Thursday, October 05, 2006

From the writings of "W. B. G."

I'm updating my bibliographies for William B. Greene. The last time I did a major update, there were lots of question marks. Now, there are fewer questions about the major, book- and article-length works, but a whole lot of new questions about letters to periodicals, sermons and such. That's progress. The contributions to radical papers, including some fairly important interventions in debates in The Word and The Index, have only really be mentioned in the literature of anarchism. The contributions to religious periodicals have been unknown or ignored. I think I've now tracked down at least most of the material in The Word and The Index, and have started to collect the theological contributions. Some of this work is complicated by the fact that 19th century periodicals, authors are frequently only identified by initials. We know that one of Greene's earliest publications, "First Principles, was published in The Dial as by "W. B. G." In 1847, in Boston's Christian Register, a "W. B. G." debated "Church," a correspondent of the Christian Recorder, on the question of "a personal trinity." This is almost certainly Greene, as the articles demonstrate both his style and his preoccupations of the time. Greene published The Doctrine of the Trinity :Briefly and Impartially Examined in the Light of History and Philosophy in 1847. A couple of other pieces signed with the same initials are obviously not Greene, since they come from different parts of the country. But in 1857, and then again in 1860, a "W. B. G." wrote to the Massachusetts Teacher and Journal of Home and School Education. These may in fact, as I mentioned months ago when I found them, be the work of William Batchelder Greene.

In the period from roughly 1853 to 1861, Greene was in Europe. Some accounts have reported that Greene left for France in 1851, but he was in Massachusetts in April, 1852, when he delivered funds (and a short address) from the people of Brookfield to Kossuth. His son William Batchelder Greene, Jr., had been born in 1851, and the Greenes had lost two children in infancy while living in Brookfield, so there are probably good reasons to believe that they would have been hesitant to make the voyage to Europe much earlier anyway. We know that Greene returned in 1861, to assume command of the 14th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. We have some evidence that the Greenes travelled, that they entertained friends and family from New England, and that they may have lived briefly in Italy. We know that Greene only published two books in the period 1851-1861. The Radical Deficiency of the Existing Circulating Medium was published in in Boston 1857, in response to the financial panic of that year. An Expository Sketch of a New Theory of the Calculus, the first of three works Green wrote on the calculus, was published in Paris in 1859.

The first of the essays in question, "Influence," appeared in 1857. Greene came home to Boston in 1857. We know this because he attended public functions during his stay. Would he have been writing for the educational papers? There are reports that he worked as a teacher and tutor at various stages in his life. He is supposed to have worked with Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and Charles Kraitsir at Kraitsir's school, perhaps even taking over its administration for a time, although the details and dates are still unclear. In November, 1848, Dr. J. Allen Penniman was ordained as an evangelist, and the religious papers reported that he had "studied with Rev. W. B. Greene of Brookfield." While in France, we wrote math textbooks. The evidence is all circumstantial and fragmentary at this point, but it certainly is possible that Greene might have written for the educational journals during the European stay. That said, let me present the first of those articles. Readers of Greene's other work can decide if this seems to come from the same mind and pen.

IT is a law of physics, that two bodies cannot occupy the same place at the same time. If motion is produced in a body, it is communicated to the one adjacent. If a single particle of a body is disturbed, the influence is felt by the one next to it, and so on till the whole body is moved.

Were the waters of the mighty deep in a state of perfect rest, the motion produced in a single drop, by the coral insect secreting a minute particle of solid matter, would be felt throughout the whole mass. A pebble cast into the quiet bosom of the lake, producing those circling waves that go chasing each other, enlarging as they go, moves every atom of the vast body, from centre to circumference. One stamp of the foot shakes the earth to its very centre. A word uttered, sets in motion particles of air, the effects of which will continue to the very extremities of the atmosphere; and for aught we know, the sound will continuo through illimitable space, and words spoken, will ring in our ears forever.

This law, so universal in the material world, has its analogy in the realm of thought. A single idea induces another, and the mind is thrown upon a train of thought that will determine its destiny forever.

A single truth, happily conceived by the mind, often develops itself in the wonderful productions of the artist and sculptor, the works of the author; and the labors of the statesman.

Raphael and Angelo, Newton, Shakspeare, and Milton, Locke and Washington, exerted an influence that ceased not with their lives. But as long as there remains in man a taste for the beautiful, a capacity to comprehend the operations of the laws of nature, to appreciate the value of literature of the highest order, poetic imagery the most sublime, a realization of the benefits of a liberal and republican form of government,—so long will these great masters exert a powerful influence in the world.

There is going forth from every sentient being, an influence, insensible it may be, yet constant, and with almost unlimited effect. The mother, as she watches the expanding mind of her offspring, and gives direction to its wanderings, is exerting an influence that may affect the destinies of nations, perhaps of the world. Little did the mother of Napoleon think that she was training a mind that it would require the combined forces of all Europe to subdue, and which, even when chained upon a dreary rock in the ocean, would astonish the world by the meteor flashes of his genius How little did the mother of Washington think that she was instilling into his mind, principles that would make him the instrument of establishing a government that would rise to be one of the first on earth.

The early training of Luther and Melancthon prepared them to grapple with the errors of the church, to break its almost unlimited power, and deliver the earth from spiritual bondage.

The teacher, whether of science, morals, or religion, is exerting an untold influence. The mind comes under his care in that plastic state that makes it susceptible of being moulded into almost any form, and turned in almost any direction. "As the twig is bent, the tree is inclined." So the mind takes the direction given by its teachers in youth; and in its maturity, can no more be changed, than can the gnarled trunk of the full-grown oak be straightened. Says another, "You may build temples of marble, and they will perish. You may erect statues of brass, and they will crumble to dust. But he who works upon the human mind, implanting noble thoughts and generous impulses, is rearing structures that shall never perish. He is writing upon tablets whose material is indestructible; which age will not efface, but will brighten and brighten to all eternity."

How responsible, then, is the position of the parent and teacher,—and yet how glorious!

When called to give our final account at the bar of our Great Judge, it is there and then we shall know the effect of our influence. And upon the minds of those under our influence we shall trace the imprint, as it wore, of our hand, which shall not be effaced, but shall enlarge and deepen to all eternity.
W. B. G.
[Massachusetts Teacher and Journal of Home and School Education; Jan 1857, X, p. 14.]

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