SPECIAL MEETING OF THE SOCIETY,
28 May, 1900.
A Special Meeting of the Society was held at No. 25 Beacon Street, Boston, on Monday, 28 May, 1900, at three o’clock in the afternoon.
On the President’s desk stood a large photograph of Mr. Wheelwright, taken on the seventy-fifth anniversary of his birth, draped with smilax, and beside it lay a bunch of forget-me-nots.
In the absence of Vice-President William Watson Goodwin, who was absent from the Commonwealth, and of Vice-President James Bradley Thayer, who was detained at his house by illness, Mr. William Taggard Piper was called to the chair.
The Chairman announced the death of President Wheelwright, and called upon Mr. Andrew McFarland Davis, who, on behalf of the Committee on Resolutions, appointed by the Council, submitted the following Minute: —
The Members of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts desire to place upon their Records an expression of their gratitude for the services of their late President, Edward Wheelwright, of their esteem for him as a man, and of their sorrow for his death, which took place on the ninth of May, 1900.
It was nearly three and one-half years ago that the members of this Society were shocked by the news of the sudden death of their first President. The conditions which confronted whoever might succeed him in that office were such as would have caused many persons to shrink from assuming the attendant responsibilities. Lacking endowment, and with its Roll of Membership still incomplete, the Society had nevertheless gained a reputation for activity, a part of which had unquestionably been acquired from communications secured through the personal influence of Dr. Gould. Unless this activity could be maintained, the future of the Society could not be developed along the lines which his ambitious hopes had prescribed.
We have met to-day to pay tribute to the memory of the man who had the courage to meet this emergency. The suggestion of Edward Wheelwright as the proper man to fill the vacancy in the office of President was an inspiration. His uneventful life was in striking contrast with the brilliant career of his predecessor; but if no foreign Societies pronounce his eulogy, far stronger evidence of his personal worth is to be found in the affectionate remembrance in which his name is held by all with whom he had to do in daily life. He was a singularly guileless man, contact with whom left an impression of the innocence of childhood. This may be attributed in part to his upright, straightforward manliness of character, and partly to the fact that he had led an easy life, free from the cares and struggles which make men suspicious and distrustful. Although admitted to the Bar. he neither craved the excitement of an active professional career nor sought an outlet for ambition through political preferment. He neither sought for office of any sort nor shirked the performance of such duties as were imposed upon him by his fellowmen, but was content to live in retirement the life of a cultivated gentleman. He was for many years the Secretary of his College Class, and took great pains in securing a record of the career of his classmates. He was happy in his domestic relations, but the union which was in all other respects so perfect was not blessed with offspring.
When elected President of this Society, Mr. Wheelwright shrank, with characteristic modesty, from the responsibilities thus sought to be imposed upon him, but finally yielded to the persuasion of his friends. Except for his loyalty to this Society, persuasion and pressure would have been useless; but his interest in our affairs had grown with his attendance at our meetings, and his appreciation of the existing crisis made him amenable to the argument that if the Society was to live and prosper, it must have a President who believed in it and would work for it. Once seated in the chair of office, his confidence in himself and his faith in the future of the Society increased, and he brought to the performance of his duties a zeal which more than redeemed the faith which justified his selection for the place.
From the time of his election by the Council as President down to the time of his death, Mr. Wheelwright continued to serve as President. Under his administration the Roll of active members was soon filled up; with his cordial assistance and hearty cooperation a Publication Fund was raised as a Memorial to his predecessor; through his generosity burdensome debts were discharged. Thus the Society has been brought to a condition which will entirely free his successor in office from the demands for courage which were imposed upon him. For these services the Society will ever be grateful, and those of our members who have profited by attendance at the meetings over which he presided will always carry with them a pleasant memory of his dignified deportment and benignant presence.
“Men of courage, men of sense, and men of letters are frequent; but a true gentleman is what one seldom sees.”
Mr. Abner C. Goodell paid an affectionate tribute to the memory of Mr. Wheelwright.
Mr. S. Lothrop Thorndike then said: —
When one who has been known by many men in the ordinary currents of social life, by a smaller number in some personal relation of affairs, by a few intimately, — one who has passed a placid existence unmarked by important events or notable enterprises, and has at last, in the fulness of years, gone from us, the words that we may speak in his memory must all be in the same tone. They can only be words of sorrow and regret for a friendship that has passed into recollection, a companionship that has been severed, a worthy and amiable life that has finished its earthly career.
We have sometimes had occasion in this Society to pronounce the eulogy of an eminent man of science, a learned judge, a great statesman, a man distinguished in commerce, or finance, or political economy, or classical learning, or historical research. The task is easy then. We have only to say, Think what he has done! think what the world has lost! But in cases like that which we are now met to reflect upon, — and we have had many, too many of them, — we can only say, Think what we have lost!
“For some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That from his vintage rolling Time has pressed,
Have drunk their cup an hour or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest.”
I feel, too, that I ought to listen rather than to speak on this occasion, because I knew President Wheelwright so little, and for so short a time, — never at all, indeed, until I met him here. And since my first acquaintance I have hardly met him in any other place than this except, occasionally, in the St. Botolph Club, of which we both were members. But the acquaintance was easy to form, and once formed was one of the pleasantest that I have ever known. At one time, indeed, I had much to do with him. It was when I was preparing a Memoir of our first President, who had been Wheelwright’s classmate in college. The help that I got from him, and the familiarity that I acquired with all his college contemporaries, made me feel as if I had known the Class of 1844 all my life.
When a man not older than Wheelwright dies there are almost always, in every circle like this of ours, those who can furnish recollections of his childhood and youth. Once or twice since his death, I have met men who spoke of him regretfully as Ned Wheelwright, but they were not members of our Colonial Society. Here we have none such, except, indeed, his cousin, and perhaps one other of our associates a good many years older than he.
It is noteworthy that when this Society was formed, seven years ago, there were three men of the Class of 1844 among its Charter members. Three more were added from that Class at the first Stated Meeting, and a seventh at the second Stated Meeting. It is very hard to realize and sad to remember that in this short space of seven years, all these men have died, Wheelwright being the latest survivor. We have now, I think, no one in the Society who could have been in college with him except his cousin, of whom I have spoken, of the Class of 1847, — no one older, in point of graduation, except Henry Williams, of the Class of 1837. I speak of Wheelwright thus, in connection with Harvard College, almost as if this were a meeting of Harvard graduates, because it must needs be that a society like ours, existing here in Boston, must draw largely upon Harvard for its membership; and also for another reason: that he had spent so much time — one might almost say so many years — upon the annals of his College Class.
The Resolutions passed by our Council speak of these Annals as an important contribution to history. The phrase seems to me not exaggerated. I think that the historian of to-day, if he could find such annals of a class graduated a hundred years ago; would esteem them as a rare treasure, and that the historian of a hundred years hence will find ample material to draw upon in Wheelwright’s full details of the lives of the men of 1844.
I need not dwell upon President Wheelwright’s usefulness to this Society. His contributions to our proceedings, though themselves of value, are perhaps second in importance to the interest in and attachment to our work which he manifested himself and imparted to others. Others will speak of this. To us who have known him in the informal gatherings at the Council board, the thing that we shall miss will be the gracious presence, the cheerful greeting, the genial humor, the apt anecdote of travel, the expert criticism upon art. It is there, even more than in the President’s chair at our Stated Meetings, that we shall find his place not easy to fill.
Mr. Davis, having been called upon, then said that he was glad to avail himself of an opportunity to say a few words concerning the pleasant relations which had existed between Mr. Wheelwright and himself, his only regret being that they would necessarily be somewhat informal, since he had supposed that the presentation of the Report of the Committee on Resolutions would prevent him from participating further in the proceedings of the day. His acquaintance with Mr. Wheelwright merely covered the life of this Society, being based originally upon a strong sympathy with the affectionate esteem in which Dr. Gould held his classmate and friend, and, later, upon the surer foundation of an appreciative knowledge of the uniformly courteous manner in which Mr. Wheelwright treated those with whom he had dealings, whether their sentiments were in accord with his or not. No person had mentioned to-day, what was easily to be traced, — the steady growth of Mr. Wheelwright’s interest in the actual work of this Society, and, simultaneously, in all work of kindred nature. Up to the time of the organization of this Society, Mr. Wheelwright had not done any historical or biographical work, except such as he was necessarily called upon to perform in connection with the Necrology of his Class, which, as Class Secretary, he had undertaken to keep up. In the performance of this duty, he was greatly stimulated by contact with workers in the same field.
The Society would recall the admirable Memoir of Parkman which graced the pages of its Publications, and would recognize in the character of the work shown in the paper on Martin Gay how much had been lost through the fact that Mr. Wheelwright’s talents were not earlier directed towards literary work of this sort. He himself felt that he was indebted to the Society for introducing him to this field of labor, and at the very last meeting over which he presided, in presenting a paper which contained some reminiscences of his childhood, bearing upon historical topics, he added, “I have often wished of late that I had known about the Colonial Society in those days, for I was told many things which were worth preserving, and if I had known then as much about such matters as I do now, I would have made a record of them.” “It is a great satisfaction,” continued Mr. Davis, “to feel that Mr. Wheelwright was so thoroughly in sympathy with us; and, as we cast our eyes back over the steady growth of his interest in historical work, our sorrow that he could not have been spared longer to share our labors will only be equalled by our regret that he was not attracted to work of this kind earlier in life.”
Boston, May 26, 1900.
Henry W. Cunningham, Esq.,
My Dear Sir, — As it will be impossible for me to attend the meeting of the Society, to be held on Monday next, in memory of the late President, Mr. Edward Wheelwright, I desire to say that I am very sensible of the severe loss which has been occasioned to the Society by reason of his death.
Although my personal acquaintance with Mr. Wheelwright began only after this Society was formed, our relations were always of the most friendly and cordial nature, and I became impressed not only with the sterling qualities of the character of Mr. Wheelwright, but with the fact that he was just the kind of man to be the leader in a Society like ours.
It seemed peculiarly fitting that those who have undertaken, as we have, to make as perfect a record as possible of the doings of the sturdy characters of old, and to cherish the memory of whatever they accomplished for truth and right, should have had at our head a man like. Mr. Wheelwright, whose fine character and high ideals revealed themselves more and more as he became better known.
I beg you to express to the Meeting my feeling of regret that I am unable to be present.
Very truly yours,
Charles S. Rackemann.
Mr. Henry H. Edes then paid this tribute to the memory of the late President: —
Mr. Chairman, — The Minute which the Committee on Resolutions has submitted refers to Mr. Wheelwright’s courage, modesty, and generosity; to his interest in our work, to his loyalty to the Society and his faith in its future, and to the affectionate remembrance in which his memory is held by those who came in daily contact with him. To all these things, and more, I can bear personal testimony, for, with perhaps a single exception, I saw more of him than did any other Member of the Society. He was a constant visitor at my office, rarely, if ever, going down to State Street without making me a friendly call on his way home to luncheon. The Society and its work were uppermost in his thought and conversation, and he was eager always to know what was most needed to promote its welfare and how he could most effectively contribute to it. On several occasions he asked me if we were not in need of money for our current work, and, if I had been disposed to ask for it, I am sure that his check would have been forthcoming for any sum which I might have named. Indeed, in a single instance, I told him how he could render the Society incalculable service. Without a moment’s hesitation he wrote a check for twenty-five hundred dollars, saying he was glad to have the opportunity to do something substantial for the Society; and it was after making this generous contribution to our treasury that he frequently asked if I did not want him to do more.
Mr. Wheelwright’s gift was known to but few of our fellowship, and they alone were aware that the occasion for it was also the reason for the delay in the issue of our Publications, — consequent upon the suspension of our printing for a year and a half. Besides this large gift, which, with characteristic modesty, he insisted should be anonymous, Mr. Wheelwright contributed at various times other generous sums which have augmented our Permanent Funds.
Mr. Wheelwright’s interest in our Publications was very great. He was especially proud of the thoroughness with which our work has been done. To this interest in our work Mr. Wheelwright has again borne noble testimony in his will, concerning which he talked with me when he was drawing it, saying that, although he was extremely busy with other matters, he had put them aside and given precedence to that business, because — to use his own words — he wanted “to make sure that the Colonial Society is taken care of.” As Mr. Wheelwright’s will has been filed in the Probate Office, it is no breach of the confidence with which he honored mc to announce at this time that he has bequeathed to the Society the munificent sum of twenty thousand dollars.
As Mr. Davis proceeded with the reading of the admirable Minute which is now before the Meeting, I was impressed by the fact that that tribute to Mr. Wheelwright’s devotion to the Society and its interests, and to his pecuniary assistance in various undertakings, referred wholly to the past, and that it was written without a hint or suspicion of the generous provisions for the Society’s needs contained in Mr. Wheelwright’s will.
Great, however, as was Mr. Wheelwright’s interest in this Society, it was not allowed to absorb an undue share of his attention. Always abreast of the times, and of a sunny and hopeful temperament, his interest in art and in the best literature, in the drama, in public affairs, in his College Class and its survivors, in Harvard College matters, and in those of the Porcellian and other college societies of which he was a member, in his friends, and in his beautiful estate at Cohasset, which was his summer home for nearly forty years, — in all these his interest was keen, and it was sustained till the very end of his life.
Mr. Wheelwright’s interest in his family history remained till the last, and only a few days before his fatal illness he finally revised the proof of an article entitled The Lowell Pedigree, which will appear in the July Number of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. A few weeks ago, and after long and persistent inquiry, Mr. Wheelwright completed the Records of his Class by discovering the date and place of the death of the only one of his classmates concerning whose survival there had been a doubt.
Of all the academic or other honors which came to Mr. Wheelwright, there was none which brought to him so much satisfaction as his election, last June, to fellowship in the Harvard Chapter of the Fraternity of Phi Beta Kappa. Without knowledge on his part of the fact of his nomination to honorary fellowship in the Society, he had been invited to attend, as a guest, the public exercises in Sanders Theatre and the dinner. When he appeared in the College Yard, after his election had been announced to him, wearing the colors of the Society, he was at once surrounded by such of his classmates as were members of the Fraternity and welcomed to fellowship with the utmost cordiality, — a welcome in which many of his younger friends, who were alike members of this Society and of the Fraternity, joined.
During the winter months, Mr. Wheelwright lived in Boston, at No. 22 Chestnut Street. For more than seventy-six years this house was his home, and there he died, in the room in which he was born.
It is with no ordinary emotion that we take our leave of this dearly loved associate and friend. Faithful, loyal, kind, pattern of an ancient courtesy that is fast becoming a tradition, I keenly miss his almost daily call, his cordial greeting, his benignant presence; and the memory of our friendship, of the nobility of his character, and of his devotion to this Society will always be to me a very precious possession.
The Minute was then unanimously adopted by a rising vote.
Mr. Edes said that shortly after the photograph upon the President’s desk was taken, Mr. Wheelwright brought it to him with a copy, saying, “One of these portraits is for yourself; the other you can put away, and some day give it to the Society.” Mr. Edes said that this seemed to him to be the proper occasion to bring this gift to the attention of the Society, and accordingly he presented it in Mr. Wheelwright’s name.
The Chairman then announced the death, on the sixth of May, of the Hon. William Crowninshield Endicott, and called upon Mr. John noble, who spoke as follows: —
I shall not speak at any length, or attempt to give to the memory of Judge Endicott such a tribute as a character and life like his demand; that is rather for him who shall write the Memoir for our Transactions. My first recollection of our late associate dates back more than fifty years. It was in the old College Yard, in front of University Hall, when he was leaving and I was entering the College. I well remember the impression made upon a boy fresh from the New Hampshire hills by one who seemed to be the highest type of a Harvard student, and the personification of the culture and elegance and indefinable charm of address and bearing which should mark the finished product of the ancient University as she sent it out into the world, — “the bright, consummate flower.” Not wholly unlike that, I think, has been the impression which He has left on all who have met him in later life, in the wider scene of his distinguished career.
For many years Judge Endicott was an eminent Member of the Essex Bar, — a Bar famous always in the history of Massachusetts. He early established a reputation as a sagacious counsellor, a learned lawyer, an eloquent advocate, and equally a man of business and affairs. Without seeming to work, he handled his cases as if they were playthings, with a skill and ability and readiness of resource which ended in nearly invariable success. He was not a mere lawyer, however, but a man of varied accomplishments, of wide information, fond of the best literature, and well read in it, versed in our early Colonial history, of broad culture and scholarly tastes.
Endicott came upon the Bench of the highest Court of the Commonwealth in 1873, and at once took his place as one of its ablest members. He was well grounded and well read, and with the ability to make a ready use of his acquisitions. He had sound common-sense, practical capacity, clear and rapid judgment, and the legal instinct, often more valuable in an emergency than wide learning or deep research, — that legal instinct which knows at once and intuitively what the law in a given case must be, or at least should be, and which salves the knottiest or most novel questions. He had a rare faculty of grasping evidence and getting at the truth, catching with quickness the essentials and mastering the details, however complicated. Careful, considerate, impartial, prompt, rapid, decided, he bore himself to universal acceptance as a Judge at nisi prius, in judicial hearings, and especially in those causes now the main business of the Court upon the Equity side of its jurisdiction. His Opinions in the Reports which cover the nine years of his service make his lasting monument as a lawyer and a judge.
At various periods of his life, Judge Endicott was prominent in political affairs. Belonging to the minority and not the dominant party, his position was more often that of the candidate than of the incumbent. Entering the Cabinet of President Cleveland, in 1885, as Secretary of War, he was, through the whole of Cleveland’s first term, a prominent and influential Member of that brilliant Administration. In those times of peace and prosperity, there was not that opportunity for signal distinction or for conspicuous failure which finds a place in more strenuous periods; but his career throughout was clear, successful, and honorable, — alike creditable to himself and serviceable to the country.
Harvard College and all that concerned it was always an object of Judge Endicott’s special interest. For about ten years (1875–1882, 1883–1885) he was on the Board of Overseers, and later (1884–1895) a Member of the Corporation. He was also, for a considerable time, the graduate head of one of its oldest and most famous Clubs.
A lineal descendant of one of the earliest Colonists and best-known magistrates of the Massachusetts Bay, our late associate held in transmitted succession many of the distinguishing characteristics of Governor Endicott, softened and tempered by the liberalizing influences of two hundred years. He had his sturdy strength and courage, his determination and decision, his unswerving integrity and independence, his self-reliance, his settled convictions, his high sense of honor, his fidelity to duty. Dignified and courteous, aristocratic in temper and bearing, — yet in many ways singularly democratic in feeling and opinion, — courtly in manner, an engaging companion, a warm and faithful friend, blood, breeding, and instinct united to make him, always and everywhere, a gentleman.
At the conclusion of his Remarks, Mr. Noble read a letter from the Hon. Francis C. Lowell expressing his regret that his duties upon the Bench precluded his attendance at this Meeting.