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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 22


At an early hour of the morning, the usually quiet town of
Malden presented a scene of interesting excitement. Carriages
and foot-passengers lined the highways, all moving
towards one common centre. It was “Commencement

The citizens generally suspended business, that they
might do honor to the celebration. Among the throng
appeared grave and reverend gentlemen, who displayed a
singular knowledge of the streets and college buildings,
but were strangers to the citizens—these were “the boys of
former years:” their greetings with each other were cordial,
and sometimes of painful interest; then there were a
younger and more vigorous race, who had still many associations
not destroyed by time, who still knew all the old
shopkeepers, and many of the permanent residents of Malden:
these were members of classes of quite recent times.
Then there were juveniles, who had just entered upon
their collegiate course, full of hope and full of fear, victims
of many practical jokes, but merry withal.


Page 23

Then came the “boys in college,” assuming airs from
their superiority of knowing what was going on,—when
came off the speeches,—who were to make them,—and
what “societies” would gain the most distinguished
honors. Then there was the “graduating class,”—its
members generally happy, and over dressed, running to
and fro, as connected with all sorts of incomprehensible
committees; hunting up stray musicians, spurring on indolent
landlords and heavy carpenters, and fretting and
fuming generally, as they should, on such important occasions.

Prominent in the scene were the professors of the college,
arrayed in a suit that never made its appearance
but once in a year,—looking ineffably pleased, and seemingly
as awkward and embarrassed in the confusion as the
just initiated freshmen themselves; laborious, and generally
conscientious men, but who seem to feel it is no stretch
of truth to tell a thousand anxious parents, that “their
boys” are the best in school, and the only ones “that give
no trouble;” they looking the while careworn, and feeling
their souls sunken into despondency, by the undutiful
goings on of these very objects of so much maternal solicitude
and professorial compliment.

Lastly, there is the “old Prex,” with his gray hair,
and frosty face, moving about like a father among his
children, relaxed from his usual dignity, for his heart is
really pained that he is soon to bid adieu to many that he
loves, however severe he may have seemed. Good and
generous old man! he moves across the college-green,—
the promiscuous groups drop their conversation,—the banners


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wave,—the music splits the ear with discordant
sounds,—and the procession forms and winds its way to
the church, where the orations are to be delivered, and the
degrees conferred.

The gay throng passes by, and what a glorious sight!
They go not armed with the musket and sword, but with
the vivifying power of knowledge: there are before you
veterans in the cause of learning, as well as the just enlisted

We kept with them our joyous step, and remember well
the thrill of pleasure that filled our heart, as we performed
our part in the peaceful pageantry; we have since helped
make out the heavy tread of desolating soldiery; we have
shouted, as we have aided in carrying our country's flag
upon the battlements of our nation's foes; we have witnessed
the fearful cost of such a triumph, and heard the
loud acclaim of a nation's admiration;—yet, for all this, the
sunshiny bands that issue annually from our collegiate
halls, and under the ægis of peace, pursue their useful
triumphs, do more for the real glory of their country than
all the more showy, and more attractive sons of war.

How gay the old church looks! The altar is hidden
by the well carpeted stage; the galleries are crowded
with bright faces of beauty, and every where are to be
seen the fond parents and the doting sisters, of those who
have allotted parts in the exercises of the day. Long it
seems they have waited, but anon the distant music is heard,
and the whisper goes through the expectant assemblage that
“they come;” presently, the faculty, the trustees, the
graduates, the students, each in turn, make their appearance,


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and the body of the vast building is completely
filled. The band strikes up an enlivening air; the strains
die away, when some appointed patriarch rises from his
seat, and in solemn tones, offers up a prayer of thanksgiving
to the common Father of all.

The student must, in his career through the world, act
in more exciting scenes; he may himself, in time, preside
over these very same ceremonies, or as a learned judge, or
powerful statesman, become involved in acts, the solemnities
of which are connected with more important relations,
but he will remember more vividly than all else besides,
the opening of his Commencement Day celebration; it is
the first step he takes upon the road of life, where to turn
back is impossible, while yet the future is all uncertainty.

Reynolds Calhoun and Graham Mildmay were evidently
not only the popular orators with the students, but with
the people. The first named had selected for his theme
“The defence of the South;” the last mentioned, “The
importance of a liberal education to the American student.”

It had been whispered about, that both these young
men had, under different names, travelled over almost the
very same ground, and a deep anxiety was manifested, to
hear what was presumed would be the bold and brilliant
philippic of Calhoun, and the calm and close reasoning of the
deep, but more reflective Mildmay; it may be judged therefore,
what was the disappointment of all, when the President
announced that,

“Reynolds Calhoun was excused.”

“As I feared,” whispered Mildmay to Adolph Marigny;


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“what a shame—the noblest sentiments, the most
profound statesmanship, and the happiest diction, characterized
his theme. Calhoun wrought it out under the heat
inspired by some unjust and bitter anti-southern remarks he
heard in the street, but the excitement gone, he has not
had energy enough left to repeat it here, where alone it
could be useful, and where alone he could make himself
felt in defence.”

The degrees were conferred, the pleasant excitement
ceased, and Graham Mildmay stood before the audience.
As valedictorian, he had stamped upon himself, without
creating envy or rivals, the claim of superior scholarship
over all the members of his class—this was no small honor
—but he was, as we have already hinted, a favorite with
the people of the town, his early history was known, and
it was more than usually interesting. From circumstances
peculiar to himself, he had mingled more in society than
any of the other students, and the fact that he was so soon
by separation, to be almost entirely lost to his early friends,
gave unusual interest to his appearance.

Annie Hastings occupied a seat that commanded a perfect
view of the stage, but was out of sight herself. As
the tall form of Mildmay rose before her, she felt confounded
with herself, upon perceiving that her face burned
and her heart audibly beat.

“It must be the warmth of the room,” thought she,
while endeavoring to catch more air from her waving fan,
for she continued, “I was never more oppressed in my

Mildmay, in his address, rapidly and clearly surveyed


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what he conceived to be the popular prejudices of the people
of the North against the South, and her peculiar institutions.
He showed how slavery had been entailed upon
the States by no choice of those whom Providence had selected
to bear its responsibilities, and expatiated upon its
patriarchal, and to the dependent, protective character.

He then treated of its moral influence upon society,
denied that it weakened a love of liberty in the master,
and illustrated his position by showing, that the leader
of our revolution, and a galaxy of the highest names of
that interesting period of our national history, were of the

He next dwelt upon the necessity of encouraging a paternal
regard for the whole country, of taking liberal and
enlightened views of all questions which treated of the diversified
interests which came under the notice of the
American citizen, and congratulated himself upon the fact,
that although his home and his worldly interests were in the
distant South, he had, by the accident of his education,
learned to love and understand the people of the North.

Addressing particularly the students of the college, he

“Your leading and pervading thought should be, a
contemplation of the stupendous country of which you are
soon to be active citizens. If you find your sentiments
cramped by sectionality, contemplate its vastness; if you
lack enthusiasm, regard its glorious destiny.

“Remember that the fierce winds which revel about the
great lakes, and in winter sweep down the Aroostook, are
tempered in their southward course by the balmy airs of


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the Mexican Gulf, and the heats of the Rio Grande. We
hear the dashing surge of the wild Atlantic, as it beats
against our rock-bound coast on the east, and while we listen,
it is answered back in milder accents by the Pacific's wave
in the west.

“But,” he continued, “our physical strenth, vast as
it is, extending over almost a continent, is surpassed in
interest and real importance by our moral culture. The
little school-house that nestles in the corner of the road,
contains a hidden strength, which far surpasses in power
the wealth of our soil, or the mere geographical extent of
our empire.

“Education, the parent of liberty,—whose influence
withers kings, and consumes as with fire the power of the
oppressor, finds a place among us, whether it be in the cottage
of the poor man, or the proud mansion of the rich.

“We walk forth in the ennobling consciousness of
sovereign power. We feel individually responsible for
the administration of our Government; its emoluments, its
honors, its glory, and its future, are in our individual keeping.
If we strive to perfectly perform our task, we will
leave as a heritage our own republican institutions.”

Having concluded his literary exercise, amidst the
wildest plaudits of a delighted auditory, he addressed severally
the “Senate,”—the “Professors,”—then turning to
the venerable President, who was already dissolved in tears
of heartfelt admiration, he continued, “My father! to you
I owe an ever to be unpaid debt of gratitude. Your kind
hand has led me in safety through every seductive path of
youth, and your patience and example have inspired me


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with the necessity of wisdom, and the value of self-respect.
I leave you, sir, with the hope that I shall carry to my distant
and future home, such a well-founded determination to
honor your memory, that I shall in time, like yourself command
the respect of my fellow-citizens, and have it accorded
to me, that I am not wholly useless in my day and

“To you, my classmates, what can I say? Farewell,
is the most expressive word—but yet how feeble,
and how truly inadequate, to convey the feelings of my
heart. Remember, as you struggle for fame, the associations
of to-day, and always feel, that we are a family of
brothers, scattered by necessity, not from choice—we have
already the responsibilities of American citizens resting
upon us, and if we fulfil them well, the most exalted dignity
is ours. Again I say, farewell!”

Upon the breaking up of the vast assembly, Mildmay
was surrounded by innumerable well wishers, who shook
him by the hand, congratulated him upon his address, and
expressed admiration of his personal and intellectual qualities.

For all these attentions he returned his thanks, with a
manner so charming and so sincere, that he captivated all,
as the most promising student that ever left the protection
of the old college; and while the young and enthusiastic
saw the future hero in Mildmay, the old and reflective
marked out for him a life of exalted usefulness, that was
one day, by its perfection, to make his name familiar with
the great and important interests of the world.