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Michigan Daily Appreciation

James Burrill Angell
The Michigan Alumnus 334

Although the sad event had been anticipated, the bare announcement of
President Angell's death must prove of peculiar significance to every
educated American, poignantly significant to Michigan alumni the world
over. A chasm yawns between the present and the past of our education and
of our University; an entire order of associations departs.

The commanding figure of President Eliot is still spared to us, indeed. But,
even so, the children of all American state universities will feel that they
have lost their most venerable and venerated chief. It is the end of a
complete life, rarely ordered, dignified yet touched with the veritable savor
of democracy, simple albeit stately - an embodiment of the sterling qualities
native to old New England. And, for the thousands who owe allegiance to
the great institution at Ann Arbor - Dr. Angell's monument - something has
gone from the order of the universe, never to be replaced.

With them the 1st of April 1916, will always remain a day of sorrowful but
elevating memories. Moreover, the loss cannot fail to remind us that the
generation of men, who made the political and educational history of the
United States illustrious from 1860 till the close of the nineteenth century, is
nigh blotted out.

Only those who are in middle life and, even more, those farther advanced in
years, are able to recall Dr. Angell in his prime. For the patriarchal period of
sixty-three years, he held a high place in the academic and diplomatic annals
of the country. General Grant, the dominant force of the Civil War, was but
seven years senior to him; President Garfield, dead these thirty-five years,
was his junior, like General Gordon, a friend in Chinese days, the martyr of
Khartum, who belongs to the distant past the undergraduate reckons it now;
John Hay was his pupil; Mark Twain, W. D. Howells, Bret Harte and, Henry
James were babies when he was a boy; George Meredith, D. G. Rossetti,
Anton Rubenstein, Ibsen, Taine and Kekule, among other Europeans of
distinction, were born within a few months of him. In short, he represents
the group whose achievements rendered the last century of profound
historical significance. To stand in the ranks of these leaders, as Dr. Angell
did, is no light matter; they were an extraordinary band, whose peers our
unstable age cannot breed.

The ampler sweep of his public career began when, at the age of thirty-one,
he assumed the editorship of the Providence Journal, one of several
newspapers which exerted decisive influence over political opinion during
the course of the Civil War. At thirty-seven, he passed from the editorial to
the presidential chair, in the University of Vermont. In 1869, he was called
to the presidency of the University of Michigan, but felt it his duty to
decline. "In 1871," he tells us, "the invitation to Michigan was renewed with
much earnestness. I had some hesitation about undertaking so, large a
responsibility. After careful consideration I decided to accept."

On June 28, 1871, he was inaugurated, and came into residence at Ann
Arbor in September. From this time till his resignation, a period of thirtyeight
years, he devoted himself to strengthening the ties that bound the State
to the University. His principles were simple, and practical in the highest
degree. "In considering the relation of the University to the State, I have
always had two great ends in view. First: I have endeavored to induce every
citizen to regard himself as a stockholder in the institution, who had a real
interest in helping make it of the greatest service to his children and those of
his neighbors. Secondly: I have sought to make all the schools and teachers
in the State understand that they and the University are parts of one united
system and that therefore the young pupil in the most secluded school-house
in the State should be encouraged to see that the path was open from his
home up to and through the University."

Nothing sensational occurred, there was no advertising, no "playing to the
gallery." But slowly, and therefore, all the more surely, the State grew
conscious of its University. It came to cherish the relationship, thanks
mainly to the unlimited trust reposed in the President. Thus, little by little,
despite miscalculations always incident to human affairs, and
discouragements always incident to human combinations, the unconquerable
faith in human nature, and the unfailing optimism of the man were
instrumental in building one of the chief institutions in the English-speaking
world amid the unpromising environment of a rural village in southeastern
Michigan. It is an enthralling story; romantic, if you will. The remarkable
issues are patent to all now; but the difficulties of the day of small things
very few are in any position to realize.

The achievement was the life work of a distinctive personality, great in
qualities that wear rather than scintillate. Large experience of affairs,
unfailing good humor, reserve force always under control, ability to abide
consequences till they began to declare themselves and confidence in the
ultimate good sense of the constituency, - a confidence reciprocated by
them, - were the potent factors in this notable service.

A certain sweet reasonableness governed Dr. Angell in his relations with
all. He permitted problems to evolve solutions Gordian knots were loosened,
never cut. The tale of it came to be noised abroad, and the Federal
Government, sensing the measure of the man, enlisted him on no less than
four important missions. New opportunities to acquire knowledge of the
world thus presented themselves.

The personality expanded insensibly and, ripened by contact with
international questions, became more and more formative in academic
leadership. Without and within the University, people recognized that a large
and complete manhood was guiding complex destinies, tempering steady
expansion with wise caution. No undue demands were thrust upon the State,
the safety of sagacity received notable illustration. Thus, unlike some of its
neighbors, the University was not vexed by needless interference from
without; its natural growth proceeded with sober regularity, nay, with a
species of inevitableness. So, thanks to Dr. Angell, a large part of the unique
spirit of Michigan, acknowledged, as it is, alike by the sister state
universities and by the "private" foundations of the East, was brought to
influential birth.

What was his secret? Not intellectual adroitness, with its restless
experimenting; not "energy," with its bane of "new" departures;
emphatically not ambition, with its itch for "results" and conspicuousness.
Rather it reposed in a character that served as a sounding board for moral
acoustics; hence the power to let the right men alone, never harrying them in
their work; hence the judgment that set the insignificant in its place and let it
take its own meaningless course.

Dr. Angell knew that the human mind can face actual issues, even if they be
hostile; but he also knew that, to provoke this courage, the issue must be real
and definite; and he permitted it to shape itself ere he met it. He could use
prompt decision when necessary; but he had learned, what so few ever learn,
that quick or drastic decisions are proper in exceptional cases only; while for
the rest, he was well aware that even sorry blunderers may be counted upon
to correct themselves under kindly persuasion.

The charm of his public speech was an index of the man here. It bespoke his
temperament. His tranquil, unaltered humanity was the clew too much that
others did not fathom or even misinterpreted. For, his ripe wisdom lent him
insight to see that great results come very gradually, and thanks only to the
co-operation of many whose gifts, as is inevitable, are most various. He
could abide the defects of qualities with marvelous forbearance. His charm
of address was thus indicative of that rarest of all faculties in an executive,
the power to wait on "glances that stand agreed." By this, principally, he
won to his unique place. Now that he is gone, many of us must think of him
as of one who sowed the harvest we shall reap--and was content to have

Keenly as we must feel the absence of his accustomed gracious presence, we
cannot grieve as for a career cut short in its prime, with promise half
fulfilled. Nay, remembering his mature performance, which so evades our
feeble words, we would rather say, with Madame de Stael, "When a noble
life has prepared old age, it is not the decline that it reveals, but the first days
of immortality."