Some excerpts from Horace Mann’s remarks upon his inauguration as president of Antioch College in 1853:
Sir, the work of education, always paramount to all others, sometimes assumes a super-added importance. Its appropriate object is youth, and its appropriate duty is to imbue them with the saving predestinations of wisdom and love. Education addresses itself specifically to the young, because the young are always ductile and mouldable; while, under our present methods of human culture, the hearts of men fossilize with a rapidity and a flintiness that have no parallel in natural petrifications.
This Western country is increasing in its wealth beyond all precedent in ancient or modern times. It has a annual lake trade of three hundred millions of dollars, and a river trade of four hundred millions, beside its immense traffic upon the Gulf; yet all this, when compared with its undeveloped resources, is only the pocket-money of a school-boy. But without the refining influences of education, wealth grows coarse in its manners, beast-like in its pleasures, vulgar and wicked in its ambitions. Without the liberalizing and uplifting power of education, wealth grows overweening in its vanity, cruel in its pride, and contemptible in its ignorance…. If a poor country needs education, because that is its only resource for changing sterility into exuberance, a rich country needs it none the less, because it is the only thing which can chasten the proud passions of man into humility, or make any other gift of God a blessing.
… such is the diffusive nature of human action that no limits can be affixed to the influences which the humblest institution, or the humblest individual, may exert. Some influences act more directly upon one department of human interests and some upon another. It is the high function of a College to act more or less upon all human interests and relations.
I completely failed to find online the text of Mann’s 1859 Baccalaureate address, in which appears his famous exhortation, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity” (if you have a source, let me know!), but the above paragraphs have been helping me over the course of the past week to rebuild from scratch the ethical principles by which I live and the reasons for which I justify pursuing the life path I do. It’s essential routine maintenance, but boy is it exhausting and emotionally draining—and I wonder if it’s really keeping me from just getting on with things and doing the work I spend so much time wondering whether I should be doing.