By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Memoir of Jared Sparks, LL.D.
Author: Mayer, Brantz, 1809-1879
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Memoir of Jared Sparks, LL.D." ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

images generously made available by Internet Archive/American Libraries

      Images of the original pages are available through
      Internet Archive/American Libraries. See




President of the Maryland Historical Society:

[Illustration: Jared Sparks

_Anno Ætatis XL._]


Prepared at the Request of the Society,
and Read Before Its Annual Meeting,
on Thursday Evening, February 7, 1867.

Printed for the Maryland Historical Society,
by John Murphy.
Baltimore, 1867.


IT has been a sad but not entirely unpleasant duty to prepare, at the
request of the Maryland Historical Society, a brief memoir of one of
our earliest and most distinguished Honorary Members, the late JARED
SPARKS, LL.D. The duty, though sad, is not without a pleasant
recompense, for the eulogium which a long-continued friendship and
intercourse demand can be bestowed with cordial truth.

Mr. Sparks was what we call, in America, a self-made man. Although his
life is a fair illustration of what an industrious person of talent and
common sense may compass by decision of character and a high aim, my
object in these observations is not to draw from his biography what has
been aptly called "ostentatious precepts and impertinent lessons." By a
self-made man I do not mean to class Mr. Sparks with that large and
influential body of citizens whose portraits adorn the illustrated
newspapers, and whose memoirs disclose the opinion that the making of
a great deal of money is the making of a very exemplary man. When I
speak of Mr. Sparks as a self-made man I use the phrase in a sense of
intellectual progress and success, founded on self-relying
discipline,--of mental culture and mental fruit, bringing him up to
honorable fame from low obscurity,--making him a lasting power in our
nation, nay, throughout the world, in our best society, in our
literature, in our institutions of learning; and, finally, bestowing on
him the just pecuniary rewards always due, yet seldom obtained in
America, by intellectual pursuits alone.

Jared Sparks, the son of Joseph and Eleanor Orcutt Sparks, was born in
Willington, Connecticut, on the 10th of May, 1789. The dawn of his life
was overshadowed by poverty. I do not know the character or pursuits of
his parents, but certainly they were very poor; nor have I found any
record of their early care over the child, or, that his youth was
comforted by the love and society of a brother or sister. The most
reliable account I have received of his infancy shows that he went,
with the childless sister of his mother, and her wayward husband, to
Washington county, New York, and that the eager boy obtained the scant
elements of education at the public schools of those days; working, at
the same time, on a farm for his livelihood, and sometimes serving a
dilapidated saw-mill, (his uncle's last resource,) whose slow
movements afforded him broken hours to pour over a copy of Guthrie's
Geography, which he always spoke of as a "real treasure."

Thus, there were no external influences to bring forth whatever powers
were inborn in his character. Probably, it was in spite of those
influences that he became a man of mark. His aunt, kind at all times,
is chiefly remembered for her gentleness and beauty; his mother, for
her devotion to reading, and mainly to the constant study of Josephus;
while the grandmother of these ladies, Bethiah Parker, is mentioned as
a singular enthusiast, who left to her posterity a manuscript volume of
poems and letters peculiar only from the fact that, while they are
vehicles of religious fervor, they are also autobiographical sketches,
in which she discloses (in 1757) her prophetic visions of the "terrible
times that are to come among the nations." There may have been some
inheritance by the youth from his mother of a fondness for books, for
he always spoke of her with great respect as a superior woman; but the
probability is that the intellectual turn of his mind originated within
itself, and was cherished by the affection he felt, and everywhere
inspired as a boy, and the personal interest with which such a
disposition is always repaid. His impressible mind was, doubtless,
affected by the grand or beautiful scenery amid which his early life
was passed. He was a bright pupil of all his teachers. One of them he
so soon excelled in acquirements that the honest pedagogue frankly
advised him to seek an abler instructor. But that boon was not to be at
once or easily obtained, for Jared was too poor to follow the master's
advice; and, becoming apprenticed to a carpenter, he wrought at his
trade for two years, still employing his spare time in study. He
borrowed and mastered a common sailor's book on navigation. He taught
himself the names and positions of the stars, and how to calculate the
simpler problems of astronomy, the higher mysteries of which he also
strove to unravel. For this purpose, he bought a large wooden ball, on
which he marked the stars and traced the course of a celebrated comet;
and finally he succeeded in calculating an eclipse. At sixteen, he
seems to have lost entirely the care of his aunt and uncle, so that he
was adrift in the world from that early period. But, his gentle and
intellectual character had made him friends. His conduct was observed
in that New England neighborhood, where such indications of worth are
not only praised but protected. His employer, seeing the tendency of
his mind and appreciating his talent, voluntarily released him from
indenture, and his first impulse upon emancipation was to become,
himself, a schoolmaster. He applied, at once, to the local authorities.
The school-committee examined and passed him; and being thus
pronounced able to instruct, he taught in a small district on the
outskirts of Tolland, until the scholars ceased coming during the
summer, when Jared, for lack of means, was obliged to return for
support to his saw and chisel.

Fortunately, however, he was not detained long at the work-bench. The
story of a carpenter-boy studying Euclid and solving algebraic
problems, made a stir in the village of Willington, where he then
lived. Nor could the eager youth any longer study alone. Sparks became
restless under the double goad of his ambition and his disadvantages,
and plucking up courage, one day marched bravely into the presence of
the Rev. Hubbell Loomis, an intelligent and cultivated clergyman,
requesting his counsel and instruction. Mr. Loomis examined him
carefully, and, taking him as an inmate of his house, taught him
mathematics gratuitously, and induced him to commence the study of
Greek and Latin, encouraging the spirit of independence--which was very
lively in Sparks--by allowing him to shingle his barn as partial
compensation for board and tuition.

Hitherto, the life of a schoolmaster had been his utmost ambition, and
the trials he made satisfied him that, with his love of knowledge and
desire to impart it, he would ultimately be able to succeed. The
prospect of a college course had not yet dawned on him. But, from his
patron Loomis to others of greater influence the carpenter's merit
spread wider and wider, until the Rev. Abiel Abbott, then a clergyman
at Coventry, Connecticut, procured for him a scholarship at Phillips
Exeter Academy, upon a benevolent foundation, to which meritorious
pupils of limited means were admitted without charge for board and
instruction. On the 4th of September, 1809, he left Tolland,
Connecticut, and _walked_ the one hundred and twenty miles to Exeter,
New Hampshire, becoming a scholar of the Academy for two years. Here he
first met, as fellow pupils, his life-long friends, Palfrey and
Bancroft. He studied diligently, and made rapid progress; yet, anxious
to preserve his independence, and to obtain what was necessary for his
personal comfort without further tax on friends or obligation to
strangers, he taught, during one winter of these two years, a school at
Rochester in New Hampshire. In one of his memorandums he sums up his
tuition thus: "the whole amount of my schooling was about forty months,
which was the length of time I attended school before I was _twenty_
years old."

But the great hope of his heart--a hope that had been gradually
kindled--was at last to be realized, and, in 1811, at the age of
twenty-two, through the active interest of President Kirkland, Sparks
entered Harvard University, on a Pennoyer scholarship. Yet, the _res
angusta domi_ pursued him still. It is said, that, "in consequence
partly of ill health and partly of poverty," he was unable to pass more
than two entire years, of his four, at Cambridge. To eke out a slender
but necessary income, he obtained leave of absence during parts of his
Freshman and Sophomore years, and spent the time as a private teacher
in the family of Mr. Mark Pringle, at Havre de Grace, Maryland. He was
there when the British, under Admiral Cockburn, plundered and partly
destroyed the village; and here, probably, he enjoyed the only military
experience of his life, by serving, as a private, in the Maryland
militia, called out to guard the neighborhood. The inhabitants, it is
related, generally fled to the woods, and but few, among whom was
Sparks, remained to witness the barbarous behaviour of the enemy.
Fifteen months of this leave of absence were, thus, spent in our State,
in the bosom of an excellent and refined family, by whose members he
was warmly esteemed; and, at length, he received his degree of Bachelor
of Arts, at Harvard, with the class of 1815.

His college course, notwithstanding its interruptions, was successful.
President Kirkland used to say, in his quaint way, "Sparks is not only
a man, but a man and a-half." He graduated with high honors. In his
senior year he gained the Bowdoin prize for an essay on the physical
discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, an essay which is remembered in the
traditions of the University as "a masterpiece of analytic exposition,
philosophical method, lucid and exact statement."

This successful essay was, perhaps, the key of his life and character,
for his mind was emphatically clear, exact, analytic, mathematical; and
throughout his career, the same qualities were distinct in whatever he
investigated or wrote. It has, indeed, been said that his merits were
already recognized by the rival University of Yale, and that offers for
his removal thither had been made during one of his years at Harvard;
but the friendly influence of Dr. Kirkland prevailed over those
allurements, and he remained constant to his patron and college.

The years 1816 and 1817 were passed by the graduate in teaching a
private school at Lancaster, Massachusetts. He finished his college
course at the advanced age of twenty-six, and had now added two years
more to the score. At Lancaster he cultivated those habits of
methodical industry which always characterized him afterwards. Soon
after undertaking the school, he wrote: "I board at Major Carter's, a
mile and a quarter from my school, to and from which I walk twice a
day. I rose this morning an hour before sunrise, and rode five or six
miles before breakfast, an exercise which I shall continue regularly.
My school occupies six hours, and I have resolved to devote, and thus
far, have devoted, six hours of the twenty-four to study." Before this,
he has a memorandum of walking from Cambridge to Bolton, twenty-six
miles; setting out at half-past one, and arriving at Bolton at eight in
the evening.

In 1817, at the age of twenty-eight, and two years after graduation,
his _alma mater_ recognizing the tendency of his mind towards the exact
sciences, as well as the extent of his acquirements, chose him tutor in
Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard. There also, very soon
afterwards, chiefly under the instruction of the Rev. Dr. Ware, who was
then the Hollis Professor, he commenced the study of divinity, pursuing
it zealously during two years, being, at the same time, the "working
editor" of the North American Review. Its numbers from May, 1817, to
March, 1819, inclusive, were edited by him. In May, of the latter year,
at the age of thirty, he was called to Baltimore and ordained in this
city as the first pastor of the Unitarian church which had just been
erected. On this memorable occasion, the Rev. Dr. William Ellery
Channing preached that discourse in exposition of the Unitarian faith,
which has been so widely celebrated, published, and read in America and
Europe: a discourse which is said to have "caused more remark on its
theological views, while more controversy grew out of the statement of
doctrines therein declared, than any single religious discourse in this
country ever occasioned."

As clergyman of this congregation, Mr. Sparks remained a resident of
our city for four years. He is well remembered in the families of his
own church and of other religious societies, among whose members his
firm but genial manners always made the studious and estimable
gentleman a welcome guest. He was a steadfast laborer among his
congregation; but the ultimate literary drift of his life was already
beginning to develop itself, having probably received an impetus from
his editorial task on the North American Review. In addition to his
clerical duty in Baltimore, he did a great deal of work in editing the
Unitarian Miscellany, in publishing his well-known Letters on the
Comparative Moral tendency of the Unitarian and Trinitarian Doctrines,
which drew on him the controversial notice of that renowned champion,
Dr. Miller, of Princeton, and produced a discussion, which, instead of
estranging the combatants, strengthened their personal relations, and
increased their mutual confidence and respect. In after years, when Mr.
Sparks required a Life of Jonathan Edwards for his American Biography,
he selected Dr. Miller to write it, and, in the truly liberal spirit
that always governed his editorial labors, and, indeed, his whole
literary life, published the memoir of the great Calvanist "without the
alteration of a single word." It was here, too, in Baltimore, in
consequence of a sermon against Unitarianism by the late Rev. Dr. Wm.
E. Wyatt, of St. Paul's, that Mr. Sparks published his volume of
Letters on the Ministry, Ritual, and Doctrines of the Protestant
Episcopal Church. It was in Baltimore, in 1822, that he arranged and
began the republication of Essays and Tracts in Theology by Wm. Penn,
Bishop Hoadley, Newton, Whitby, Evelyn, Locke, and others. It was in
Baltimore, also, during his religious ministry, that he received the
flattering tribute from Congress of being elected its Chaplain. This
was a great honor, won in ten years, by the Harvard student of 1811;
and although his election alarmed the clergy and laity of other
Christian denominations, and a member of Congress declared they had
"voted Christ out of the House," still, in time, Congress learned to
know him better, to admit the tolerance of his catholic spirit, and to
honor him with increased confidence. But, in 1823, after four years of
labor in our city, Mr. Sparks's health became so much impaired that he
resolved to retire from the Church entirely, and devote himself
exclusively to literature. Yet, he always loved Baltimore; he always
met the people with warmth, and recurred joyfully to the happy years
he spent in Maryland as teacher and minister. At the beginning of the
late rebellion he wrote to me concerning an address published by one of
our patriotic citizens: "I could not," said he, "but approve most
highly its candor and independent tone, and the enlightened and just
views it presented of our public affairs. It furnished a demonstration
that there were brave spirits and true in your city, notwithstanding
the misgivings which many, in this quarter, had, at that time, begun to
indulge. Most heartily do I wish prosperity, good fortune, and success
to Baltimore. With no place have I more deeply cherished associations.
May peace, quiet, and brotherly sympathies prevail within her borders."
And again, at a later day, he wrote in the same strain of affectionate
memory of our city and its people: "I take a lively interest in all
that concerns Maryland both present and past. I have not forgotten that
my home was once there. I have many and deeply cherished recollections
of Baltimore, which will remain in my heart and mind while the power of
memory continues to act. The order of Providence and strange events
have produced changes, _but it is Baltimore, still_." Such were the
sentiments of this excellent man towards our state, and city, and
people. They continued to be cherished by him to the last hour of his
life, and were warmly repeated to me in one of the last letters he ever
wrote, received but a day or two before his death. He left Baltimore
reluctantly; his congregation parted with him painfully, and its
farewell letter, written and signed by the late Chancellor of our
state, Theodorick Bland, bears the most honorable testimony to the
success of his pastoral labors.

Yet, probably, it was not ill health alone that determined Mr. Sparks's
removal to Boston. I think he had already set his heart on the great
themes of National History, and resolved, if possible, to pursue the
work faithfully by the acquisition of the vast and scattered materials
it needed. Upon his arrival in Massachusetts in 1823, he purchased the
North American Review, and became its sole editor from January, 1824,
to April, 1830. In these seven years his industrious pen contributed no
less than fifty articles, many of profound study, and all adding to the
solid critical literature of America. It was in 1828 that he made his
first elaborate biographical essay in the attractive Life of John
Ledyard, the American Traveller. About this time, too, good fruits were
borne to him by his previous residence in Baltimore and the
acquaintance he had made with the illustrious men who, in those days,
were found every winter in Washington. In that city his worth had been
recognized by the descendants of prominent revolutionary personages, by
leading legislators and public functionaries from the several States,
and, particularly, by such persons as Chief Justice Marshall, the
biographer of Washington, and his nephew Bushrod Washington and Mr.
Justice Story, both, at that time, Associate Judges of the Supreme
Court. Thenceforward, the idea that had taken possession of his mind on
the temporary failure of his health at Baltimore--"the city of noble
souls, of large-hearted men," as he was wont to call it--became the
ruling purpose of his life. He was to run the career of a man of
letters, and in a country hardly ripe for literary production. American
history was to be his occupation; all things else became subservient to
this great purpose. He had conceived the project of collecting the
correspondence of Washington, and of gathering all the accessible
documents in this country and Europe necessary for an authentic life of
the great chief. On his first application for the Washington
manuscripts, which Mr. Justice Bushrod Washington had intended to edit,
Mr. Sparks was told, much as he was respected, he could by no means
have them. Yet, his journal of that date has no complaining, despondent
mention of the rebuff, for, on that very day he set forth from the city
of Washington on his journey to the South, in quest of other
materials; and, with a light, confident, indefatigable spirit, went on
patiently collecting them from public and private sources, everywhere
finding profitable work, and, with marvellous keenness and sagacity,
choosing and appropriating whatever he should want for the great task
which it was his destiny to accomplish. Our archives at Annapolis,
scant and neglected as they unfortunately are, still bear marks of his
diligence; and, years after his task was completed in our State House,
I have found, among our documents, the frequent traces of his minute
and accurate labors. This, I am told, was a life-long trait of his
preparation, for he always provided himself with every species of
preliminary information which could lead to what he did not possess, in
case, at some future day, it might become useful or necessary. His
memorandums, therefore, were copious and explicit. Indeed, he became so
familiar with the archives of the several States, that from his study
in Massachusetts, he could readily, without a fresh journey, command
the desired documents, and always indicate the department, and,
generally, the shelf, book, or bundle in which the coveted manuscript
was to be found by his correspondents. And, so he went on cheerily from
state to state and family to family, increasing his national
treasures, until, at last, the richest of the American collections was
yielded to him by the Washington family and the government. The
manuscripts at Mount Vernon--the entire correspondence of Washington
and his papers--arranged by him in more than two hundred folio volumes;
the state papers of the "old thirteen," and the private papers of many
of the civil and military leaders of the Revolution, were opened to his
inspection, and some of them actually placed in his possession for ten
years, while engaged in the composition of his great work.

This would have been anxious labor even for a man of leisure, robust
health, and a fortune that secured him from all care for present
support or comfort. But Sparks was still poor, and, while engaged in
this expensive preliminary task of mere accumulation--a task that might
produce profitable results after many years--he was also obliged to
provide for the needs of the passing day. His ready talent and
economical habits enabled him to do it.[1] Nor did he rest satisfied
with what he found in the United States or could gain by correspondence
from abroad. He went to Europe to complete his researches; and the
national and private archives of France and England, which had
hitherto been closed to American students, were soon unlocked for him
through the personal solicitations in his favor of Sir James
Mackintosh, Mr. Lockhart, Mr. Hamilton, Lord Landsdowne, and Lord
Holland, in Great Britain, and of General Lafayette, Monsieur Guizot,
and Monsieur de Marbois in France;--another proud achievement by the
charity student of 1811. I may add here, at once, that Mr. Sparks paid
a second visit to Europe in 1840, in order to examine its archives; on
that occasion, discovering, in the French cabinet, the original letter
of Franklin and the famous map with our North-eastern boundary
delineated by a "red line," which were so much discussed in the
subsequent negotiations with Great Britain in regard to our limits in
that quarter.

The first fruits of these domestic and foreign studies was Mr. Sparks's
valuable publication, in 1829-30, of the Diplomatic Correspondence of
the Revolution; followed, after two years, by the Life of Gouverneur
Morris, with selections from his correspondence and miscellaneous
papers. In 1830, he originated and edited that excellent annual, so
long a favorite in our country, known as the American Almanac; and,
about the same time, he began his Library of American Biography,
extending, in two series, to twenty-five volumes, for which he
composed the charming biographies of La Salle, Ribault, Pulaski,
Benedict Arnold, Father Marquette, Charles Lee, and Ethan Allen.

Meanwhile, his attention to the great work--the Life and Writings of
Washington--never flagged. Of course, the labor of careful selection,
arrangement, and illustration was immense. His apartment in Ashburton
Place, Boston, was covered from floor to ceiling with volumes and
packages; nor did he ever leave it until his completed task of ten or
twelve hours' work, freed him, after night, for a healthful walk and a
refreshing visit to friends. Ten of these busy years were thus spent in
the preparation, printing, and publication of the Life and Writings of
Washington, which was finally given to the world, volume by volume,
between 1834 and 1837, in twelve stout octavos, at a cost, I
understand, of about one hundred thousand dollars. In 1840, appeared
his other great national book, the Life and Works of Franklin, in ten
massive octavos, comprizing, among other valuable papers discovered by
him, no less than two hundred and fifty-three letters of the
philosopher, never before printed, and one hundred and fifty-four not
included in any previous edition. To this superb collection he added
the "Life" as far as it had been written by Franklin himself, and
continued it, from his own materials, to the patriot's death.

In seventeen years, and at the age of fifty-one, he had won the highest
honors of literature, and the right to have his name linked forever,
throughout the world, with the names of Franklin and Washington. Nor
were these honors less dear to him when he reflected that he had
reached the mature age of thirty-four before he had _a real purpose in
life_, and that, in spite of adverse fortune, he had accomplished his
designs by the force of character, by self-denial and indomitable

In 1852-3, occurred the singular controversy between Lord Mahon, Mr. W.
B. Reed, and Mr. Sparks, in regard to the manner in which the latter
had edited Washington's Writings. It was conducted by our late
colleague with good temper and success. He vindicated his facts and
plan from all assaults, foreign and domestic, and was, doubtless,
vastly aided by the exact method with which his letters, documents, and
references had been arranged for his great work. For, _preparation_
was, at once, his task and his strength. He always wrote rapidly and
alone, without the aid of an amanuensis, as soon as he was prepared to
compose. He then worked with great perfection and ease to himself,
because the materials were not only at hand but thoroughly digested.
When asked how long a time would be required by him to make an
abridgement of his Life of Washington, while he was still busy with his
Franklin, his reply was, "No time!" and the printer never waited for
him a moment, so keen and clear were his decision and sense of

In 1854, he published the Correspondence of the American Revolution, in
letters from eminent men to General Washington from the time of his
taking command of the army to the end of his Presidency. This valuable
addition to his historical series was prepared from the original MSS.,
and terminated Mr. Sparks's important contributions to our national
stores. It has been said that he contemplated a History of the Foreign
Diplomacy of the Revolution, and it is quite certain that he intended
to write a HISTORY OF THE REVOLUTION, itself, preceding it, probably,
by several volumes on our Colonial history. As I heard Mr. Irving once
say that the biography of Washington was not a task to his liking, for
"he had no _private_ life" to give it the personal interest essential
to secure the reader's sympathy; so it may truly be said, from the
constant publicity of the Chief's career, that his life, during most of
it, was the life of his country. Nevertheless, Mr. Sparks felt that it
was, in truth, biography and not history, and he sought a more extended
field, for which he considered his powers to be, as doubtless they
were, entirely equal. His collection of materials for this purpose was
rich, completed, and bound in volumes; but his noble intention was,
unfortunately, frustrated, and with it perished his most cherished
hope. He always regretted his inability to go on with this work. All
his other publications, valuable as they were, in his estimation had
been but preparatory. In 1850 he broke his right arm, which was already
weakened by a neuralgic affection contracted by long years of labor at
the desk. This, ever afterwards, made the use of a pen extremely
irksome. Under the weight of these mixed evils of nervous malady and
fractured limb, his task was procrastinated; yet, his patient hope was
profound. The conflict between the desire to achieve and the disability
was so painful, that the subject of his projected History became a
sacred one among all who were familiar with him, and, even in his
family, it was passed over in silence. At times, he would look at these
accumulations of years in his library, with the simple ejaculation,
"sad, sad!" When others alluded to them, he had some light reply: "you
are a younger man; do _you_ work?" It was his great grief that the mine
of golden ore was at hand, but that _he_ could work no more. Yet, he
never ceased to be prepared, by adding constantly to his materials;
and, even in the last year of his life, he exclaimed, at times, "_I
think I may soon go on!_" He never ceased to look forward to the time
when his infirmity would allow him to march once more in pursuit of
what had become the "Evangeline" of his life, the only work worthy of
his mature powers:

    "Something there was in his life incomplete, imperfect, unfinished,
    As if a morning in June, with all its music and sunshine,
    Suddenly paused in the sky, and fading slowly, descended
    Into the east again, from whence it late had arisen!"

The rich collection he had amassed for this History of the American
Revolution, carefully arranged and bound in volumes, was bequeathed to
his son, ultimately to pass to the Library of Harvard University. I
understand his heir has already discharged the trust by depositing
these treasures in the institution where their collector designed they
should be permanently preserved.

Although the life of Mr. Sparks as an author may be said to have
terminated with his last original publications, he, nevertheless, did
not withhold himself from an active interest in the cause of letters.
He had been appointed McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History at
Cambridge, in 1839; and for the ten following years, in the midst of
other work, performed the duties of that chair, until, on the
resignation of President Edward Everett, his _alma mater_ bestowed her
highest honor by electing him President of Harvard. This was the
_finale_ of a career of successful labor extending through thirty-eight
years. His Presidency was acceptable as well as popular; especially
commanding the confidence and affectionate respect of the pupils. He
was no martinet, but fostered the manhood of the generation entrusted
to his government. A friend who was present in Cambridge, and well
acquainted with Mr. Sparks's administration of the Presidency, tells me
that its peculiarity was the parental character of his intercourse with
the under-graduates. After the stateliness of some of his predecessors,
this bland demeanor of the new President alarmed by its supposed
relaxation of a discipline which the over-nice are accustomed to
enforce by a stern preservation of cold formality; yet, even the
critics who considered him a little slack, did not fail to see that he
won the love of all, while many a poor fellow in disgrace felt quite
inclined to bless a rod which fell in such sweet mercy.[2]

For three years, the successor of Kirkland, Quincy, and Everett held
the responsible Presidency; nor, in all that period of watchfulness,
did he ever forget or neglect the striving, indigent students, who
required a helping hand in the days of their adversity. His works had
made him independent in fortune, so that, wherever assistance was
needed, his was an open but judicious hand. "In the days of his
prosperity," it is said by one who knew him well, "he returned to his
original benefactors not only the money he had received from them, but
more than the interest." On resigning the Presidency of Harvard he
retired to the property he owned in Cambridge, where, in the enjoyment
of society, of favorite studies, and of a large correspondence and
intercourse with friends and distinguished strangers, he passed the
remaining years of a tranquil life, which ended, after a short and
painless malady, on the 14th of March, 1866, in the seventy-seventh
year of his age. The summons to eternity was sudden; but the faith and
the life of the veteran sustained him to the close. As he was
consciously approaching it, "I think," said he, feebly, "I shall not
recover, _but I am happy_." And when asked whether he was rightly
understood as saying he was "_happy_," his answer was, "_certainly!_"

Mr. Sparks was twice married; first, in 1832, to Frances Anne Allen, of
Hyde Park, New York, who died in 1835; and again, in 1839, to Mary C.
Silsbee, daughter of Nathaniel Silsbee, a wealthy and honored merchant
of Salem, for many years a Senator of the United States from
Massachusetts, as colleague of Daniel Webster. Four children, a son and
three daughters, all the offspring of the second marriage, survive,
with their mother, to rejoice in the memory of their illustrious

The amount of Mr. Sparks's literary labor and its popular estimation,
maybe judged from the fact that more than six hundred thousand volumes
of his various publications have been published and disposed of.

In personal appearance Mr. Sparks had a noble presence, a firm, bold,
massive head, which, as age crept on, sometimes seemed careworn and
impassive; but never lost its intellectual power. His portraits show
that in his prime his face was remarkable for dignified, manly beauty.
His manners were winning; and, though undemonstrative and rather
reticent among strangers, with friends, he was always cheerful and
hearty. He was never dogmatic, patronizing or repulsive, by that
self-assertion into which superior men are too often petted by the
subservient deference of society. He had large social resources, but,
withal, was modest without being shy. His character was, indeed, a
perfect balance of charming qualities. Though moderate in the
announcement of opinions, and too patriotic to degenerate into a
partizan, he gave no timid, lukewarm support to the nation in its hour
of trial. His knowledge of the world was ample; but that excellent lore
did not always save him from the overreaching, so that, at one time, he
lost much of the hard-earned avails of his labors, and though not
impoverished, was uncomfortably straitened. Yet, he loved to be
trustful and serviceable; and, what he knew, he gave cordially to
friends, correspondents, and respectful strangers who approached him
properly. He desired to stimulate the young by truthful approbation,
and, from his recognized eminence, to bestow the "nutritious praise of
veteran talent." He was never spoken of lightly. Large and active as
was his mind, "his heart," unlike Fontenelle's, was not "made of his
brains." He was as pure, affectionate, and charitable a man in all his
relations, as he was eminent in the literature he created and
consecrated to his country.

An author's life is commonly a catalogue of his works. The career of a
scholar is generally uneventful, seldom possessing those stirring
traits which give dramatic interest to public characters of less quiet
pursuits. Mr. Sparks was not an exception to this rule. His life is in
his works; for, as long as he could work _well_ he was a worker for his

The few and simple facts I have told of this gentle student's struggles
and success, show that his labors were mostly in the field of History.
But, the field of History is large and sub-divided. It comprehends
Annals, Chronicles, Memoirs, Biography; and these--the essence of the
past--become the elements from which an artist endowed with disciplined
judgment and combining imagination, shapes the master-pieces which are
properly called by the generic name, History.

It has been usual to associate the name of Mr. Sparks with those of
Bancroft, Prescott, Motley, and Irving; yet, the qualities of these
writers, as well as the tasks they set themselves, seem to me quite
different from those of our late associate.

If History may be properly defined, as I think it should be--a
narrative of national life, claiming the utmost comprehension of fact,
date, description, biography, annals, and chronicle, woven together
with brilliant analysis and wholesome philosophy,--I hope I may not be
considered unjust in the opinion that, as yet, our country has but one
writer who will be classed with Hume and Gibbon. This is certainly no
disparagement of others, for it is, probably, the result of extent of
aim rather than of quality or power. No American, of acknowledged
superiority, has yet equalled George Bancroft in the breadth of his
theme, the extent of time and place covered, the variety of character,
circumstance, and nationality concerned, the corresponding research,
the sparkling story, and the philosophic analysis of his National

Prescott, the prince of scholars and gentlemen, matchless in the
department he chose, was rather a biographer than a historian. He
selected stirring epochs and their prominent men, the pivots of certain
times, upon whom the affairs of two worlds turned at critical
periods,--the great warders who stood at the portals of America and
Europe in the sixteenth century. Thus, Ferdinand and Isabella, Cortez,
Pizarro, Charles V., and Philip II., wonderfully as they revive in the
books of Prescott, exquisite in accuracy, harmonious style, and
enamelled finish, are but beautiful cabinet-pictures of the princes and
heroes of the age. The Life of a Nation requires a taller and wider
canvas, a bolder and broader brush. And, so it is with the historical
labors of Irving and Motley, though the latter has closely approached
the true grandeur of History in his narrative of the Rise of the Dutch
Republic. Yet, it must ever remain as the highest praise of our late
colleague, that, in the field of national _biographies_, national in
all their elements, he stands beside the masters on the platform of
acknowledged success. He was the real pioneer in the unexplored
wilderness of our historical literature. "Indeed," says one familiar
with his works, "it requires considerable knowledge on the part of a
reader, _a knowledge of the state of things, of the obstacles and
perplexities, in the way of effort, and of the hard conditions of
success, at the time when Mr. Sparks gave himself to his large and
costly enterprise_, in order that his eminent devotion and success may
be, even in degree, appreciated." But he brought together the dispersed
fragments of colonial and revolutionary days, and made the writing of
history untroublesome for authors who, in "slippered ease" and
comfortable libraries, availed themselves of his labor, and
patronizingly patted him on the head. These are the silk-worms of
literature, whose glory is spun from the digested leaves of other men's
culture. It was his habit, when allusions were made to such
appropriations, to find sufficient reward in his own diligence, and to
comfort himself for this "way of the world" by a patient shrug and a
pinch of snuff.[3] Irving, in his advanced life, could never have
written his Washington, had not Sparks organized his twelve volumes of
materials, and analysed them in the biography. That work must be
_studied_, in order to be appreciated in relation to Mr. Sparks's
literary merit: it is a mine of editorial tact and industry, displaying
the mathematical spirit of the author in its method and organization,
in its lucid statements, and in his sagacious perception of the value
of what was retained and the worthlessness of what was rejected, so
that Washington is self-shown to the hereafter by what he thought, and
wrote, and did. The commendation bestowed on Mr. Sparks, in the
masterly eulogium of Mr. Haven before the American Antiquarian Society,
may be taken as a wise and exact definition of his labors in the field
of History: "Not that Mr. Sparks," said he, "limited himself to the
preparation and preservation of history _in bulk_; for he was equally
able in narrative, in criticism, and in controversy,--he was an
essayist as well as a compiler; but the last was his _forte_, his
peculiar field of usefulness and eminence, where, it may be said, he
reigns supreme."

This estimate of Mr. Sparks by his friend does not classify him with
the annalist and chronicler who build up a fleshless skeleton of facts
and dates. Nothing could be less just to the subject or the
commentator. Imagination was not a predominant quality of Mr. Sparks's
mind. Its cool precision so curbed the exercise of the ideal faculty
that it was unjustly subdued if not absolutely stifled; and thus we do
not always discern in him that creative power, so rarely found combined
with sagacity in gathering and marshalling details, which, while it
apprehends the true relation of men and circumstances, masses the
historic groups with picturesque effect, delineates character with
intuitive insight, gives soul to the moving drama of national life, and
vividly _realizes_ the scenes and personages of the past. But, if he
was not so brilliant in description as others, or in the majestic and
harmonious march of his story, or in keen scrutiny of character, he
unquestionably excelled in ample, direct, and truthful statement, so
that his narrative was not only transparent in the fulness of detail,
but the detail itself disclosed its philosophic lesson. No man can
charge him with hasty or capricious censure. He was always the careful
protector of human reputation, dealing with the unresisting and
undefending dead as their advocate as well as righteous judge;
reluctant to condemn by argument or inference, and never unless the
proved facts were irresistible. He studiously discarded all that might
either attract or detract by fancy or elaborate discussion; in a word,
he shunned ambitious rhetoric, so perilous to solid judgments, and so
often giving false color to historical portraits, for he knew the risk
of losing the reliable in the brilliant. In his style, he was an
artless artist, if there is truth in Thackeray's observation, that the
"true artist makes you think of a great deal more than the objects
before you." His extreme calmness may have, sometimes, made him cold;
yet, by conforming himself to plain forms of language, he always aimed
to convey the absolute truth, which he regarded as the coveted prize of
history. For history, to his mind, was a serious thing, not a
melodramatic tale, and he wrote it as he would have delivered testimony
in the presence of God. His desire was that the fact and not the form
should fascinate and teach; because the fact was permanent and
independent, the form flexible and voluntary. No one knew better or
more dreaded the risk of biasing opinion by over or under-statements
concerning the conspicuous persons of whom he wrote. If his theme was
not so large as Mr. Bancroft's, he still felt that both addressed the
American nation in words that were to last, concerning the founders of
our political system and the Chief who presided at the foundation. What
he recorded was to form the opinions of posterity, and thus, not merely
to influence but virtually to become a principle of action for his
countrymen in relation to the great things that concern patriots.
Enthusiastic, yet, never excited; patient, and devoid of partizanship;
he had the rare faculty of writing so fairly of men of a near period
that his books were satisfactory to every one, save Lord Mahon. He
never wrote a sentence that was not in the interest of his whole
country. He was so calmly judicial in temper, that he found it easy to
convert himself into what Madame de Stael so happily called
"contemporaneous posterity."

His life demonstrates that cultivated talents, independent
self-respect, and industry in intellectual pursuits, not only secure
reputation but fortune. It is a plea for wholesome literature in our
land. Literature, though never a speculation in his hands, was, as he
conducted it, a successful enterprise. His career was charmingly
rounded by honor, prosperity, and the love of mankind. In all respects
it was a requited life. Be it said, with reverence, that, considering
the difference of their fields, there is a singular concord between the
virtues and common sense of Washington and Sparks, and hence the
sympathetic veneration of the Author for the Hero. If I attempted to
characterize him briefly, I might say that he attained all the ends of
an ambitious life without being, at any time, ambitious. He was
certainly not devoid of a love of approbation, but it was not the
selfish end for which he wrought; for, with him, approbation bestowed
was only a recognition of the fact that his endeavor to be a good and
useful man had been successful.


[Illustration: THE END]


[Footnote 1: He good-humoredly described himself as "dependent on his
wits and daily exertions for a living; and this, too, with small
abilities for making, and still less for keeping, _money_."]

[Footnote 2: The Rev. James Freeman Clark relates a characteristic
anecdote of Dr. Sparks's demeanor to the Harvard scholars, which is
worthy of repetition: One of the pupils, as he left the
recitation-room, made a noise derisive of a tutor. The tutor stated the
fact to the faculty, with the names of several, who, if not guilty,
might know the real offender. They were summoned before the faculty,
and President Sparks was desired to ask them, one by one, "if they made
the noise, or, knew who made it?" Dr. Sparks had previously said to the
faculty that they could not expect to get the information thus, or
suppose the boys would inform on their fellows; the invitation to
falsehood was too great. When they came before him, Dr. S. addressed
them to the following effect: "I have been requested by the faculty to
ask you if you made, or, know who made, the disturbance at the close of
your recitation. I state to you their request; but, if you know who
made the noise, I do not intend to ask you to tell." The answers were
various; till, at length, one said: "I did it. I know I ought not to
have done it, and am sorry. I hardly know why I did it; yes, I should
say it was because I did not like the tutor, who, I thought, had not
used me fairly in some of my recitations." Having told the truth, and
acknowledged his fault, Dr. Sparks thought the youth should be
commended instead of punished; but the tutors outvoted the others, and
he was suspended. The President, however, wrote a note to his father,
saying he considered it no dishonor, as young men did not often have
such opportunities to show themselves frank and noble. (_Memoir of
Sparks_, _Hist. Mag._, vol. x., p. 153.)]

[Footnote 3: No candid student in lauding Mr. Sparks, should fail to
acknowledge our debt of gratitude to Peter Force, for his vast and
successful labors in recovering and rendering accessible the large
stores of materials for American history and biography contained in the
"American Archives."]

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Memoir of Jared Sparks, LL.D." ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.