Recently one of our better students asked me whether I knew of any good quotes from Samuel Williston that he could insert into a term paper. “Don’t know,” I responded. “What’s the paper about?” “Doesn’t matter,” he said; “I’ll work them in.” Suppressing my instinct to initiate a conversation about such pedantries as relevance, context, and provenance — the kid was, after all, in a hurry — I dug out a document prepared at the request of former Head of School Brian Wright back in 1991, and in reviewing it, realized that it was good blog fodder. So . . . here is Samuel Williston (the fodder of us all), in his own words.
“Whereas God in His Providence has bestowed upon me a goodly portion of this world’s possessions, which I ought to use for His glory, for the dissemination of the Gospel of the blessed Redeemer, and for the greatest good of my fellow-men — and, whereas, I desire to be instrumental in promoting the cause of correct and thorough literary and Christian education, and for that purpose have lately followed an Institution which is established at Easthampton, Massachusetts, and incorporated by the name ‘Williston Seminary’ […]” Preamble, Constitution of Williston Seminary, 1845
(Williston founded his Seminary in 1841, but it took him four more years to publish his thoughts about what he was attempting. See “The Constitution of Williston Seminary” for more detail.)
“Believing, that the image and glory of an all-wise and holy God are most brightly reflected in the knowledge and holiness of his rational creatures, and that the best interests of our country, the church, and the world are all involved in the intelligence, virtue, and piety of the rising generation; desiring also, if possible, to bring into existence some permanent agency, that shall live, when I am dead, and extend my usefulness to remote ages, I have thought I could in no other way more effectually serve God or my fellow-men, than by devoting a portion of the property which he has given me, to the establishment and ample endowment of an Institution, for the intellectual, moral and religious education of youth.”
“Bad orthography, bad penmanship, or bad grammar— bad habits in any of the rudiments— if they be not corrected in the preparatory school, will probably be carried through College and not unlikely extend themselves to other studies and pursuits; whereas the habit of doing every thing well, so far as he goes, will likewise follow the student as long as he lives, and give completeness to whatever he does.”
“It is my simple desire to extend and increase the facilities for the proper education of the young.”
“Goodness without knowledge is powerless to do good, and knowledge without goodness is power only to do evil; while both combined form the character that most resembles God, and is best fitted to bless mankind.”
(This was apparently cribbed, whether intentionally or not, from Samuel Phillips’ Andover Constitution (1778): “Though goodness without knowledge (as it respects others) is weak and feeble; yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous; and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.”)
“And now that his Providence, who has so signally blessed the Seminary in its foundation, may ever be as a wall of fire around it, and a light and a glory in the midst of it, and that his Spirit— the spirit of all wisdom and grace— may dwell in the hearts of Guardians and Teachers and Pupils, is the earnest desire and prayer to God of the Founder.” Constitution of Williston Seminary, 1845.
“I cannot but esteem it both a privilege and a duty incumbent on those gentlemen who have prospered (by the blessing of God) as manufacturers, or in the business pursuits, that they should contribute a portion of their wealth for the establishment of ‘those manufactories’ where (as has been fitly said) ‘mind is the raw material, and polished and cultivated thought the finished article.’” At a dinner marking the 25th anniversary of Amherst College, 1848.
“Go after Goodyear? No difficulty in that. To get away from him is the real trouble. If he hears of an old lady with ten dollars tucked away in a broken teapot Goodyear will go after it. Goodyear has dogged me deaf, dumb, and blind; he has bothered me no end. The only way I would do business with him is to buy from him the right to make my own rubber!” On Charles Goodyear, who unsuccessfully attempted to get SW to invest in his vulcanized rubber enterprises. SW would eventually purchase patent rights from Goodyear for his elastic mills. Attributed to SW by Clifford Richmond.
(Clifford Ambrose Richmond, class of 1894, was an Easthampton businessman and historian, and protégé of Samuel Williston’s junior partner, Horatio G. Knight. Knight, who liked to tell stories, would entertain Richmond on his porch. Richmond, who liked storytelling even more, repeated many of the anecdotes in a variety of highly entertaining historical publications. One retains, however, a healthy suspicion that in some cases, to quote J. R. R. Tolkien, “the tale grew in the telling.”)
“The hum of the factory is sweeter than any music I ever heard.” Attributed by Richmond.
“This is a poor boys’ school. Tell them that economy is revenue.” To the first Principal, Luther Wright, attributed by Richmond.
“Teach the boys and girls how to think, rather than what to think. . . Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom, get understanding.” To Wright, attributed by Richmond.
“It will not ruin me.” 1860, on being told that one of his mills had been lost in a flood. Attributed by Richmond. The laconic comment was apparently typical, which may call into question the accuracy of some of the more long-winded quotes. Richmond also notes that SW was fond of quoting Emerson on temporary setbacks: “Do what we can, summer will have its flies.”
“I would gladly give up every dollar and begin life like a poor man if I could only have back my children that I lost.” Quoted by William Seymour Tyler, A Discourse Commemorative of Hon. Samuel Williston, 1874.
(Tyler, longtime Professor at Amherst College, was probably Samuel Williston’s best friend, who had helped SW conceive the idea for Williston Seminary at the time of its founding.)
“Pay out all the earnings and borrow from the banks; that’s
what banks are for.” (Attributed by Richmond.)
“Much tongue and much judgment seldom go together.” (On a candidate for Principal. Attributed by Richmond.)
“I wish you to understand, Mr. Henshaw, that I do not intend ever to give Williston Seminary another penny. I have often wished the whole thing at the bottom of the sea. It has failed to accomplish the chief object I had in founding it. I desired to establish not only a first class Classical school, but especially an English Seminary, where young men, who could not go to College, could obtain the full equivalent of the English part of a College Course. Well, they tell me the Classical department does pretty well, but the English department is nothing more than a Country High School. I suppose there was no call for such a school as I proposed.” To the Seminary’s third Principal, Marshall Henshaw, 1863, quoted in a manuscript memoir by Henshaw, 1900. Henshaw talked SW into a spectacular change of mind, in part by being the first school administrator to stand up to him. The two became inseparable friends.
“I think I am going through safe; indeed I think I may say I am. If there is anything I hate it is sin; and I know I love the Lord Jesus Christ and His cause.” SW’s last words, as reported by Tyler.
“I love you, Dr. Henshaw.” SW’s last words, as reported by Henshaw.
* * *
Emily Graves Williston:
“I thank God for the opportunity to do my part in a time of colossal change.” 1877 or 1878, to the fourth Principal, James Morris Whiton, as recalled by Whiton in a Founder’s Day address, 1917. It is a little suspect, in that Whiton does not actually call it a quote, but it is at least a paraphrase, too good to pass over, and in one brief sentence, evokes the essence of Samuel and Emily Williston.