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BY PROF. HENRY W. PARKER, D.D.
The author of this volume lived to complete the book, except the preface, which has been assigned to me, who knew and loved him for nearly half a century. Much of the volume was written in Mr. Grinnell's last days, in the midst of manifold business and while suffering from disease — sometimes in severe pain while dictating to an amanuensis. Still, it is one of those valuable books of reminiscence (probably the more photographic because rapid and free in expression), of which there are too few in the past, and which give a better insight into events and men than formal history — in this case, both state and national. How few men, of wide acquaintanceship and action, appreciate the future value of their recollections, not prized by them for the same reason that posterity would highly prize the story, namely, the narrator's familiarity with the facts. I once urged upon a septuagenarian, who could well say pars fui of early western New York, and of much of New England in the first half of this century, the duty of talking out his reminiscences on paper; but he persisted rather in compiling a useless book on the French Revolution, which, naturally enough, had made as hearsay a profound impression on him in his boy hood.
To look through the eyes of Mr. Grinnell's memory in this book is to behold a great panorama of events and men, in the most interesting stages of our progress - the founding of States and the upholding of the Union and Freedom. To look into his eyes, as one can almost do in reading his pages, is to look into a large, noble nature of marvellous activities, of remarkable individuality;
and this alone renders the book a blessing to the youthful who may be inspired by his energetic and lofty example.
A full appreciation of Mr. Grinnell's chapters, in the minds of those who knew him, carries with it a vivid impression of his remarkable personal qualities. The reverse of tall, of very solid build, with a short, strong neck and fearless temperament, all his sturdy fighting endowment took the direction of indomitable energy in enterprise and of intrepid assertion of everything right and good; and the always overflowing surplus of his vital energy took the shape of superabounding good nature. His manner was the freest and cheeriest to all persons, on all occasions; his plans and opinions, of the largest pattern; his disposition, utterly devoid of selfishness and any trace of meanness; his feeling, so bright and hopeful as to exclude the thought of anything dark in the universe, except it might be present injustice to be righted, or want and suffering to be relieved. Though not a theoretical, he was a practical communist, holding every hour and power and possession ready for the common good. Indeed, he must have struck every thoughtful acquaintance as a rare, even unexampled, phenomenon of exhaustless activity and generosity. Of course, with such a nature he was frank, never stinting expression of his thought and feeling, in any presence whatsoever; and so frank that sometimes, as in this book, his felicitation over all persons, all things, when it included himself might seem like egotism, whereas he most certainly held a modest opinion of himself and his deeds. In fact, he lived outside of himself in enterprises, in beneficence, and in a singularly worshipful regard toward men justly eminent, as shown by much of eulogistic tone in this book.
Some of the passages, quoted from himself in the following pages, give some hint of his pithy style, his happy humor, and his truly poetic flights, as an extemporaneous speaker-such that he was sent for or called upon on all occasions, never failing to fulfill expectation. The most of the pages give little impression of all this, written as they were in intervals snatched from business, without the stimulus of occasion and audience; and the very nature of the work, together with advancing disease, lending the sober coloring of retrospect, combined with prospect of life's termination. Genius of every kind, and especially the literary, is simply a keen perception of the subtile or manifold inter-relations of things, with daring and persistence in embodying the conse