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Title: "Eagles Don't Catch Flies," Class Composition of William C. Dowd, [1856]: Electronic Edition.
Author: Dowd, William Carey, 1835-1860
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann, John D. McMahon, and Julie N. Straight
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Brian Dietz
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 25K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
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:
2005-04-25, Brian Dietz 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: William Carey Dowd Papers (#1722-z), Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "Eagles Don't Catch Flies," Class Composition of William C. Dowd, [1856]
Author: William C. Dowd
Description: 5 pages, 5 page images
Note: Call number 1722-z (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Education/Goals and Purposes
Politics and Government/Political Issues
Reading and Writing/Reading
Examples of Student Writing/Compositions, Examples of
Editorial practices
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 5 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Transcript of the class composition. Originals are in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved.
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Letters, words and passages marked as deleted or added in originals have been encoded accordingly.
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All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as ".
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Indentation in lines has not been preserved.

For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Dowd's composition treats the proverb, "The Eagle Doesn't Catch Flies," as symbolic of America. The flight of the eagle teaches us not to stoop to trifles but to pursue nobler objects, to be persistent and wise in climbing the collegiate mountaintop.
"Eagles Don't Catch Flies," Class Composition of William C. Dowd , [1856]1
Dowd, William Carey, 1835-1860

Page 1


Eagles dont2 catch flies.
To the mind of an American, the eagle is significant of all that is romantic, eloquent and brave. Let Washington Irving have occasion to indulge a feeling of romance—and you hear of "the eagle wheeling aloft from the rugged banks of the Hudson and breasting the pure mountain breeze."3 Let the orator indulge4 a picture—and on eagle's wings his ideas mount to the regions of the sublime. Let dread war deluge our land 'till hope is ready to bid our ranks adieu—: but raise the eagle in the midst of our foes, and every soul that's fired with American5 blood dreams no longer of death, even though the musket is pointed at his face.
The eagle is still further significant. He has been adopted as the American motto6—and thus has become indicative of an age of refinement. 'Tis a truth familiar7 that, on English soil, young heroes were wont to bear to battle nought more for a standard than, perhaps8 a worthless present from their lovers. This we know was ignorance—superstition. When that race became more intelligent the lion became its adopted motto9, one not unworthy still of those whom the world fears. In our time, however, an age

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when of literary advancement—when the scienc[e]s a[n]d arts flourish, when genius is rewarded and all nature betokens bliss, the eagle is the adopted motto10 of the first nation on earth. I doubt not that, the historian of future ages, when he reviews our history, will see these three mottoes11 plainly marking the different periods of our civilization, and indicating our growth in literature.
The eagle is thus significant and hence our proverb—"Eagles do'nt catch flies" that is, as the eagle deigns not to catch a fly—so strong minds stoop not to trifles. The Statesman12 notes not the fall of a leaf when in his evening stroll he is thinking how may the contentions of Whigs and Tories result—how may England be freed from the strong grasp of tyranizing Catholicism?13 (I speak of a statesman in the time of James II) Nor does the air whistling at the key-hole of his study catch his attention whilst to14 his mid-night lamp he rehearses the sayings of Cicero.
Nobler objects fill his mind. It contemplates relations between nations, reviews the history of the past, makes the light gained therefrom shine upon some deep political conception, which is to affect the future condition of his country.
'Tis thus with the Mathematician. That two words may make a rhyme is the least of his thoughts!

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He stands at the center of the earth and sees it is round, measures the degreess around it, cuts it in a moment into a thousand angles, belts, &c. &c. He ascends—the heavenly15 bodies are before him. He measures each16 relative distance,17 fixes each relative position, and subjects the workmanship of God to man-invented laws. He has touched God's mightiest implements: for he has bound the lightning t within his vial, and sends it now and then to distant realms to announge18 sad or joyous news. What have not strong minds done? In the dim "Past" I see a body of men consulting by what means they may deprive Nature of her power—how they may, despite of19 her mandate, which says dust to dust shall return,20 give to posterity their king unimpared. Now I see them exhibiting signals of success and now I see a mighty Pyramid. I look again and see upon Trojan plains the blood of Grecian heroes and I turn my eye to my little pile of books and there is Homer a treasure worth more than the hoarded silver of a Cresus.21 I see floating down the stream of Time numberless specimens of human art which time can not obliterate.22
The flight of the eagle teaches us wisdom.
When, for a time he walks upon the earth, whither hunger alone drives him, his glossy pinions become contaminated

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by its mists and he sees with sorrow his wonted beauty gone. His eye turns upward: above23 it sees a purer atmosphere, a clime more congenial,24 where the pure sun-beam may restore his lost treasure. He arises—and on swift wing is borne to genial climes far away from and unknown to the inferior tribes, where he hold25 his proper position as monarch of birds. We never know that he is wearied nor have we reason to think he ever is, and herein consists the lesson which26 teaches us. When man first launches his bark upon life's sea, he it is driven hither and thither by each successive billow 'till he loses sights of the intended goal, sees his bark ready to sink beneath a superior power, and wishes in despair that he had never made an effort. He now indulges his inclination to idleness. Youth becomes a dull monotony, yielding nothing to animate and please him. He wanders in the plain of Melancholly where is the foot of the ladder whose head rests upon the threshold of the "Temple of Fame" It27 catches his eye, and he resolves to climb; for before him he sees those he loves, who urge him to the attempt. Whilst still in his boyhood he mounts the first round. In his College days he mounts again, when half overcome by fear—half by28 despair he looks upward and in the distance sees as some inaccessible

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mountain-tops, the lofty seats of illustrious Statesmen29 who attained that place of distinction in the days when Rome was torn by internal feuds or when England tottered under the footsteps of invaders. Again his eye is turned and he sees, as it were an oasis in a barren, trackless desert, a beautiful summit where revel in ease and luxury the worlds wise-men. Doctors. Lawyers. Editors &c. Still his eye traces the ladder and still further in the distance he sees it resting upon the pillow30 that supports it. Here is the "Temple of Fame" Here mingle a higher order of beings, the Poets and their sattelites, beings too good for earth. Here they find a genial abode, and here the eagle in his lofty flight stops.
The young man, filled with love of what he has seen, and buoyed up by hope, grapples another round and another 'till his form vanishes from my sight. This is the lesson the eagle teaches, to leave our abode of i[g]norance, to trust our full grown, but unused wings and mount as does its young to purer regions of which our nature is capable. Go to the ant thou sluggard31 is good advice to an idler. Learn of the eagle is a word of consolation to the wise.


1. William Carey Dowd Papers, SHC. Though undated, the composition was written for John Thomas Wheat , professor of rhetoric and logic, who corrected it in pencil. The topic, a proverb, is consistent with assignments that would have been given in the sophomore composition class. A second essay on the same topic, written by Thomas Williams Mason and also corrected by Wheat , survives (see "Class Composition of Thomas W. Mason"). A prolific writer, Dowd saved many of his high school and college compositions. The William Carey Dowd Papers, SHC, house eight essays written before Dowd entered the University, an inaugural address given before the Dialectic Society, a draft of his valedictory oration, four essays that appear to be class compositions, and a thirty-page journal of "Miscellaneous Sketches."

2. Wheat inserted in pencil an apostrophe between the o and the n in dont.

3. Washington Irving, "Rip Van Winkle" (1820): "the eagle was wheeling aloft and breasting the pure mountain breeze."

4. Wheat crossed out indulge and pencilled in paint above the word.

5. Dowd wrote A on top of a at the beginning of American.

6. Wheat crossed out motto and pencilled in ensign above the word.

7. Wheat pencilled (2) above truth and (1) above familiar, preferring "familiar truth" to Dowd's "truth familiar."

8. Wheat crossed out than, wrote save above the word, and pencilled in a comma after perhaps.

9. Wheat crossed out "adopted motto" and pencilled in standard above the phrase.

10. Wheat crossed out "adopted motto" and pencilled in "ensign armorial" above the phrase.

11. Wheat crossed out mottoes and pencilled in "heraldic devices" above the word.

12. Dowd wrote S on top of s at the beginning of Statesman.

13. Wheat dotted the second i of Catholicism in pencil.

14. Dowd wrote to on top of in.

15. Dowd crossed the l in heavenly; Wheat cancelled the stroke in pencil.

16. Wheat crossed out each and pencilled in their above the word.

17. Wheat pencilled in s above distance.

18. Wheat crossed out g in announge and pencilled in c above the word.

19. Wheat crossed out of in pencil.

20. Genesis 3:19 : "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

21. Wheat pencilled in o between r and e above Cresus .

22. Dowd having mistakenly crossed the l and first t of obliterate, Wheat crossed the second t in pencil.

23. Wheat pencilled in a comma after above.

24. Wheat deleted con of congenial in pencil.

25. Wheat pencilled in an s after hold.

26. Wheat inserted he in pencil after which.

27. Dowd wrote It on top of an unrecovered word.

28. Dowd wrote by on top of wi.

29. Wheat inserted a comma in pencil after Statesmen.

30. Wheat crossed out ow in pillow and pencilled in ar above the word.

31. Proverbs 6:6 : "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise."