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Title: "The Life and Character of John Howard," Senior Speech of Richard T. Weaver, April 1846: Electronic Edition.
Author: Weaver, Richard Thomas
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Risa Mulligan
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 20K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-05-27, Risa Mulligan finished TEI/XML encoding
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: University Papers (#40005), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "The Life and Character of John Howard," Senior Speech of Richard T. Weaver, April 1846
Author: Richard Thomas Weaver
Description: 5 pages, 6 page images
Note: Call number 40005 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Examples of Student Writing/Senior Speeches
Social and Moral Issues/Other Social and Moral Issues
Health and Disease/General
Editorial practices
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Document Summary

Weaver's senior speech considers prison reformer John Howard an exemplar because he gave up a comfortable life and made many sacrifices to relieve the sufferings of forsaken human beings.
"The Life and Character of John Howard," Senior Speech of Richard T. Weaver , April 18461
Weaver, Richard Thomas

Cover page

Page 1
The Life and Character of John Howard
Philosophers, Poets, Warriors, Statesmen all shine forth in forming characters on the pages of the historian; but the benevolent in whom are beautifully blended religion, bravery philanthropy and patriotism sink into their graves and their noble attributes are lost in oblivion. Is this right? Is this wise? Shall the high wrought fictions of an in[unrecovered]utive genius have their panegyrists; the marvellous feats of strength and valor be duly celebrated; the guardians of freedom and of national peace and prosperity be held up as exemplars to all aspiring spirits; and the actions of the rarest and most valuable of them all suffered to pass away like pleasant dreams, that spring in the mind, excite the fancy for awhile and then subside into forgetfulness? No. Though in the every-day intercourse of man with his fellow, deeds of kindness and charity may be performed; the sick comforted; the poor succored; and the unfortunate befriended; yet few deserve the title of the truly benevolent; and when those bright stars rise, whatsoever land may be so fortunate as to behold the splendor of their first appearance, and enjoy the softening influence of their genial rays, it is the duty of us all to chant an anthem of welcome at their coming, and erect a monument in our hearts at their setting.
John Howard was born in a land and in an age that demanded the kind intervention of some bold and humane heart. It is true that his country was not still groping in the darkness of barbarism nor struggling in the iron chains of superstition.

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Cities were not to be sacked, fields to be drenched with blood or strewed with livid limbs and bodies of dying men. All pointed to one Jehovah, the author of all things and civilization was in its onward progress. But what was the view around him? The poor and distressed, who crowd every country at every age were calling loudly for some assisting hand. Throw open the prison-house and lazzaretto and look within. The soul shrinks from the dread sight. Here may be heard the shreik of agony—the groan of death commingled in one sound of undistinguished horror. Here many a haggard form raises his sunken eyes, anxiously gazes around for relief and shuts them again in despair and death. Here are they who have bid a long farewell to all human kind; the wasted form; the cold and bloodless cheek tell a tale of saddest sorrow—of friends now perhaps mingled with the dead—of hope, like a faithless flatterer, fled in the utmost hour of need; or perhaps of a son cast upon the bleak world's mercy.
The horrid condition of the prisons and of prison discipline had for a long time escaped the sensibility of all charitable hearts. Vice prevailed to such a startling degree, that the dungeon was converted into a seminary of wickedness and villainy. The young were initiated by the old and confirmed in all the arts and mysteries of iniquity. Instead of being reformed, which is the chief object of confinement, they came forth from their cells fiends well-tutored in unrestrained ferocity, let loose in all their fury to commit deeds of still greater horror and bloodshed. To heighten the fearful coloring of this dreadful scene, the king of terrors came in the garb of loathsome

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and lingering disease, and contagion spread its foul and putrid hands over thousands of prisoners.– Here was a field suited to the humane and feeling Howard – to give warmth and animation to the heart almost chilled by death's cold hand and bring back to the mournful soul the joys of better days.
What language is adequate to depicture the goodness and the fortitude of that heart which dared to contend alone, against the chilling repukes of a frozen-hearted world and the strong arm of misfortune? That heart which yeilded up the calm retirement of a peaceful home and consented to sacrifice time, fortune, strength and life for the relief of distressed humanity. No single tract of earth could bound the active powers of his mind. In the beautiful language of Burke; He visited all Europe, not to survey the sumptuousness of palaces or the stateliness of temples; not to make accurate measurements of the remains of ancient grandeur, not to form a scale of the curiosity of modern art; not to collect medals or collate manuscripts; but to dive into the depths of dungeons; to plunge into the infection of hospitals; to survey the mansions of sorrow and pain; to take the guage and dimensions of misery depression and contempt; to remember the forgotten; to attend to the neglected; to visit the forsaken; and to compare and collate the distresses of all men in all countries.2
He had himself tasted the bitter cup of adversity and it seemed to set his sympathies on fire. Impressed with the importance of his designs and the uncertanity of human things, he burned to accomplish as much as possible within the narrow limits of human existence. He followed up his plans with wonderful vigor and constancy; but by no means with that heat and eagerness, that inflamed

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and exalted imagination which characterize the enthusiast. Hence he was not liable to catch at partial representations; to view facts through fallacious mediums and to fall into those mistakes which are so frequent in the man of fancy and warm feeling.
Some who knew him only by his extraordinary deeds, were ready enough to bestow upon him that sneer of contempt, which cold and unfeeling hearts are wont to apply to whatever has the show of high sensibility. Others of slight acquaintance and who discerned in him occasional harshness were disposed to question his feeling altogether and attribute his exertions merely to habit or to a strange and wayward humor. Ungrateful, error-blinded men! ill-rewarders of unparalelled generosity, to reckon for nought the sincerest exercise of man's noblest feeling. He felt as a man should feel. He was not misled either in the estimate which he formed of objets of utility or in his reasonings concerning the means by which they were to be accomplished. The reformation of abuses and the relief of misery were the great purposes which quickened his every thought, and strained every nerve; and the tear of sensibility started in his eyes on recalling the distressful scenes to which he had been witness, and the spirit of indignation flashed from them at the recollection of baseness and oppression. Though his whole course of action was an exhibition of intrepidity and fortitude, his constancy and self collection never deserted him. He was never agitated never off his guard. His nerves were firm and bearing God's impenetrable shield he was fearless of consequences. Nor was it on great occasions alone, that this strength of mind was shown:—it raised him above all false shame and that aim which makes a coward

Page 5
of many a brave man in the presence of a superior. No one ever less feared the face of man than he. No one ever hesitated less in speaking bold truths or avowing obnoxious opinions. His courage was equally passive and active and he was prepared to make every sacrifice that a regard to strict veracity or rigorous duty could enjoin.
Nor were the effects of thirty years' labor and peril to be felt by his own generation alone. The whole world in all coming time will feel the power of his mighty influence and witness the revolutions of his wonder-working hand. He laid the foundation of all prison discipline. From the magic of his touch the world received a fresh impetus in the career of benevolence. Nothing has since checked its progress. It is still marching on with accelerated speed. toward the consummation of universal love and good will.
"Nature on thy maternal breast,
For ever be his name engraved.
To all the lands where'er the tear
That mourned the Prisoner's wrongs sincere
Sad Pity's glistening cheek impearl'd
Eager he steered with every sail unfurl'd
A friend to every clime! A Patriot of the world!"3


1. University Papers, UA. The speech is written on four sheets of paper folded in half to make a booklet. The recto of the first leaf is a title page, on which is written "'The Life and Character of John Howard' / R.T. Weaver / Northampton co./N.C." The words "Chapel Hill/ April 1846" appear to the left of Weaver's name. A second hand has written "[Richard Thomas Weaver ]" below the date. The folder housing this speech contains fourteen additional senior speeches; thirteen are dated April 1846, and one is dated May 1, 1846. None of the speeches contains corrections by the professor of rhetoric; they appear to be final copies, prepared after the professor had made his corrections and approved the speeches. Because Weaver's senior speech bears a similar but not identical title to his commencement address on "Howard , the Philanthropist" (Battle 1:499), Weaver evidently delivered his senior speech (or a revision of it) again at the 1846 Commencement.

2. Edmund Burke, "Speech at Bristol Previous to the Election, 6 September 1780," The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. W. M. Elofson (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1996), 3:638.

3. William Haley, "Ode, Inscribed to John Howard , Esq. F. R. S. Author of 'The State of English and Foreign Prisons,'" lines 127-28 and 176-80 (1788):
"Nature on thy maternal breast,/For ever be his worth engrav'd. [. . .] To all the lands, where'er the tear/That mourned the Prisoner's wrongs sincere/Sad Pity's glist'ning cheek impearl'd/Eager he steer'd with every sail unfurl'd,/A friend to every clime! a Patriot to the World!"