Volume XXI · Number 3 · Spring 1966
A Memorial Service for Professor John Rothwell Slater
This issue of the Library Bulletin consists of a copy of the program for the memorial service for the late Dr. John Rothwell Slater, Professor Emeritus of English, and the text of the addresses that were given at that service. It is most appropriate that this tribute is being published in the Library Bulletin, for Dr. Slater was closely associated with the library throughout his distinguished career at the University of Rochester. When he began his teaching at the University in 1905 he was imrnediately made a member of the Library Committee. He continued to serve on that Committee for thirty-five years, acting as Vice-Chairman for many years. During all this time he helped to build the collections of the library in many fields and was a wise councillor on all aspects of the library's growth and service. Upon the death of the librarian, Donald Bean Gilchrist, in August, 1939, he was made Acting Librarian, a post which he held until April, 1940.
The library is also greatly indebted to Dr. Slater for the beautifully worded inscriptions which he composed for the entrance to Rush Rhees Library. These moving statements have been an inspiration to many generations of Rochester students. One of these inscriptions, from the library doors, appears on the cover of this Bulletin.
Upon the completion of Rush Rhees Library and the installation of the Hopeman Chime in 1930, Dr. Slater became the University Bellman. For many years he frequently made the trip to the top of the library tower in order to ring the bells, expressing in the music which he had transcribed for the bells what he expressed with equal beauty and clarity in his writings and his lectures.
The Editors are pleased to dedicate this issue of the Bulletin to the memory of John Rothwell Slater, who did so much to strengthen, improve, and beautify the library.
A Memorial Service for Professor John Rothwell Slater
March 14, 1872 - June 22, 1965
at Strong Auditorium
On the River Campus of the University
Sunday, March 13, 1966 at three o'clock
THE UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER
The Invocation: Peter Holdorf, Assistant University Chaplain
The University: W. Allen Wallis, President of the University
The Community: Clifford E. Carpenter, Editor, the Democrat and Chronicle
The Faculty: George H. Ford, Professor of English
Trumpets on the Tower (An Easter Reveille)
Poem by John R. Slater: Thomas Canning
First trumpet: Souls in the East, awake.
Make ready to meet the dawn.
The sun of God is rising,
The bridegroom from his chamber,
Rejoicing as a strong man
To run his race.
He is risen.
Second trumpet: Souls in the North, awake.
Souls of the dead, remember
He goeth before you into Galilee.
Is He here? Is He there?
He is everywhere.
Third trumpet: Souls in the South, awake.
Winter is dead, spring lives.
Purple and gold the crocus comes.
The beauty of the world returns—
He is risen.
Fourth trumpet: Souls in the West, awake.
Souls of the years to come,
Christ guide you on your way
Into this world, and out again.
He knows the way to come and go—
Comes with a star, goes with a cross,
And comes again with a triumph.
He is risen.
All four trumpets: Awake, all souls that sleep.
Across the year but once or twice
Can men hear angels calling.
Heed the first trumpet, nor await the last.
The resurrection moment soon is past.
Life calls again, to all that would be living.
HE IS RISEN
The Alumni: Richard L. Greene, '26, Professor of English, Wesleyan University
Commencement Hymn: John R. Slater (1907)
O Mater academica Rocestriensis, te
Q uae nobis tanta munera dedisti libere
Nunc salutamus, agimus nos tibi gratias,
Et semper te laudabimus cui nomen Veritas.
O Mater, quam cognovimus per laeta tempora,
Quae demonstrasti omnibus laboris gaudia,
Quae "Meliora" indicas, excelsa praemia,
Ad caelum omnes incitas, tu Mater splendida!
O Mater ave, salve, tu, vale, carissima!
Nos juvat jam in exitu dulcis memoria.
Per vias duc nos asperas semper ad optima;
Mercedes da perpetuas, bona caelestia!
The Benediction : Reverend Lee J. Beynon, Jr., First Baptist Church of Rochester
Organist: Raymond Egan
Before and after the service the Hopeman Chime will be rung: Christopher Morgan, University Bellman
The last public event in Dr. John Slater's life was his attending the Easter Service at the University Protestant Chapel. On that occasion, an Easter poem that Dr. Slater had written some years before was sung by the Chapel Choir to music composed by Thomas Canning, formerly of the Eastman School of Music. There had been some concern that Dr. Slater might have difficulty in accepting music in a very modern idiom as an appropriate medium for his poem. The fact that that did not turn out to be the case was itself a tribute to Dr. Slater's mind, which always looked forward and never retreated into the past.
—Ward Woodbury, Director of Music
By faith Abraham was called to a foreign land to receive his inheritance. By faith Moses led his people into The Promised Land. By faith Paul was called to preach the good news. As men of our rich traditions have been called, so we have been called in this hour to honor the memory of a man who was so much a part of our University. Grant, O God, that this service might rekindle within us his spirit.
--W. ALLEN WALLIS
We are gathered to pay tribute to a man who for six decades was one of the towering figures in the life of this University, John Rothwell Slater. Our speakers include distinguished representatives of the thousands of men and women whose lives he influenced—as teacher, as colleague, as fellow-citizen.
Mr. Slater came to the University of Rochester in 1905 as Assistant Professor of English. Three years later he became Professor and Chairman of the Department of English. He held that post until he retired in 1942.
"Retired" hardly describes Professor Slater's life after 1942. Like all good scholars, he kept on learningthroughout his lifetime; and he continues to pass on to others the things he learned and the wisdom he acquired.
Two years ago this spring, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of literature by the University of Rochester. The citation that accompanied that degree noted that, "His intellect reached forth beyond the realm of literature, seeking fulfillment in the disciplines of philosophy and divinity, of science and music."
Underlying his teaching and his scholarship, shining through the songs he wrote and the inscriptions he fashioned, was a rare and gifted spirit—the spirit of a man whose entire being was caught up in the pursuit of wisdom and of truth, wherever they might be found, wherever they might lead.
For me, personally, the most impressive motif in the infinite variety of Mr. Slater's intellect was continuity: continuity from a meticulously precise specification of a single point in time and space, to physical laws of universal applicability, as in his design of the Eastman Monument, which, he once said,". . . joins solid state physics with the secrets of the stars and the mysteries of the mind," continuity from the first intellectual, esthetic, and moral awakenings of an immature student to the grandest conceptions of humanity, as in his moving and beautiful inscriptions for the entrance to the Library.
In the words of Joseph Conrad, "He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation—and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity—the dead to the living and the living to the unborn." [Joseph Conrad in the Preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus]
John Rothwell Slater is, indeed, one of this University's immortals. To him we may apply the quotation from Thomas Browne that he himself applied to George Eastman: "There is in wise men a power beyond the stars."
Mr. Clifford Carpenter, editor of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, was to be with us, but is ill. In his place, Mr. Calvin Mayne, associate editor of the Rochester Times-Union, will speak now on behalf of the community.
When Cliff Carpenter, editor of the Democrat and Chronicle, was asked to express the community's tribute to John R. Slater, he accepted happily, for he loved the man and cherished his memory. Unfortunately, a bit of cardiac trouble—more vexing than debilitating—has slowed Cliff for a short time. Dr. Arthur May then asked me to fill in for Cliff. I do so happily, but not without some trepidation.
Cliff was one of Dr. Slater's students, and knew him well for decades. I knew Dr. Slater only in his last years, and then far from intimately. Thus I have had to rely on secondary sources for most of my information about this giant of a man.
My search for information about John Rothwell Slater and what he did and thought and wrote, particularly in connection with the community beyond these academic acres, turned into an immensely rewarding experience. For I discovered the substance of the genius I had largely accepted on faith in the past. And I found, too, why it is that we in a sense honor a living John R. Slater today rather than a dead one.
Dr. Slater once quoted approvingly the comforting words of a kind and wise physician in Boris Pasternak's great novel, Dr. Zhivago, spoken to a lonely old soul who faced death with a fear of losing his identity as an individual. The physician said:
"However far back you go in your memory, it is always in some external, active manifestation of yourself that you come across your identity—in the work of your hands, in your family, in other people.
"You in others—this is your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what now? You have always been in others and you will remain in others. And what does it matter to you if later on that is called your memory? This will be you—the you that enters the future and becomes a part of it."
By that measurement of immortality, John R. Slater surely lives on among us as much as any man who ever walked in Rochester.
He lives on in those whose lives he touched, often so deeply. They are the students who learned from him the dignity and grace and precision of the English language. They are the readers of the Times-Union who shared Dr. Slater's love of books through the weekly reviews which distinguished our Saturday newspaper for more than eight years. They are the citizens and leaders who listened to his thoughts about what this community should look like and be like, and then pondered that counsel and translated at least some of it into action.
There is no monument to Dr. Slater in our community, although there should be, in the sense that mayors and contractors and architects have monuments through buildings with plaques containing their names. But Dr. Slater left us far more to remember him by in the counsel he gave to us—advice which now, in retrospect, seems so prescient.
Dr. Slater loved the old. He wrote once that he had "a morbid hunger for old books, ancient history, anything old, useless, forgotten. What nobody else wanted I adored."
Thus he loved the historic buildings and reminders of the past in Rochester, and he longed for their survival and revival. He appealed in 1960, for example, for the tarnished statue of Mercury to be placed again on the city's skyline. But he did so not as one who believed in making the community a curio shop cluttered with nearly worthless antiques, however much he might have delighted in such things in his personal attic. Rather, as he often said, he believed in the motto, "Optima tradenda"—"The best things should be handed on."
And so when he spoke of restoring Mercury, he did so in this fashion:
"For our best aerial symbol for literature and life, aside from the flag, I would choose good old Mercury. Put him back high up against the sky as he used to be, not down near the ground like a falling angel. He is a high-flier and needs altitude to keep us looking up."
John R. Slater would not have been dismayed by the Liberty Pole. He might have had his reservations about the proportions of that much debated structure in comparison with the buildings around it. But he wrote approvingly before his death about the demolition of the ugly cluster of buildings that stood on the site of Liberty Pole Green, and he surely would have admired the soaring spirit of Rochester that the architect attempted to embody in his cable-festooned pole.
Dr. Slater was deeply concerned about injustice to anyone and to any minority, and he thus was among the very first in our community to be committed against injustice in the treatment of Rochester's Negro citizens. He was a founding member of the Rochester chapter of the NAACP in 1919 and served later as its president. He always was scathingly intolerant of intolerance and prejudice and discrimination.
Most of all, John R. Slater loved beauty in Rochester, and it is only now that we are beginning to do some of the things to beautify Rochester that he so wisely advocated years ago.
When Dr. Slater received the 1960 Literary Award of the Friends of the Rochester Public Library, he wove his acceptance speech around the theme of the Genesee River which flows beside the Rundel Building. He spoke with fervent admiration of the men who explored the river and wrote of it and built beauty beside it. He said then so well some things about the river which we must always bear in mind in our community, just as the University of Rochester has borne them in mind on its lovely river campus:
"The heart of Rochester is on the Genesee River. Where it runs through the center of town we have shamefully neglected it. The water used to run mills, and still provides some electric power and light. We beautify the river in our parks, but its banks show miles of ugliness from Broad Street to Veterans Memorial Bridge.
"It has taken half a century for Rochesterians to quit just talking about this disgrace. No other city so completely ignores its best liquid asset. Now there are signs of improvement.
"Perhaps by 1970 some of those banks may be again as green as they were when white men came here to spoil the beauty of the red men's valley."
Dr. Slater's prophecy is being fulfilled.
And still speaking of the river on that night at the Library in 1960, Dr. Slater appealed for the cooperative spirit that metropolitan Rochester must apply to the disputes, often so needlessly bitter, that slow its progress and disrupt its tranquillity:
"Here tonight, meeting on the right bank of our river, we remember that the French word for a riverbank is rive. Our word 'rivals' comes from that. Rivals are people glaring at each other across a river and demanding their riparian rights. That is the way the word began. We have had enough of such rivals. What we citizens want in our homes, schools and highways is just peace and progress, especially progress.
"Here in this liberal hall of civilization, where thought is free and prejudice unpopular, let leaders meet, admitting that the right bank is sometimes wrong and the left bank partly right.
"Let them smile, and shake hands for the photographers, agree to disagree, but decide to take the next step right away. Rochester needs cooperation if it is to go on meaning quality."
This was Dr. Slater's vision for Rochester, and we should—we must— try to achieve that vision as he saw it. If we succeed, it will be mostly because of his inspiration and that of men and women like him. And thus John Rothwell Slater lives on in the Rochester community he loved, the community which we must try to serve in our time and in our way as he did so nobly and so well.
--GEORGE H. FORD
JOHN ROTHWELL SLATER (1872-1965)
Professor Emeritus of English
A minute presented to the Faculty of the College of Arts and Science. December 2, 1965
At a meeting of the College Faculty twenty-three years ago, a minute was read concerning the retirement of John Rothwell Slater, Professor of English, who had served as chairman of the Department of English for a period of thirty-four years, from 1908 to 1942. It was a desperate low point in our national fortunes during the second World War, a time when an awareness of the values of the humanities seemed almost a luxury. Yet an entire issue of the Rochester Alumni Review was devoted to honoring Dr. Slater on this occasion—with portraits of him, quotations from his essays and sermons, and tributes from students who had been inspired, during his long tenure of office at Rochester, by his skill as a teacher and his formidable range of learning. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that on the occasion of his death, on June 22, 1965, after these twenty-three years of retirement, his church funeral-service would be crowded with hundreds of men and women in honor of a ninety-three-year-old man who instead of slipping off into the easy obscurity of retirement on the Florida beaches had continued to stay in the forefront of the Rochester community, which he loved, and to continue to attract the admiration and affection of generations from whom the extraordinary gap of years might presumably have cut him off.
On the occasion of this second faculty minute a few vital statistics should be cited. John Slater was born in Vermont in 1872, completed his Bachelor of Arts at Harvard in 1894, and attended Newton Theological Institute and the University of Chicago where he earned the degrees of Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy in 1905. At the age of thirty-three he came to Rochester as Assistant Professor of English, and, three years later, in 1908, he was promoted to Professor of English and Chairman of the Department. During his thirty-three years on the University of Rochester faculty, he published a number of essays, sermons, and theological studies, and in 1946 a biography of his friend, President Rush Rhees, entitled Rhees of Rochester. His impact as a teacher of thousands of undergraduates, during this long span of time, was phenomenal. In view of our presently prevailing pedagogical fashion, in which most of us assume that a dazzingly learned lecture will profoundly affect the lives or minds of our undergraduates, the example of Dr. Slater may be a chastening corrective. After an interval most of us as students forget the dazzling lecture, but we never forget the man who painstakingly worked over our own clumsy prose and insisted that the labor involved in contriving clear and exactly-worded sentences was a labor worthy of the artist or of the scientist. This was one of John Slater's principal roles as a teacher, and it will be a long time before such an impact can be forgotten.
Finally, it may be a further corrective to reflect on this man's rooted attachment to the Rochester community as well as the University community. In 1957, at the age of eighty-five, he took on a new career as a book-reviewer for the Rochester Times-Union, turning out, until a few months before his death, some two hundred essay-length reviews for the Rochester reading public. During this period he also often returned to campus to talk with the student-bellmen who play the Hopeman Chimes in the library tower, and it was characteristic of him, at the age of ninety, to be instrumental in arranging to have planted here on campus an oak tree from Stratford-on-Avon, a Shakespeare oak. John Slater left his mark not only in oak trees but in stone, and his prose inscription, which he composed to be carved at the entrance of our library, gives the characteristic flavor of his forward-looking mind and his distinctive prose-style: "Here is the history of human ignorance error superstition folly war and waste recorded by human intelligence for the admonition of wiser ages still to come—Here is the history of man's hunger for truth goodness and beauty leading him slowly on through flesh to spirit from bondage to freedom from war to peace."
This postscript concludes the minute read at our faculty meeting in December. May I add one paragraph to it here.
That inscription about ignorance and superstition, carved in stone on our library walls, has often startled visitors to our campus, sometimes shocked them. I wonder how many people seeing it have recognized that the first half of this inscription represents a tribute to one of John Slater's favorite authors, the novelist, Charles Dickens? Dr. Slater was a devoted reader and student of Dickens, and when he came to compose his inscription for our library he happily seems to have recalled how Dickens used to shock some of his visitors at his home in Gad's Hill. Dickens used to invite visitors into his private library and show them a bookshelf that he had made, a bookshelf consisting of dummy volumes with titles painted on the spines as a joke. One set was entitled: THE WISDOM OF OUR ANCESTORS (In Seven volumes):
The first volume was subtitled: IGNORANCE
The second was. . .SUPERSTITION
The third. . . . . . ..THE BLOCK
Next. . . . . . . . . . THE STAKE
Next. . . . . . . . . . THE RACK
Next. . . . . . . . . . DIRT
And finally. . . . . . DISEASE
And, on the same shelf, there was a volume entitled: THE VIRTUES OF OUR ANCESTORS; it was such a thin volume that the title was printed sideways.
Dr. Slater shared with Dickens this amusingly bitter awareness that our past is, in part, a record of man's blunders. But as the second half of his inscription shows, he went beyond his favorite novelist by virtue of his wiser and more balanced sense that the past, represented by our library, also contains a record of man's triumphs. And among these triumphs, our literary heritage, to which John Slater devoted his life, is perhaps the chief one and certainly the most heart-warming reassurance for man's future.
--RICHARD L. GREENE
The noblest part of any university is invisible. It does not depend for its existence on handsome and commodious buildings, even when those buildings are ancient and draped with the ivy which has become so potent an academic symbol. It may, and often does, have a kind of residence in these buildings, but it would remain undamaged if all of them perished in flame in the night like the old College Hall of Wellesley in 1914. It is not even the store of book knowledge, awesome in its bulk and even more awesome in its speed of growth, that rightly makes the library the central and most impressive structure on its campus. And no cyclotron has yet been built large enough and swift enough in its rotation to break it down—or to generate it. The noblest part of any university is the collective spirit of the men and women, present and departed, who have studied, taught, meditated, worshipped, and sometimes grieved and sometimes clenched the fist of exasperation while bearing its name and yielding it their allegiance. It is the differences in collective spirit—and there are indeed differences—between one university and another that lead the impartial public to acknowledge some institutions as great regardless of size and others—simply as others. Most of us who are here this afternoon, whether we carry the Rochester degree or another degree or none at all, are here because we believe that Rochester has had and will have a collective spirit that touches greatness. We are here to acknowledge and give thanks for a memorable salient of such greatness in a unique personality of Rochester's past who seems as vividly alive still as if his mortal part had not been laid to rest on a bright afternoon of last midsummer. It is often the destiny of a large mind and a splendid soul to be a bridge between one era and another. We recognize such bridges in the inventors who have lived to see a part of the world's work and play transformed by their finding out the secrets of flight, of sound, of electric waves—we see them in the medical researchers who have watched appalling scourges of disease subside into rarities of museums and textbooks; we see them in the dedicated reformers of religion, politics, and social ethics. This valley of the Genesee has nurtured men and women who are memorable for having made such bridges of themselves—Anthony, Douglass, Eastman, Rauschenbusch, Whipple. There have been more than a few such bridges from the old to the new within the University of Rochester and we can name them to ourselves with the deepest of respect; but in none have the two gifts of early settlement in a true vocation and length of unenfeebled years combined to frame a more impressive arch of work and influence than we see when we survey the life and character of John Rothwell Slater.
John Slater was conscious that he was a bridge between two worlds, and he took a proper pride in the knowledge. He faced his first class in a puritanically bleak Anderson Hall in days when professors were men of high dignity and solemnity, formal of manner, long of coattail, and starched of linen. He survived into this age when it is often hard to tell whether the man in the lumberjack shirt and the desert boots is an undergraduate or a department chairman. He came in a time when a president and one dean conducted much of the college's business in longhand and when the permanent staff of buildings and grounds consisted of one devoted servant whom he was later to immortalize in a moving prose elegy; he survived to a time when administrators and other manipulators rival in number the teaching faculty. He came when the skirts of the coeds brushed the dew from the dandelions, and students' gestures of warm friendship were reserved for privacy and the gloaming; he survived to see—what shall we call it?—the new freedom. And he showed to the courageous end a fierce pride in being as much a man of the present as a survivor and recorder of the earlier days. If he thought those days better, he would not admit it. For us who visited him in his later years he was always ready and poised with eager comments and questions on the new music, the new science, the new public concerns, and even the new arrivals in town if they promised to be people of interest and interests. To many who never met him his zest for the new books has been known for years through the reading of scores of reviews for the Saturday newspapers. I cannot recall in any of these reviews the marks of age or the signs of decadence or the lineaments of the uncritical praiser of past times. He renewed his youth like the eagle.
In all of his adult life John Slater was committed to a ministry of language. Music, we know, spoke richly to him, and so did painting and sculpture and architecture. In them he found joy not only as an auditor and spectator but as an amateur experimenter. But words, and noble words, and a noble language were his inescapable medium. There he was not the amateur but the master. Whatever could be done with the English language he did—and he did it always in the service of some end beyond the language itself. Though a great stylist, he was not a barren stylist; one never felt in hearing or feels in re-reading his discourses the hollow ring of the prose which is written with more attention to rhetorical display than to earnest substance. This was true of his teaching, that flow of quiet eloquence from bell to bell that was far removed from the droning lecture out of yellowed and dog-eared notes that has led to so many caricatures of college instructors. To some students he gave their first understanding of the wideness of the kingdom of literature. He spoke as one having authority, as one who knew Shakespeare or Emerson or his beloved old Sir Thomas Browne, as one knows an intimate friend, and not as one who has hastily scratched together a few remarks late on the night before. It was true of the small red volume, once revised into a slightly larger blue one, with the modest title of Freshman Rhetoric—a paragon among textbooks for its economy and clarity, a little breviary that established in many of us whatever literary conscience we may possess. It was true of his chapel talks, a series worthy of collection in their own volume, given for many years in both men's and women's colleges, always eloquent but always simple, clear, direct, and grounded in the untheological and undenominational religion of the inner life of worship and wonder and the outer life of quietly unselfish conduct that are within the reach of all who will humbly seek them. It was true of the many papers which he presented, even into old age, in the dignified and mildly convivial circle of the Fortnightly Club to which he was devoted, papers with a wider range of theme than most members of even that august company would dare to attempt: "Dante," it might be, or "Printing and the Renaissance." It was true of the inscriptions which he composed for the two panels at the portal of the Rush Rhees Library on this campus. Dr. Johnson said whimsically, "In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath," but no form of asseveration could add power or conviction to those two legends, which you have heard read by Professor Ford. They are unexcelled in my opinion by any that I have seen graven on the walls of any library or university building in the western world.
The first of the sentences records a dark certainty, the second a bright hope, and he believed in both. It was true of the Latin hymn which he composed because he felt that a solemn ceremony like commencement should have a touch of poetry and a touch of the universal learned language: "O Mater academica, Rocestriensis, te." We may hope that one line was truly prophetic of his own final leave-taking: "Nos juvat jam in exitu dulcis memoria"—"Now at our departure we are cheered by grateful memories." It was true moreover of personal letters, of the notes of congratulation, of appreciation, of condolence, which no one was ever more prompt or more graceful in writing. Those who have received them or have been privileged to see them when they were received and treasured by others know that John Slater could communicate the private thought and feeling as truly and movingly as the public sentiments. In the long and the short, the great and the small, the ceremonial and the intimate, he carried on a ministry of the written and spoken word for which there are thousands who bless his memory.
One particular instance of the ministry of language as practiced by John Slater is his biography of President Rush Rhees, published in 1946 with the title Rhees of Rochester. This work not only revealed to the general public many services and accomplishments of Dr. Rhees which had before been known to limited circles of trustees and older faculty, but gave to many readers more than a glimpse of the humanity and deep feeling which sometimes failed to show through the propriety, formality, and rigid self-control of that other great Rochesterian. In the long lamented absence of an adequate history of the University, a lack soon to be remedied by the work of Professor May, Rhees of Rochester has served as a valuable substitute, for nowhere else is there so full and readable an account of the great expansion and development in the late twenties and thirties, of which George Eastman was the chief but not the only patron. And the book can be read as well for its wealth of the same blessed Slaterisms, for it abounds in memorably sententious comments—often short and pithy, growing out of their context in the main narrative and not distracting from it. "Despise not the day of small things" is perhaps the moral of this book, and the transformation of the college from a small and struggling local institution into a national university gives a continuing thread on which are strung the separate bits of wisdom. For example:
"Like a teacher a preacher must know much that he never directly uses in discourse. A speaker who ventures too close to the edge of his knowledge is in danger of guessing beyond it."
"There was now a many-sided man in control, a champion of culture who knew that culture depends on utility more than utility on culture, and that they are not opposed but complementary."
"Utility is not the test of truth, but it is the test of achievement, invention, progress, and prosperity. A generation is judged not by its speculations or its opinions but by what it creates for human betterment."
One did not have to know John Slater long to understand that he was a religious man. It has unhappily become the case that in some colleges, at least, a professor who is a professor in the other sense, the sense of one who declares his belief in a religion, is shy and apologetic about it, as if feeling somehow inferior to the bold agnostics around him. One cannot picture John Slater in this role. Never in his discourse was a hearer left long without a reminder, often in a phrase as homely and colloquial as some of the phrases of the Gospels themselves, that behind all the seen things which are temporal are the unseen things which are eternal. He saw and marked the meaning behind trees and flowers and sunshine and ice and especially behind the sun—the Brother Sun of his favorite St. Francis of Assisi—and most of all behind the stars. John Slater saw heaven in the heavens; he saw an eternity which lies behind and gives its meaning to what we call time. His intuitions of a spiritual universe, not dead but eternally alive, show themselves in many a sentence of the little pamphlet which he aptly entitled "Insight." He did not claim to be an unqualified mystic like the admired seers of history; he called it "Essays in Practical Mysticism." Here are a few of those sentences.
"Seeing into things below the surface, the power to grasp hidden meanings not by reason but by imagination, is insight. It is natural in poets and artists. Anyone may acquire it by patient practice. For the transformation of life from a trade or a game into an art insight is the first step."
"To see youth grow up, and then, before the zest is gone, pass on that youth to their children; to see the torch passed on from hand to hand, and rekindled before it flickers out; to watch sunrise across the eastern hills and flood the valley when you stand on the western slope: there is no last act in this play. It will go right on, after our curtain falls. There may be much that we do not know, waiting behind the scenes."
"Life and death are not enemies. At their best they stand side by side, the two bright angels of the resurrection. At their worst they are but two dark veils which some hand may yet draw aside."
These intuitions show themselves even more impressively in one of the finest among his many fine essays, "Living for the Future."
"When an old man plants an oak, he is living partly for the future of that oak, and of all who will some day rest under its shade."
"But the future cannot be chiefly a haven for intellectuals. If we really believe, as we seem to, that the invisible world is full of plain people who on earth were not much given either to religious ecstasy or intellectual meditation, we must make a place for them in our speculations. Plain people are in the majority in this world, and must be in the next. The kingdom of heaven does not require a college education."
"There is an influence that comes unawares, a summons like a trumpet, a reminder like a bell, a joy that starts us humming some old tune all day long. These are things we feel but do not tell. May it not be that sometimes things which the departed feel but cannot easily tell are what keep us going? Are we not sometimes sharing the wisdom of the dead?"
"To live intensely is to be more alive in the body while you have a body, and perhaps better able to get along without [oneJ when your time comes. To some this experience comes through prayer, from the inner light, the divine presence. To others it comes through travel, adventure, research; through danger, through delight, through music, through love. Whatever its source your maximum intensity rather than your average level is the quality of eternity. It will last when everything else goes."
And these words which he wrote with others in mind can most certainly be spoken again of him:
"If we could read all life's mysteries we might have heaven here and now. Some do; but we seldom know it until they are gone."
We hear bells sounded this afternoon in John Slater's honor. The Hopeman Chimes swung high above the head of this quadrangle have grown into the affections of many Rochester men and women, but to none have they meant more than to John Slater, who earned and took pride in the title of first University bellman. Characteristically, he learned what was to be learned about this kind of carillon; he quickly mastered its keyboard, perched high above the then giddy emptiness of the library's stacks; he wrote verses which are inscribed on the wall of the bellroom; he found the music which best suited this instrument, arranged it, and performed it along with the college and patriotic numbers expected to issue from any bell tower. He loved the soaring quality which a fine set of bells shares with a great organ, and he loved the thought of the scattered and anonymous audience to whom the hovering notes of the chime would bring different but welcome messages. They are bells of triumph this afternoon and not dismally tolling funeral bells. They should ring out our thankfulness that these walls and walks have known the voice and the tread of a great-hearted man, a gifted man, and above all, a good man—a man whose memory lives in the hearts of many hundreds who knew him face to face, and who deserves to be honored as scholar, as teacher, as recorder, and as prophet until the bells strike their last hour and the walls crumble on some final day between this Sabbath afternoon and the eternity of which he had such rare and revealing insights.
--REV. LEE J. BEYNON, JR.
"O Thou who hast set eternity in the heart of man, and hast made us all seekers after that which we can never find, forbid us to be satisfied with life. Draw us away from base content, and set our eyes on far-off things. Keep us at tasks too hard for us, that we may be driven to Thee for strength. Deliver us from fretfulness and self-pity. Make us sure of the goal we cannot see, and of the hidden good in the world. Open our eyes to beauty by the way, and our hearts to the loveliness men hide from us because we do not trust them enough. Bind us by fast bonds to the brotherhood of those who love Thee better than they know, who serve Thee in the darkness, and even in their doubts will never give Thee up. Shine Thou upon us with such light as we can bear. Show us such truth as we can understand and obey. Save us from ourselves, and fill our hearts with the vision of a world made new. Help us to desire no reward but the utter freeing of our souls from the bonds of flesh when the days of our years on the earth are fulfilled."
—John Rothwell Slater