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ADDRESS BY ALBERT GALLOWAY KELLER, YALE, 1896 - William Graham Sumner, The Challenge of Facts and other Essays 
The Challenge of Facts and other Essays, ed. Albert Galloway Keller (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1914).
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ADDRESS BY ALBERT GALLOWAY KELLER, YALE, 1896
The loss which Yale has suffered in the retirement and death of Professor Sumner is one which no one of his colleagues can contemplate without a sinking of heart. We have needed him all this year; we could face our crises of the future with more of equanimity if his presence supported us. For almost forty years Yale has had the devoted service of a great man and, what is more, of a natural leader of men; his strongly molding hand has shaped to an extraordinary degree the destiny of the academic world in which it fell to him to live and work. We younger men are told that at a crisis the leadership has been wont to creep into his hand as by some inherent urge. Such men are rare in academic circles and our sense of loss is correspondingly heavy. It is what we pay for having had him — and the price is not too great. Yale could not have become what she now is if he had not been hers; all of us should rejoice that Sumner lived and labored here. It should be our object in this memorial meeting to strive to temper our sense of loss by recalling what he was and what he did for Yale and for us all. Sumner's great intellect and his loyal love have been built into the structure of Yale just as his mind and character have entered into the formation of what we call the Yale type of man; and just as his ideas have gone to constitute many a block (perhaps unlabelled) in the framework of the social sciences.
Sumner would have been the last man to admit the truth of what I have just said, though I fear no contradiction in the saying of it; for he was a very humble man and esteemed his services very lightly. He took no pains to attach his initials to the work he did; and I firmly believe that the grand ovation of last June, and the many cordial letters that came to him last summer were a great and touching surprise to him. He told me that he was moved to tears as he stood on the Commencement platform, and added that the world was treating him very well. So, I say, he would have set aside what I have said of his abiding influence on Yale and Yale men and science. But it is the unseen things that are eternal. They may be unidentifiable in their details; they may be impersonal — but therein is revealed their kinship with what is elemental.
However, not everything that is “seen” is bereft of lasting memory; it is part of our purpose in being here to-day to recall those more definite temporal things about which human affections twine more tightly, perhaps, and upon which the memory rests more tenderly, than could be the case with influences of a more general nature. If we are talking of claims to immortality, what more cogent claim can be set up than the abiding and indefinitely fructifying influence of a powerful and deep-hearted personality? To-day we are recalling the splendidly human Sumner, and it is my privilege, as a younger man and colleague, to speak of his life and work during his latter years.
It is here that we younger men are met by the insistent pity of our elders who reiterate that we did not know the real Sumner — him of the pitched battle — the Sumner who found ordinary prose too feeble a medium to express his views about “the ——ism which teaches that waste makes wealth,” and so broke through into that truly classic dialogue between the discoverer of natural resources and the Congressman. “Where,” they ask us, “is the latter-day creation fit to stand beside The Forgotten Man?” To this friendly patronage the answer of the younger generation might be: “We envy you your experiences with the younger Sumner. It must have been wonderful to see him in his prime. But you do not cause us to regret that we came later. We cannot conceive that that earlier stage could have matched the ripe wisdom and sagacity, the comprehensiveness and perspective of Sumner's later phase. Splendid as Sumner's political economy may have been, it was but a preliminary study to his science of society; compelling as was his sympathetic sketch of the type of man who minds his own business, it was but a detail in comparison with his treatise on the matrix of human institutions in general — “The Folkways.”
In these later years, Sumner's personality was disclosed to us, in contra-distinction perhaps to the experience of our predecessors, not so much (so to speak) in “severalty” as collectively or communally. We did not recite to him, — there was no give-and-take with its abrasions, often remembered with peculiar delight, and its beneficent blood-lettings. Sumner lectured to us; but there was no foolishness about it. We were ruled from the revolving chair in Osborn Hall as if we were a division of twenty instead of one many times that number. We daily made haste to transcribe, in the few moments he gave, our most intimate thoughts on the “lesson of the day.” After a few awe-inspiring cases of confiscation, we brought no more newspapers — his pet aversion — into the lecture-room. When the daily tests had been collected, Sumner lectured the rest of the hour; and the sensation was to us as of the opening of long and orderly vistas. What we had learned unintelligently seemed to fall in to its natural and inevitable sequence with the obvious realities of life. In short, though the term “personality” is a trite one, we felt the force of a personality so dauntless and dominant that there was no escape or evasion.
It is perhaps futile to attempt to analyze the impression Sumner made upon us. Someone has well said that he possessed an incomparable combination of manner, matter, and method; but for many of us at least the compelling influence lay outside the matter; and Sumner never held very much to conscious method. One who reads over his old note-book on the Science of Society sometimes cannot see just why the course laid hold of him so strongly; but then he closes his eyes and recalls the manner of presentation — the long forefinger uplifted, the authority of a face whose very ruggedness was not a matter of lines without, but rather of straightness of undeviating and uncompromising honesty and sincerity within — and the spirit re-enters the dull and boyish pencillings, and all is explained. That was why he compelled us to think, to accept or to resist, it mattered not which; no “copious shuffler,” no half-scholar, no shirk or mere pleasure-lover, no man who had not grappled with the grimnesses of thought, could thus, apparently without conscious effort, have compelled our intellectual homage. One reflects upon his old note-book again, and presently he sees that there was yet something more in the case — call it method, if one will, it was yet a living demonstration of the method being the man — and that was the simplicity always characteristic of Sumner and his work. No long words where a short one could be found, and no wastefulness even of the monosyllables; crisp, curt sentences as devoid as possible of latinity; no ideas so lofty and tenuous as to be incapable of full comprehension by the normal, healthy, youthful mind. The intellectual draught he reached us was so clear in its quality that sometimes, in retrospect, it looks as if there were nothing there at all. The ideas in the old notes seem so familiar as to be almost axiomatic; and yet, if we reflect upon them, we realize that they came to us first from Sumner and that they are in our notes because we hurried to get them down as being so new and grand to our youthful minds. Now they are part of us; for Sumner is living in us all and in those whom we shall influence, as he is living in this college, in whose service he found no labor too great — nor yet too small. He disciplined us and chastised us, and we return thanks for it; he opened our minds, taught us to detect and hate humbug, to trust to the truth, and to be faithful to duty — and for that we tender him our enduring reverence. The simple fidelity of a powerful man is an abiding treasure of remembrance, and a bracing one.
But I am privileged in being able to speak of Sumner as I could not have spoken if I had not remained at Yale and been closely associated with him for some years. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the man is that one straightway forgets his intellect and work when one is led to contemplate the union of austerity and tenderness which made up his character. If he has any enemies now living I am sure they would all agree that, for a mortal man, Sumner had about him nothing that was small. To those who knew him well it seemed that he must possess an almost intuitive sense of rectitude; for as his unrivalled mental acumen and common sense were wont to pierce so keenly the husks that surrounded any intellectual issue and to adjudge it according to its merits in its more than local setting, in like manner did his delicate sensitiveness to the quality of a moral issue serve as a sort of touchstone for those privileged to know him well. One man brought close to him in the physical weakness of his latest years has said that he had never known a woman with finer feeling. Nothing mean or low could thrive in his presence. But the steel of his character was not so delicate as to snap or to lose its cutting edge in the rudest of combats; he was “great in war.” Sensitive of soul and strong of heart, his voice was one “from which their omens all men drew.”
But I turn to the actual labors of the latter years. Some people have believed that when Sumner retired from the field of political economy, his career was thus practically closed. No greater misapprehension could exist. From the outset, Sumner's interests were never confined to political economy1 ; there is now in the University a professor of prominence in another line who has told us that way back in the seventies Sumner came near to making an anthropologist out of him. When Sumner left political economy to others he freed himself to pursue his life-interest, awakened first by Herbert Spencer, in the science of society (or sociology, in the Spencerian sense of the term). His achievements in political economy were of a nature to secure wide repute, and his only public utterances of note during the ten or twelve years succeeding his withdrawal from political economy gave no special warning that the mode of his activity had changed. The last fifteen or more years of his life were divided between the classroom and the study, and it was only with the publication of “Folkways” that the results of his last and richest period began to appear.
In 1899 Sumner began to write what would have been his magnum opus on the Science of Society; and he had written a very considerable mass of manuscript, when it began to be borne in upon him that there underlay his whole conception of the evolution and life of human society a certain unifying and basic idea — and that this must be developed before the main treatise should be pushed to completion. In tracing the evolution of the several social forms (the industrial organization, marriage and the family, religion, government, and so on) he had observed that they all went back to an origin in popular habit and custom; that these conventions and habitudes formed the “prosperity-policy” of the society practicing them; that they exercised a coercion upon the individual to conform to them, though they were not codified by any authority — though their origin was lost in the mystery of the far past. He saw that some explanation of the nature of these “folkways” formed for him the indispensable preliminary to the analysis of the various forms of the societal institutions which came out of them. And so he set the bulky first manuscript of his Science of Society aside and devoted many months to laying bare the rock upon which he planned to build a science of society or sociology that should not be, as much so-called sociology is, a by-word and an object of merriment to scientists in other fields. This was the origin of that notable book of 1907 concerning whose grave importance to an succeeding scientific study of human society there can be no two opinions. Since the publication of “Folkways,” in whose preface Sumner announced his forthcoming Sociology, the eyes of all social scientists, and of many others, have been turned toward the aging savant with feelings of anticipation and of impatience. With the personal grief over his loss there has been mingled not a little of professional chagrin over the fact that the book of his life had not been completed. But it does not lie in the intentions of those who were near to him either that he shall be deprived of the scholarly renown which is rightly his, or that a science upon which all too many cranks and weaklings have wreaked their insidious vocabularies and vaticinations shall be robbed of the support of one whose common sense and hard-headedness were sufficiently developed to balance off a praetorian cohort of the feeble-minded.
For a younger scholar and colleague, association with Sumner during these last years has been the experience of a life-time. The beginnings of special study with him were not fraught with any very perceptible modicum of care-free browsing along rose-scented paths of learning. He was the most discouraging of men until some purpose and much industry had been disclosed. He rowed the would-be swimmer out into the open sea, put him over head-first, and then pulled for shore without looking back, or at least without letting us see him do so. Demanding so much of himself he carried over the demand to his charges — he himself had learned since middle age eight European languages in addition to the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and German which he already possessed. Respecting the method of acquiring a reading knowledge of some out-of-the-way language he used to say briefly: “The way to learn a language is to sit down and learn it.” He drove us on with resolute hand, and we did not always realize that his stress was nicely gauged for the particular stage of greenness and foolishness through which we chanced to be passing.
But the man grew upon us, and the wisdom and justice of his demands became ever more apparent. How could we resist the wealth of sense in his three queries about a piece of work: What is it? How do you know it? What of it? He was intolerant of the man who could not say what he had in mind, clearly and plainly, for he thought involutions and vagueness betokened lack of accurate understanding; he had no use for the man who knew, but didn't know why he knew; but above all he abhorred random fumbling over matters that seemed to him to have no relation to the vital issues of life, or to be by their nature not susceptible of scientific investigation. Let those who are familiar with academic production say whether that question: What of it? is not eternally pertinent!
Now all this looks very hard and stern, and it often seemed so; but it was a nipping and an eager air that swept the intellectual heights which Sumner frequented. It you took him for your guide there could be no lagging; and above all there must be no whining, for he could stand almost anything else rather than that. He did not wish you to take even your legitimate castigation from his own hand, lying down. But presently those of us who emerged from the ordeal found a metamorphosis in our relations; instead of the austere, uncompromising propulsion we found an indulgent, unassuming, loyal, warm-hearted friendship. The fellowship of learning took on for us a new meaning when we found this great scholar, for whose power and erudition we had so profound an awe, assuming that we were all on a par and taking us into his confidence and listening to our views as if they were really worth anything. We now see how he overlooked our lapses into foolishness, even when it meant boredom for him, as it often did. And then came the time when his interest reached out and he took within his ample affections those who were near and dear to us. Indeed it has seemed to us sometimes as if the focus of his interest had moved over to the younger generation, for Sumner's love of children was almost a passion in his later years. The orator at the last Commencement said splendidly of Sumner: “His intellect has broadened, his heart has mellowed, as he has descended into the vale of years.” But I do not know that one could subscribe entirely to that second clause. A heart so great and warm and human as that which Sumner revealed cannot be of any place or time or age; it must have been there from the beginning. All this gentleness was present while yet the joy of battle had not cooled. His was a Roman soul among us, and its essence was strength. Strong in mind, strong in will, strong in sentiment — a big, strong, human, soul. Yale and Yale men are rich in his life. We have had Sumner and shall always have him. We all need this thought to temper the sense of his loss and the concern for a future without him. His service will be more deeply missed and valued as time passes.
These volumes of essays present an abundance of evidence bearing on this contention, with which the author of this address was not acquainted in 1910.—The Editor.