I have ever met.' Then came the day when under the long walls that stood roofed but bare in the solitude above Lake Waban, I sat upon a pile of plank, now the flooring of Wellesley College, and listened to Mr. Durant. I could not repeat a word he said. I only knew as he spoke and I listened, the door between the seen and the unseen opened and I saw a great soul and its quest, God's glory. I came back to earth to find this seer, with his vision of the wonder that should be, a master of detail and the most tireless worker. The same day as this apocalypse, or soon after, I went with Mr. Durant up a skeleton stairway to see the view from an upper window. The workmen were all gone but one man, who stood resting a grimy hand on the fair newly finished wall. For one second I feared to see a blow follow the flash of Mr. Durant's eye, but he lowered rather than raised his voice, as after an impressive silence he showed the scared man the mark left on the wall and his enormity. . . .
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